Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

AUGHEY, SAMUEL, JR. (1831-1912)

Samuel Aughey Jr. was a minister and naturalist/ geologist in Nebraska and Wyoming from 1864 until 1886. He was born on February 8, 1831, near MiÄin, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Kepner Aughey. He graduated from Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) in 1856 and then attended seminary there. Aughey came to Dakota City, Nebraska, in 1864 as a "home missionary" for the Lutheran Church. After resigning this position in 1867, he worked for the Dakota County government from 1866 until 1869 as superintendent of public instruction and county surveyor. He was named the first professor of natural science at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1871.

Despite heavy teaching responsibilities, Aughey published widely on the geology, botany, and zoology of Nebraska. The work was of uneven quality; when scientific information conflicted with his desire to promote the Plains as an ideal place for settlers, his promotional instincts often won. For example, writing in 1880 during one of Nebraska's wetter periods, Aughey confidently asserted that the act of cultivating the soil was responsible for increased rainfall. This apocryphal theory, "rainfall follows the plow," did not survive the devastating drought of the 1890s. Aughey was also instrumental in the founding of both the Nebraska State Historical Society and the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, serving as the first secretary of the former and the first president of the latter.

Aughey's relationship with the University of Nebraska began to deteriorate in the early 1880s. In 1883, he was involved in a financial scandal that precipitated his resignation from the university. He subsequently became territorial geologist for Wyoming. A smelting accident in 1886 left him with severe heavy metal poisoning and ended his career as a geologist and his time as a resident of the Great Plains.

Aughey had married Elizabeth Catherine Welty on October 14, 1858. They had three children, only one of whom, Helen Barbara, survived childhood. Aughey died on February 3, 1912, in Spokane, Washington.

See also IMAGES AND ICONS: Rainfall Follows the Plow.

Margaret R. Bolick University of Nebraska-Lincoln Hugh H. Genoways University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Aughey, Samuel. Sketches of the Physical Geography and Geology of Nebraska. Omaha: Daily Republican Book, 1880.

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