Charles Laurence Baker, structural geologist, was born in Coe Township, Rock Island County, Illinois, on October 10, 1887, the son of Rudolphus James Rodney and Alice (Drennan) Baker. He attended Port Byron Academy, Illinois; received a bachelor's degree from Monmouth College, Illinois, at the age of eighteen; and took a master's degree in 1916 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he had gone to recover from tuberculosis. He later served as an instructor at Oberlin College, Ohio, and did graduate work at the University of Chicago, where he completed all the work for the doctorate except the dissertation. While in school, Baker worked with the United States Geological Survey in Wyoming.
His subsequent career, which was divided between academic positions and mineral and petroleum exploration projects conducted by various agencies, took him to Oklahoma and Kansas, Brazil, and Mexico. As a geologist, he worked for the Southern Pacific Railway, Standard Oil Company of California, Rio Bravo Oil Company, L. E. Hanchett, East Coast Oil Company of America, and Tidewater Oil Company. From 1935 to 1944 he served as chairman of the geology department at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) and from 1931 to 1935 as a geologist for the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas and as a lecturer at various universities. From 1945 to 1953 he worked both for the South Dakota State Geological Survey and in teaching.
Baker is remembered for his forays of two to three weeks alone and on foot into the desert, for his extensive explorations in Mexico, and for his search for hydrocarbons in California. In September 1909 in Baylor County, Texas, he discovered the Craddock Ranch "bone bed," an extensive deposit of Permian amphibian and reptilian fossils. He wrote nearly fifty books and papers on the geology of the western United States, Mexico, and the River Plate basin of South America. His works about Texas include Review of the Geology of Texas (1916), which he coauthored with Johan A. Udden and Emil Böse, Exploratory Geology of a Part of Southwestern Trans-Pecos Texas (1927), and "Major Features of Trans-Pecos Texas," which appeared in The Geology of Texas, Volume II: Structural and Economic Geology (1935).
In 1915 Baker married Minnie Louise Perkins. The couple had three children. Baker retired in 1953 to the farm in Cordova, Illinois, where he had grown up, and died on April 7, 1979, at East Lansing, Michigan. He was a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geological Society of Edinburgh and the Geological Society of America.