Dinosaur Discoveries and Oil Well on Oil Creek
About 10 miles to the north of Canon City is a small park through which runs Oil Creek. This park is celebrated for two things, both perhaps having some obscure relation to one another – the discovery of oil in it many years ago and in later years of enormous saurian remains, similar in many respects to those at Morrison. The rocks of the park consist principally of red Triassic sandstones overlaid by variegate shales and clays of the Jurassic, capped by the Dakota sandstone, forming a shallow, synclinal basin, the strata in the centre being horizontal. These have been cut by erosion into towers, castle rocks, and other picturesque forms, a romantic spot suitable for sepulchers of the mighty saurian’s whose bones repose there. At the time of our visit Professor Marsh’s party were excavating the skeleton of a gigantic dinosaur from the solid sandstone; the black ends of a huge thigh bone, six feet long and proportionately thick, were protruding from the rock, while a row of equally huge vertebra (part of the animals tail that had been exhumed) were lying on the bluff ready for packing up. Quite a number of different animals of the saurian family have been obtained from the locality by Professors Marsh and Cope. Upon these Atlantosaurus beds in 1862 a well was put down in search of oil, (…the story goes on to talk about the oil wells in this area)Based on personal communications with Dr. Beth Simmons the field investigations took place in 1888. I reviewed letters written by Marshall Felch to Professor Marsh and came across three letters of interest that reflect quite nicely the Lakes description.
Canon City Colo.
Aug. 5, 1888
… After removing some of this outer edge – and in which the skull was found = mentioned in my last = we struck quite a lot of bones - caudal vertebrae – a coracoid – femur -quite large - a humerus and two smaller leg bones nearly connected with the humerus….
Canon City, Colo.
Aug. 11, 1888
… I have been at work for the last two days around the tibia and fibula of a Sauropoda and find some very peculiar bones – one wedged in between the distal ends of the leg bones and the other just at the end of the tibia….
Canon City Colo.
Sept. 7” 1888
….we find a large number of leg and foot bones mostly well preserved – and a good many vertebrae in natural position….By coincidence this is the only year the quarry was photographed by an I.C. Russell for the U.S. Geological Survey, most likely about a month before Lakes' visit. Based on a review of the letters the location of the work that Marshall Felch was conducting at that time would be fairly close to where this picture was taken (quarry no. 2) rather than quarry no. 1 shown in the picture. Arthur Lakes visit in 1878 – the missing drawings! This is for me by far the most interesting of the three visits! In the late summer of 1878 Arthur Lakes did six drawings, two of these have been located. Hopefully in time we’ll be able to find the other four drawings! This story is about the six drawings he did here in Garden Park. My first knowledge of any of them was this one. I had for some time wrongly assumed for some time that this was drawn by Samuel Williston in that it was done the fall of 1877. He had done a fair amount of artwork and was spending lots of time at the Felch ranch during that time period. In anticipation of a research trip to the Yale Peabody museum in the summer of 2012, I had a conversation with Daniel Brinkman pertaining to several research interests including this drawing. This was because Williston was employed by Marsh at that time he was working in our area and therefore associated with the Yale Peabody. Dan provided substantial assistance to me in regards to the collection of fossil material collected by Williston and Professor Mudge in 1877 at Garden Park all of which is housed today at the Yale Peabody Museum. Dan Brinkman felt that the artistic style of the drawing was not reflective of what Williston might have done and wondered if it might be more reflective of what Arthur Lakes could have done. Arthur Lakes was also employed by Professor Marsh and was a prolific artist drawing hundreds of prints over many years. Dan Brinkman shared this thought with Dr. Beth Simmons who had co-written the Arthur Lakes book mentioned at the beginning of this article. The three of us carried on an extensive dialogue regarding who may possibly have drawn the picture above. When it started to look like it was indeed a Lakes print, Dr. Simmons made a breakthrough. Her detective work led to a letter from Lakes to Marsh dated May 19, 1888 where Lakes made a list of everything he had sent to Marsh in a sketch book. The very last entry in that letter referred to sketches of the Canon City sites as listed below.
- Felch’s house and castellated bluff behind
- Lucas' bone house (Oramel Lucas)
- Lucas and father uncovering skeleton of Camarasaurus for Cope
- Lucas' camp
- long Panoramic sketch of Castellated towers of Dakotah and underlying Jurassic beds up Oil Creek Cañon
- Saurian hill oil creek (Cañon) Dakotah towers Jurassic saurian beds below and below that the red bottle rocks