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Marshall and Amanda

The Bone Wars

The term Bone Wars originates from the intense rivalry between the great paleontologists Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh. They came from very different backgrounds, their personalities were night and day from each other, but they shared a passion for discovery, identification, and publication of fossils; primarily those fossils with a backbone or vertebrates. They were thrilled with the discovery of each new species. The finish line seemed to be who could publish first about a new animal; it was that moment that constituted a victory over their rival. The American West would become their playground although it was hardly big enough to satisfy their immense egos. The intensity of their relationship was at times horribly destructive; their hatred of each other would be carried to the grave. On the other hand the competitiveness was tremendously energizing. It stimulated a fossil excavation frenzy that began in the American West and it has never looked back. Their lives have been described in a number of publications and documentary films and their bibliographies are immense.

European paleontologists and geologists were way out in front of American scientific knowledge of geology and paleontology up until about 1870. We were actually somewhat of a scientific backwater so to speak. Both Cope and Marsh began studying fossils early on and they both spent considerable time during the Civil War studying the work of paleontologists in Europe.  In 1870 Professor Marsh of Yale launched four fossil expeditions to the west beginning and almost simultaneously Professor Cope began his western explorations. The work of Cope and Marsh’s blossomed into a fully fledged publication factory and didn’t end until the end of their lives in the mid 1890’s. These amazing paleontology discoveries in the west are a significant part of our emergence as a scientific and industrial giant. Hundreds of publications on mammals, birds, large swimming reptiles were produced on these fossil discoveries. Surprisingly, for the most part dinosaurs were not among those discoveries until 1877.

It would be the news of these publications that would attract public interest. In early 1877 Marshall Felch and his brother would find a large dinosaur bone along Oil Creek a little south of the Felch ranch. By coincidence Marshall and his wife Amanda had two school age children attending a one room school house in Garden Park north of the ranch. Their new school teacher was Oramel Lucas from Oberlin College in Ohio who was living with his sister Lucy’s family at the time. Oramel would also find a large dinosaur bone; contact his science professor back at Oberlin who would put him in contact with Professor Cope. Fairly quickly he was digging up dinosaur bones for Professor Cope at ten cents a pound. About the same time as these discoveries and a hundred miles north, Arthur Lakes found a dinosaur bone near Morrison Colorado. Lakes would contact Professor Marsh and with some difficulty obtain Marsh’s attention and he soon had an excavation underway.

The news of Lucas’s discoveries in Canon City hit the paper in June of 1877. Marsh never wanting to have Cope get a “leg up” on him so he sent his man in charge at the Lakes site, Professor Mudge from Kansas to see what Cope’s man in Canon City was finding. When Mudge could not steal Cope’s dinosaur digger away he started looking for another location in same area. Marshall Felch, a Civil War veteran now enters the story. By the end of August of 1877 the Cope Lucas quarry was being excavated while a nearby new dinosaur quarry had been opened and was being excavated by Professor Mudge, Samuel Williston, and Marshall Felch.


Try to think of a few dinosaurs you are familiar with. If you struggle go find any elementary student and ask them. There are hundreds of different dinosaurs known today but if you asked someone the same question on our nations centennial celebration you would have probably gotten a blank stare. The term dinosaur had been coined in England back in 1842 but the finds up to this point in time were overall fairly sketchy. Probably “our” best example of a dinosaur was a Hadrosaurus found in 1858.

Typically the names of dinosaurs young students identify will include: Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus (the name is almost OK again), Diplodocus, Triceratops, Allosaurus, and Brachiosaurus. Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops are Cretaceous dinosaurs while the rest are Jurassic. None of these dinosaurs were known about in 1877 but if you asked this question in the mid 1880’s, the names Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus would be said along with several others. The places where they were discovered include Morrison Colorado, Como Bluffs Wyoming, and north of Canon City in the Garden Park Fossil Area.

These late Jurassic sites not only represent a very important moment in geologic time, they now represent a connection of younger students to something that they identify with and is inspirational to them; helping them to appreciate science.


The Cope Lucas and the Marsh Felch quarries are a few miles north of Canon City Colorado in a relatively small but rugged badlands area called the Garden Park Fossil Area. This area is dominated by somewhat jumbled sedimentary rock layer of late Jurassic age called the Morrison Formation. The formation in the area is about 350 feet thick; mostly pinkish and greenish shale with some interbedded sandstone. In a few locations there are historic sites or quarries where dinosaur skeletons have been discovered, excavated, and shipped to natural history museums. New yet to be discovered species remain buried waiting for erosion to expose them and future generations to excavate them.

The sedimentary rock layer that records the story is called the Morrison Formation. The Morrison exposures are centered in Wyoming and Colorado while a number of western states have at least some. If you ever heard of or visited the great Douglass quarry at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah you experienced the Morrison Formation. The lowest or oldest part of the Morrison Formation has been aged dated at about one hundred and fifty six million years. The upper or youngest part is about one hundred and forty six million years old. In other words the dinosaurs lived and evolved “here” for about ten million years.

Let me explain what happened next in a way that hopefully will visualize it. Hold one hand flat; this is the level the relatively flat land the dinosaurs lived on long ago. Now drop down your hand lower and lower. This is plate tectonics in action fifty million years later dropping down the area. The area eventually dropped below sea level and a great seaway teaming with life was above our layer (hand). Over the next thirty million years new layers of sediment buried our “dino layers” deeper and deeper. Take your other hand and place it above the first; this will represent the seaway deposits. Now lift both hands gradually up higher than they were before, even above your head. This represents what geologists call the “Laramide Orogeny” when plate tectonics kicked into gear again lifting up these long buried layers thousands of feet. Generally speaking erosion later reduced these new Rocky Mountains over time removing the upper layers in many places and in a few special spots exposing those long buried “dino layers” usually tipping nicely up against the edge of the mountains. In a few special locations these layers contain fossilized skeletons.


What makes the Marsh Felch quarry particularly important from a paleontology standpoint is the nicely laid out skeletons, skulls, and bones that originate from a diversity of long necked, long tailed dinosaurs, large meat eating carnivores, smaller plant eating dinosaurs, stegosaurs, relatively small crocodiles, turtles, mammals, and a few flying reptiles. All died and were buried relatively quickly within or adjacent to a slow meandering river one hundred and fifty million years ago.

Particular standouts for this quarry are relatively complete articulated skeletons of Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Stegosaurus that went initially to the Yale Peabody Museum but later found their way to the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) and went on display beginning in 1910. They have been seen by millions of visitors over the last hundred years or so. The last time I was at the Smithsonian looking at the skeletons from the Marsh Felch Quarry my wife JoAnn wandered over to the lab window where staff and volunteers were preparing fossil material for the public. She asked what one volunteer was preparing and he showed her the label. It was 1884 material from the Garden Park Fossil area and the name of the excavator was on it; M.P. Felch.

The Cope Lucas Quarries were excavated early on in the heyday of the Bone Wars. These fossilized bones were shipped to Philadelphia and the first publication from the Garden Park Fossil Area was about a never before seen long necked long tailed dinosaur called Camarasaurus. Professor Cope published this discovery on August 23, 1877 and within a few months shared the first drawing of a long necked long tailed dinosaur with the scientific community. Not only had the drawing been done but he had his artist make the drawing to scale; sixty five feet in length and fifteen feet high.

In addition to the Marsh Felch and Cope Lucas quarries there are other excavations in the fossil area including the 1916 Diplodocus excavations by Dall DeWeese, this excavation pushed the need for a paleontology department at the Colorado Museum of Natural History (Denver Museum of Nature and Science). In 1937 a local high school teacher and his students discovered the State Fossil of Colorado a Stegosaurus now on display in the Prehistoric Journey exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The Delf’s excavations in the 1950’s resulted in a prominent display of “Happy” the Haplocanthosaurus at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The most recent major excavation was the historic Chinook airlift of a 13,000 pound body jacket of a Stegosaurus, work completed under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Carpenter with the assistance of local and regional volunteers and Colorado Quarries, a local mining company. Smaller scientific excavations take place intermittently today but the area has yet to reveal all of its secrets of life here one hundred and fifty million years ago.

Marshall and Amanda

Marshall and Amanda arrive in this setting after the Civil War. At the time they don’t know anything about paleontology, geology, dinosaurs, and have never heard of Professor Marsh or Cope. What they do have is an innate sense that they can adapt to most any situation and overcome most any obstacle. They know this even with the Marshall’s partial paralysis from a spinal injury in the Battle of Cedar Creek in October of 1864. They are both smart, can read and write, and they can recognize an opportunity when one is presented.

The paleontology aspects of the fossil area are fairly well understood although new information is constantly emerging. The overall historical facts are also fairly well understood. What is missing is the story of Marshall and Amanda, two of the more interesting people you’ll come across. When doing power point presentations I’ve introduced the two as: Vermont natives, Civil War veterans, covered wagon pioneers, mountain mining camp entrepreneurs, parents, homesteaders, and dinosaur excavators. Amongst their resumes will be developing the Marsh Felch Dinosaur Quarry that is one of the most important historic and paleontological sites anywhere.


Marshall Felch is born in the new industrial town of Lowell Massachusetts in June of 1834 but his journey begins in the hill country of southern Vermont and New Hampshire where the Connecticut River forms their boundary. His early years find him in the role of a shoemaker, a common profession for young men in New England at the time. His father and older brother George find themselves also in the same general line of work. Marshall’s role is not just as a tradesman but in managing business records where he learns to read and write proficiently. It will be these talents that help secure him a future job working for Professor Marsh of Yale.

Like Amanda, Marshall serves on the battlefield in the most difficult parts of the war. He works in a field capacity; removing dead and injured, assisting surgeons, and setting up and managing field hospitals. It would be easy to assume that Amanda may have restocked her medical wagon with supplies that Marshall could help provide.

Marshall’s paleontology role begins with the discovery of bones in 1877. The Marsh Felch quarry site will emerge as a giant in 1883 to 1888 period with Marshall in the lead role for it throughout. Funding under the control of Professor Marsh was provided through the recently formed US Geological Survey to enable Marshall to work the quarry.

Marshall Felch recognizes the genius of Professor Marsh and desires to please him. He understands the importance of this work and he is curious and interested about what was being exposed. Upon his death, he left behind his paleontology library with his family doctor. He will complete this work in spite of spinal and rib damage along with other physical and mental injuries from the war. He grows to understand the quarry dreaming about it at night. Marshall writes to Professor Marsh in January of 1885 describing the work in terms of a Civil War Battle.

“The work of removing fossils from this quarry calls for a vast amount of ability skill and patience, sometimes more than I possess – and is like to dislodging an enemy from some strongly fortified position – only there the more damage done the better the work – while here we must take the fortress and all belonging with it without a scratch.”

Because of Professor Marsh’s requirement that all field work must be done in complete secrecy, Marshall was actually relatively unknown for the major work he did. He had a good reputation for being honest and good to be around. He was also known as Captain Felch, a Union Civil War veteran who in a very popular ghost story solved a most unusual murder in the Colorado frontier.


Amanda’s journey begins on a quiet remote Vermont hill farm in 1833 She grew up quickly taking on a role of surrogate mother to three younger sisters and her brother Henry after the death of her mother. She marries Hiram Farnham, has two children but only one survives. She divorces, and returns home about the time talk of war is rampant.

When the call came out to save the Union and there was a need for nurses, she took the calling. She left her son Albert with her sisters and in the summer of 1861 mustered into the Vermont Third Infantry. As the infantry’s hospital matron, she became widely known as a “can do” battlefield nurse. She walked with and supported all 1,200 troops before, during, and after General McClellan’s massive but unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign.

Her role and stature grew and by September of 1862 she had her own fully equipped medical wagon with a team of horses. For the next two years she primarily served the Vermont 3rd infantry boys but when a battle was underway she had the autonomy to go anywhere on the battlefield where she was needed most. She played particularly key roles in the Union campaign primarily in Virginia from the fall of 1862 to the spring of 1864. If you think of a major battle in Virginia during those days she was there.

Amanda continued in her front line battlefield role until May of 1864 when Lincoln’s new commanding general U.S. Grant ordered all women off the front. She sold the team and wagon and reported to the office of Dorothea Dix in Washington D.C. where she was placed in a new role as a field hospital nurse and supervising recently escaped women slaves through the remainder of the war.

A few months after the war was over, Amanda married for the second time; this time to Marshall Felch whom she had first gotten to know along the banks of the James River in the aftermath of the 1862 Peninsula campaign.

Marshall and Amanda came west by wagon in early 1866. Five years later they owned a 160 acre homestead north of Canon City and were also running a boarding house in the rough silver mining camp of Montezuma in the Colorado territory. This was a town accessible only by wagon across dangerous narrow trails that crossed 12,000 foot passes.

A visitor to the hotel referred to her and her husband Marshall in the following way;

“We stopped at the only hotel, kept by a smart Vermont Yankee, his wife a smarter Yankee, Vermont woman”.

Amanda was the mother, cook, doctor, and housekeeper while simultaneously running both a boarding house business wherever they were and helping managing their 160 acre ranch. She would also take on the duty of primary care giver for Marshall. Amanda and Marshall would have four children in the Colorado territory, Ned and Sadie would survive to adulthood and Sadie would carry the family legacy forward. 

On New Years Eve of 1893 Amanda was traveling through Denver at Christmas time with her two remaining and eldest children when she became ill with pneumonia and died a few days later. The War Relief Committee, an auxiliary of the powerful Grand Army of the Republic organization all of whom greatly respected her, stepped up and made sure she was cared for during her illness and that she received a proper burial with a headstone. She was laid to rest in the Union section at the historic Greenwood Pioneer Cemetery in Canon City Colorado next to their two youngest children. Nine years later they were joined by Marshall.

Both Marshall and Amanda were Civil War veterans but she is by far the most famous one! Following her death, her work would be eulogized in book by Mary A. Gardner Holland entitled “Our Army Nurses: Interesting sketches, addresses, and photographs of nearly one hundred noble women who served in hospitals and on battlefields during the Civil War” published in 1895. Amanda is also featured in the book entitled “Women at Gettysburg 1863” by Eileen F. Conklin and published almost a hundred years later in 1993. As you might guess Amanda is prominently featured as a resourceful and remarkable field nurse in those books

Their lives are intertwined with great American events including the Civil War, the migration to the west, Colorado’s mining boom, and the bone wars. Their lives occur when America emerges as a world leader in science and industrial growth although they personally never experience running water or electric lights. They are both tough as nails with an ability to rapidly adapt to most any situation but like most have flaws. Considering the time frames and severity of injuries he suffered in the Civil War it is doubtful Marshall would have ever even arrived in Colorado if we take Amanda out of the story. They lived off the land, loved their horses, and raised a family. In another life she could have been a surgeon while he could have been a museum director. All of us are better off because of they were here.