We have learned to think of J. Harlen Bretz as the genius who first realized that many of the geologic features of Eastern Washington were carved by catastrophic flooding. However, there is some evidence that Bretz actually got the idea from a high school science teacher at Spokane’s Lewis and Clark High School named Alonzo Pearle Troth. A 1936 publication by Joseph G. McMacken, also a Lewis and Clark High School Physics teacher, credited A.P. Troth with first thinking of the flood theory, though he acknowledges that the flood theory was first mentioned in print by Bretz.
“… the basis of the “Flood Theory,” first mentioned in print by Bretz. However one of the first suggestions of the “Flood Theory” was made by A.P. Troth, of the Lewis & Clark high-school, and if Bretz is the father of the scablands, surely Troth is the grandfather.” (McMacken, 1937)
Alonzo Troth was a zoology teacher and head of the natural science department at Lewis and Clark at the same time McMacken was the head of the physical science department. Troth’s theory could reasonably have been discussed with J H. Bretz through a mutual friend, Thomas Large, who was also a natural science teacher at Spokane’s Lewis and Clark High School, as shown in the attached yearbook records. Thomas Large has been described as a benefactor to Bretz and also worked with Bretz and J.T. Pardee in the scablands (Baker, 1995 and 2008).
Regardless, J H. Bretz stands by his notion that he came up with the theory of the Channeled Scablands while looking at one of the first topographic maps of the Quincy Basin. No matter who planted the seed of the “Flood Theory,” it was J Harlen Bretz that first published it and whose conviction and plethora of scientific work ultimately defended the theory against very strong opposition. This unquestionably makes J Harlen Bretz the father of scabland geology.