Digging up Dinosaurs in 1870’s Wyoming
When my daughter was little, she was a huge fan of PBS’s Reading Rainbow. One of the books, Mummies Made in Egypt by Aliki, stirred her fascination with ancient Egypt and led to her present PhD studies in Egyptology. She’s the poster child for the value of reading as a young child. That book literally set the course of her life.
Another favorite by the same author was Digging up Dinosaurs. While my daughter didn’t decide to become a paleontologist, we were both intrigued by the detailed descriptions and drawings of the work of excavating, preserving, and displaying the fossils of North America’s earliest residents. Nineteenth century Americans were even more enthusiastic about dinosaurs. In fact, two eminent professors, O. C. Marsh and E. D. Cope, were downright fanatical.
Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope met in 1864 and started their academic careers as amiable colleagues—Marsh at Yale and Cope at Haverford College. However, soon their opposing temperaments and scientific views (not to mention enormous egos and ambitions) threw them into a bitter rivalry, and Marsh’s public humiliation of Cope for pointing out that he’d attached the head of a major specimen to the tail instead of the neck didn’t help.
In the early 1870’s, word came east of exciting new fossil finds in Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Cope set off on his first trip to Wyoming in 1872, while Marsh led groups of Yale students on several fossil hunting expeditions, one guided by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody himself and accompanied by armed soldiers to keep the native tribes at bay. It was in Como Bluff, not far from Medicine Bow, that the professors’ rivalry reached its peak.
Marsh received a letter in August of 1879 from a pair of bone hunters calling themselves Harlow and Edwards. (In reality, they were railroad employees whose real names were Carlin and Reed.) The men described several enormous bones they had dug from a “secret” fossil bed and offered to sell the specimens, as well as their excavation services, to Marsh.
Marsh acted quickly but not before Cope was drawn into the fray as Carlin and Reed attempted to play the two against each other in search of the highest bidder. Over the next few years, carloads of fossils were shipped east by rail as the rivals lobbed accusations of theft, sabotage, and double dealing at each other. Eventually, the paleontologists wore themselves out and exhausted their fortunes in their attempts to win the “Bone Wars”.
My latest novella, The Treasure of Como Bluff, takes place in the fall of 1879, and features O.C. Marsh, as well as Harlow and Edwards, as secondary characters. Here’s the blurb:
In her race against rival bone hunters, the last complication paleontologist Caroline Hubbard needs is an unconscious stranger cluttering up her dig site. Nicholas Bancroft might have the chiseled features and sculpted physique of a classical statue, but she's not about to let him hamper her quest to unearth a new species of dinosaur and make her mark on the scientific world.
Nick has come to Wyoming in search of silver but, after a blow to the head, finds himself at the mercy of a feisty, determined female scientist. Despite his insistence that he's just passing through, he agrees to masquerade as Caroline's husband to help save her job. Once their deception plays out, they face a crucial decision. Will they be able to see beyond their separate goals and recognize the treasure right in front of them?
It’s a humorous story set during a fascinating time in American history and features a hero who spends entirely too much time in a pink sunbonnet. I invite you to check it out.