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Bill Patton Jr., Part 1

Bill Patton was interviewed in his office at the United States Geological Survey, Western Region Center in Menlo Park, California on September 22, 2004 by Karen Brewster. Although, Bill is retired, the USGS has an emeritus program that continues to support scientists with an office, but no salary. In this interview, Bill talked about traversing the Brooks Range by tracked vehicle in 1951 to map the geology, the geologic history of the area, conducting field parties throughout the Brooks Range, and changes in methods and transportation between the early and later work.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2002-27-20_PT.1

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Sep 22, 2004
Narrator(s): Bill Patton, Jr.
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


1) His personal background and how he came to work in Alaska

2) His first summer of field work in northern Alaska

3) Nature of geological work related to oil exploration, and how he got interested in doing geology

4) Brooks Range traverse expedition in 1951

5) Caching gas and using weasels on the 1951 expedition traversing the Brooks Range

6) Interaction with Native people in northern Alaska

7) Locations where did field work, contact with Natives at Anaktuvuk Pass, and experience with Barrow

8) Continuation of the 1951 traverse expedition, and other parties who did similar routes before him

9) Other field work he did, and use of helicopters in geological field expeditions

10) Changes in fieldwork methods from boats to weasels to helicopters

11) The joys and hardships of geologic fieldwork expeditions in the Arctic, and the type of clothing worn

12) Some of his research work in other parts of Alaska and Russia

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Section 1: birthdate\ birthplace\ Vancouver, Canada\ New England\ Philadelphia\ education\ Harvard University\ World War II\ draft\ military service -- Marines\ Cornell University\ education -- bachelor's degree\ military -- active duty\ training -- accelerated\ education -- graduate studies\ master's thesis -- Idaho\ job -- US Geological Survey\ mineral deposits\ Washington, DC\ Alaska\ Naval Petroleum Reserve #4 -- exploration\ Umiat\ country -- desolate|

Section 2: Umiat\ country -- desolate\ geological work -- traverse\ airplane -- float plane\ Chandler River\ Chandler Lake\ pilot -- first flight\ airplane -- landing\ airplane -- floated away\ party chief -- Detterman, Bob\ Arctic -- love of\ field expedition -- purpose of\ rock -- outcrops\ samples -- collection\ geology -- fossils\ geology -- petrography\ Brooks Range -- geology\ rocks -- subsurface\ rocks -- surface\ oil -- prediction\ Kurupa Lake\ Cape Simpson\ oil seep\ Barrow\ vehicle -- Navy landing craft\ vehicle -- weasel\ Wells, ? -- prospector\ permafrost -- thawing\ oil seeps -- source\ rock -- bedrock\ ground -- frozen\ oil -- animals caught in|

Section 3: National Petroleum Reserve -- oil exploration\ field work -- methods\ oil exploration -- coastal plain\ oil exploration -- northern foothills\ rocks -- types of\ rocks -- porous\ rocks -- source\ rocks -- surface analysis\ maps -- geologic\ oil -- drilling\ southern foothills -- structures\ rocks -- indicators\ structure -- drill in\ geology -- interest in\ Harvard University\ professor -- geology\ Mather, Kirtley F.\ outdoors -- love of\ education|

Section 4: Cape Simpson\ oil seeps\ field season -- end of\ Washington, DC\ fieldwork -- summer\ Alaska\ vehicle -- weasels\ Umiat\ Brooks Range -- south side\ mapping -- geology\ rock -- sampling\ Brooks Range -- north front\ trip -- heart of Brooks Range\ weasels -- use of\ Okokmilaga River\ Killik River\ Hunt Fork John River\ Navy\ trip -- traverse\ maps -- lack of\ photos -- lack of\ topography -- exploration\ timberline\ gear -- cache\ boat -- canvas\ river -- float\ Bettles\ Gryc, George\ weasels -- return\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ geologists -- wives\ Fairbanks\ Mangus, Marvin \ Wien Airlines\ camp -- Little Chandler Lake\ women -- first\ meat -- lack of fresh\ hunting -- caribou\ hunting -- sheep\ fishing\ meat -- storage of\ permafrost\ trip -- crewmembers\ Mangus, Marv\ Brosge, Bill\ Herreid, Gordon|

Section 5: vehicle -- weasel\ gas\ gas -- caching\ airplane\ barrels -- air-dropping\ parachute\ airplane -- landing\ Little Chandler Lake\ gas -- aviation\ gas -- sneaking in\ wives -- flying in\ boss \ Miller, Ralph\ US Geological Survey -- Navy Oil Unit\ Gryc, George\ gas cache -- locations\ campsites\ route -- design of\ weasels -- gas mileage\ weasel -- speed\ tundra\ terrain -- difficult\ weasel -- tracks\ tracks -- breakage\ tracks -- replacement\ Umiat\ radio\ tracks -- air-dropping\ tracks -- description of\ World War II\ tracks -- condition of\ Brooks Range\ travel -- challenges of\ route -- unknown\ exploration -- advance\ camp -- moving\ crewmembers -- number of\ geologists\ field assistants\ weasel mechanic\ cook\ Navy|

Section 6: expeditions\ employees -- Native\ Barrow\ Cape Simpson\ oil seeps\ vehicle -- weasel\ oil seep -- location of\ language -- differences\ bedrock -- exploration\ exploration -- explosion\ graves -- Native\ graves -- discovery of\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Hunt Fork John River\ country -- timber\ weasels -- first\ rides\ Anaktuvuk Pass -- school\ school -- first\ school -- tent\ school -- attendance\ clothing -- Western\ clothing -- trying on\ Natives -- interactions with|

Section 7: Brooks Range -- south side\ geology -- exploration\ fieldwork -- locations\ Yukon Delta\ Kotzebue\ Wild Lake\ Wiseman\ Koyukuk River\ Hughes\ helicopters -- use of\ Walker Lake\ Inupiat -- first encounter with\ Gryc, George\ weasels -- interest in\ meat -- moose\ meat -- sharing\ camps -- visit\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ trade\ food -- canned\ Barrow\ Naval Arctic Research Laboratory\ Navy base\ Cape Simpson\ Naval Petroleum Reserve\ Umiat|

Section 8: traverse -- length of time\ Bettles\ John River\ river -- flood\ campsites -- lack of\ river -- floated\ Bettles -- old village\ airstrip\ flood -- effects of\ Bettles -- storekeeper\ alcohol\ river -- return to\ Fairbanks\ geology -- results\ rocks\ Brooks Range\ rocks -- belt configuration\ traverse -- crossing belts\ rocks -- types\ rocks -- structures\ expeditions -- previous\ US Geological Survey\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Arctic Ocean\ Schrader, Frank\ Brooks Range -- traverse|

Section 9: Brooks Range -- south side\ Coldfoot\ Kiana\ mapping -- general\ Koyukuk Basin\ Yukon Delta\ helicopters -- use of\ helicopter -- types of\ crewmembers -- number of\ pilot\ cook\ geologists\ assistant\ camp -- locations\ villages -- worked from\ Hughes\ Nutuvukti Lake\ Walker Lake\ Dall Creek\ Shungnak\ helicopter operation\ fuel -- hauling\ equipment\ fieldwork -- methods\ traverse -- foot\ helicopter -- spot landings\ helicopter -- use of\ information -- amount of\ data -- processing\ maps -- making|

Section 10: geology -- field methods\ field methods -- changes in\ boats -- use of\ river -- access to\ geological knowledge -- limits to\ weasel -- use of\ land -- barren\ boats -- polling\ helicopter -- use of\ helicopter -- benefits\ area -- increased access\ field methods -- preference\ logistics -- complications\ stress\ data -- amount of\ fieldwork -- locations\ fieldwork -- planning\ access -- ease of\ rock -- exposures\ maps -- quadrangles\ fieldcamps -- location\ fieldcamps -- centralized\ helicopter -- range of\ gas -- hauling\ maps -- geological\ maps -- topographic\ Army Corps of Engineers\ mapping -- survey points\ rocks -- collection of|

Section 11: Gates of the Arctic National Park\ area -- description\ Park -- impact of\ Arctic Slope -- "wilderness area"\ Arctic Slope -- "wasteland"\ country -- new\ country -- unknown\ maps -- lack of\ Inupiat people\ travel -- dog sleds\ expeditions -- positives\ Brooks Range\ exploration -- thrill of\ geologist-- first\ curiosity\ excitement\ expeditions -- hardships\ field season -- length of\ weather\ mosquitoes\ mosquito -- protection\ incesticide -- DDT bombs\ Arctic -- seasons\ snow\ lakes -- ice melt\ wildflowers\ darkness -- arrival of\ snow -- termination dust\ fieldwork -- leaving\ clothing -- WWII surplus\ parka -- Arctic\ Navy\ boots -- shoe-pacs\ raingear|

Section 12: Brooks Range -- central\ Walker Lake\ Bettles\ work -- years of\ Bering Sea\ St. Lawrence Island\ St. Matthew Island\ Russia -- cooperative program\ fieldtrips\ Russia -- northeast\ Chukotka\ retirement\ Brooks Range -- rocks\ Seward Peninsula\ Koyukuk basin\ Natives -- interaction with\ Yupik\ rocks -- tracing\ Russia -- no contact\ US government -- cultural and scientific exchange program\ Leningrad\ Moscow\ Novosibirsk\ Irkutsk\ Khabarovsk\ Magadan\ geology -- headquarters\ geologists -- visit with\ Russia -- fieldtrips\ geology -- information exchange\ Afghanistan War\ communication -- cut-off\ Perestroika\ work -- agreement|