Professor Marsh relied extensively on field excavators like Marshall Felch out west while back home at the Peabody Museum of Natural History he needed fossil preparators, illustrators, and paleontologists to complete a solid identification of a species. The Peabody Museum of Natural History opened in 1876 and seven years later it was overflowing with fossils including a growing collection of Jurassic dinosaur bones derived mostly from Como Bluffs Wyoming, Morrison and Canon City Colorado. With funding from the US Geological Survey after 1882, Marsh hired Marshall Felch to open up the old quarry.
Based on the letters sent to Marshall from 1883 to 1888, Professor Marsh seemed to have four general objectives;
- find missing parts, particularly skulls and feet
- locate better representations of particular bones
- confirm how certain bones were joined together
- find something new such as the Ceratosaurus
By 1884 Marshall had become a very good excavator and by the end of 1886 he would excavate a number of bones and partial skeletons including two exceptional skeletons of Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.
A Twist of Fate
Marsh didn’t just want to win, he wanted to decimate Cope. The culmination of the fight between Professor Cope and Marsh began in late 1889 when, at the urging of both Professor Marsh and John Wesley Powell, the new director of the Department of Interior John Nobel wrote a demand letter to Cope. The letter required Cope to turn over all the vertebrate fossils he had collected in the west while working with Ferdinand Hayden; in other words a major portion of his life’s work. Cope knew immediately who was behind this letter and was ready. Maybe this letter could have been ignored or negotiated but Cope had been maintaining files that contained every misdeed Marsh had ever done. He contacted the New York Herald with a barrel full of dirt on Marsh including the fact that the US Geological Survey (USGS) paid for a substantial portion of the dinosaur collection Marsh had at the Yale Peabody Museum. This moment is the culmination of the “Bone Wars” story told in books, articles, and film.
Professor Cope and Marsh were both severely bludgeoned through this process but it wasn’t Professor Cope who gave up his fossils. The move backfired on Marsh who had been paying field excavators and his staff at Yale with USGS money. It wasn’t Cope but rather Marsh who lost a major portion of his collection at the Peabody including most of the dinosaur fossils that had been collected after 1882 at Como Bluffs and the fossils Marshall excavated here. The Peabody’s loss became all too real when in 1898, the first of several loads of dinosaur fossils from the Yale Peabody were shipped by train down to Washington D.C.and accessioned into the Smithsonian collections, something Professor Marsh witnessed before he passed away in 1899. Professor Cope would have enjoyed this spectacle but he didn’t live long enough to see it.
In spite of the turmoil surrounding the bone wars story, Marsh remains one of the most famous paleontologists of all time with extensive honors and a very rich legacy of publications. Professor Marsh had a tendency to keep the limelight on himself rather than those that worked for him. Marshall died in 1902, at the time a relatively unknown dinosaur excavator. Marsh remained as famous as ever but in a rather quirky twist of fate, the feud between Professor Marsh and Professor Cope inadvertently led to a well deserved and substantially greater appreciation Marshall’s work.
In 1903 a dedicated and knowledgeable paleontologist by the name of Charles Gilmore was hired by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. to work on all the dinosaurs that had arrived from the Peabody. Fifteen years later, Gilmore had completed outstanding publications describing Marshall’s work on Ceratosaurus, Allosaurus, and Stegosaurus.
From a public recognition standpoint, “Marshall’s skeletons” went on permanent display in the great dinosaur hall beginning about 1910 in the brand-new National Museum of Natural History. Although Marshall’s name is far from a household word, tens of millions of visitors have since viewed the results his technical and scientific work.
The National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum also known as the Smithsonian Institution Building or “the castle” was built in 1855. It was the first major building on what is called the Mall today. In response to exhibits arriving from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the Arts and Industry Building was added in 1881.
Soon substantial rock, mineral, and fossil collections being acquired by the Smithsonian and these geologic collections escalated dramatically between 1898 and 1903 when train car loads of dinosaur bones arrived from the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven Connecticut. Some of those materials were the dinosaurs Marshall excavated.
In response to all this material, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) was planned, built, and opened with a grand dinosaur hall to the public in 1910.
It was Gilmore who publicly expressed great appreciation of Marshall Felch’s work. Not only did Gilmore publish in depth descriptions of “Marshall’s” dinosaur skeletons, he turned these discoveries into prized permanent exhibits for the public to see.
Charles Whitney Gilmore
Skeletal drawings of Ceratosaurus displayed in the last chapter were included in the manuscript by Charles Gilmore entitled “Osteology of the carnivorous Dinosauria …with special reference to the genera Antrodemus [Allosaurus] and Ceratosaurus”. In this chapter the second major focus of Gilmore manuscript’s is Allosaurus. Both the Ceratosaurus and the Allosaurus were initially described by Professor Marsh but the most thorough descriptions were by Gilmore.
Charles was born in 1874 and grew up on a family farm southwest of Rochester New York. At the age of six, an aunt took Charlie to visit the nearby Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, created to find and sell rocks, fossils, and other natural science materials to colleges, universities, and museums. Charles recalled seeing; “a number of men stuffing’ all kinds of birds and mammals… the museum bug had been firmly implanted … for immediately collections of fossil shells, rocks, birds’ eggs, and insects were started … soon the idea of following museum work as a life profession was implanted, an idea that never deserted me…(Colbert, 1984)
At the age of eight the family moved to Howell Michigan and after graduation from high school Gilmore decided to attend a recently founded land grant university in Laramie Wyoming, the the University of Wyoming. There he focused on their collection of dinosaur specimens. After graduation he began a career with the Carnegie Museum and quickly became an outstanding authority on dinosaurs.
When the U.S. National Museum (aka Smithsonian) was gearing up to open up the natural history museum, Charles Gilmore applied for a paleontology position and in 1903 was hired. Over time Gilmore took on many assignments including preparation of a manuscript on Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus writing; “The preparation of this material was begun in 1911 and has continued, barring interruptions, up to the close of the year 1918″ (Gilmore, 1920).
In 1920 Charles published the manuscript entitled ” Osteology of the carnivorous Dinosauria …with special reference to the genera Antrodemus [Allosaurus] and Ceratosaurus“. The sole Ceratosaurus utilized for his work was excavated by Marshall Felch while the Allosaurus excavated by Marshall Felch was the most referenced of any of the Allosaurus material.
Gilmore took charge of the entire NMNH vertebrate fossil collection in 1923 and remained there until his retirement in 1945. During his career he published forty-three scientific papers and monographs and participated in sixteen scientific expeditions.
“Gilmore had the great virtue of being able to apply the seat of his pants to the seat of a chair, to get down on paper the knowledge that was in in his head concerning dinosaurs and other fossil reptiles”. (Colbert, 1984)
Charles Whitney Gilmore (1874-1945), curator of the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology at the United States National Museum, Gilmore is shown with vertebrae of a Diplodocus. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 90-105, Science Service Records, Image #SIA2008-1930
Dr. Charles Gilmore working on a 32 foot long tail of a sauropod dinosaur on March 24, 1938 in the National Museum of Natural History.
Charles was “one of the great American students of dinosaurs, a quiet and most modest man, a man of great generosity, truly beloved by his colleagues” (Colbert, 1984). Picture courtesy of the library of congress and wiki commons.
Without a Scratch
The Cabin, a Shed, and a Shaded Work Table
Considering both the remarkable excavations in 1883 and the strong probability the bone bed would continue into the hillside, Marshall needed a building. There he could store tools, equipment, and specimens until they could be packed and later shipped. On the 7th of January, 1884 Marshall wrote; “We are much in need of some place at the quarry – to keep things housed in better shape than we have had – for it is difficult to take care of different bones and their fragments by laying them around in the quarry as we have had to do… So also with our papers – diagrams – maps – tools etc – two or three times in the summer we were washed out and had a good deal of work to do over again.” Marshall continued; “If we had a small board building say 10 x 16 – with board roof and cracks battened without floor – but plenty of shelf room around the sides we could … fixing up the bones to pack …some of the work could be done in stormy weather.” Marshall then described specifically what he wanted; “1000 ft. of common lumber would I think be sufficient … and could be put up in a few days after getting the lumber on the ground – the hardest part of the job being in packing it up the hill on our backs some 250 yards from the road.”
Marshall mentioned in early March that he was working on the building and that they were moving the blacksmith shop currently at the ranch over to the quarry. When it was stated there was a need to store tools, blacksmith tools were a beautiful example.
The cabin was finished in September at which time added a shed to it. The cabin couldn’t hold it all and they needed additional space to both work and store specimens particularly in bad weather. In early November Marshall shared that they had purchased wood for shipping boxes and the shed. Marsh described that they used tar paper for a roof covering on the shed instead of shingles but that the roof was so flat it would not shed rain and “maybe some tar or mineral paint was needed to make it last longer“. During the monsoon rains that are common in late July and early August, a cloud burst; “beat our tar paper roof on our store shed to a pulp – and buried the working ground and quarry with mud and rocks from above – and completely washed our trail to the road down to bed rock”.
The buildings needed to support the excavation were in place with one exception. They needed a long table for organizing specimens with a shade cover that was built in early 1886. As each block with dinosaur bones came out, they would first lay it out on the table in the position as it was found. They could then do various markings on the specimens which would enable preparators back at the Peabody to do the same, extremely valuable information on how things were connected. The quarry with all the buildings was photographed in 1888 by I.C. Russel from the USGS on July 7 or 8, 1888. This is shown below and modified to show when buildings were built.
A trail was constructed to connect the quarry to the dirt road down below that connected Garden Park to the town of Canon City. They needed it to get materials up to the quarry and packed boxes from the quarry. Marshall and his helpers had repaired the trail more than once and explained to Marsh on October 28, 1885 that that it was necessary “to get lumber up the hill for boxes – or the boxes down”. About a week later Marshall wrote again stating that most of the lumber they needed to make shipping boxes was still at the foot of the trail. Marshall went on writing that once the trail was sufficiently repaired, they could “draw up the lumber with a horse – and so divide up the time in making and packing boxes and taking out what is necessary to leave the work in good shape – and if the weather holds good … haul in the boxes to town. This part – carting – I can do alone after the rest are through.”
The trail was much too steep for a wagon but not an issue for the time. They most likely built a small flat sled, loaded a box on it and pulled it with a man or maybe a horse down to the road with one man holding onto it from uphill so it didn’t take off on its own. Conversely you could use the sled to help drag up lumber to the quarry.
On July 9, 1888 Marshall wrote to Professor Marsh; “Mr. Russel has been here and gone – I spent the most of two days with him – showing everything of interest and in making measures of the different stratas in the Jurassic. He expresses himself as highly pleased and well satisfied with his visit here – and astonished at finding such a great variety of fossils – especially the mollusks – a box of which we packed up to send to the National Museum.
… He had his photographic apparatus along and took several views of the strata along the creek – and some of our quarry – which he will finish up on his return to Washington – and will send you some copies.”
The Ceratosaurus that was called “an ugly character” was discovered by Marshall in the fall of 1883. It wasn’t the only big carnivore the quarry would produce. In this case it was a relatively complete articulated skeleton of a deeply buried Allosaurus was waiting to be discovered.
Marshall wrote to professor Marsh on September 30,1883; “We have also found and partly uncovered the feet and limbs of another new animal – the most singular and interesting of any found yet – we think” . On the 10th of October, Marshall wrote the “long – hooked grooved claws“.
Marshall was familiar with Allosaurus bones as Williston, Mudge, and himself found fragmentary bones of this dinosaur and a new species of dinosaur, Allosaurus fragilis was introduced to the world by Professor Marsh based on these bones.
Marsh responded on the 15th of October, 1883; “I want to make restorations of the fore and hind legs of Allosaurus… So look out sharp for the fore legs…. In all Carnivorous dinosaurs the bones are smooth, fine grained and more or less hollow.”
Marshall recognized that he had found a few skeletal parts but the majority of the skeleton seemed to be deeply buried under at least fifteen feet of rock. Marshall outlined the issue on the 1st of the November; “The skull of… the Allosaurus I think lies in another direction … but all the rest of the skeleton not taken out lies under the deepest portion of rock in the quarry.”
On the 10th of November Marshall described a second issue; “the Allosaurus is laying directly under the big femur – At this point the regular bone strata is thicker (some 6 feet)”.
Finally, seven days later Marshall wrote; “nothing more can be done over or around where the Allosaurus lay till a good deal of cap rock is taken off first“. His forethcoming plan on how to effectively remove this cap rock would be key for the success he would eventually have.
The Ceratosaurus excavation work had been primary focus in late 1883 and early 1884 but now Professor Marsh was thinking about his desire for more Allosaurus. He wrote to Marshall on March 1, 1884; “The next thing of importance you have found is the Allosaurus skeleton, and I hope you may yet get the skull. Here also every fragment as large as a grain of corn is well worth saving. This is a different animal from Skull No 4[Ceratosaurus], but first cousin.”
Figure 40 from of right fore limb and foot of Allosaurus. (Gilmore 1920)
Marsh wanted everything generally immediately and in perfect condition but the majority of the Allosaurus skeleton was buried under what Marshall called the deepest part of the quarry. The simple approach was to simply dig a trench into a fifteen feet layer of rock but Marshall felt it would be detrimental to approach it that way and Marsh wanted it in good condition. Marshall suggested removing overlying rock in a much larger area just to the west and in that way there would be plenty of work room and the whole skeleton could be approached at the same time. In Marshall’s words; “to work to the best advantage – not only in removing the rock but in getting out the specimens in good condition, we should commence at A and work it with the natural seams – and take out all clean to the marl bed as we go along…and we could carry along a wider strip and if we struck on to a skeleton that was continuous – and found to be so we could make sure work of it with less trouble…and save the specimens in better shape”
Marshall’s map from March 7, 1884 shows this work plan. The map has been modified in red text with arrows to show Marshall’s intent. Marsh agreed a few days later to this plan. The full excavation of the Allosaurus would therefore be delayed for a few months but Marshall had some relatively accessible areas containing some Allosaurus bones. These along with what Marsh felt was another carnivorous dinosaur Labrosaurus would continue to be discovered.
A Tragic Farming Accident
Marshall and Amanda’s son and Ned and Sadies little brother Emerson, fell victim to a tragic farming accident around the 6th of July, 1884. Marshall Felch described what happened in a letter to Professor Marsh on the 15th of July. The letter Marshall’s own handwriting along with the transcribed version are shown below.
Canon City Colo
July 15” 1884
One week ago this morning, my youngest boy = almost fourteen = was taken sick, and after great suffering – died on Saturday evening.
His trouble – was an injury causing peritonitis.
All that we could do – and with the best medical attendance to be had, it was of no avail.
He was a keen bright active boy – a general favorite with all whom he met – and his loss has completely prostrated us.
The anxiety and care during his sickness together with the terrible heat of the past ten days has so unnerved and upset me that I am almost down myself.
As soon as I get a little rest and strength I will go on with the work – and in that try and overcome as much as I can something of our great trouble.
M. P. Felch
The date of his death
The 15th of July was on a Tuesday. Emerson must have been injured and become ill on the 8th of July or a day or two before that. Based on Marshall’s letter, he died on Saturday, July 12, 1884.
Professor Marsh established a separate genus of large carnivores in 1879 he named Labrosaurus. It was based on a rather sparse amount of bones discovered at Como Bluffs Wyoming. Fred Brown was working there at the time and was familiar with this discovery. When Brown arrived in early 1883 he shared this with Marshall and explained that Professor Marsh wanted to find more of this dinosaur. Brown knew what to look for and before he left he found what looked like more Labrosaurus bones. Marshall firmed this up on June 8, 1884 writing to Professor Marsh; “[Marshall] had a new skeleton (No 5) that lays just above where Brown found the Labrosaurus jaw”. For Marshall, number 5 was Labrosaurus.
Marshall’s skills in osteology were getting pretty good by now and he almost immediately began noticing the similarities of these Labrosaurus bones to Allosaurus bones he had already seen. On June 15, 1884 Marshall wrote: “I have taken up the femur with skeleton No. 5 [Labrosaurus] and find it more bulky and massive – though of about the same length as Allosaurus …Have also found one of the long foot bones – perfect and almost exactly like the long ones in Allosaurus…. I can see no difference between these metatarsals (No 5) and of Allosaurus – except the former may be a little larger.”
The drawing to the left is a Labrosaurus (Allosaurus) metatarsal (foot bone) prepared by Sadie Felch. The drawing was included in an August 20, 1884 letter to Professor Marsh from her father Marshall. Perhaps the difficult class work Sadie had been taking at the Military Academy helped prepare her to be a more effective assistant to her father and contribute something like this.
Professor Marsh seemed to be a little tone deaf in response to Marshall’s assertion that it was Allosaurus. Marsh’s mission was to describe new species so he continued to push Marshall to find more of the Labrosaurus and Marshall did his best to abide. It was by now apparent to Marshall that it was probably Allosaurus but Marsh never let go and continued to push Marshall over the next three years to find Labrosaurus. Gilmore and others will later determine that insufficient evidence existed to establish a new species. Marshall appears to be correct; he was simply finding more Allosaurus and recognition of this by Marsh would have assisted in how he instructed Marshall to proceed.
Marshall and Ned Weld implemented the excavation plan to work toward the Allosaurus while always on the lookout for Labrosaurus. They worked what they called one strip at a time. On July 5, 1884, Marshall wrote to Professor Marsh Marshall; “To carry one strip across, averages a hard weeks work sometimes more – where the bones are badly crowded – and I sometimes think our Allosaurus which is now about twenty feet away – to be a thousand miles off”.
Marshall continued; “I took up to day and finished up at the North End of my strip a fine specimen of a femur or tibia of No 5 [Labrosaurus]. This I took up a whole and it will figure well without much more being done with it”.
Allosaurus (aka Antrodemus, Labrosaurus, and Epanterias)
Cope and Marsh were making new discoveries on a regular basis and since it was a naming race, the same critter with subtle differences might get a new name.
The first “Allosaurus” bones discovered in Colorado in 1869 were identified by Joseph Leidy who named a new genus and species of dinosaur he called Antrodemus valens. Professor Mudge, Samuel Williston, and Marshall Felch discovered some fragmentary bones while working in the old quarry in 1877. Professor Marsh assigned the “new” dinosaur the name Allosaurus fragillis, not recognizing it was pretty much the same thing as Leidy’s Antrodemus. Marsh and Cope went on to name three other “new” species; Epanterias, Labrosaurus, and Creosaurus, all of which were based on other fragmentary material and are now all considered to be Allosaurus rather than distinct genus.
After all the bones arrived at the National Museum of Natural History years later, Charles Gilmore conducted a thorough analysis of what was what and began realizing that he was seeing a whole lot of one genus of dinosaur that today is called Allosaurus but Gilmore renamed it Antrodemus acknowledging Leidy’s discovery and basing it on the naming conventions of the time. Around 1970 a decision was made to call it all Allosaurus and the best representative example of this genus and species was identified as the Allosaurus fragilis being discussed in this chapter.
Forty One Crates
By the 20th of August, 1884 Marshall and Ned Weld, Marshall’s nephew, were getting close to the Allosaurus but still had a ways to go. They were also anticipating an actual visit from Professor Marsh sometime in early to mid September and would have a chance to show him a number of things and get his input. Professor Marsh did arrive sometime between September 20 and 24 but it is unknown exactly when he was there or what all he looked at but it was probably a helpful thing, especially since it was only two months since Emerson died and Marshall could both his expertise and encouragement.
After Marsh left, they finally came upon the Allosaurus around October 20, 1884. A week later Marshall wrote;
” By the last of next week if we have good luck all can be shipped including No. 7 (Allosaurus) as we have it most all removed from its bed and part of the blocks dressed ready to group
… This has been the most difficult piece of work yet attempted – as a portion was so badly weathered from exposure last winter to frost that a good deal crumbled down in taking out – but by great care we shall be able to get the blocks to match well – and all of the fragments saved and marked so as to locate without difficulty.
…. we knew there will be found several perfect dorsals – ribs – one whole fore foot – all the cervicals in splendid condition – and some of the skull – how much we cannot tell as only a portion is exposed in a large block”
An Old River Bed
Professor Marsh paid Marshall a much awaited visit around the 1st day of fall in 1884. Marshall pointed out the deep river channel and also that there were actually two bones beds in this part of the quarry and bones including a large femure of what seemed to be Brontosaurus on top of the Allosaurus.
Three years later Marshall wrote to Professor Marsh reminding him of this; “I suppose you remember that there was quite a depression running about north-east and south west – and in this depression which we call the old river bed – we have always found our best and most perfect specimens”.
One month later Marshall wrote; “We have in all now ready to ship – forty one (41) boxes all well made and packed, and well hooped in good shape to handle safely.” He goes on to describe some additional discoveries and stated that in order to complete more of the Allosaurus that “considerable stripping overhead is done – and a part of the large skeleton is removed which has overlaid No. 7 all the way along.”
Drawing above of the Allosaurus pelvis excavated by Marshall Felch. Figure 46 from (Gilmore, 1920).
Right forefoot of Allosaurus based on skeleton excavated by Marshall Felch. Figure 45 from Gilmore (Gilmore 1920)
On the 20th of October, 1884 Marshall wrote to Marsh. He provided both good and bad news beginning naturally with the good news.
A few months earlier Marshall and the other workers had done some work on the far western end of the quarry but were finding only what Marshall called “smooth water worn fragments” or small fragments of bones in rock. To Marshall it looked like a part of the river where there was fairly good water flow so any skeletal material would be fragmented and water worn. They excavated blocks containing these fragments and stacked them on the quarry floor in same order and location as they had been found in the spirit of preserving everything. The diggers figured they would come back and take a closer look when they had time. A few months later in mid October they had some time so they took a second look.
Marshall made an unexpected discovery that he described to Marsh on the 22nd of October. He described a block that contained what he believed was; a portion of the Skull of Stegosaurus the top or frontal bone I suppose, as both eye orbits show – and the back of the skull showing the occipital condyle [base of the skull]. This appears to be all – not any part of the lower jaws or maxillaries being connected with the rest.
Before he mailed the letter, Marshall and the team began meticulously looking to see if they could find more skull fragments but they were unsuccessful. It was at this instant that Marshall thought back and remembered an incident several months earlier when he had been gone for a day. When he returned he asked for an update Ned Weld mentioned that a quarry worker named Elijah Hammonds had thrown a few blocks from that area that for him looked worthless over the edge. Hammonds was reprimanded and later let go.
Perhaps a grand opportunity had been missed. Marshall knew that the Professor wanted a Stegosaurus skull and this doubly made Marshall feel obliged to tell his suspicions to Marsh. The team worked hard for two days searching in that part of the quarry along with the dump down below but no more of this particular skull was ever found.
The block containing any additional skull material may or may not have even been possible to find. Maybe water movement and the river moved off part of the skull or maybe it was carted off by a carnivore 150 million years ago? No one knows. Marshall could have written a letter describing what had been found and sent it express to the professor. Such a letter would probably have been well received but Marshall didn’t chose the easy path. He confessed his suspicion that some of the skull had been tossed over the edge by Hammond rather than emphasizing the positives.
A careful reading of hundreds of letters written by Marshall portrays someone who is honest, resourceful, dedicated, intelligent, and by now a damn good excavator.
Marshall had just successfully removed an Allosaurus that had been buried under 15 ft of rock with another dinosaur over top of it. Years later Charles Gilmore would describe the Allosaurus Marshall removed; “I have selected this specimen on account of the well-preserved condition of the bones and from the fact that it consists of the greater part of the skeleton of a single individual.”
The year had been highly productive with the discovery of Ceratosaurus, Allosaurus, and much more. This work had been completed even with with a host of weather hardships and most importantly the death of Emerson.
When Marshall confessed this possible mistake to Professor Marsh he may have hoped that the professor would recognize that his suspicion may or may not have even occurred but probably deep down he knew Marsh well enough by now that this was unlikely.
On the 6th of December Professor Marsh responded;
“I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to find that all after our efforts, that Stegosaurus skull was lost by the stupidity of a man who ought never to have touched a bone. That skull was worth more to me than all the other fossils secured this year twice over, because it was the one thing I especially wanted now. I fear we may never get another from that quarry, and only there did I expect to find a perfect one….One perfect skull is worth a car full of ordinary fossils. Above all, throw away nothing, and allow no one except yourself and Smith to take out specimens, and no one not experienced to work anywhere near fossils”.
Right humerus of Allosaurus excavated by Marshall Felch. Figure 41 from Gilmore (Gilmore, 1920)
Marshall had received his fair share of harsh rebukes over the last two years from Professor Marsh but this one must have been especially painful. What Marshall didn’t know was that Marsh had a long history of strained relationships with all those who worked with or for him.
Without a Scratch
The letter from Professor Marsh must have had a profound effect on Marshall. Over the last two years he had lived, breathed, and even dreamed about the quarry.
On a cold winter morning, January 6, 1885 he responded;
“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.”
He had done his best but now he would try even harder; “Taking all things into consideration if the work done on this last job – is not called fair and passable – I shall be disappointed, and shall have to study up new methods and devices for future work.”
Below is figure 48 from Gilmore that includes the front, outer, and back views of the tibia, astragalus, and calceneum (lower leg, ankle, heel) of Allosaurus discovered by Marshall Felch. (Gilmore 1920)
Marshall then drew a comparison of digging dinosaur bones here in relationship to a Civil War Battle;
“The work of removing fossils from this quarry calls for a vast amount of ability skill and patience, sometimes more than I possess – and is like to dislodging an enemy from some strongly fortified position – only there the more damage done the better the work – while here we must take the fortress and all belonging with it without a scratch.”
Marshall somewhat closed up shop at the end of 1884 but soon after his “Without a Scratch” letter was mailed, he followed up with plans and strategies for the upcoming work season. The quarry looked very promising and Marshall along with his nephew Ned Weld were ready, willing, and able to go to work. Marshall responded to Marsh on Feb 13, 1885;
“I am somewhat disappointed at the turn matters have taken – and it going to come hard on me in one or two particulars. I had made arrangements about the ranch so as to have the care of that off from my mind – and had ordered quite a large bill of fruit trees to be paid for on delivery in April – depending on the work for money to meet the obligation.
Had I known it a month sooner I should have avoided engaging the fruit trees – as I don’t like to get in debt or hire money during the present hard times, and stringency in money matters.
I suppose that I had better pick up the loose ends and pack away in the buildings and await future developments or better times.”
Marshall could have easily set aside maybe 5-10 acres of land where two or three hundred seedlings could have been planted; a sizable investment.
Unfortunately we don’t know what all Professor Marsh was writing back during 1885. The letters that Sadie Felch gave Earl Douglass in 1926 didn’t include the Marsh letters from 1885. A severe windstorm occurred near Roosevelt Utah about 1910 and a years worth of letters lost. Because of this, we have to make logical guesses what Marsh was writing based on Marshall’s letters. What we can surmise is that Professor Marsh wrote sometime in early February, notifying Marshall that he had no funding at the moment for any work at the quarry in 1885.
The Canon City area is historically known for apple orchards and we can surmise that when Marshall mentioned fruit trees, he meant apples. They do fairly well in this climate and were the rage here in the late 1800’s. Fairly frequent late season frosts in the spring have diminished production over the last hundred years. The standing joke locally is that spring time has perfect weather until the opening ceremonies of the Blossom Festival in early May when snow and below freezing weather put a kibosh on all the fun.
An unexpected repercussions immediately resulted because no funding for excavation work in 1885 was expected. Marshall’s nephew Ned had been planning on working in the quarry during 1885 and when Marshall informed him of the situation, he didn’t take it lightly and took out his frustrations on Marshall.
On the 16th of March, Marshall wrote to Professor Marsh letting him know that Ned had filed a “preemption claim“ of 40 acres of land that would severely impact their ranch operations. Marshall stated; “Situated as this claim is, with my best tillable ground on two sides – and with their dwellings close up in the corner that sets into my claim – I have always during the cropping season been a sufferer from the invasion of stock, pigs, and poultry – besides having to allow a right of way for roads water etc across my land”.
Weld’s land claim was filed under one of the various preemption laws, something like the homestead act. It gave him almost an immediate legal right to use and develop the land. In other words, he could do most anything he wanted including all the things that Marshall expressed fear about such as bringing in pigs. Its how land laws worked in those days. No one ever bothered before on this piece of land because it was hemmed in on the north and east by Marshall’s land and on the south and west by badlands.
The image above originally drawn by Marshall Felch and included in his March 16, 1885 letter. It was modified here to point out key features including the 40 acre parcel Ned Weld filed on along with a placer mining claim labeled Q. At the time Ned took the first step and filed a “preemption claim, this parcel was not owned by anyone and part of the public domain.
A Second Significant Problem
Marshall was smack dab in the middle of a major dinosaur excavation and many bones were poking out here and there when Marshall learned that funding looked bleak for excavation work in 1885. Ever since dinosaur bones were first found in 1877 at the old quarry, tourists, locals, and merchants such as Eugene Weston came onto the quarry when it was unoccupied and dug out pieces of dinosaur bones hauling them off for souvenirs. Marshall knew that it would not take collectors long to do some really serious damage when they realized that no one was regularly working at the quarry.
In order to achieve both a legal right to be there and some level of legal protection Marshall filed a 20 acre placer mine claim early on. He didn’t own the land but the claim provided rights to be working there and protect his valuable development. Marshall wrote many times to Marsh about putting up fencing and posting signs to keep collectors and vandals away to protect the claim.
The 1872 Mine Law enabled a citizen to explore for minerals on open public lands. If something looked promising the prospector might file a mining claim. The land wasn’t owned by the prospector at this moment but the claim gave them rights to be there, develop a mine, and protect their investment. If a mine owner had a sizeable investment it made sense to go the next level and obtain ownership. If you owned it, the claim was termed patented. If you didn’t own it the claim was termed unpatented. To go to this next level and patent the claim the applicant had to establish that a discovery of a valuable mineral deposit had been made and this was at the time a reasonably strenuous process. A patented claim would be much easier to protect than an unpatented one.
Marshall discussed this option in his March 16, 1885 letter to Marsh. He explained that he would have to “prove up” on the claim which meant going through the process to obtain ownership of the land. It was relatively common to apply for patent when you had found something like gold, silver, copper, etc. but in the case of dinosaur bones it could be a sticky widget. Pursuing such ownership and failing might jeopardize the whole thing. Maybe there was another solution?
The Homestead Solution
The easy solution was to file for a homestead patent on the land. Such patents were 160 contiguous acres in size and would double the size of the ranch. The reason Marshall had never filed before was that the great majority of available land within and adjoining the 40 acre parcel had no potential for farming. The only part of the land that had any potential for farming was about 20 or so tillable acres or the east half of the Weld claim along Oil Creek. The Felch home and outbuildings were currently within a few feet of this parcel and the family had been using the land already so acquiring just this piece was logical but Homestead Act acquisitions were for 160 acres of land. He wanted to utilize the Homestead Act though because as a veteran and in his own words; “having served in the army 3 years, 10 months, and 12 days that time would be deducted from the usual term of five years – leaving me but a little more than one year before I could make a final proof on any land that I should enter as a Homestead“.
The thought of using this valuable right for 160 acres of land of which only about 20 acres could be farmed seemed almost intolerable to Marshall but there was one additional benefit such an acquisition could provide. He could include the area where the dinosaur quarry was eliminating an attempt to “prove up” on the mining claim. There was only one problem with the whole idea, $400.
Four Hundred Dollars
Ned wanted $400 for the land claim. Marshall went to a lawyer and they worked out an agreement to pay Ned $400 for his land claim but here came the next problem. Marshall didn’t have $400.
It was already a tough year considering both the debacle with the apple trees, and no excavating money coming in. Marshall simply didn’t have the money. After some deliberation Marshall contacted Professor Marsh explaining that this would ultimately benefit Professor Marsh which isn’t a lie, its clearly the case. Marshall would file a homestead application on land that would include the dinosaur quarry and give Marsh full access to dig dinosaur bones on it; provided Marsh gave him some help with the $400 problem.
Marshall requested Marsh pay $200 or half the cost of clearing off the Weld claim and Marshall would borrow the rest. Because we do not have the Marsh letters for this time period it is not clear what the final arrangements were but later in June Marshall asks Marsh how he would like to be reimbursed for the $200 so either Marsh paid $200 and lent Marshall the other $200 or maybe he only lent Marshall half and Marshall had to borrow other money for the other half. Regardless, once the Weld Claim was purchased, Marshall filed for the land under the Homestead Act of 1862. For all practical purposes, the land was immediately the Felch’s but officially it was not until 1891 that the official title was presented. That title included the old quarry.
Starting Late, but Starting
Marsh wrote in mid June that he had received funding and that the quarry could be reopened. This was great news for Marshall but he had missed the cooler digging weather in April, May, and June so they would begin in the hottest buggiest weather, but any work was better than none. The time off had also given Marshall somewhat of a reprieve to focus some attention on the ranch and farm during the ever busy growing season. Fencing, planting seed, weeding, running irrigation water, and all the rest required a lot of attention in the spring and early summer. In 1883 and 84 Marshall had to hire a ranch hand to do the work he couldn’t and finding good help was a challenge.
Professor Marsh had published on what he had for Allosaurus first in 1877. This was based on discoveries by Mudge, Williston, and Felch here at the old quarry. Marsh published additional information on Allosaurus and other theropods including the Ceratosaurus back in 1884 but Marshall’s shipments of 41 boxes of material in the late fall of 1884 didn’t arrive in time for that report (Marsh 1884). The shipments would provide substantial new information on Allosaurus but Marsh had what he needed for species identification and it would take Charles Gilmore to do intensive preparation and work on the Allosaurus material for Marshall’s recent work to be fully appreciated.
The image to the right is five caudals (tail vertebrate) from Allosaurus, excavated by Marshall and illustrated in Gilmore’s 1920 publication.
In the pages that follow I have attempted to give, for the first time, a detailed description of the complete osteology of Antrodemus valens [Allosaurus fragilis]. This work is based almost entirely upon material preserved in the paleontological collections of the United States National Museum, and primarily upon specimen No. 4734, U.S.N.M., known also by the collector’s designation as “Sk. 7.” I have selected this specimen on account of the well-preserved condition of the bones and from the fact that it consists of the greater part of the skeleton of a single individual. (Gilmore, 1920)
No 4734 is the museums accession number of Marshall’s Allosaurus that he generally called sk 7. The image below left is Allosaurus skull excavated by Marshall and illustrated in Gilmore’s 1920 publication. The full skeleton is “Marshall’s Allosaurus“ on display at the National Museum of Natural History.
A Family “Fossil” Affair
Fossils, and the sense of discovery, seem to be a part of the Felch family conversation. Collecting fossils in the dinosaur quarry was generally restricted to Marshall and his crew, but Marshall would talk about it at the end of the day and the youngsters may have played a bigger role than he let onto with Marsh. Emerson would certainly have been one of those with an interest in fossils when he was alive. They were probably also encouraged by Amanda to go check on their father knowing that his health and well-being were always a question.
They also explored on their own in other locations, probably getting a chance to look for clams and ammonites in the hogbacks when they went to town for example.
In mid-July of 1885 Marshall wrote to Marsh; “I have packaged three parcels of those clams … but in No. 3 they are quite different – much smaller – about the size and shape of an almond – and in fact they resemble almonds so much that my daughter who discovered them calls them the “almond clam”.
Sadie seems to be the most interested of the Felch youngsters, helping her father with bone drawings such as the one to the above right. She developed her own sizable rock and fossil collection, and will become the only member of the Felch family ever to see her father’s dinosaur bones at the Yale Peabody Museum.
Marshall Felch wrote to Professor Marsh on September 7, 1885;
“Dr. White [Charles White] of the Survey [USGS] came up early this morning and has just come in having been out in the hills with my children during the day. He seems highly pleased with this locality and has found a great variety of shells aside from the clams in the Jurassic formation – all of which he says he is quite sure of their fresh water origin…Among the clams that were sent – he says he found 2 if not 3 varieties or species.”
Ned and Sadie would have been the “children” with Dr. White in 1985 although Sarah was 18 and Ned was 17.
Dr. White was collecting Jurassic fresh water clams including one he gave the name “Unio felchi“, for maybe the family in general or perhaps for Ned or Sadie. Pictures of the clam below were included in a USGS publication by Dr. Yen. (Yen 1952)
Colbert, Edwin H. 1984. The Great Dinosaur Hunters and Their Discoveries. New York: Dover Publications.
Gilmore, Charles Whitney. 1920. Osteology of the Carnivorous Dinosauria in the United States National Museum: With Special Reference to the Genera Antrodemus (Allosaurus) and Ceratosaurus. Washington: Govt. Printing Office.
Marsh, O. C. 1884. “Principal Characters of American Jurassic Dinosaurs; Part VIII, The Order Theropoda.” American Journal of Science 3–28 (160).
Next Chapter: Marshall’s Masterpiece
Marshall first discovered Stegosaurus in the quarry in 1884 but it would be a second discovery of Stegosaurus in late 1885 that would lead to Marshall’s masterpiece; the Stegosaurus that will go on display at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) .
This specimen will showcase everything that Marshall had learned about excavation, removal, and documentation.
Although Professor Marsh hired Marshall to do the work it will be the paleontologist Charles Gilmore ,working for the NMNH, that will come to truly appreciate Marshall’s work.