The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science

The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science

by Mark Jaffe
     
 

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It was an age of counterfeit giants, corrupt politicians, and intrepid pioneers. It was a time of scientific ferment. The second half of the 19th century — the so-called Gilded Age — was a time when Americans were exploring the West and building a nation which stretched from coast to coast. It was also when scientists began finding dinosaur fossils across

Overview

It was an age of counterfeit giants, corrupt politicians, and intrepid pioneers. It was a time of scientific ferment. The second half of the 19th century — the so-called Gilded Age — was a time when Americans were exploring the West and building a nation which stretched from coast to coast. It was also when scientists began finding dinosaur fossils across the western half of the nation.

Could the answer to the history of life and the proof of evolution be found in these bones? That was the question two young American paleontologists — Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh — set out to answer. But what began as a friendly contest quickly turned into a bitter rivalry that would spill over into American science and politics and rage relentlessly for nearly three decades.

Despite their Gilded Age celebrity, the names of Cope and Marsh have disappeared into the recesses of the library and archive. In The Gilded Dinosaur, Mark Jaffe exhumes from those archives the notes, journals, and letters of these two great opponents to reanimate and retell one of the most fierce rivalries in the history of science.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Science in general and paleontology in particular came of age in America during the second half of the 19th century. Two of the dominant figures of the time, E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh, were responsible for uncovering and naming most of the dinosaurs found in America while feuding with one another for all of their adult lives. Journalist Jaffe (And No Birds Sing) does an admirable job of bringing these two, as well as the myriad politicians and scientists they interacted with, to life. Rather than focusing narrowly on their feud, as does David Rains Wallace in his recent The Bonehunters' Revenge, Jaffe provides much more context for their disagreement and uses it to demonstrate the nature of the scientific enterprise. Both wanted sole control of the best fossils found in the American West and both coveted the attention that came with being the world's foremost paleontologist. Neither was above using political connections, from fellow scientists to the inhabitants of the White House during numerous administrations, to further their careers. Jaffe's epic history--covering a search for the bones of the largest animals ever to walk the earth; the trials, tribulations and governmental abuses surrounding the Indian Wars; the transition of science from an avocation to a profession; and the political machinations associated with pork-barrel funding of scientific expeditions--is as engaging as an adventure novel while providing insight into America's Gilded Age. Agent, David Black. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
As a new science in the 19th century, paleontology attracted ambitious men--including O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, who spent the better part of 30 years searching and digging for dinosaur bones against a backdrop of cold winters, blazing hot summers, and warring Indians. These two brilliant paleontologists engaged in a bitter feud that was often reported in the national newspapers. When the dust finally settled, Marsh found and named the most specimens but did not formulate any significant ideas related to his fossils, while Cope wrote a record number of scientific publications and formulated precepts still recognized today. David Wallace's The Bonehunter's Revenge (LJ 9/15/99) focuses more on the newspaper war between Cope and Marsh and does not leave the reader with a true sense of these two men and their feud. Science writer Jaffe (And No Birds Sang) captures the complexity of the feud, both scientifically and personally, as well as the excitement of the Wild West, the treachery among rival camps, and the grueling conditions they endured. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.--Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780609807057
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/20/2001
Edition description:
1 PBK ED
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.17(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt

So, it had come to this. Cope had a little more than twenty-four hours to get the fossils to Cow Island. There would be no time to retrace their steps through the badlands. Instead, Cope purchased an old sand scow and set off up the river to Isaac and the bones. (He had tried to borrow it, but the owner, having heard the conversation with the captain, knew there was a buck to be made.)

Cope and Sternberg rowed back to camp. Isaac wasn't there. With no time to lose, they started packing and loading the scow. Just before they were ready to shove off, Isaac, who had gone searching for them in the badlands, turned up. The three men swam the horses across the river and then started for Cow Island.

A towline was attached to the most dependable of the horses -- Old Major -- and the animal began the slow journey downstream, pulling the scow. Sternberg rode the horse; a couple of mountain men, whom Cope had met at Cow Island, stood on either bank with long poles to keep the boat from turning in to shore.

Isaac and Cope had the toughest duty -- sitting in the scow and unraveling the towline when it got snagged on a rock or a branch. Such a hitch would immediately build tension in the line and releasing it was like setting off a spring or more accurately, a catapult. Each time Cope or Isaac freed the line, they were pitched into the cold, shallow river.

The sun was setting when the scow came in under the hull of the big steamer. The deck was filled with curious passengers watching the progress of the little boat. Cope was covered with mud from head to foot. His clothes were in tatters. His fossils, however, were intact. In his next letter to Annie, he proudlyannounced that he had collected twelve hundred pounds of fossils and added, "We had a lively time getting them to the boat."23

The October nights were already getting chilly, so the lady passengers were wearing furs and the men were sporting ulsters. Cope, however, had forgotten to bring any winter clothes, so after removing his muddy rags and washing up, he emerged from the sergeant's tent with hair combed, mustache trimmed, dressed in a summer suit with a linen duster.

The next morning, true to the captain's word, the Josephine weighed anchor and headed downriver. The steamboat did not get very far before its voyage was checked. At Fort Buford, on the North Dakota border, General Hazen commandeered the steamer, prepared to unload all the passengers and cargo, and fill it with soldiers to head back up the Missouri.

The Sioux had finally made their dash toward Canada and crossed the river not at Fort Benton, but at Cow Island. A brief battle occurred, and five soldiers were killed. After a day's consideration, however, Hazen decided to use another boat, and let the Josephine go. But further down the river, at Fort Lincoln, the boat was stopped again and used this time to ferry soldiers -- fresh recruits for Custer's Seventh Cavalry, with their new saddles and horses -- to join the chase. "The officers' wives watched from our steamer, none knew that they would see their husbands again," Cope wrote in a letter, "but were cheerful, some too much so, but some showed their feelings." So as Cope moved east, a small army was rushing into the valley. The paleontologist's timing had been impeccable.

Meet the Author

Mark Jaffe lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and writes about science and the environment for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is the author of And No Birds Sing

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