Marshall P. Felch and His Dinosaur Quarry

Marshall P. Felch is best known for his days digging in a quarry near his farm in Garden Park just north of Cañon City, Colorado, from 1877 to 1888. He worked for Othniel C. Marsh, a paleontologist who lived and worked at Yale University, in the Peabody Museum, in New Haven, Connecticut. Marsh is most noted for his feud with the paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope in "The Great Bone Wars" during "The Guilded Age" of the late 1800's (Jaffe, 2000).

Marshall P. Felchalt
Marshall P. Felch, a farmer and Civil War veteran who lived in Cañon City excavating Jurassic dinosaurs for Othniel C. Marsh during the Guilded Age of Paleontology. This image was provided by his great-grandchildren.

Years after Felch's death his daughter, Sarah, donated to Earl Douglass of the United States Geological Survey letters he had received over the years in correspondence with Marsh. As luck would have it, Marsh, too, had saved all his letters from Felch. The richness of the letters documents a rare glimpse into the lives of both men living at a time of great change and exploration in the United States. The letters from Felch are especially revealing as they describe life on the western frontier of the United States.

From the letters, Felch reveals himself to be an honest, hard working, interested, and fair man who attempts to balance financial uncertainty, weather extremes, ill health, and his family's well-being. Additionally, we see how Felch comes to understand the natural world around him - past and present.

Felch's story reveals the importance of local fieldworkers and collectors to scientific discovery. For example, Felch was one of the first amateur collectors to draw a quarry map that showed the location of the fossil bones. Because of local knowledge, scientists are able to gain access to important localities and specimens, and because of Felch's collaboration with Marsh, dinosaurs and the pre-historic world became known to the American public.