«»«» 15 JULY 2009«»«»
by Terrell William "Terry" Proctor, J.D.
2008 President of Houston Gem & Mineral Society and
Curator of Proctor Museum of Natural Science, Inc. 1989 to present


This presentation is courtesy of the HOUSTON GEM & MINERAL SOCIETY and the PROCTOR MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCE, INC. Both are not for profit Texas Corporations.

Paleontologists, Dinosaur Collectors, Friends, then Bitter Enemies


The Bone Wars is a name popularly given to a period of time and the rivalry of Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope as they competed in the discovery and naming of dinosaur fossils. The reason for the name was the intense rivalry between these two paleontologists during an extended period in the 1800s. The bulk of the fossil collecting lasted for ten years and centered on the excavation of fossils at Como Bluff, Wyoming. Each of these Paleo scientists allowed themselves to use underhanded methods to attempt to outdo the other, in first finding and naming new species of dinosaur. They each resorted to bribery and ultimately to the destruction of of some dinosaur bones in their respective drives to be the first to find a new dinosaur and name it.

The Bone Wars of Cope and Marsh was a program presented by me to the Houston Gem & Mineral Society's Paleontology Section on July 22, 2008. You can read the entire 15 page article as it appears on the Proctor Museum of Natural Science website at this link:

The rivalry between Cope and Marsh ultimately resulted in their respective financial ruin in their respective attempts to disgrace each other in the drive to add to each of their own scientific accomplishments. However, their contributions to science and the field of paleontology resulted in a vast increase in the knowledge of dinosaurs. Earth scientists are still cataloguing Cope and Marsh's finds. During the bone wars, between Cope and Marsh, there were over 142 new species of dinosaurs discovered. There were 1,818 species or genera of fossil vertebrates described between them.

The result of the Bone Wars was a huge increase in knowledge of ancient life and especially there was a huge increase in the public's interest in dinosaurs. This in turn led to the continued excavation of not only dinosaur fossils, but many other prehistoric animals in North America since the Bone Wars, which excavation continues today at least as strong as ever. There have been a number of books written about the Bone Wars and there is even a board game.

Some background on the rivalry between Cope and Marsh:

Cope and Marsh met at the University of Berlin as they had a common interest in the study of fossils. Marsh was able to establish himself as a professor at Yale, without teaching duties, primarily because his uncle, George Peabody (February 18, 1795 November 4, 1869) had made a generous endowment to Yale University. Peabody was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the Peabody Institute at Yale University, then in 1837 moved to London where he lived for the rest of his life. Peabody is the acknowledged father of modern philanthropy, having established the practice later followed by Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and some say Johns Hopkins and gave over $8,000,000.00, most of it during his own lifetime. Interestingly enough, in my research I find that he only gave the Peabody Museum of Natural History, at Yale University the sum of $150,000, which was in 1966.

Cope had no college degree but was associated with the Philadelphia Academy. Cope had to rely upon his own personal fortune in his trips to collect fossils, prepare them and compete with Marsh in the Bone Wars.

At one time, Cope and Marsh were friends. They went so far in friendship as to name dinosaur species after each other. That is a real friendship. As time went on, however, the rivalry increased, and the Marsh thing of embarrassing Cope on the Elasmosaurus certainly didn't help the relationship between them. It was not all Marsh however, who created the ill will. Cope had a reputation for being feisty and having a short fuse, i.e. a quick temper; Marsh moved more slowly in things, being more methodical and was considered as being an introvert, although he had friends in positions of power. Their personalities and temperaments were quite different, which added to their differences.

Actually the Bone Wars were triggered by the 1858 discovery by William Parker Foulke, in the marl pits of Haddonfield, New Jersey, of what was to become the holotype specimen of Hadrosaurus foulkii. Hadrosaurus are what are more commonly called 'Duck-billed Dinosaurs'. This Hadrosaurus foulkii was the first nearly-complete skeleton of a dinosaur ever found. The find created a great deal of interest in paleontology, which was a new field of science at that time. The Hadrosaurus foulkii skeleton was sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Joseph Leidy was perhaps the leading paleontologist of the time, and he named and described this new dinosaur in 1858. You can read more about him on the website along with many other scientists who were dinosaur hunters in the past and present.

Mary Ann Mantell-England 1822

In 1822 by Mary Ann Mantell, accompanied Gideon Mantell, her country doctor husband on a house call. He was also an English geologist. While he visited his patient, she took a stroll down a country lane and found a tooth that she presented to her husband after he finished his visit. Whether this story is true can't be confirmed since Gideon Mantell later gave conflicting versions of the story. What is known is that the tooth in question led to the naming of Iguanodon, and Mary Ann collected a number of fossils for her husband. She also illustrated much of his work. The couple did not, however, live happily ever after; after 23 years of marriage, they separated.

Gideon Mantell discovered the second dinosaur genus to be identified, which was called Iguanodon. Gideon Mantell recognized similarities between his fossils and the bones of modern iguanas. Two years later, the Rev William Buckland, a professor of geology at Oxford University, unearthed more fossilized bones of Megalosaurus and became the first person to describe dinosaurs in a scientific journal.

Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to be formally described, in 1677, when part of a bone was recovered from a limestone quarry at Cornwell near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, England. This bone fragment was identified correctly as the lower extremity of the femur of an animal larger than anything living in modern times. Also, Dinosaur fossils have been known for millennia, although their true nature was not recognized. The Chinese, whose modern word for dinosaur is konglong (or "terrible dragon"), considered them to be dragon bones and documented them as such. For example, Hua Yang Guo Zhi, a book written by Zhang Qu during the Western Jin Dynasty, reported the discovery of dragon bones at Wucheng in Sichuan Province. Villagers in central China have been digging up dinosaur bones for decades, thinking they were from dragons, to make traditional medicine. In Europe, dinosaur fossils were generally believed to be the remains of giants and other creatures killed by the Great Flood. (this information comes from Wikipedia at

Mary Ann Mantell, From Hunting Dinosaurs by Louie Psihoyos

ROBERT T. BAKKER, PhD (1945-present) As a school child in the 1940s and 1950s, I read and dreamed about the paleontology trips of Roy Chapman Andrews. Then in 1994 I found some information on a dinosaur dig for under $1,000.00 with an organization called Dinomation. Dinomation was an organization in which Dr. Bakker and Dr. James I. Kirkland were connected. I dug dinosaur bones in the Morrison formation, at the famous Como Bluff, Wyoming location, one of the sites of the 'Bone Wars'. Dr. Bakker has been on the Board of the Proctor Museum of Natural Science for a number of years.

Dr. Bakker with lunch during lecture-Como Bluff Dr. Robert T. Bakker, in usual floppy hat and beard Jurassic Megalosaurus dinosaur drawn by Dr. Bakker Dr. Robert T. Bakker with Dr. Terry Proctor-Wyoming