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Indiana University

College of Arts and Sciences
facilities – history
Charles Diess

When Charles Deiss came to Indiana from Montana as Chairman of the IU Geology Department in 1944, one of his priorities was the establishment of a geologic field station. The first two field courses were conducted out of the YBRA (Princeton) camp near Red Lodge. In 1947 Dr. Deiss was in charge, with 8 students participating, and in 1948 Charles J. Vitaliano led the program, with 21 students and three assistants.

Dr. Deiss selected the South Boulder Valley as the site for the Field Station because "the region offers more extensive and varied geologic phenomena than any other area of equal size in the United States." After a July 1948 visit by the IU Purchasing Agent and the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, the present site was selected for purchase.

The land was part of the original homestead holdings of the Brownback family, dating back to about 1880. The land had reverted to the state of Montana in 1929, and was under lease by Whitehall rancher Frank Koontz. After considerable legal work the State of Montana was not sure it could reasonably sell part of its territory to the State of Indiana in the person of the trustees of Indiana University 60 acres were purchased in the name of IU Treasurer J.A. Franklin and his wife. The Deed is dated December 30, 1948, and the Franklins assigned the deed to the Trustees of Indiana University on December 31, 1948. The 60 acres cost $5 per acre, for a total cost of $305 (including a $5 filing fee). Today, land in this valley goes for about $1000 per acre or more.


The Lodge and one bunkhouse and shower facility were completed during the summer of 1949 (after the first course, led by Deiss and Vitaliano, arrived). Dr. Vitaliano was introduced to the Section the night before he had to outline it to the students the next day! He was in complete charge of instruction that first year, as Dr. Deiss's time was filled with administration and construction activities. Dr. Vitaliano continued teaching in the field course until 1974.

The Field Station address was originally Jefferson Island, but when the Jefferson Island Post Office closed in 1954 the address became Cardwell and has been ever since. The first telephone line was added in 1957-58 after resident bookkeeper Ross Hickam suffered a tragic stroke it was a three mile drive to the nearest phone.


In 1999, on the unanimous decision of the IU Board of Trustees, the Field Station's name was officially changed to the Judson Mead Geologic Field Station of Indiana University. Drs. Deiss and Mead are both honored through contributions to Field Station endowments in their name, which support scholarships, research, and other activities at the Station. For more information, please visit our endowments page.

The Willow Creek Watershed in the eastern Tobacco Root Mountains is an outdoor laboratory for teaching, research, and applied investigations.

The heart of the Field Station is the Charles F. Deiss Lodge, the focus for meals, recreation, study, and evening work sessions.


Wayne Lowell became Director of the Field Station in 1951, though Dr. Deiss continued to have a strong role in the programs. Lowell was succeeded by Judson Mead in 1961, and Lee Suttner was Director from 1982-1995. Jim Brophy became Director in 1996, followed by Ed Ripley and Bruce Douglas. In 2010, Mark Leonard was named Executive Director with Bruce Douglas as Director of Academic Programs.


The first caretaker was Mr. Eildert Vry of Mammoth, succeeded by Herb Dutton as Resident Manager in 1954. Herb's son-in-law, Gene Hinton, was manager from 1968-1986, and Gene's son Gary succeeded him and served until 1994. Grant Estey, assisted by Gary Hinton's son Dusty, became Resident Manager in 1995, and in 1999 Dick Gibson became Resident Manager/Geologist. In 2010, Mark Toensing was hired as Resident Manager.

Cooks were brought out from Indiana until 1954, when some difficulties led to the spur-of-the-moment hiring of Hazel McComb, who was head cook until 1975.


Two women were in the first course at the Station in 1949. In 1993, women outnumbered men for the first time in G429.


Lake Mead was excavated in 1959, the same summer four new steel buildings were added to the campus (including the classroom and upper campus bathhouse).


The faculty trailers were added in 1966. All the student dorms were heated for the first time during the summer of 1996, when major renovations to the large men's dorms were completed.


The middle 1990s also saw the addition of an environmental option to G429, as well as a new course, G329, a field course for IU's B.S. in Environmental Sciences. The Field Station is serving as a base for research using the Willow Creek Demonstration Watershed for data, and it also provides information that will be used by local ranchers to plan distribution of irrigation water.