been pointed out that there were two great revolutions in American life in the
19th Century. One was the Civil War. The other was a scientific revolution. Just
as the firing on Fort Sumter was the shot that got the Civil War going, Charles
Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in “Origin of Species” in 1859 created
a similar upheaval in the scientific world.
At the same time, scientists,
naturalists and other observant types were finding the bones of creatures that
roamed the earth millions of years ago that were unlike anything the world had
seen or imagined. Some of these creatures were truly gargantuan with neck bones
alone measuring three feet across. Even the land where people lived had changed
dramatically over the eons; in some cases it hadn’t even been land at all – it
was a sea. This was a hard thing for people of the time to grasp.
never had much luck finding dinosaur bones. Too lush. Too wet. The American West
was neither of those things. Striding into that vast and arid land, two scientists
led the search for dinosaur bones and new species to name. Their respective and
separate searches developed into an intense rivalry between the two bone hunters
– Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia
and Othenial Charles Marsh with the Peabody Museum of Natural History at
What started out as a shared interest between the two men turned
into a paleontological version of the Hatfields and McCoys. It’s been called the
Bone Wars and the Dinosaur Wars. The animosity and competition nearly destroyed
both men financially and emotionally but Cope and Marsh also got people and scientists
thinking about dinosaurs in ways they had never been able to think of them before.
Their accomplishments and rivalries have been well-chronicled.
not been so well chronicled is the role that two Texans played in the Bone Wars.
Louis L. Jacobs, a professor of earth sciences at Southern Methodist University
(SMU) recently found 13 letters written by Cope to geologist Robert
T. Hill that brought the roles of Hill
and naturalist Jacob Boll in the Bone Wars to light for the first time.
Jacobs’ research was published last month in the journal “Historical Biology.”
known today as the Father of Texas Geology, was born in Tennessee but came to
Texas as a teenager and worked for his brother’s
newspaper, The Chief, in Comanche.
In his spare time he studied the rocks and strata of nearby Round Mountain and
sought to understand what he was seeing by reading books on geology. Local people
called him “Rock Boy.” His reading convinced Hill
he was on to something new. He packed a suitcase full of rocks and enrolled at
Cornell University to study formally.
In time, Hill
would be responsible for most of what we know about the rock formations of North
Texas and how they correspond to the Crustaceous Period. He also named many
of the geographic terms and descriptions that we use today such as the Balcones
Escarpment, Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos, Eagle Ford Shale and others.
Boll was a naturalist who worked as a paid collector for Cope and provided him
with many fossils from Texas. Born in Switzerland,
Boll found 32 new, rare species of Permian vertebrates and first identified the
Permian rocks of Texas. He was so taken with his
work that he wrote an ode to fossils, a copy of which Jacobs discovered in his
research and included in his article. Boll died in 1880 from a snakebite he suffered
on an expedition in Wilbarger County.
The two men left an indelible impression
on the world that is still felt today, Jacobs said. “The Permian of Texas that
Jacob Boll found opened a whole interval of evolution that wasn’t known before
and it’s still the most important place to find things of that nature,” he said.
found rock formations that are nowhere else known in North America. The Eagle
Ford Shale that Robert
T. Hill named and mapped is one of the biggest producers in South Texas today
of oil and natural gas.”
and Boll’s day, people had barely heard of dinosaurs, much less oil and gas. Still,
even the two scientists and bone hunters would have been puzzled to know that
by looking for clues to a lost world they also found the fuel for a new one.
November 30, 2012
from Central Texas"
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