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The image above illustrates the magnitude of the disdain and contempt Professors Cope and Marsh had for each other based on articles and headlines from the 1890 New York Herald.  Developed by an Austrian artist on Deviant art identified as Pelycosaur24

This chapter provides a brief introduction into the geographic and scientific setting that resulted in the bone wars that came knocking at the front door of Marshall and Amanda’s cabin in 1877. 



The Bone Wars

A few of the more well known books about the bone wars.  

The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science by Mark Jaffee does a wonderful job of telling the bone wars story. It wasn’t just the discoveries of hundreds of new species including the largest animals ever to walk the Earth, it was the methods employed to secure funding and resources to support one scientist endeavors at the expense of the others.  (Jaffe 2000)

The Bone Hunters: The Heroic Age of Paleontology in the American West by Url Lanham provides an overview of American paleontology after Thomas Jefferson and focusses on several of the important paleontologists including Samuel Williston, John Bell Hatcher, Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, and Joseph Leidy but his major focus is on Marsh and Cope. These scientists triggered an explosion of knowledge about the nature and evolution of the prehistoric animals that once roamed our continent in the past. (Lanham 1991)

The Bonehunters Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Guilded Age by David Rains Wallace tells the story but provides a different perspective and one that is important. He focuses on the time period when the feud became public in 1990 and provides some of the rather ruinous downside of their work. A more disciplined cooperative approach might have yielded much more in the long run. (Wallace 2000)

Perhaps a good place to capture the flavor of the time of the Cope-Marsh feud is the fictional tale Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton.  It is a fictional story that rotates around William Johnson, a fascinating character who enters into the wild west and intertwined into the battle between Cope and Marsh. (Crichton 2017)

Above is a collage using book covers about the bone wars.

The three ingredients that propelled forward the discoveries of new species of animals.  

Great scientists that came before Cope and Marsh including Cuvier, William Smith, Darwin, Sir Charles Lyell, and many others.  From an American standpoint it would be Joseph Leidy from Philadelphia. 

A national referendum that encouraged scientific investigations, especially in the West, to ascertain what resources and terrain was out there to facilitate both a massive western migration of emigrants and locating resources to fuel industrial growth. 

The passion of Cope and Marsh to discover and publish about new species of animals.  

America’s Father of Paleontology

Joseph Leidy is generally thought of as the founder of American vertebrate paleontology.  He is the main American individual that set the stage for professors Cope and Marsh who would become the main characters in the bone wars story.  Leidy, born in 1823, grew up in Philadelphia attaining a doctorate in medicine at the age of 21. He would go on to become an expert in comparative anatomy, paleontology, geology, zoology, and botany and during his lifetime he would publish over eight hundred scientific articles. In scientific discussions he seemed to have an intimate and first-hand knowledge of anatomy, invertebrate zoology, and paleontology; the book entitled “The Last Man that Knew Everything” is a testament to his contributions.(Warren 1998)

Leidy rapidly developed into one of the leading experts in comparative anatomy.  He was brilliant and could make solid determinations based on relatively scanty evidence.  In 1848 he published a paper on an extinct camel that lived in North America and shortly later he identified a very large hoofed mammal that he named Titanotherium from Nebraska. Fairly early in his career he established himself as the expert on fossils from the West.  In 1850 Spencer F. Baird of the Smithsonian sent a collection of fossils originating in Nebraska Territory to Leidy because he considered Leidy to be the only anatomist qualified to make the determination.  In 1854 Leidy described oreodonts (“ruminating hogs”), rhinoceroses, elotheres (giant pigs), horses, titanotheres (huge herbivore), and Testudinatas (turtles).  He would also publish on sloths, Dicotylinae (a peccary or pig like mammal), and an extinct American Ox during this general time frame.  

Fourteen years later Leidy completed a memoir in 1869 entitled “The Extinct Mammalian Fauna of Dakota and Nebraska”(Leidy 1974). This memoir provided a complete synopsis of mammalian paleontology up to 1869 along with his own research. In 1873, Leidy completed “Contributions to the Extinct Vertebrate Fauna of the Western Territories”.(Leidy 1873)

As Professors Cope and Marsh became combatants Leidy gradually backed away from the fray taking on an array of other scientific interests but always retaining a strong connection to paleontology. 


One of the stops of JoAnn and I when visiting Philadelphiain 2011  was the historic Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia.  Our purpose was to view Camarasaurus bones in a display area, bones that Professor Cope bought from a J.W. Lambuth in Canon City and sold to the Institute in the late 1880’s.  They are relatively unimportant bones scientifically but they came from the Canon City area with their own little historic story which will be briefly touched on relatively late in Marshall Felch’s dinosaur story.  What surprised us in this classic museum were the Victorian cases and hand-labeled specimens along with a classic lecture hall for great scientists to deliver talks.  We learned that these collections don’t just look good but that that they are arranged in a manner so that visitors walk through the exhibition hall from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time.  We learned that this was the result of Joseph Leidy in the 1880’s, one of many of his contributions to science.  It provided us an opportunity to feel his presence and appreciate his genius.  

Geology Surveys

Industrial growth was gaining steam and there was a growing need for minerals after the Civil War. Simultaneously we were experiencing a massive human migration to the West.   It was natural for our nation to want to know what we had in the way of minerals and land out west, understanding what we were getting into. 

An Irish immigrant by the name of Joseph Wilson had worked his way up the ladder in general land office.  In the 1866 land office report to congress he stated:

“the proper development of the geological characteristics and mineral wealth of the country was a matter of the highest concern to the American people” (White 1983)

Congress listened and understood the implications and on March 2, 1867 they authorized western explorations in which geology would be the principal objective. The science of geology was the right tool to figure out where those minerals were.  Additionally these surveys were broad in nature including biology, agriculture, water, and much more. Geologists including Ferdinand Hayden, Clarence King, John Wesley Powell, and Lieutenant Wheeler emerged on the scene and  geological based surveys in the West were being funded shortly after the end of the Civil War. Ferdinand Hayden’s surveys had the strongest connection to Marshall and Amanda Felch story, particularly the Colorado surveys in 1869 and 1873 through 1876.  

If you wanted to understand the geology you needed to understand the paleontology and fossils.  Naturalists and paleontologists including Marsh and Cope worked for or in cooperation with these surveys at different times.  Cope and Marsh did not just blindly head out to the American West, they were a part of this much larger picture. 

Ferdinand Hayden “Man Who Picks Up Stones Running” 

In 1871 Hayden led a geological survey team of about 50 professionals into the Yellowstone country of northwestern Wyoming. Thomas Moran, who painted the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, was on the team along with the well known photographer, William Henry Jackson. Hayden’s resume is extensive but he is probably best known as the person who spawned our nations interest in the Yellowstone region leading to our first national park in 1872.  

Hayden, a graduate of both Oberlin College in Ohio and Albany Medical College, had a keen interest in the natural world.  Following graduation he went to work for James Hall, the New York State geologist.  This led to his first expedition in 1853 to the Badlands of Nebraska and South Dakota. It was during this journey that he appears to have been given the name “Man Who Picks Up Stones Running” by the Sioux who saw him picking up fossils.

Hayden made his way to the upper Missouri basin during the 1854 and 1855 expeditions. He was encouraged by the naturalist and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Spencer Baird. The following two years Hayden accompanied the United States Army Topographical Engineers into the Yellowstone River and northern Missouri river areas.  He and his good friend Fielding Meeks, conducted substantial survey work in Kansas during 1858. Hayden accompanied the topographical engineers in 1858 and 1859 into the upper Missouri, Yellowstone, and Bighorn Mountains.  Hayden’s explorations were interrupted during the Civil War where he served as an army surgeon and chief medical officer of the Army of the Shenandoah. Its possible he and Marshall Felch may have met during the fall of 1864 there.  After the war he returned to the Badlands, this time under the sponsorship of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 

When congress appropriated geological survey funding, it was only natural that Hayden was appointed geologist-in-charge of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. It wasn’t just an accident that he rose to this rank; he had an infectious enthusiasm, perseverance, and energy about him and it drew to him wonderfully qualified assistants. The work was placed under the authority of the General Land Office within the Department of Interior and initially allocated $5,000 for a survey of the Nebraska Territory. The Nebraska Survey led by Hayden would become the first comprehensive scientific and geologic survey ever made in the American West. 

 “He represented in science the curiosity, the intelligence, the energy, the practical business talent of the western people…His honesty and integrity were undoubted and his work for the Government and for science was a labor of love.  (Charles A. White, 1894)


A noon meal in Ferdinand V. Hayden’s camp of the U.S. Geological Survey. Red Buttes, Wyoming Territory, August 24, 1870. Hayden sits at far end of table in dark jacket; W. H. Jackson stands at far right.  Picture courtesy of the National Archives – American West Photographs.

Cope and Marsh 

By the time Cope and Marsh reached adulthood they knew the path (or rather an obsession) they were going to follow. They were intensely competitive and the only thing in the way was each other.  The largely uncharted territory was waiting to reveal its secrets and these arid lands and they could see the exposed fossils. The difference between what had historically been discovered and what Cope and Marsh were about to unveil was a whole degree of magnitude.  

Professor Edward D. Cope

Edward D. Cope

The most well-known Cope biography originates from a friend and admirer Henry Fairfield Osborn who introduces Cope in the book, Cope: The Master Naturalist published in 1931(Osborn 1931).

“Edward Drinker Cope was born in Philadelphia, the cradle of American philosophic and scientific thought, on July 28, 1840, grew up a contemporary of the paleontology which Georges Cuvier had founded in 1799, and spent his life and a considerable fortune in its furtherance. Happening to be born with an observing and inquiring mind, he absorbed in childhood the stores of natural history painstakingly gathered by pioneer scientists of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, worked them over with genius, adding as he grew older a first-hand acquaintance with the unbelievably ancient fossils discovered by fur-traders in the plains of Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas, and proceeded to astonish his conservative predecessors by setting forth overwhelming evidence of the theory of evolution as traced from fossil through living forms, from the lowest single-celled organism to man.” 

Jane P. Davidson introduces Cope in a second biography published a hundred years after Cope passed away and delivers a slightly different perspective.  It is entitled, The Bone Sharp: The Life of Edward Drinker Cope, (Davidson 1997).

…he was an absolutely fascinating man. He was almost a fantasy figure. He was fabulously wealthy and quite handsome.  He was conversant in German, French, Spanish, and to a limited extent some Native American languages.  He was noted for his wit and sparkling conversational style. He was an artist. He made tremendous contributions to several branches of biological sciences including herpetology, ichthyology, and of course paleontology. He came from a pioneer colonial Quaker family, but he was a racist. He was devious. He was most likely a philanderer…. He was a gifted research scientist and equally gifted writer.  Cope published something over 1,400 studies, articles, and books from the time he was eighteen to his death at fifty-six…Yet, he had almost no formal college education.”


Professor Othniel C. Marsh

Othniel Charles Marsh

After Osborn assembled the magnificant biography of Cope, Charles Schuchert of the Yale Peabody Museum decided that such a tribute was due for Marsh.  These are four descriptive quotes about Marsh from his colleagues in the biography, O.C. Marsh, Pioneer in Paleontology(Schuchert and LeVene 1940)

From Schuchert’s perspective: 

His chief characteristic was his feeling that the “work of the hour is of prime importance,” and that all those around him should be as interested in it as he was.   His ambition to stand at the top is apparent from his Andover days onward, and once he had decided what road to follow, he never wavered in his determination to be one of the highest savants in science and to build up at Yale one of the world’s largest foundations in paleontology.  He fully accomplished all these wishes. 

Schuchert once asked Arthur Smith Woodward of London how the European scientists viewed Marsh and he received back the following quote within his letter.

Marsh was a remarkably keen observer, and he was quick to see the inferences which might be drawn from the facts before him.  He was also one of the foremost systematists of his time, and contributed greatly to the classification of reptiles, birds, and mammals….I am convinced that in all essentials Marsh’s fundamental contributions to vertebrate paleontology were his own, and stimulated by his boundless enthusiasm for our science.

Schuchert also spoke with George Bird Grinnell who was an American anthropologist, historian, naturalist, and writer about Marsh and he responded: 

“His fossils were priceless in his eyes, and he guarded them with extremist care. A man of lesser enthusiasm or more liberal mind might have turned over certain subjects to his able assistants; Marsh’s failure in this respect caused in several cases a rupture of friendly relations…”

Another contributor to Schucherts biography on Marsh was Charles Emerson Beecher.  Beecher succeeded Marsh as the Curator of the Geological Collections and the informal Director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Beecher stated:

“He not only had the means and the inclination, but entered every field of acquisition with the dominating ambition to obtain everything there was in it, and leave not a single scrap behind.  Every avenue of approach was made use of, and cost was often a secondary consideration.  The nine-tenths, when attained, were only an additional stimulus for securing the remaining one-tenth”


Young Cope

Born in Philadelphia on July 28, 1840, Edward D. Cope grew up the son of Alfred Cope, a successful Quaker businessman living in relative wealth on a farm west of Philadelphia.  His life could have taken a relatively easy path, but he was destined to follow a very difficult one. His father Alfred spent lots of time and money encouraging a strong education, allowing use of his extensive library, providing quality home schooling, teaching him to the names and characteristics of the plants and animals all around him, and taking him to museums, zoos, and gardens along the East Coast. As one might expect of a youngster with such a dynamic early education, Edward became a child prodigy.  He was reading and writing at an early age and sketching what he saw.  He began attending an upscale primary Quaker school in Philadelphia and after school he visited the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences. He made a descriptive catalog of everything in the museum on a floor by floor basis in October of 1848 and two years later, at the age of ten, he made a drawing of a swimming marine animal that was on display. It is remarkable for such a young man to have made any drawing at all, much less something this well done and it forecast much more to come.  (Osborn 1931)

This drawing by Cope at the age of ten is an Ichthyosaurus collected in England around 1840 then shipped to the Philadelphia Academy of Science in 1847(Belardo, Carolyn 2016). The specimen was accompanied by a drawing completed earlier by the English geologist William Conybeare (Conybeare 1822).  Conebeare’s drawing was most likely based on the Ichthyosaurus that Mary Anning had discovered at the age of ten along the south coast of England.(Marie-Claire Eylott 2018). 

Young Marsh

In 1827, Uncle George’s sister Mary married Caleb Marsh and moved to Lockport New York.  Marsh’s older sister Mary was born in 1829 and Othniel, or Othy as he was known growing up was born in 1831. Mary and Othy’s mother died in 1834 so their father Caleb remarried and naturally step brothers and sisters came along.  Othy grew up without a close relationship to neither his father nor his stepmother. As you might guess he did not have any significant interest in school but he did develop an interest in rocks and fossils.  He was living in Western New York when the Erie Canal connecting Lake Erie to the Hudson River above New York was being widened and Colonel Ezekiel Jewett and Othy explored for corals, bryozoans, and trilobites  Colonel Jewett had a strong interest in geology and built up an very good fossil collection that is today housed at the Paleontologic Research Institution’s Museum of the Earth in Ithaca New York. 

Uncle George left a dowry for Othy and Mary. Othy opened his dowry when he reached the age of 21 and decided to use his money to enroll in the Phillips Academy located in Andover, Massachusetts north of Boston. Othy was marginally engaged in his studies but when his sister Mary died his outlook on life changed.  He  began focusing on geology and became serious in his studies.  He spent summers exploring geology in Nova Scotia and developed a relationship by mail with his Uncle George, living in London at the time.  Over time Uncle George would fund more and more educational endeavors of Marsh, assist him with housing and other subsidies.  In 1866 Uncle George agreed to provide $150,000 toward the building of the Yale Peabody Museum.  It was at that moment Marsh, with some encouragement from other Yale faculty, made the decision to focus the rest of his life on paleontology.

A very good source to learn about Marsh and his life’s commitment to Yale is beautifully told in the book “Yale, House of Lost Worlds”(Conniff 2017).  

Horses, Rhinos, Uintatheres, Birds with Teeth, and Thof’s Dragon.

The major work of Professors Cope and Marsh didn’t begin with dinosaur discoveries in 1877 but rather during a series of four expeditions to the American West beginning in 1868. The following are four short snippets on particular discoveries of Professor Marsh along with one about Professor Cope. They illustrate the essence of this work that sets the stage for 1877, the year dinosaurs emerge front and center. 


Professor Marsh’s stepped off a train in late July of 1868 at Antelope Station Nebraska to take a look at what was reported in numerous newspapers to be human bones. He was 450 miles west of Omaha in his first visit to the American West but by now he was well trained at the Phillips Academy and in Europe so it didn’t take long for Marsh to figure out he wasn’t looking at a human skeleton but rather he was looking at an extinct horse.  He had followed Joseph Leidy’s work beginning in 1856 pertaining to different genera of North American horses so he was not all that surprised about what he found.

Two years later he would return to the area with a team of enthusiastic students in the first of four major Yale expeditions to the West.  They began their journey not far from Fort McPherson Nebraska where they were accompanied by Calvary troops, Pawnee scouts, and Buffalo Bill.  They would soon discover more horse fossils in the Loup river and Sandhill country to the north. Four years later Marsh and his team would have found many more horse fossils in different parts of the American West and he had captured the essence of the horse evolution through millions of years of time. 

The English paleontologist Thomas Huxley had also been reviewing horse evolution knowledge based on discoveries in Russia when he heard about the discoveries of  Professor Marsh.  In August of 1876 he came to America with much notoriety and he first wanted to see the horse fossils Marsh had found. Huxley was warmly welcomed to the Yale Peabody Museum and Professor Marsh brought out all the evidence he had analyzed.  Huxley carefully reviewed it and when completed he understood that Marsh had established the most complete record anywhere of an evolutionary sequence for horses in America and that it appeared that horses began their journey in America. 

Educational collections based on these discoveries would go on to become textbook examples of the progression of horse evolution for the next hundred years. Today we know that  because of a vast amount of additional discoveries and analysis since those first discoveries that the evolutionary journey for horses is more complicated and interesting that originally understood. 

Displays on Horse Evolution

All the horses we have here today in North America were transplanted from Europe; that is domesticated horses that became feral.  While developing an interest in natural history museums and geology, one time I noticed a docent with an educational cart at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. She had various horse fossils and was explaining the evolution of horses. Simply put, horses began their evolutionary journey here in North America 55 million years ago. They initially had small with four toes and very different teeth. Over time changes have occurred, for example the hoof today is simply one of the toes. When we started traveling in search of information related to the Marshall and Amanda story we made stops at numerous natural history museums across the country and some form of the horse evolution display was on exhibit at most all of them, even the relatively small Overland Historic Museum in Sterling Colorado. 

Below is a three toed horse (no 2) that lived and died about twelve million years ago at Ashfall State Park in Nebraska. 


JoAnn and I were living in Vernal Utah in the early 1980’s.  In addition to the great Douglass Dinosaur Quarry  I knew of a badland location about where the Green and White Rivers come together to the south of Vernal that had been excavated for mammal fossils.  The exploration and fossil collection work was part of Marsh’s 1870 Yale expedition.  They had been escorted by the Thirteenth Infantry beginning at Fort Bridger Wyoming then coming south across the Uinta Mountains into the Uintah basin to the south. They followed a circuitous route southeast along Henry’s Fork, past the future outlaws hideout at Brown’s Hole, before turning south and following the Green River to reach this unexplored area where they found an abundance of fossils including a rather strange looking large mammal called a Uintathere shown below and to the right. 

In addition to the nearby Douglass Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal also has an excellent natural history museum; the Utah Field House Museum on the main street of town.  This museum features a broad geologic picture including exhibits about the geologic time frames when mammals such as a large plant eating mammal discovered by the Marsh Expedition called a Uintathere with thick legs, massive bones, broad head, multiple blunt “horns”, and large canine teeth. They are now known to have existed from about 56 to about 42 million years ago.  This mammal was brought to life at this museum by a man named Ernest Untermann Sr.  He was born in Prussia with an extremely interesting life who late in life became known as the “The Artist of the Uintas”. One of his works was a a full-sized diorama of a Uintahthere completed  in the 1950’s.  I contacted the museum in the spring of 2018 and asked the director Steve Sroka if he could provide a better picture of Untermann’s painting  of the Uintathere shown above and he graciously shared it with me above. To the left is a picture of the skeleton of this mammal on display in the field house museum. 

Rhinoceros: In addition to the discovery of Uintahthere in the Uintah basin, soon after the Yale expedition began in 1870 they uncovered rhinoceros in western Nebraska. Most of us are used to the idea of dinosaurs living long ago but many of us appear somewhat perplexed when they learn mammals such as rhinos and camels lived here in North America as well.  Many American’s, including me, grew up with the idea that critters like rhinos and elephants are from “over there” not from here.

I became aware of rhino discoveries in America but it never really hit me until JoAnn and I made a stop in September of 2014 at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Park, set in the rolling green hills of northeast Nebraska. We had one of those “I can’t believe what I’m seeing” type experiences after we entered the “Hubbard Rhino Barn”.  It is a covered excavation site allowing visitors to see a number of mostly rhino skeletons, most are almost perfectly preserved.  These rhinos had short legs and a barrel chest, shaped more like a hippopotamus than a modern rhino. The area became covered in a dense layer of volcanic ash from a huge volcanic eruption a few hundred miles to the west twelve million years ago. The smaller animals died first, the largest ones last. The rhinos experienced a rather long excruciating death. When the animals that roamed the Ashfall site finally succumbed they simply laid down and died. 

“Like the citizens of Pompeii, the Roman city infamously buried in volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, the last moments of these creatures’ lives are frozen in time, offering heartbreaking glimpses into their untimely deaths. Young rhino calves have been found pressed up against females presumed to be their mothers, while other females were pregnant. Other creatures’ mouths and stomachs contain the fossilized remnants of their final meals.”(Terri Cook 2017)

Ashfall is particularly well known for rhinos but it is also a site where a variety of horses, camels, saber toothed deer, dogs, turtles, and birds have been found.  Professor Marsh and his team were making some astounding discoveries of these types of animals but this site would not be found until 1971, about a hundred years after the 1870 expedition.  A complimentary exhibit explaining Ashfall is also located at Morrill Hall at the University of Nebraska.   

The picture above was taken by myself in 2011 in the Hubbard Rhino Hall at Ashfall State Park.  A mother and baby rhino (above mother) are visible in this picture with their noses almost touching. 

The Hesperornis wasn’t the only discovery of a bird with teeth. Another discovery was made not far to the north along the Solomon River in western Kansas by a Professor Mudge, a geologist working for the Kansas agricultural college (Kansas State today) about the same time.  Mudge turned the fossils over to Professor Marsh for analysis who over time figured out that this was also a bird  living in the same general time frame as Hesperornis.  This bird was identified as Ichthyornis, about the size of a modern-day pigeon shown to the right.  Unlike Hesperornis it could fly, and it also had teeth.  There were now had two birds with teeth from the Cretaceous period, a fact that aroused substantial positive and negative interest over time.  Note that these birds are not the predecessors of modern birds but rather modern birds evolved from certain lines of small theropod (bipedal carnivore) dinosaurs. 

Birds with Teeth

When the Yale Expeditions first arrived in 1870 in Western Kansas at Fort Wallace, Dr. Turner, the medical doctor had already been shipping fossils from a large swimming reptile known as a Plesiosaur to Professor Cope. Before Cope, Joseph Leidy had also received fossils from his connection at the fort.  It was now not just a place where troops protected wagon trains and stage coach’s but a stepping off point for paleontology expeditions. 

The expedition team had been working in the Smokey Hill River area of western Kansas at the tail end of the 1870 Yale expedition one of the most important discoveries was a single bone that turned out to be a finger bone of a very large pterodactyl.  They returned to the same area in 1871 when more of this pterodactyl was discovered leading to its own “reptilian” story.

They returned to the same area where the pterodactyl was discovered in 1871 and again in 1872 where a fairly complete skeleton that included a skull was discovered. It wasn’t a pterodactyl but rather a flightless diving bird about five feet tall and interestingly it had a jaw with teeth.  It would come to be known as Hesperornis or Western Bird. Shorebirds like Hesperornis lived along the shoreline of the Western Interior Seaway that existed for roughly thirty million years, splitting the North American Continent in half.   

The replica bird skeleton Ichthyornis below was taken on October 2, 2018 by myself at the Fort Wallace Visitor Center in western Kansas. 

Thof’s Dragon

Theophilus Turner was born in 1841 growing up in western New Jersey upriver from Philadelphia, the scientific center of our nation at the time.  As a learned man working to become a doctor, he would have been familiar with the paleontology work going on at the nearby at the Academy of Science in Philadelphia. Like many after the Civil War he heard the calling to go west and at the age of 26 he accepted a position to become the military surgeon in far western Kansas at the remote military outpost of Fort Wallace.  In the spring of 1867 Turner heard about large bones being discovered near two small buttes about 12 miles east of the Fort.  Naturally he was curios and he took scouts and an army detail with him and they excavated a few of the bones and stored them at the at the fort.  That summer Dr. John LeConte was passing through the area planning to return to the Philadelphia area so Turner gave him three vertebrates which LeConte passed along to Professor Cope who was at the Academy at the time.  Cope wrote back to Turner and asked him to secure the rest of the specimen which Turner with assistance of some of the soldiers and scouts did during the winter of 1867/68. Cope and Turner corresponded extensively during this time, something that is well documented in the 1987 book “Thof’s dragon and the letters of Capt. Theophilus H. Turner, M.D., U.S. Army” by Kenneth Almy”. (Turner and Almy 1987).

This specimen would become the first major Cretaceous vertebrate of any kind to be reported from Kansas and the largest and most complete Plesiosaur found in North America up to that time. Cope prepared and did a quite remarkable job of preparing and describing the specimen, but with one mistake that would haunt him for a long time. A Plesiosaur was a large swimming reptile and reptiles typically have long tails and short necks. Cope was brilliant but he missed observing the bones that connect the skull to the neck along with some other clues.  These would have enabled him to determine that this sea serpent had a very long neck and a fairly short tail something that gives it the appearance of a sea serpent or dragon, hence the nickname “Thof’s Dragon”.  It was his mentor Joseph Leidy who publicly pointed this out to him causing an embarrassing retraction and something that would be brought up on more than one occasion up by his rival Professor Marsh.  Today this specimen is on display proudly handing from the ceiling near the entryway of the Academy of Science of Drexel University in Philadelphia.  

Dr. Turner made an attempt in the spring of 1868 to meet Cope and see the animal he had excavated but was unable to obtain to get this done.  Sadly he died in the summer of 1869 at the Fort.  

Fort Wallace

A portion of historic Fort Wallace, including the cemetery area, is preserved in Western Kansas near the modern-day Fort Wallace Visitor Center along state highway 40.  The visitor center is not located in a town and seems to be a remote site that visitors often just stop at so they can use the restrooms.  Once they take a look though they realize that this is treasure trove of insights into the fort and the time frames in western Kansas it represents.   JoAnn and I stopped on October 3, 2018 and were warmly greeted and given a guided tour by Tony, the staff member representing the Fort Wallace Memorial Association that day.  The association has taken what was a collection of materials in display cases and turned it into a number of inviting vignettes illustrating specific examples life at the time.  One example was the army post surgeon’s office. 

As part of the displays in the surgeon’s office area was a replica of the original Plesiosaur skeleton that Dr. Turner and the soldiers excavated in the winter of 1867/68.   They also had a replica of the small shorebird Ichthyornis which Tony graciously allowed us to photograph.  Tony also pointed out something that happened rather inadvertently during the development of all the new displays.  The Plesiosaur hanging from the ceiling appears to be looking toward the surgeon’s office, a small testament to the work of Dr. Turner.  In modern times the love of fossils was carried on by a avocational paleontology volunteer named Pete Bussen who knew everything about the local paleontology but passed away in 2015.  


Officers at Fort Wallace, Kansas, with Dr. Theophilus Turner second on the left. Turner found the original fossils of the plesiosaur Elasmosaurus near Fort Wallace.


Hayden’s Preliminary Colorado Survey of 1869

Ferdinand Hayden, who had completed the survey of Nebraska territory, led a preliminary expedition along the Front Range from Denver and Santa Fe in 1869.  He was there to get a basic understanding of the geology and to make geology, mineralogy, and paleontology collections. Hayden decided that one of the best places to study the geology was along the boundary where the mountains met the plains. The advantage was the “upheaved ridges, or hog backs, as they are called in this country.” He went on to state:

“Indeed, they are like the pages of an open book upon which the geologist can read what the Creator has written upon each formation known in the country from the granite mass that forms the nucleus of the loftiest mountain range to the most recent tertiary formation inclusive. …Often in a little belt, from half a mile to four or five in width, one may travel over the upturned edges of nearly all the formations in the geological scale”(Ferdinand V. Hayden 1869)

During this expedition, Hayden observed the Royal Gorge Canyon and the hogbacks that were tilted up next to the edge of the mountains. He looked at the layers of rock that were originally deposited in the Western Interior Seaway and examined the fossils mentioning one he called Inoceramus, most likely a large clam within the Greenhorn Limestone. He noticed that the core of the mountains along the Front Range seemed to be granite or and other igneous and metamorphic rocks. He reported on the oil wells and in the same area where Marshall and Amanda had a homestead and noticed layers of sedimentary rock that were most likely are known today as the  Morrison Formation, a well known formation today for dinosaurs in the West.  


Arkansas River from the mountains near Canon City – Colorado in 1869. From sketches made by the artist Henry Elliott for the US Geological Survey of Colorado and New Mexico under leadership of Hayden.

Hayden’s Colorado Survey: 1873-1876

Hayden went on to complete the geological survey of the Colorado during the years 1873 to 1876, just before it became a state. By this time he was relatively well funded and able to assemble multiple high-quality teams that included geologists, topographers, naturalists, artists, and of course, the great photographer Henry Jackson. Possibly topping his list of assistants though, was a new man named Terry Gardner,  an experienced and talented topographer who developed a rather ingenious method of triangulation to firmly establish key survey points on high peaks throughout the state upon which to build these maps. It was arguably the best topographic survey that had ever been done anywhere in the world.  Topographic maps like these provide the base for everything else including geology, mines, coal deposits, towns, roads, and more that are draped on top.

The geologists found evidence of uplift, submergence, glaciers many strata that had never before been studied, along with hundreds of precious mineral sites. They observed immense faults, overturned sedimentary layers, and great peaks demonstrating that geologic history is sometimes violent, even catastrophic. Hayden’s teams also extensively collected and analyzed fossils.  Many fossils were also given to both Joseph Leidy of the Philadelphia Academy of Science and Spencer Baird at the Smithsonian Institution. 

The annual reports included individual reports from assistants and in combination with the outstanding photography and artwork, significant public interest in both the work of the survey and Colorado and its many special places such as the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas. Hayden also went on to deliver acclaimed lectures which were attended by both those with a scientific background and the general public.  

In 1877, at the end of the four year survey, they produced Hayden’s Atlas of Colorado.  This was probably the greatest published work of the survey up until this time.  Hayden was ecstatic when he first saw the proofs declaring “My good God these are gorgeous, extraordinary” … Colorado will have a better map than any other state in the Union” The Atlas was indeed well received and in high demand not only here in this country, but in Europe as well. In addition to the Atlas, Jackson produced over 4,000 photographic negatives generally of landscapes, but also of many other features such as Native American’s, the first views of ancient cliff dwellings, and the survey camps and participants. Many of the photographs were stereoscopic pictures that were subsequently widely used in lectures and popular education. It all was extraordinary for science and for Colorado. (Foster 1994).


A screen clip of the  area around Canon City within the much larger map XIII, the Central Colorado map included within the  Geological and Geographical Atlas of Colorado and portions of adjacent territory by Ferdinand Hayden, 1877.  This image was courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C. 

The Philadelphia Exposition in Fairmont Park encompassed five main buildings and 250 additional structures. 

The Centennial Exposition of 1876

Probably no single event celebrated America’s step onto the world stage more than the Centennial Exposition of 1876 set in Philadelphia shown above.  It was held on the 100 year anniversary of the year we declared independence celebrating inventions and accomplishments from both America and the rest of the world.  It was the first major exposition to be held outside of Europe and America went out of its way to make this one the best ever.  

America’s postwar industrial and scientific development were put on display for everyone to see and it was impressive.  Inventions included sewing machines, typewriters, stoves, lanterns, carriages, and agricultural equipment. The Corliss Steam Engine was on display along with another steam engine that rode on a monorail.  Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone was set up on opposite ends of Machinery Hall to demonstrate the transfer of human voice through wires. An automatic telegraph system and electric pen by the inventor Thomas Edison made their debut.  Even a section of cable being used in its construction the Brooklyn Bridge was there to see up close. It was truly a remarkable moment in American history. 

Historically, the exposition came during the great discoveries of mammal fossils across the west. The long necked and long tailed gigantic plant eating dinosaurs and those ferocious meat eaters we’re still on the horizon but a Hadrosaurus discovered in 1858 near Haddonfield New Jersey was a main attraction at the nearby Philadelphia Academy of Science.  Even Hayden’s publications on surveys in the west were also on display at the Exposition and his work established a new higher level of standard for map making. 

Women’s changing roles were celebrated at a women’s pavilion shown below. This building featured the diverse and varied important contributions were making and that their roles were changing rapidly. Frank Leslie recorded the event in text and artwork in 1877 and Theresa R. Snyder produced a photographic journey through the event more recently. (Norton and Leslie 1877) (Linda P. Gross and Theresa R. Snyder)



Belardo, Carolyn. 2016. “160 Years After Its Arrival, New Ichthyosaurus Identified at the Academy.” Press Release of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University 2016 (October).

White, Charles A. “Memoir of Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden. 1839-1887.” The National Academy of Sciences.

Conniff, Richard. 2017. House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth.

Conybeare, William D. 1822. “IX.—Additional Notices on the Fossil Genera Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus.” Transactions of the Geological Society of London S2-1 (1): 103–23. 

Davidson, Jane P. 1997. The Bone Sharp: The Life of Edward Drinker Cope. Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Everhart, Michael J. 2005. Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea. 1st ed. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Ferdinand V. Hayden. 1869. “Preliminary Field Report of the United States Geological Survey of Colorado and New Mexico.” Government document Open-File Report 03-384. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. US Geological Survey. 

———. 1876. “[Eighth] Annual Report of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, Embracing Colorado and Parts of Adjacent Territories: Being a Report of Progress of the Exploration for the Year 1874.” Annual report. 

Foster, Mike. 1994. Strange Genius: The Life of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. Niwot, Colorado: Roberts Rhinehart Publishers.

Hugh H. Henry. 1884. “Peabody Library.” National historic register nomination. CONNECTICUT RIVER HISTORIC SITES DATABASE & CONNECTICUT RIVER HERITAGE TRAILS. April 1884. 

Jaffe, Mark. 2000. The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science. First Edition edition. New York: Crown.

Lanham, Url. 1991. The Bone Hunters: The Heroic Age of Paleontology in the American West. New York: Dover Publications.

Leidy, Joseph. 1974. The Extinct Mammalian Fauna of Dakota and Nebraska. New York: Arno Press.

Linda P. Gross, and Theresa R. Snyder. n.d. Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Images of America. Arcadia. Accessed September 19, 2018. 

Marie-Claire Eylott. 2018. “Mary Anning: The Unsung Hero of Fossil Discovery.” Natural History Museum. March 9, 2018. 

Norton, Frank H., and Frank Leslie. 1877. Frank Leslie’s Historical Register of the United States Centennial Exposition, 1876. Embellished with Nearly Eight Hundred Illustrations Drawn Expressly for This Work by the Most Eminent Artists in America. Including Illustrations and Descriptions of All Previous International Exhibitions. New York: Frank Leslie’s Pub. House. 

Schuchert, Charles, and Clara Mae LeVene. 1940. O.C. Marsh, Pioneer in Paleontology. New Haven; London: Yale University Press ; H. Milford, Oxford University Press.

Terri Cook. 2017. “June 1977: First Excavations at Nebraska’s Ashfall Fossil Beds.” EARTH Magazine. May 19, 2017. 

Turner, Theophilus H, and Kenneth J Almy. 1987. Thof’s Dragon and the Letters of Capt. Theophilus H. Turner, M.D., U.S. Army. Vol. 10. Kansas History 3. Topeka, Kan.: Kansas State Historical Society.

Wallace, David Rains. 2000. The Bonehunters’ Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Warren, Leonard. 1998. Joseph Leidy: The Last Man Who Knew Everything. New Haven: Yale University Press.

White, C. Albert, United States, and Bureau of Land Management. 1983. A History of the Rectangular Survey System. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management 


Next Chapter: Dinosaurs Come Knocking: 

Marshall and Amanda along with Sarah, Ned, Emerson, and little Willy settled in pretty much full time at their ranch in Garden Park by 1872.  Marshall struggles with his Civil War injuries but together with Amanda they were adaptable and managed to make ends meet. In 1876 a young graduate named Oramel Lucas had been attending a college back in Ohio but decided to come west,  moving in with his sister’s family and Felch neighbors just to the north along Oil Creek. In addition to becoming the one room school house teacher for the Felch children, he read the news and knew about amazing fossil discoveries across the west so he started looking.  In early 1877 he found some very large bones and shortly thereafter started digging up dinosaurs for Cope.   In August of 1877, Professor Mudge working for Marsh comes to town trying to sway Lucas to work for Marsh but when unsuccessful he comes knocking at Marshall Felch’s door after hearing that he also knew where bones where buried.  This chapter focuses on the period leading up to and including the unbelievable dinosaur story in 1877.