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Eugene Allen Smith's Alabama: How a Geologist Shaped a State

Aileen Kilgore Henderson

NewSouth Books
$34.95 hardcover
7.625 x 9 ¼   
300 pages
50 black-and-white photos
August 2011

In 1871 when the University of Alabama reopened after its destruction by Federal troops, Eugene Allen Smith returned to his alma mater as professor of geology and mineralogy. Until his death in 1927, this gifted man devoted his abundant energy and his stout heart to the welfare of the school and the state. After persuading the legislature to appoint him state geologist in 1873, he spent his summers enduring chills, fevers, and verbal abuse as he searched for industrial raw materials that could bring about better lives for destitute Alabamians. Traveling in a mule-drawn wagon, he recorded detailed observations, botanical and geological discoveries, and mineral analyses in his journal. He loaded the wagon with specimens for the university museum he dreamed of creating some day. He inventoried industries that had failed or been destroyed, judging whether they were worth salvaging.  Interspersed with this information were pithy comments on people he met, frustrations he dealt with, historical notes, and poetic descriptions of rocks and creeks and mountains, giving a vivid picture of Alabama in transition.

What he accomplished, against monumental odds, became the catalyst that transformed Alabama from an aimless and poverty-stricken agricultural state to an industrial giant to be reckoned with. How he accomplished what he did, with very little support and hardly any money, gave this diminutive and very human man a stature of mythic proportions in the history of the university and the state. The story of “Little Doc,” as told in Eugene Allen Smith’s Alabama, is drawn from many sources: Smith’s transcribed field notes, countless numbers of letters he received and the carbon copies of his replies, his published reports over a period of fifty years, wills, genealogical records, histories of the state and of the University of Alabama, his own photographs, and contemporary newspapers.