Ralph Arnold

One does not have to dig very deep into the literature on local fossils to come across the name Ralph Arnold. Arnold published a flurry of reports on the invertebrate fossils and geology of coastal California during the first decade of this century. He then left paleontology to pursue a career as a petroleum geologist in private industry.

Arnold was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, on April 14, 1875. His father, Delos Arnold, was an attorney and, for awhile, served in the Iowa State Senate. The discovery of crinoid fossils in nearby LeGrand, Iowa, led the senior Arnold to take up the study of fossils, and he assembled an extensive private collection. Young Ralph was therefore introduced to paleontology at a young age.

In 1886 the Arnold family moved to Pasadena, California. Ralph attended Pasadena High School and graduated from Throop Polytechnic School. He then entered Stanford University where he received an A.B. in geology and mining in 1899, an M.A. in 1900, and a Ph.D. in geology and paleontology in 1902.

Ralph Arnold worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from 1900 to 1909, and it was during this period that he conducted most of his research on fossils.

In 1903 the California Academy of Sciences published a 420-page study of the paleontology and stratigraphy of the marine Pliocene and Pleistocene at San Pedro which he co-authored with his father (Memoirs of the Calif. Acad. Sci., v. 3). In 1906 he published a study of the Tertiary and Quaternary pectens of California (USGS Professional Paper 47). In 1908 the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian) published his descriptions of new Cretaceous and Tertiary invertebrates from the Santa Cruz Mountains (U.S. Nat'l. Mus. Proceedings, v. 34, no. 1617), and in 1909 he co-authored with Stanford professors J.C. Branner and J.F. Newsom the first detailed description of the geology of the Santa Cruz region (USGS Geol. Atlas Folio 163). That same year the USGS also published his descriptions of fossils from the Coalinga region (USGS Bulletin 396). This is but a partial list of his writings on fossils during this period.

Arnold's paleontological accomplishments are even more amazing considering the incredible amount of other geologic work that he did during this same time. This was on the eve of the oil boom in California, and the government assigned Arnold and his associates the job of mapping over 4,000 square miles of the state's prospective oil fields. The results of his petroleum surveys were published in a series of USGS bulletins that included the Santa Maria, Coalinga, Santa Barbara, McKittrick districts. While working for the federal government, he also organized the Petroleum Branch of the U.S. Bureau of Mines.

In 1910, at age thirty-five, he left his government job and went to work for the petroleum industry. In 1911 he organized and directed a survey of the petroleum resources of Trinidad and Venezuela. He later wrote of his adventures in a book, The First Big Oil Hunt--Venezuela, 1911-1916.

When Arnold left paleontology, William Healey Dall, America¹s foremost mollusk expert of the period, expressed disappointment. Dall had apparently spent a good deal of time grooming Arnold for what Dall hoped would be a life-long career dedicated to fossils. It was not to be.

In the 1920s Arnold even dipped into politics as a campaign organizer and, in 1928, helped nominate Herbert Hoover for President. Hoover, like Arnold, had studied geology at Stanford. Arnold was also a good friend of Hoover's brother, Theodore, who taught mining engineering at Stanford and who owned Ranch del Oso (now site of the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center) along Waddell Creek north of Santa Cruz.

Arnold belonged to numerous geological societies and, even though his career change took him away from natural history, he continued his membership in the California Academy of Sciences, the Cooper Ornithological Society, and the Sierra Club.

Arnold died in 1961 in Santa Barbara. He was preceded in death by his wife, Winninette, who he had married in 1899, and he was survived by two daughters. His paleontological publications remain useful to this day, even though many of the scientific names have changed. His was basic, descriptive work, so important in documenting earth history and in forming a foundation for further studies.

Several species of mollusks were named in his honor, including the snail, Cancellaria arnoldi,which was described by William Healey Dall in 1909 from a locality near San Diego. In the Monterey Bay area this snail can be found at Capitola in seacliff exposures of the Purisima Formation‹a formation which, appropriately, Ralph Arnold helped name.

By Frank Perry

Further Reading:

Bulletin of the Am. Assoc. of Petroleum Geologists,v. 45, no. 11 (November, 1961), p. 1897-1906.

To top of page


Loye Miller

When Loye Miller began his studies of fossil birds just after the turn of the century, only one fossil bird bone from California had been recorded in the scientific literature. By 1961 during the twilight of Miller's career, over 230 species of fossil birds were known from 40 localities around the state. He personally described 42 species, mostly from California.

Loye Holmes Miller was born October 13, 1874, in Minden, Louisiana, the son of George and Cora Holmes Miller. His father had served as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War and later became a self-taught dentist. In 1877, under the stress of the Reconstruction Period, the family moved to a ranch in the desert near Riverside, California. Young Loye quickly developed a love of nature. He chased horned toads on the way to school, learned to mimic bird calls, and marveled at huge flocks of migrating cranes. He learned first-hand about bird anatomy from game birds he shot and dressed for the family meals. Soon he started an egg collection and a collection of bird skins. His was hands-on learning. (This of course was in the days before conservation concerns put a halt to most such collecting.) Later, he would instill in his students the importance of learning directly from nature.

Miller worked his way through U.C. Berkeley, earning a B.S. in chemistry in 1898, a M.S. in zoology in 1904 (with a thesis on salamanders), and a Ph.D. in 1912 (with a thesis on fossil birds). As a teaching assistant in 1910 he earned $200 per year.

In 1906 Professor John C. Merriam introduced Miller to excavations being conducted by the University of California at Rancho La Brea. Miller soon took particular interest in the fossil bird bones from this locality. Miller had been assembling his own collections of bird skeletons and used these to help identify the fossils. In those days, there was little in the way of museum collections to consult or even books on this subject. It soon became apparent that some of the bones were not quite the same as the modern ones. Slowly but surely, bone by bone, he began to piece together the bird fauna of Rancho La Brea. He described several extinct birds from the asphalt beds including a stork, turkey, condor, two teratorns, and several raptors.

Loye Miller saw in the fossils not simply a heap of blackened bones, but a living, breathing bird fauna. This fauna was just a little harder to get to know than our modern one. "The past," he later said, "supplies the background for the present, and we see the present as a product of the past."

In 1914 Miller was appointed an Instructor in Biology at Los Angeles Normal School. This school eventually became the University of California Southern Branch and then U.C.L.A., and he eventually became a full professor and Chairman of the Biology Department.

By all accounts, Miller was well-liked and had a unique sense of humor. When colleagues expressed annoyance by the term "branch university," he told them that he thought his old alma matter formed mighty good "root stock." He then added, "it¹s mostly the branches that blossom and bear fruit."

Besides is job as a professor, he also worked at Yosemite for several summers during the 1920s where he gave public lectures and led nature walks. Such interpretive programs, a staple at national parks today, were a new concept back then.

Miller had a broad general knowledge of zoology and botany and published some 200 articles between 1893 and 1968. Over half were studies of modern wildlife: hummingbird sounds, the roosting schedule of sparrow hawks, bluebird breeding in Los Angeles, the coat color of moles, duties of a park naturalist, etc. Long before the advent of ³paleobiology,² Miller had happily melded together fossils with biology.

Besides the birds from Rancho La Brea, Miller also described bird fossils from middle Miocene Sharktooth Hill in Kern County, a new species of Lucas Auk (Mancalla diegensis) from the Pliocene of San Diego, and an extinct flightless duck (Chendytes lawi) from the southern California Pleistocene. The latter species is now known to have survived until a few thousand years ago in the Monterey Bay area where it was dined on by Native Americans.

According to Hildegarde Howard, who was Miller's first graduate student, Miller was also well versed in the Bible and had once taught Bible studies at Oahu College. "He was sometimes called upon to counsel students who found it difficult to reconcile a theological background with college science courses," she wrote.

Miller retired from teaching at U.C.L.A. in 1943, and published a third of his scientific papers after retirement. He and his wife, Anne, had two sons, Alden and Holmes, both of whom pursued careers in the natural sciences.

Fortunately for science historians, the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley recorded in the 1960s an oral history of his reminiscences. An autobiography, Lifelong Boyhood,was published by U.C. Press. By the time Loye Miller passed away in 1970 he had been a student of western birds through nine decades and had become the father of avian paleontology in California.

By Frank Perry

Further Reading:

The Auk,v. 88 (April, 1971), p. 276-285.

The Condor,v. 74 (1972), p. 231-271.

To top of page


Myra Keen

Fortunate are those who, while still young, discover a subject that so fascinates them, it becomes their life's work. Myra Keen was such a person.

Angeline Myra Keen was born in 1905 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. An only child, she grew up on a ranch twenty miles out of town. It was during childhood that she took and interest in the natural sciences, particularly birds and insects. She attended Colorado College, intending to become a naturalist. But she did not like the idea of dissecting cats, smelling formalin, or killing beetles with cyanide, so she changed her major to psychology, receiving her A.B. in 1930.

Myra Keen then moved to California where she earned her M.A. in psychology from Stanford in 1931 and her Ph.D. in psychology from U.C. Berkeley in 1934. It was the middle of the Great Depression, however, and Dr. Keen could not find a job in this field. In the meantime, she bought some seashells in a Berkeley curio shop and became absolutely fascinated by them. She collected more shells on a visit to Monterey. When she learned that Ida Oldroyd was working on shells at Stanford, she volunteered as an assistant. Keen soon came under the tutelage of Dr. Hubert Schenk, Stanford paleontologist. "From then on I had somebody who could give me the academic guidance that I needed," she later said. She audited his courses in paleontology and stratigraphy and soon was collaborating with Schenk on several research projects.

In 1937, after Keen had volunteered for four years, Stanford finally put her on the payroll. They even created a title just for her: Curator of Paleontology. She became an Assistant Professor in 1954, and Associate Professor in 1960, and a full Professor in 1965 at age 60. At that time she was one of only three women science professors at Stanford.

Keen taught several courses including paleontology, biological oceanography, and curatorial methods. She enjoyed teaching and tried to give her students practical experience as in the following example:

"I was teaching an advanced paleontology course in which I demonstrated to students the proper way of wrapping shells for shipping. I'd pass out assorted shells to the students for them to wrap. Then I would climb up on a chair and tell them the story of the station agent who was asked by a young man if this trunk would survive the trip to London. The agent threw it off the platform and said, 'That's what it'll get in Edinburgh,' threw it down a second time and said,'That's what it'll get in Glasgow,' and then dropped it a third time on behalf of London. The trunk fell apart and the agent said to the young man, 'I don't think it'll make it'. Then I'd start throwing the packages of the students. The look on their faces would send me off into spasms. That was one course they remembered."

Myra Keen believed in blending the study of fossils with the study of modern faunas. She considered herself primarily an invertebrate paleontologist, specializing in bivalves, and only secondarily a malacologist. Yet, it is for the latter that she is better known. Her specialty was nomenclature: the science of naming organisms. She was the author of 14 books (counting revised editions) and nearly 200 articles about mollusks (including short papers and abstracts).

Her paleontological works includeCalifornia Fossils for the Field Geologist (co-written with Hubert Schenk in 1940), Check-list of California Tertiary Marine Mollusca (with Herdis Bentson, 1944), and sections on Cenozoic mollusk families for the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology.

Her major malacological works include Marine Molluscan Genera of Western North America, 1963 (2nd edition with Eugene V. Coan, 1974), and Sea Shells of Tropical West America,1958 (2nd edition, 1971). Keen had never intended to write the latter work--her greatest book--but it happened anyway. It seems that a wealthy southern California man, Harry Bauer, wanted to fund a book on West Coast tropical marine mollusks. He asked Dr. Keen if she would write it. She replied, "Nothing doing, I'm not interested in doing books." But he kept after her, and finally she agreed to get a group of students together as a committee to work on the project. "That's all I can do," she said. Bauer sent the money and the project got underway. One student was going to do the cowries, another the cone shells, and so forth. It first looked as though it would work out fine, but then the committee fell apart. One student died, another moved away, and soon the only one left was Dr. Keen. "We had accepted the money for it, so I was stuck doing the book." The second edition numbered 1,064 pages and treated some 3, 325 species.

A first-rate scholar of international renown, she was highly respected by her peers. Forty taxa were named in her honor including the periwinkle, Littorina keenae,common along the Monterey Bay coastline. Because several of her books were appealing to amateur shell collectors, she was famous among them too. A high point of her career came in 1975 when Emperor Hirohito of Japan requested a meeting with her during his state visit to the United States. It seems he, too, collected shells.

Those who knew Myra Keen well described her as unassuming, even shy, but sure of her convictions. She was a pacifist, nonmilitant feminist, wildlife conservationist, Biblical scholar, photographer, and lover of classical music. She neither smoked nor drank and believed in avoiding "excesses" of any kind. In later years she was active in the Religious Society of Friends or "Quakers." She had a marvelous talent for quickly putting people at ease, even children who came to show her a shell they had found. When asked why she never married, she replied, "I was never particularly adverse to the idea of marriage. I expected to marry some day if the right person came along, but I was never out searching. I was too interested in what I was doing."

Dr. Keen retired from Stanford in 1970, and a few years later the extensive collections of fossil and Recent mollusks that she had curated were transferred to the California Academy of Sciences. Despite failing eyesight and arthritis, she continued working - mostly reviewing others' manuscripts - up to within a few weeks of her death in 1986. She was 80. She left a long-lasting legacy of students, collections, and publications.

By Frank Perry

Further Reading:

Hickman, Carole S. Women in American Paleontology. American Paleontologist, vol. 3, no. 3, p. 1-4, 1995.

Moore, Ellen J. Memorial to Angeline Myra Keen. The Geological Society of America Memorials,vol. 18, 1988.

Moore, Ellen J. (untitled obituary) Shells and Sea Life,vol. 18, no. 1, p. 5., 1986.

Robertson, Robert, and Coan, Eugene. A. Myra Keen (1905-1986). Malacologia,vol. 27, no. 2, p. 375-402, 1986.

Smith, Judith Terry. A. Myra Keen (1905-1986). The Veliger,v. 28, no. 4, p. 463-464, 1986.

To top of page



home