A Gigantic Jigsaw Puzzle
“In the ‘eighties, still another collector whose work was of great value to Marsh was M. P. Felch, who had helped Mudge and Williston at Canon City in 1877. When Marsh’s appointment as vertebrate paleontologist to the United States Geological Survey in 1882 placed more money at his disposal, Felch was one of the men whom he set to work and their association continued until 1889. Felch, like Reed, was a methodical worker, who kept detailed records of his finds and sent frequent reports to New Haven. His letters have a peculiar interest, moreover, because they show that he and Marsh were working out between them, a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, with dinosaur bones for pieces.” (Schuchert and LeVene 1940)
No doubt Marshall and Amanda wrote and received countless letters to family and close friends throughout their lives. Letters were the primary way of communicating throughout their lives and something all people in those days looked forward to receiving. Amanda wrote letters on behalf of soldiers the night before a battle so they could say goodbye on what they believed would be their last letter home. With one major exception, no letters have ever been found written by either of them. The exception takes place in the time period of 1882 to 1891 during which Marshall sent 258 letters to Professor Marsh in New Haven Connecticut. These letters provide paleontology details of what Marshall was finding and shipping and often included drawings and maps. Professor Marsh demanded detailed documentation so that he and the staff at the Peabody Museum could effectively prepare and analyze specimens. In that sense, the letters were more like paleontology reports rather than a letter we might imagine although Marshall occasionally shared personal information providing glimpses about his family. These glimpses became more prominent in the later years and over time Marshall and the professor came to know one another in a rather personal way.
Unlike every other letter Marshall and Amanda sent and received, these letters would not be lost. Letters to Marsh included correspondence from many different excavators, even fellow scientists including Charles Darwin and all of it was subsequently turning it over to the Yale Peabody Museum where it would be archived. The Peabody library not only archived all of these letters, but in recent years scanned several thousand of these letters and subsequently made these available online.
These Marshall Felch letters were found at Yale in the early 1990’s by two volunteers with the nonprofit Garden Park Park Paleontology Society named Donna Engard and Pat Monaco who made copies. Donna, Pat, and Georgine Booms subsequently transcribed every single letter, reading every word out loud in the process. Marshall’s hand writing was fairly good, probably something required during the Civil War while preparing legible hospital reports. Donna, Pat, and Georgine did a magnificent job of completing this difficult project and over time they felt they personally knew Marshall.
At this juncture we now had Marshall’s letters but what about the return letters from Professor Marsh. It was obvious from Marshall’s letters that Marsh had been writing back. The logical question was if there any chance of finding them as letters were only rarely copied in those days before mailing and Marsh’s letters to Marshall Felch were not the rare exception and copied. They weren’t copied but they were not lost. In an interesting twist of fate these letters were retained by Marshall’s daughter Sadie. In 1926 Sadie Zimmerman (Felch) gave them to the famous dinosaur excavator of Dinosaur National Monument fame Earl Douglass. Douglass in turn placed them into the archives at the University of Utah. There is more to the story of the retention and remarkable journey of these letters over a thirty year period which will be told in the chapter about Sadie. Once again in a second example of volunteer excellence, the paleontology sleuth’s Pat Monaco and Donna Engard discovered these Marsh letters in University of Utah archives. Naturally they acquired copies and like Marshall’s letters they were transcribed by Donna, Pat, and Georgine.
Today, both the Professor Marsh and Marshall Felch letters can be viewed on a publicly accessible educational website entitled “Hands on the Land”. This work was accomplished through an effort by Ryan McKenna, at the time a Geological Society of America GeoCorps student intern working for the Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field office. Subsequent students working through the GeoCorps program have continued to maintain and update this work. These letters have not only assisted with the development of the Marshall and Amanda story but other historic and scientific work as well. This chapter and the next one are built in large part on these letters.
Detailed Knowledge of Great Dinosaurs
Charles Shuchert wrote about the bones and skeletons Marshall excavated and Professor Marsh analyzed;
“The collecting of 1877 had been done when the dinosaur fever was in its first stages, and species were made on limb bones or on vertebrae or on other incomplete material. By 1882, Marsh, with his usual thoroughness, wanted to complete the picture of these great beasts, and he therefore needed the missing parts to add to those he already had. After considerable prospecting about the Canon City region, it was thought wise to reopen the old quarry that had been worked in 1877, and a wise choice it proved to be; for out of this so called “Marsh Quarry” came detailed knowledge of many of the great dinosaurs that Marsh had made known to the world from partial skeletons only, and not only those whose remains were originally found at Canon City but others from Como as well: Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, Morosaurus, and Laosaurus. The quarry was restricted in area to a few hundred feet, and the bone bearing horizon was not more than 3 feet thick. Nevertheless, from it came representatives of at least a dozen genera and species, and two or three times that number of individual skeletons.” (Schuchert and LeVene 1940)
On the Payroll
In the spring of 1883 Marsh had the money and bureaucratic knowledge in place to launch a new wave of fossil excavations out west. He wrote to Marshall Felch on February 27, 1883 giving official notification that he should expect to begin work at the beginning of April. A full time position would be a life changing assignment in two ways. First it would bring in much needed income to support the family and secondly Marshall was intrigued by the work Sam Williston and Professor Mudge introduced him to back in 1877. Marshall immediately agreed to take on the mission and right away began looking closely at the old quarry along with optional sites including the old ground where the Lucas brothers had been working but now abandoned. Marshall wrote back to Marsh on May 25, 1883 about the Cope Lucas Quarries;
“Many good bones in the old [Cope-Lucas] quarry – that were partly uncovered by former workings – and have been picked over by curiosity hunters and other vandals since – have become in part or wholly worthless. This is the case with a string of cervical vertebrae – that lay in regular succession 16 and 1/2 feet in length”
Not surprisingly, Marsh wasn’t just writing to Marshall, he was also writing to one of the early Como Bluffs collectors experienced excavators named Fred Brown. Brown who was in New Mexico at the time was a very independent individual who “neither liked to boss nor be bossed“. Marsh in a rather shrewd way told Brown to head to Garden Park and report to Marshall Felch guessing that one or the other of the two of them would emerge as the right candidate to head up the work in Canon City. Upon receiving the offer, Brown immediately wrote back letting Professor Marsh know that he would take the job but not work under anyone, including Marshall. He arrived on April 2, 1883.
Marshall was only on the payroll for one day before he was introduced to this trademark move of Professor Marsh; that is having more than one excavator working at the same site but also working somewhat independently and reporting back directly to Marsh. The situation seemed pleasant enough though to Marshall as he wrote back on April 5, 1884; “He [Brown]seems to know the business very well – & I think we will get along all right.”
Additionally Marshall wrote; “I commenced on the old ground worked by Prof. Mudge – I thought it best to work that enough to hold it – and also to try and find the companion to the large – limb which we found there when Mudge was here. We have uncovered several bones but no vertebrae or limbs.”
Two weeks later on the 22nd of April Marshall shared that he and Brown had been surveying the area and were now convinced the old quarry was the place to work;
“We have found there quite a variety – among which are several claws – and what we think may be foot bones –a part of a jaw of a small animal in which the sockets show plain with one tooth in place– also what Brown thinks is a portion of the skull and jaw of one of the larger animals –one large lumbar or dorsal vertebrae several small bones – and have now uncovered and partly worked out three cervical vertebrae.”
Over the next few months both Brown and Marshall would work both independently and also together in the old quarry while conversing separately with Professor Marsh. Brown ultimately chose to move on in mid July back to Como Bluffs where he would later become the lead collector.
Above drawing by Marshall Felch from his letter dated August 19, 1883
A tooth collected and mailed to Professor Marsh on June 13, 1883. This has the artistic look of drawings by Sadie Felch.
The first person Marshall hired to work with him was J.L. Smith. He described on Smith in an April 28,1884 letter to Marsh as “a Swede by birth” noting that Smith was very skilled at sharpening, making and repairing tools. These were extremely valuable skills when it came to doing quarry work, skills Smith learned as a blacksmith in the industrial city of Worcester Massachusetts. Marshall felt that Smith was an excellent worker describing him on September 11, 1883 as; “by far the best man that I ever saw work at this work“. He spoke of him again on February 3, 1884 stating that Smith was; “worth two of any other…skillful and trustworthy”. Over the next two years it would be Smith who, other than himself, had the greatest understanding of the fossils in the quarry.
In those days rock quarries were common around Canon City as stone was needed for foundations, walls, and buildings. A dinosaur quarry is smaller but had a lot of similarities to any other quarry; naturally the local hardware stores had tools. Marshall went shopping and purchased on credit what he and Smith needed to get started. He later listed out what he had been buying in order to get reimbursed from Marsh. By the time he mailed this request for reimbursement, Marshall was starting to fully recognize another of Professor Marsh’s trademarks; underpaying or paying late.
Getting shorted or getting paid late became a significant problem because Marshall needed to pay Smith, buy tools, and also had to hire help at the ranch to fill in for what work he usually did. Marshall would spend a considerable amount of time in his letters over the next few years carefully describing his work and expenses in the hopes of getting paid in full and on time.
- bellows, anvil, and tongs (a mini blacksmith set up)
- 2 hammers
- 2 mallets
- steel to make chisels
- wheel-barrow (hauling dirt over to edge of the cliff and dumping)
- 3 picks with handles and one extra handle (removing overburden)
- 3 small brooms
- twine, sacks, sacking needles (wrapping bones)
- battin (cloth) and glue
- a bale of hay (for packing and shipping)
- wrapping paper
- a hoop iron, iron bard (blacksmith materials)
- 200 nails [square head nails were common in Marshall and Amanda’s lifetime]
- a handsaw
- lampblack (historically a common pigment sometimes mixed with glue possibly to strengthen it)
- and some lumber!
submitted May 31, 1883
Working back into the Hillside
The excavation team of Felch and Smith were working in the eastern part of the quarry while Brown worked in the western part. They both worked back into the hillside removing overlying rock above a layer that contained the bones. The further they worked into the hillside, the thicker the rock layers became.
They understood that as they worked back into the hillside the bones would be less weathered and therefore in better condition. There was some improvement but for geologic reasons this quarry would always seem to have fragile bones surrounded by hard rock but because of the diversity of and number of bones and skeletons was proving remarkable, it made it worth their time. Marshall would improve his collection techniques over time to effectively excavate and remove these fragile bones.
On May 25,1883 Marshall wrote
“We have stripped off some 50 yds in length = from 10 to 20 feet in width and in places 10 to 12 feet in depth to get to the pay streak. The rock as we get in gets very hard in places – almost like mill-stone grit – and where the bones come in that – it is a slow and tedious job to work them out – as all the rock around has to be chipped away with small chisels a fragment at a time…If it were not that there were so many good bones – of many different kinds I would abandon the quarry for some other place.”
The cross section below was modified from a drawing on the left made by Marshall Felch in December of 1883. Look closely at Marshall’s drawing and you can see “14 feet high” written vertically next to this cliff face.
Marshall, Fred Brown, and J.L. Smith stripped off an estimated 10 to 12 feet of barren rock above the bone bed. Marshall described the area stripped as about 150 feet in length and anywhere from 10 to 20 feet in width. In order to strip off the rock they first needed to loosen up the hard sandstone and the “tool” of choice to do that in those days was dynamite. With practice, they could hand drill a hole into hard rock, set the charge, and break up the rock without damaging the bone bed. The height of the face of rock by this time was 14 feet high which was almost twice the height of a typical house room. All the rock removed above the bone bed would be put into a wheel barrow and carried over to the edge of the cliff and dumped.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the time (November 30, 1884) that Marshall confessed to Marsh about using dynamite in a rather unusual way; “This record will hardly be complete if I fail to state that we have used nearly a keg of your powder in honor of Cleveland’s Election and Burchard’s speech that elected him“
Brown was the more experienced excavator but Marshall was more familiar with work he had seen done at the old quarry including the technique that Amanda came up with and Samuel Williston used. Marshall, Brown, and Smith utilized the “Amanda/Williston broken bone process“. Marshall described it in an October 22, 1883 letter to Marsh;
“stripping up well with cloth where fabric is glued directly onto the exposed bone to keep the pieces in place as we remove the rock”.
The team at Yale began using soluble silica (water glass) a powder that if combined with water acted like glue to harden the bones once they arrived. Professor Marsh encouraged Marshall to use it in the field but over the first few months, Marshall was a bit stubborn and did not embrace this technology. He wrote to Marsh on October 30, 1883;
“of all the methods we have yet tried…and they are many – our plan works the best.”
Marshall’s technique was to carefully chip out individual bones, then wrap them with cloth and paste once they were exposed. He felt this was necessary because it was not just that the bones were fragile, but because there were so many of them. This additional difficulty was explained in his letter of November 16,1883;
“Hardly a bone we find but is so surrounded by others – either on top – or under or alongside but what we have to work with great care not to injure or destroy them – so we as a rule – follow closely as possible the bone we are on – and not leave it for fear of doing mischief in some direction or other”.
From Marsh’s perspective, special care and treatment was needed as by the end of the first year of excavating Marshall had made some extremely valuable discoveries including four dinosaur skulls so far being a rarity. Marsh made a different suggestion on November 6, 1883 that Marshall would come to extensively use. The technique would become more and more commonly used where similar conditions existed; the major disadvantage in 1883 was simply shipping costs;
“If you find another skull please don’t put a chisel or any cutting tool nearer to it than three inches, if you can help it. The more rock around the skull the better and I rather have 100 lbs extra rock come around a skull than to have a tool within two inches of any part of it.”
These are three examples of early collection techniques to protect fragile bone utilized by John Bell Hatcher who will visit the Marsh Felch Dinosaur Quarry in later years. These images provided courtesy of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Bones were placed into packing crate lined with hay, sawdust, or any other available soft material. A wagon type trail had not been yet constructed to quarry so the technique would be to pack them into a box and when you had enough boxes for a wagon, put them on a sled and pull them by hand or a with a horse down to the main road. They could then be loaded into a wagon and transported the six miles over the rutted trail to town and unloaded at the Denver and Rio Grande terminal in Canon City where Marshall would negotiate shipping rates with what Marshall considered an uninterested and unhelpful employee. The bones would be loaded and shipped to New Haven Connecticut. On February 16, 1884 Marshall wrote to Professor Marsh describing how he felt about the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad;
“In regard to the over charges for freight it is no more than can be expected of the D&R.G. Ry. Co. notoriously a Corporation of Highway Robbers that fleece everyone that comes in their way”
Knowing where they lay, with Reference to others
Over time three special characteristics about the Marsh Felch Dinosaur Quarry became more and more evident; the diversity of species, the concentration and overlapping skeletons, and the articulation of the skeletons. It was a bit unusual to find so much skeletal material joined together (articulation) and must have been both nice, yet painful, for paleontologists back in New Haven who were trying to figure it all out. In today’s world, something as simple as a picture could have very helpful but unfortunately Marshall did not have anything like a camera. The key to telling the story fell to a large extent on the preparation of good notes, drawings, and quarry maps.
Professor Marsh wrote to Marshall on June 21, 1883;
“Since writing you this morning it has occurred to me that the best way to mark the
localities of the bones found would be to make a map of the quarry showing;
1st the old workings.
2nd the extensions you make
3rd the positions of all important bones found
Then when you send a box, you can mark a line around the bones then sent, ep [express post]. In this way we can keep the thing straight. Otherwise there is great danger of confusion, and half the value of specimens consists in knowing where they lay with reference to others.
If now you name each skeleton, A, B, C etc you will help us greatly. Suppose for instance you call this piece of head sent Skeleton A and all the rest of the same animal, Skel A this will keep it all by itself. If you have already started on other distinct skeletons, you might call them B, C, etc, as you chose. The main thing is to keep each separate, and have them so labeled that we can make them out here. You might label the vertebrae etc of each skeleton Vert 1A, Vert 2 A, Bone 1 A, etc.
I will send you some red crayons to mark broken bones so that we will know how they go.”
Marshall would take this task to heart. In turn it encouraged him to think about the whole thing more scientifically. He wrote a detailed letter on July 5, 1883 to Professor Marsh that included the quarry map to the left.
Here is part of the system Marshall used:
- Quarry sections were called divisions.
- Some skeletons were called “Sk No 1”, etc.
- Notations used for strings of vertebrae such as “series 1” etc.
- abbreviations such as “Sc” for Scapula & coracoids
- individual important bones might be called “bone A”
- some simple markings such as a line for a tooth were used.
An Avocational Paleontologist
By July, Marshall was getting a handle on the techniques he needed to excavate a dinosaur skeleton but what he was finding was more complex than what the Lucas Brothers encountered. Possibly Professor Marsh did not fully recognize or appreciate the difficulties.
By this time Marshall was no longer a Civil War veteran, wagon driver, ranch manager, or fossil excavator. He was instead what might call today a citizen scientist, fossil quarry manager, or maybe more appropriately an avocational paleontologist. An avocational paleontologist doesn’t collect fossils for souvenirs, far from it. They collect for the story a fossil provides in support of science knowledge.
On December 2, 1883 Marshall wrote; “We had a visit last Sunday from Prof. G. von Rath of the German University at Bonn. Both he and his wife expressed themselves as finding here the most interesting locality yet visited by them in America. As a rule I pay little attention to visitors as most come to gratify idle curiosity but knowing he was travelling in the interest of Science and would fully appreciate the work. … I thought you would have no objection to his getting all the information he could.“
Over the next few years, Marshall would live, breathe, and even dream about the quarry as he testified on on January 6, 1885; “From the time the first block of that skeleton was removed ‘till the last was taken out – I saw myself to every move made and every blow struck on it – had platforms made – covered with burlap cloth, to receive all the blocks and fragments as they were removed –placed and replaced them many times in position – made and remade maps and diagrams of all the different groups and blocks, used all the devices I could think of to so locate all the parts and fragments that I got the whole so fixed in my mind it would haunt me in my sleep and as I have said before; think I could put together again by moonlight.”
Marshall Felch sitting along cliff about 100 feet east of the quarry in 1888.
On December 6, 1884 Professor Marsh wrote to Marshall; “One perfect skull is worth a car full of ordinary fossils”. In the fall of 1883 four skulls along with a host of skeletons would be discovered. A special focus on three dinosaurs that helps illustrate Marshall’s contributions to the story includes what was initially believed to be a Brontosaurus skull, a Diplodocus skull, and a Ceratosaurus skeleton and skull.
Brachiosaurus – Skull No 2
Skull no 2 will not be the most important skull found in the Old Quarry but undoubtedly it will have the most interesting paleontology journey.
Marshall first identified Skull No 2 on September 25, 1883 writing; “No 2 remains as first found but now that we have no doubt as to what is – we shall commence soon – and trim down as far as possible – without injuring the bone on exposed parts – and box and pack up.” The skull material that was found was boxed up for shipping on the 30th of September and a week later on the 7th of October Marshall wrote that it had been “shattered during the excavation process with the jaws badly broken” while observing that the “skull belonged to a very large animal“. The letter arrived at Yale where the word “Brontosaurus” was added to Marshall’s October 7, 1883 letter that included a description of No 2.
Five years earlier, August of 1879, quarry no 10 at Como Bluffs Wyoming was opened up by William Harlow Reed and with the help of Edward Ashley they exhumed one of the finest “brontosaur” skeletons ever found. It was very complete with the exception of the skull. Not long afterward Marsh decided that a skull from a nearby quarry at Como Bluffs the missing piece, but soon it was determined to belong to a Camarasaurus, like what the Lucas brothers had uncovered. The otherwise amazing Brontosaurus skeleton remained headless.
Marsh but later in the winter after Marshall’s excavation work increased in intensity over the next few months. Although the other discoveries seemed to overshadow Skull No2 in importance, Marsh began asking about it writing on December 12, 1883; “I find that the back part of both lower jaws of Skull No2 and the three bones of the skull that join on to them are missing. They probably all were torn off of the head together, and may have been scattered not far from where the skull lay. … Have you any more pieces small or large?
Marshall continued to dialog with Professor Marsh here and there writing on the 7th of January; “The extreme cold and stormy weather of the past few days, and which still continues, prevents doing much in the quarry. I went over on Thursday however; to see what I could do towards finding some of the missing portions – belonging with skull No. 2. I removed a block of rock some 20 in. long 15 wide and 8 or 10 thick – on the top face of which was found the back part of jaw No. 2 of that skull.
Professor Marsh responded to Marshall on April 9, 1884 writing; “We are now working on Skull No. 2. and any pieces will be very acceptable.”
Marshall wrote back on June 5, 1884; “The cervical vertebrae mentioned in my last are Brontosaurus, as you have figured them – and from their position – Skull No 2 must have belonged with them.”. Other Brontosaurus material was being found in the quarry so this would not be surprising.
A few years later Professor Marsh will produce “The Dinosaurs of North America” that included the brontosaurus skeleton shown to the right. It was based on material excavated from quarry 10 at Como Bluffs with the exception of the skull (Sk 2). The skull is the one excavated by Marshall in 1883 and early 1884 (Marsh 1896).
For many years Brontosaurus was called Apatosaurus which was the first one discovered and therefore had the “naming rights”. Although the final verdict is not in, Brontosaurus was declared a separate animal in 2015 and the name was brought back much to the delight of paleontology crew at the Yale Peabody Museum (Choi 2015)
Not A Brontosaurus Skull
A cast of the Brachiosaurus skull that was originally discovered by Marshall Felch in 1883 and initially described as Brontosaurus. It is now identified as Brachiosaurus and on display in the Prehistoric Journey Exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Brachiosaurus was not known until a relatively complete skeleton was discovered in 1900 by Elmer Riggs working in western Colorado for the Chicago Field Museum. Riggs published an important paper on this discovery. (Riggs 1903) As you might be guessing by now, skulls are simply not that common and the Riggs skeleton did not include a skull. Fortunately, additional Brachiosaurus skeletal of a different species was discovered by William Janensch over four decades beginning in 1914 and those specimens contained partial skulls. These specimens provide the link between Brachiosaurus and the Felch Quarry specimen. (Carpenter and Tidwell 1998)
In the 1970’s, the sauropod dinosaur expert John McIntosh was conducting research at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. when he came across the skull material in storage that had originally been used by Professor Marsh for the Brontosaurus skeleton. McIntosh suspected that this might be actually be Brachiosaurus and he contacted Dr. Kenneth Carpenter at the Denver Museum of Natural History who together with Virginia Tidwell took up the task of analyzing this material. In 1998 they published the paper entitled “Preliminary Description of a Brachiosaurus Skull from Felch Quarry 1, Garden Park, Colorado” (Carpenter and Tidwell 1998).
Skull Number Three
On September 18,1883 Marshall wrote in regards to a new skull that he had discovered;
“I did not have a chance to send to mail to day and will write more of the skull. We have tried to cut down the blocks but as the exposed parts jar away easily we conclude to let it remain and ship rock and all…The whole skull with both jaws I think are all here complete. The whole length of the head from the base of the skull to the teeth in front is quite two feet – and though I cannot tell very near – think the head is not more than 7 or 8 inches wide in the widest part. The teeth are those long, slender, cylindrical ones such as I have sent twice. Species must have been abundant here for we have found very many straggling teeth of this kind.”
The drawing to the right by Marshall Felch was included in the same letter where it had been named skeleton number 3 (or sk3 or No 3). Marshall noted on October 7; “Teeth like those in No. 3 are abundant through the central and part of East End divisions” This would be relatively close to where Mudge, Williston, and Marshall excavated what Williston called Diplodocus, but until this moment no Diplodocus skull had been located here or anywhere so there was nothing to compare it with. In the same letter Felch informed Marsh that “skull 3” had been shipped. Some time after arrival Marsh penned the name Diplodocus on that same letter although initially he thought it belonged to Apatosaurus. By this time Marshall had been reporting other parts of Diplodocus but did not make the connection until Marsh completed his analysis of this skull.
Professor Marsh wrote back on October 15, 1883 regarding the skull Marshall identified as No3; “it appears to be complete with lower jaws and snout in place… think this skull may prove to be Apatosaurus, but cannot tell without more specimens from the skeleton”.
In 1884 Marsh published on Diplodocus that included the drawing to the right along with a front and top view (Marsh 1884). The history of this skull and the story of Diplodocus longus that includes the work of Williston, Felch, and Mudge in 1877 is well told in Carpenter and McIntosh’s classic 1998 publication “The holotype of diplodocus longus…“(McIntosh and Carpenter 1998).
Can you work to advantage all winter?
In response to the extraordinary amount of material coming from the quarry, Professor Marsh began suggesting Marshall and his team continue working through the winter such as in his letter on October 15, 1883; “P.S. Can you work to advantage all winter, if you have a tent etc?“. One day later Marsh wrote; “I wish you and Smith to keep at work all winter. Williston tells me that the weather in your part is mild.”
An Ugly Character
Robert Tyler was a new hand that Marshall had hired in early September mostly to help out at the ranch but as work was ramping up at the quarry Tyler was put to work digging bones and soon came across a new skull and skeleton. Marshall wrote to Prof. Marsh on October 19, 1883 writing; “This brings us to a new and quite interesting discovery made by Tyler who found… another head.”
Three days later Marshall wrote; “their [probably Smith and Tyler] latest discovery was perhaps as interesting as any other discovery found …though the animal seems an ugly character – and must have been a terror wherever he lived – with his long stout jaws – sharp teeth – and horns on his head.” At the time, Marshall and Smith were working in another part of the quarry excavating Allosaurus bones that were part of a separate skeleton. Perhaps Tyler’s skeleton no 4 was an Allosaurus? Marshall included a quick sketch shown to the right on which someone at Yale later wrote the word “Allosaurus”.
After the death of Professor Marsh in early 1899, the bulk of the collection at Yale that had been funded by the US Geological Survey was transferred to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). There it was initially housed within what is known today as the Castle at the Smithsonian Mall in Washington D.C. until the NMNH was built, opening to the public in 1910. In the meantime an outstanding scientist by the name of Charles Gilmore undertook the arduous task of taking another look at the material Marshall had collected, particularly the Allosaurus (Antrodemus), Ceratosaurus, and Stegosaurus. This new evaluation meant additional preparation on every specimen and several years of analysis. The end result was a major scientific paper on Ceratosaurus that was published in conjunction with Allosaurus (Gilmore 1920). Gilmore described the Ceratosaurus as; “worthy of special mention, for it comprises parts of almost the entire skeleton, and was to a considerable extent found articulated”. This publication included a number of beautiful illustrations that are being included below to help illustrate the results of the historic work underway on Ceratosaurus (aka Skull No 4) in late 1883 to early 1884.
I’ve revealed that No. 4 is a Ceratosaurus in order to share these illustrations in a timely way but Marsh wouldn’t give it that name until the spring of 1884.
Marshall described the difficulty of excavating this specimen on the 23rd of October; “We have been at work again to day on No 4 – It is a slow and delicate job – as it does not clean well from its bed underneath and we have to lie down to chisel under it removing a little at a time and then pasting up.”
On the 24th of October Professor Marsh responded; “Your description and sketch of Skull (No4) shows at once that it belongs to a Carnivorous Dinosaur, probably Allosaurus…Take up the skull with great care, and spare no pains on packing to make it come safely. We need a Carnivore skull very much, and you may never find another.” He continued on the 30th of October; “I am very desirous of having the bones that go with the four skulls all here before New Years, if they can be got out in good shape…All the four skulls belong to totally different animals. The Carnivore is of course quite by itself, but the other three belong to the Sauropoda”.
Professor Marsh wrote again on November 6; “The 5 boxes came in today, but I have only unpacked Box No 4 with the Carnivore skull. This is a very valuable specimen … The Carnivore Skull [N04], is one of the most interesting specimens I have seen from the West. We are now trying to harden it with gum and glue, and in a few days I shall myself go to work on it. It seems to have been complete … I am glad you are going for the skull of the Allosaurus. Both that and Skull No4. are typical Carnivores, perhaps the same species.”
Marsh expressed On November 10 both a desire for Marshall to continue working and maybe also come to Yale to assist the team with some of the new discoveries; “You better keep Tyler through the rest of this month, and longer if you find good bones” but an idea hit Marsh that he shared; “I wish very much you could see just what we do with the bones when they arrive here. Then you would understand fully what we need. Perhaps I can arrange later for you to visit us.” Four skulls was a remarkable situation, something that must have exceeded Marsh’s highest expectations. Perhaps Marshall might be more valuable coming to the museum and learning what they did there while providing details about what he had found. It was a rare moment when Marsh extended such invitations; something few field excavators would experience.
On the 23rd of November Marshall shared; “I met with a little accident at the quarry – got a blow on my knee from a heavy hammer – and have had to keep the house for a day or two past.” Four days later he wrote in response to the invitation from Marsh to come to New Haven; “I shall be happy to accept your generous offer and visit New Haven – also agree to the proviso to work another season on my return home”.
One day later on the 24th Marshall wrote; “We have been at work again to day on No 4 – It is a slow and delicate job …we have to lie down to chisel under it removing a little at a time and then pasting up. I think this will come out so that with the two slabs containing the vertebrae it will weigh but little over 100 pounds.”
On the 7th of December Marsh wrote: “caudal vertebrae in block with Skull No4 is very important … have drawings of every bone before taking them up”.
Marshall had second thoughts about a Yale trip writing on December 9; “I am sorry to have to write you – that it will not be possible for me to visit New Haven this winter. When I wrote that I would go – I had not fully thought the matter over – but now on further consideration feel compelled, much against my inclination however, to deny myself the pleasure and privilege of your very generous offer.” He continued; “It will make very little difference in the work going on for if you send out a man in the Spring who understands just what is wanted and all the methods needed I will cheerfully turn the work over to him – and if I do not work myself will assist him whenever I can”.
Winter weather forced closure of the quarry for awhile so Marshall took the time two days after Christmas to expand on how he felt about the work he has been doing; “I cannot though continue work at the same price…In this respect the seasons work has been somewhat unsatisfactory to me. If you will send on a man to take all the charge…The care of the work to keep things straight etc. has taken all my time to the exclusion of everything else – and is much harder on me than any of the men who have had only their regular days work of 10 hours to do.” Marshall had a family to help support and working non stop over the last 8 months had taken its toll. The intensity was more than he could handle. On the other hand, maybe he simply needed time off which took place over the next couple of months. He soon decided to continue working in 1884.
On January 4, 1884 Professor Marsh wrote; “I was greatly grieved to hear that you had thrown away some sternal bones. These are next to the skull in importance.” On the 28th of January; “We are at work on Skull No 4, which is coming out better than I expected”. At this time Marsh still referred to No4 as an Allosaurus but a week or so later on the 6th of February he stated; “although it was an Allosaurus it was possibly a different species than what had so far been discovered”.
Above is the Ceratosaurus sacrum from plate 21. Below is the string of caudal vertebrae from plate 22. (Gilmore 1920)
The image below is a cervical vertebrae. (Gilmore 1920)
Determination of Genus
By the 24th of February Marsh was becoming more fixated on No. 4; “Please don’t risk losing a fragment as large as a grain of corn on this entire skeleton”. Near the end of this letter he suggests that Marshall “not forget about the dump as a place to go look for additional specimens such as the sternum bones that were tossed into it.”
On the 28th, Marsh wrote; “determination of genus will be based in large part on locating some missing some dorsal vertebrae … I know that you want to do much better this year…The object of the work is to get material for accurate restoration of the animals found…it is important to treat all bones found as parts of a possible restoration”.
Three days later Marsh expressed that he felt Marshall didn’t understand the significance of what he was finding; “Your great chance (the luckiest of any yet found in the West) was the skeleton of Skull No 4. Here not only was every fragment important, but the number of the vertebrae their proportions, and shape, and exact order were all of the highest importance. So of the ribs, toe bones etc. Such a chance probably will never occur again for you had the material for an entire restoration in a single specimen”
Marsh went on expressing some regret that he had not gone himself to the quarry after this new dinosaur was discovered but that he remained so that he still might be able to do it justice; Had I known the specimen was so good, or that there was a chance of any important part being lost I would have left everything here, and gone out at once, as this was the chance I had long hoped for … I hope sincerely we can yet rescue most of this skeleton, and make it useful. The species is new and probably it represents a new genus and family.”
The issue for Marsh was whether or not any significant material, particularly if it was associated with the Ceratosaurus, had gone over into the dump.
On the 24th of February Marsh wrote; “You will of course recognize the pieces by their color and texture, and how they are almost worth their weight in gold.” A few days later he wrote; “the whole determination of the genus to which this animal [Ceratosaurus] belongs turns on the dorsal vertebrae and the ribs belonging to them.” Once again, on the 8th of March, Marsh emphasized; better leave all other work until every fragment is secured from the dump or rock. I would rather you would get me the rest of these two skeletons even in small pieces than to get 20 tons of big bones that I already know.”
Marshall responded and began hiring additional help to sort through many tons of material in the dump below the quarry. It would become a time consuming job that continued into early April. Marshall wrote on March 12, 1883; “Hunting the dump is slow work as all the stripping done over the Allosaur – the rock some 100 tons at least was thrown over partly covering the dump lower down the gulch where the rock from No. 4 was dumped over.” On the 20th of March, Marshall wrote; “some foot bones have been found.” Later in the same letter he wrote; “Tyler … went down and got the piece with the limb” Marshall wrote on April 2, 1884; “We have at last got through the dump – and have the material found mostly sorted.”
On April 9, 1884 Marsh wrote; “I am glad you are finding so much of value in the dump. I knew there must be very important specimens there, and we need them here very much.”
Save Everything, That is the Rule
All of the conversation about “getting every piece” and “not forgetting about the dump” originated from a small confession that Marshall made in his December 20, 1883 letter to Marsh; “We fixed up two sternal bones to-day with glass and glue – one of which I think is a fine specimen. … The other was found with scapula X and limb Y in the East End not shown on the map I believe. I think we have seen at least two besides these this season – one quite small – which puzzled us at the time – and we called them fragments of larger flat bones and did not save them – not knowing of anything like sternal bones till we saw them figured in the plates.”
Professor Marsh read intently every word of Marshall’s letters and he did not miss this confession, writing on January 4, 1884; “I was greatly grieved to hear that you had thrown away some sternal bones. These are next to the skull in importance. Mudge and Williston knew little of collecting, or they would have told you to save everything. That is the rule in fossil vertebrates. There may be exceptions, but they are few.”
Harsh criticism from Marsh continued, becoming almost unbearable. If Marshall knew more about his personality he probably would have been able to accept these harsh critiques of his work, but considering the lack of formal training, the difficulty of this excavation site, his personal health, and what Marshall called some of the coldest and most severe weather he had ever seen (26 degrees below zero), he was extremely frustrated. Marshall and his crew had made mistakes but overall he was doing some remarkably good work, maybe the best work he had ever done in his entire life. By the fall of 1883 he was uncovering not just one but several highly significant skeletons. His reward was to receive little in the way of any compliments and making matters worse was he was generally getting paid late or even shorted.
Marshall responded to these unrelenting critiques on March 7, 1883 writing; “Had your instructions to me been as full and explicit in the beginning as in your letter of Mar. 1” many of the mishaps that have taken place would not have occurred. No one deplores the mistakes made more than myself and I have felt a good deal lately like giving up the work entirely.”
On March 12, 1884 Marsh shared what was one of the driving forces to ensure that Marshall got every piece of this skeleton; “I shall have my figures of Sk 4 out in a few days and the article will be in the April [issue] of the Am. Journal of Science”. (Marsh, 1884)
On March 19,1883 Professor Marsh revealed the name of this new dinosaur; “Sk 4. which I shall call Ceratosaurus, (Horn lizard) is proving more and more important every hour, as we work on it. It is worth all the rest of the quarry including Allosaurus, so far as you have got.”
The drawing below of the Ceratosaurus skull by Gilmore was discovered by Marshall and crew in 1883. (Gilmore 1920)
Rejoicing in our Museum
Professor Marsh On March 19 wrote back to Marshall stating they had received box no. 1, something that Marshall had shipped on February 20, 1884. The Yale team was very pleased with a “forefoot” something Professor Marsh rivals the skull itself in importance. He writes “that it was finally found caused rejoicing in our museum in 4 or 5 different languages.”
Two days later on March 21, Professor Marsh reiterates the importance of the specimen that had been shipped in box no. 1 stating there was one lump “…as big as my two fists, which had in it nearly all of a fore foot … worth all the large bones in the quarry, as it enabled me to make a restoration of the foreleg.“
Professor Marsh completed his publication on Ceratosaurus and shared this with Marshall writing on the 31st of March “I will send you some pamphlets on Ceratosaurus tomorrow or next day. You will then see the results of all our work.”
Marshall responded on the 11th of April writing; “I received the pamphlets on Ceratosaurus. We all think it is the grandest specimen yet.” This must have been a proud moment in Marshall’s life.
Not all the material had arrived that would go into Marsh’s April publication on Ceratosaurus in time. Most notable were pieces of the forefoot which Marsh had declared was second in importance to the skull. It was these bones that delighted everyone at the museum. Upon receiving these bones, the museum staff prepared the drawing on the left below looking the same as when they arrived. After analysis, they were drawn in a manner representing their place in the foot (below right).
The skeletal drawing below of the Ceratosaurus skeleton discovered by Marshall and crew in 1883 is by Charles Gilmore. (Gilmore 1920)
Carpenter, Kenneth, and Virginia Tidwell. 1998. “Preliminary Description of a Brachiosaurus Skull from Felch Quarry 1, Garden Park, Colorado.” Modern Geology 23 (January): 69–84.
Choi, Charles. 2015. “The Brontosaurus Is Back.” Scientific American. April 7, 2015.
McIntosh, John S, and Kenneth J Carpenter. 1998. “The Holotype of Diplodocus Longus, with Comments on Other Specimens of the Genus.” Modern Geology 23: 85–110.
Riggs, E. S. 1903. “Brachiosaurus Altithorax, the Largest Known Dinosaur.” American Journal of Science American Journal of Science 4–15 (88): 299–306.
Schuchert, Charles, and Clara Mae LeVene. 1940. O.C. Marsh, Pioneer in Paleontology. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
All letters are available online at this site.
Next Chapter: Allosaurus and Stegosaurus (temp title)
This chapter will focus on the time period in early 1884 up through the end of 1887 when the bulk of paleontology excavations would be completed. It is a time period when remarkable skeletons of Allosaurus and Stegosaurus would be discovered along with an array of other materials. Marshall Felch will complete what will be the best paleontology work he will ever do. Sadly, this work comes during the time period when Marshall and Amanda’s youngest son Emerson Webster dies in a tragic farming accident. Its both a very rewarding and painful time in their families history.