Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Henry Adams Visits Utah

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Henry Adams Visits Utah


Henry Adams, one of the leading historians of his day, visited Utah on a geographic expedition with his childhood friend Samuel Emmons in the late 1900s.

In 1871 as Samuel Emmons, Arnold Hague, James Hague, and others conducted the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel under the leadership of Clarence King, the Uinta Mountains in northeastern Utah became the subject of intense geological interest. During the winter of 1869-1870 Samuel Emmons, on break from the survey, invited his childhood friend, Henry Adams, to join the expedition. Henry Adams, the thirty-three-year-old grandson of John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of John Adams, achieved his own prominence as the one of the 19th century’s pre-eminent historians and also as editor of Harvard University’s North American Review. In the early 20th century, Adams wrote The Education of Henry Adams, the Modern Library Association’s number one non-fiction book of the 20th century.

Needing a break after completing his first year of teaching at Harvard University and editing The North American Review, Adams accepted Samuel Emmons’ invitation and headed west during the summer of 1871 to “Spy on the land of the future.” . In The Education of Henry Adams, he fondly recalled his experiences among the surveyors. Adams, writing about his conversations with the group in the third person, wrote “. . . they delighted Adams, for they helped, among other things, to persuade him that history was more amusing than science. The only question left open to doubt was their relative money value. In Emmons camp, far up in the Uintas, these talks were continued till the frosts became sharp in the mountains. History and science spread out in personal horizons towards goals no longer far away.”

Although the trip to Utah apparently did not contribute significantly to the education of Henry Adams, it re-acquainted him with Emmons, and created a lifelong friendship with Clarence King, who, in 1879, became the first director of the United States Geological Survey.


Nicholas Demas for Utah Humanities © 2008


Image: Uinta Mountains, Utah. From Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel / United States Army Corps of Engineers; Clarence King, geologist in charge. Uinta Mountains where camp spent time with Henry Adams. Courtesy of Library of Congress. 

See Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams. ; Johnson, Michael W. Daggett County. ; Moore, James Gregory. King of the 40th Parallel: Discovery of the American West. Stanford: Stanford General Books, 2006.


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