Bone Wars in the American West

Marsh dinosaur

The Bone Hunters: The Heroic Age of Paleontology in the American West by Uri Lanham

This is one of the great adventure stories in American history. The central characters are the 19th century scientists and explorers who found in the dry rugged western landscape rich evidence of lost worlds of swamps, cycads, and dinosaurs. Uri Lanham takes to his task with real exuberance, telling the stories of Charles Sternberg, Ferdinand Hayden, Joseph Leidy, and others — men who found their “gold” in legendary fossil beds, such as Wyoming’s Como Bluff.
But the focus of this drama clearly falls on O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, famed scientists, notorious rivals, and leaders of warring parties of paleontologists on the plains. Not to spoil an ending, but Uri Lanham concludes his book with a passage that might make you cringe, and perhaps nod your head: “Finally there is durable, intelligent, well-focused hatred, a long-range creative force as powerful as love. Here Cope and Marsh trully excelled. Even though dragging fantastic loads of what are generally called human frailties, they managed to create on the way a new understanding of the earth and its life. No higher human achievement is possible.

The Land Library has hundreds of paleontology volumes, and here’s just a few on fossil hunting in the American West:

Bone Wars Tom Reawyomingmarsh's dinosaurs

Bone Wars: The Excavation of Andrew Carnegie’s Dinosaur by Tom Rea, A Triceratops Hunt in Pioneer Wyoming: The Journals of Barnum Brown and J.P. Sams, Marsh’s Dinosaurs: The Collections from Como Bluff by John H. Ostrom & John S. McIntosh

not to mention many, many more books for young readers, housed at our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library!

Bone Sharpsdinosaur mountain

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh and the Gilded Age of Paleontology by Jim Ottaviani, et. al., Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age by Deborah Kogan Ray.


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