By Wm H Newman; M J Clements; G W Cambron, 1886

Very little can  now be gleaned reminiscent of the bearer of this name, for awhile one of the most prominent among the pioneer astronomers of America. Very few know that he was born in a little log cabin on top of a high hill about one-fourth of a mile north of the present hamlet of Gum Grove; yet, here, in 1810, of poor and humble parents, awakened a life which has shed imperishable lustre upon American science. Not great in originality, not accurate in scientific knowledge, his vigor, his perseverance, his unquenchable enthusiasm gave am impetus to science in this country, which has not ceased to vibrate to the present. That little life, dawning in the humble cabin, grew and developed, and shook off its environments as the butter-fly shakes off its chrysalis, until its possessor, out from his humble ignorance up from his poverty, became universally known as "The Pioneer Astronomer of America." It is to be regretted that so little can be discovered concerning his early struggles. At present his name is only a legend among the best informed people of our county; yet all these know that he was born here; that his parents were very poor; that during his stay among us he was regarded as a silent, meditative lad--possibly the fire of future eloquence and that earnestness which swayed multitudes as a forest is swayed by a storm, was even then brooding and smouldering in the depths of that silent, reserved nature. While yet a lad he left here and west East, and then all trace of him is lost, and we next find him full of fervor and enthusiasm lecturing on astronomy from town to town, wherever he could get an audience; and, considering his earnestness, his faith, and the novelty of his subject, it could hardly be of great difficulty to secure one. At this period he bears resemblance to Captain Symmes, of Upper Kentucky, who tramped from village to village, advocating his quaint and unscientific theory. Unlike Symmes, however, Mitchell seems to have carried away his audience by his impassioned fervor. He told them what they could behold nightly in the skies, and each man departed with a wish to become a Copernicus or Galielo, or at least a Newton or a Herschel. His simple program was for each to procure a telescoope, the larger the better, establish an observatory, and go on the path of discovery. The stellar space was boundless, the field of research limitless. So it was, but he forgot that fully seven-eights of his audience didn't know the constellation of Orion from the Pleiades, nor the ascending node from a well-sweep. As a direct result of his preaching, however, observatories sprang up like mushrooms over the country, some of which are in existence at present and have accomplished good; some came down to naught, or were sold for debt; but good or ill, he laid the corner stone of astronomy in his native land.

We next find him installed as chief astronomer at Cincinnati, whose observatory his enthusiasm called into being, as it likewise did the celebrated Mount Whitney Observatory, near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The effort to build the Cincinnati Observatory was beset with difficulties, but at last it rose, and here his crusade ended, although his position would appear to fully told, the reader will smile at it through his tears. The eighth Article of Incorporation, among other things, stipulated that "It shall further be the duty of the astronomer to by himself aid in gratifying the curiosity of such members of the Society (of incorporators) as may desire to examine the heavens through the telescope." He had each year to deliver a course of lectures before the society and such citizens as may purchase a ticket to the same; and the sale of such tickets was to constitute his only recompense for his services! Rather a pitiable lot for one whose precepts have been productive of such universal fruit. Some idea of his versatility may be obtained from Sidney S. Lyon's prefatory letter to the Second Topographical Report of Geological Survey, wherein it appears that Professor Mitchell rated the chronometers and instruments of the survey. As these were to be first used in making the survey of his native county, we can well imagine that the work was a labor of love.

He appears to have been tolerably content with his lot until the beginning of the war, at which time he entered the Union service, rose to the rank of major-general and was killed in action in 1862.

A mystic career and a tragic close. Says a recent writer in Harper's Magazine in an introduction to a scientific paper: "There is a chapter of history yet unwritten. Some day will provide the hour and the man to tell the story. Then the forgotten name of O. M. Mitchell will be duly honored by American science. Not great in himself, he was the source of greatness in other[sic]. What he lacked in knowledge he made up in enthusiasm. He preached a crusade, and his followers erected domes upon many a hill-top and planted telescopes therein. His was the fervor and theirs the faith. The harvest of long tubes and broad lenses was plentiful, but the efficient laborers in the observatories were few."