James W. Baxter
James Watson Baxter, the son of a Baptist minister in Shamrock, Texas, joined the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) in 1952, fresh from getting his B.S. and M.S. in geology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He began his career as a research assistant in the Stratigraphy and Areal Geology Section while he pursued his Ph.D. in geology under Albert Carozzi at the University of Illinois. In 1956, upon his return from two years of military service, Baxter was promoted to an assistant geologist and began working in the Industrial Minerals Section. He completed his doctoral dissertation, Stratigraphy and Texture of the Salem Limestone in Southwestern Illinois, in 1958 and summarized that work in 1960 in his first ISGS circular. Over the next 32 years until his retirement in 1992, Jim was the sole author or senior author of 60 publications, maps, and abstracts and a coauthor of 45 more works. His research interests, as reflected by the subjects of his scientific articles, were extremely broad.
Throughout his career at the ISGS, Baxter gave selflessly of his time and energy to help other geologists launch their careers. He had plenty of ideas for research projects and helped many geology graduate students with their thesis research.
Because of his encyclopedic knowledge of Illinois geology and of mineral deposits, the Survey turned to Baxter to coordinate the input of Illinois' geological data in a cooperative project with the United States Geological Survey to assess all the mineral resources for the Paducah 1° × 2° quadrangle. Development of many of the exploration models for the project, especially the fluorspar model, relied extensively on Baxter's knowledge.
Baxter's wry sense of humor and unexpected artistic talents are revealed by the cartoon character he drew when the Survey was looking for ideas for a new logo. Inspired by the Quaternary Deposits Map of Illinois, the smiling bearded face and diminutive body of "Mr. Big Rivers," clad in a hard hat and carrying a rock hammer, personifies Illinois geology. In all the best possible ways, "Mr. Big Rivers" bears a striking resemblance to Jim Baxter.
Geologist Richard Harvey, who began his ISGS career in the Industrial Minerals Section, said of Baxter, "He was my close research colleague and friend. Together we debated, with dignity and understanding, the major issues of humanity for over 30 years."