Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Cowboy Kiss Welcome to Alison Henderson

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.

Alison Henderson


Jacquie Rogers said...

Sounds like a fun story set in a fascinating time and place. I've done some reading about this and am simply appalled at the destruction they caused. I wonder how many fossils and how much knowledge are gone forever because of their feud.

Devon Matthews said...

I have to confess, this is one area of Old West history I've never looked into so it sounds fascinating. Sounds like a lovely romance, too. I love the title. Best of luck with sales!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Alison--I've downloaded your story. I love the premise, especially scientific endeavors in the Old West. Best of luck with more sales!!

Alison Henderson said...

Hi Jacquie. It's a shame no one will ever know how many specimens were destroyed. The bone beds were just so productive that no one cared at the time.

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Devon!

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks so much, Kristy! I'm so glad I piqued your curiosity. Hope you enjoy the story!!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Alison,your book is on my TBR, and I look forward to reading it as soon as I finish my WIP. Clever concept! Best wishes.

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks so much, Caroline. It's so frustrating for writers that we don't have as much time as we'd like to read, but there just aren't enough hours in the day. :-)

Neil A. Waring said...

As a good ol' boy from Wyoming I have been to Como Bluff many times, neat area. I have put this on my reading list, looks like fun to me. WIP also slows down my reading time but this book has been moved up on my to-read list. I write several blogs from my seat here on the Oregon Trail, not far form Fort Laramie (About a day by wagon)

Lyn Horner said...

Alison, I'd never heard about this feud. Very interesting stuff. Your book sounds like a winner!