The Histrionic Historiographer on John Casper Branner

[Cross blogged for Leland Quarterly]

Stanford has been host to a number of patriots in its 120year existence. Previous installments of the Histrionic Historiographer have already discussed the patriotism of David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president and discoverer of the American flagfish, and over the last century, the campus has often been a stopping point for politicians.  Cases in point:

Roosevelt traveled solely by convertible. And moose.

Left: John F. Kennedy with students outside of Memorial Auditorium; right: Richard M. Nixon with a bunch of tools. Arguably the most apt photographic depiction of either candidates’ support base.

Hey, wait! Where are you—oh, Facebook? Yeah, just make a left, can’t miss it. Tell Zucks I said sup.

But no one was more of a patriot than the man who directly followed Jordan: John Casper Branner.

Patriots always stare into the middle distance.

Hell, the man was born on the fourth of goddamn July, 1850.  He grew up as a member of a proud and established farming family, and was enamored with his relative Benjamin M. Branner, a lieutenant colonel in the army.  A lieutenant colonel in the army who led a cavalry battalion.  A cavalry battalion organized in 1861.  In Tennessee.

For the Confederate Army.


Branner supposedly tried to join the Confederate cause but was repeatedly turned away for being, in a doctor’s opinion, “twelve to thirteen years old,” a medical condition characterized by an unnaturally high voice, short stature, underdeveloped musculature, and incurable self-centeredness.

Dejected, Branner eventually came to terms with northern oppression, even trading his juleps for manhattans and heading to New York to attend Cornell University, a college far, far douchier than humble Stanford. He later earned a PhD in geology and was credited with the discovery of Bauxite in Arkansas (an impressive feat, considering Bauxite only has 432 residents and may have the highest Wikipedia-article-word-count-to-population ratio of any American town—did you know their community center is available to the general public for rental and event usage?).

Branner was also happened to be good friends with David Starr Jordan, the two having studied at Cornell and later worked at Indiana University together. When Leland Stanford, Sr. convinced Jordan to come west to his new farm and/or school (the distinction was a little hazy at the time), Jordan talked Branner into coming along, and so Branner became a Stanford professor—actually, the first Stanford professor. Fast forward twenty-two years and who else would the departing Jordan name as Stanford’s next president but Branner? Branner served diligently as Stanford’s president for a whopping two years before finally taking one look at that severance package and leaping into retirement.

Oh, and as head of Geology and Mining at Stanford, guess who was one of Branner’s first students? Why, Herbert “Of All the Presidents Why Does This One Have to be from Stanford” Hoover. Hoover even dedicated a book to Branner, a translation of De re metallica (Latin for On the Nature of Metals; English for The Most Boring Book in Existence), so we can assume the two were pretty close.

What, then, can we deduce? Well, either that John Casper Branner was a brilliant and nefarious mastermind who harkened for the halcyon days of the Confederate States of America and plotted to bring about the ultimate destruction of the North by using his time at Stanford to brainwash future president Herbert Hoover into driving the country into economic ruin, ensuring that the South would rise again from the ashes of the decimated country and fulfilling the vision of a triumphant Confederacy he had clung to since boyhood…

Or, more simply, that Branner sucks.