The story of the Cope-Lucas quarries begins with the Lucas Family. The Lucases were a prominent pioneer family early in Cañon City’s history, with many of their numerous descendants still living in southern Colorado. Much of the information about the Lucases and their involvement in the Great Dinosaur Rush of the 1800s comes from newspaper articles, family pictures, and records from Oberlin College in Ohio, where several members of the Lucas family were educated. Most of this information was collected by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center and the Dinosaur Depot Museum, both located in Cañon City. Especially informative was an autobiographical account detailing the beginnings of the quarries, dictated by Oramel Lucas to his daughter, Ethel Eudora Lucas, near the end of his life.1
<hrdata-mce-alt="Discovering Dinosaurs" class="system-pagebreak" title="Discovering Dinosaurs" />
The central figure in this story is Oramel Lucas, the schoolteacher who established the Cope-Lucas Quarries. Oramel William Lucas was born in Pittsfield, Ohio on December 22, 1849. He was the fifth of seven children born to David and Louise Lucas.2
By the end of his sophomore year at Oberlin College, Oramel Lucas found himself completely out of tuition money. Most of his family had moved to Cañon City by 1872, so Oramel borrowed $50 and headed out west to join them.
Cañon City was a young town in the 1870s, small but rapidly growing. Oramel managed to get a job as the teacher for a six month schoolhouse in Garden Park. Garden Park was a small farming community about nine miles north of Cañon City where Oramel’s older sister, Lucy Ripley, lived with her young family.
One spring evening in 1877 Oramel was hunting deer up in the hills in Garden Park, when he stumbled on some strange rocks. After examining them, he realized they were fossil bones. Oramel searched the ground for more and uncovered a large bone three feet long and five to six inches in diameter. At the first opportunity, he took the bones down to where he was staying in Garden Park. Oramel wrote to the geology professor at Oberlin, A. A. Wright, and told him of his find. Wright’s reply lamented the geology department’s lack of funds to take on the specimens. Instead, he referred Lucas to Professor O.C. Marsh of Yale, and Professor Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia, the leading paleontologists at the time.
In June of 1877, probably soon after Lucas was corresponding with Wright, an article came out in a local newspaper called The Cañon City Avalanche about Oramel’s fossil find. The article was followed up a week later by a letter to the paper written by Oramel himself, detailing his discoveries. In his article, Lucas appears to be remarkably well informed for someone new to paleontology. Lucas had not taken any geology classes at Oberlin, though he did consult geology professor Wright shortly before leaving for Colorado, and he had never seen fossil bones before his discovery in Garden Park. By the time he wrote the article to the Avalanche, however, Lucas had already obtained Hayden’s recent geological survey of the area and a copy of James Dana’s Manual of Geology, and from these knew that his fossils were dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period. Lucas tentatively concluded that all his fossil bones belonged to an abnormally large Iguanodon. This was a reasonable assumption, given that Iguanodon was one of the most-known dinosaurs of the time period and that all of the bones that Lucas had later proved to belong to animals new to science. Despite his understandable misidentification, Lucas’s estimates that the animal whose femur he had found would have been around 60 feet long were surprisingly accurate. This paleontological knowledge is all the more impressive given that the end of this article indicates that it was written before Lucas had contacted Cope. Before writing to any paleontologist, Oramel had already uncovered several bones, measured and described them, and realized their fragile nature and need for careful extraction. American paleontology has always been - and continues to be - fueled through the work of amateur collectors, and Oramel Lucas here shows himself to have been an excellent example.
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|Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
Cope soon responded to Lucas’s letter about the bone he had found in Garden Park. They struck up a deal in which Lucas would send bones to Cope in Philadelphia for 10 ¢ per pound of fossilized material.3
Marsh, on the other hand, had not responded to Lucas’s letter at all. In fact, Marsh had ignored reports from two other men telling of giant dinosaur bones in Colorado. In the same year Lucas began finding bones near Cañon City, a naturalist named Lakes uncovered some enormous fossils near Morrison. David Baldwin, an employee of Marsh’s who had been collecting bones in New Mexico, was from Cañon City and had told Marsh earlier of dinosaur bones being sold in curio shops as petrified wood. Only when Lakes, frustrated by the lack of reply from Marsh, sent a box of bones to Cope did Marsh become interested in the giant dinosaurs coming out of Colorado.3
Marsh and Cope had been locked in a bitter rivalry for years. They raced to collect more fossils and identify more ancient species than the other, and heavily criticized each other in scientific journals and amongst colleagues. Their career long enmity would eventually be known as “the Bone Wars,” which lasted until Cope’s death in 1897. Until 1877, however, the feud had not extended to dinosaurs. In the 1870s dinosaurs were not widely known to the public as they are now. Even among scientists, dinosaurs were considered little more than rare oddities and very few people at the time were concerned with them. Marsh had been primarily interested in ancient mammals and birds, which was probably the reason why he was initially so unenthusiastic about the reports of dinosaurs he was receiving from Colorado.3
|Othniel Charles Marsh of the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut.|
The bones from Morrison, and especially Lakes’s action of sending them to both Marsh and Cope, changed all of this. Marsh was now threatened with Cope gaining ground in a new area of paleontology and became determined to obtain as many dinosaur bones as possible. The bones coming out of Morrison and Cañon City were huge, and suggested the presence of animals bigger than any ever heard of on land. Hearing that Cope was now getting bones out of Cañon City, Marsh sent his employee Benjamin Franklin Mudge out to investigate.3
Shortly after arriving in Cañon City in 1877, Mudge managed to gain access to the storeroom where Lucas was keeping the collected bones before sending them to Cope. Mudge sent brief descriptions of the specimens to Marsh before seeking out Oramel Lucas himself. He tried to convince Lucas to break his contract with Cope and instead send bones to Marsh. Oramel refused to send to Marsh any of the large material he had collected. He did, however, send Marsh some of the smaller bones, including the remains of a Nanosaurus.2 Mudge ended up spending most of his time in Cañon City helping a farmer named Marshall P. Felch, who began a quarry in 1877 about a mile away from Lucas’s and excavated dinosaur bones for Marsh.
The Felches and the Lucases clearly communicated with each other, as Felch mentioned talking to them in his letters to Marsh. Early references to Lucas are fairly neutral in Felch’s letters, but later interactions between the two families may not have all been on the best terms. For example, Felch talks of fending off the Lucases from the quarry in a letter to Marsh.4
<hrdata-mce-alt="Later Years" class="system-pagebreak" title="Later Years" />
|Ira Hiram Lucas, Civil War veteran, dinosaur excavator, and brother of O. W. Lucas.|
Oramel’s work for Cope was not limited to excavating bones. Oramel, and later Ira, would send drawings along with the bones. At least once, Oramel even investigated claims of fossil finds for Cope elsewhere in Colorado.5
Oramel moved back to Ohio to finish his education in the fall of 1878, paying his tuition with the money he had earned excavating dinosaur bones for Cope.6 Running the quarries was left to his elder brother Ira Hiram Lucas. Oramel did, however, come back to Colorado to continue digging for summer of 1879, when Cope came to visit and drew a brief map of the Lucas’s quarries in his field notebook. This is the only real map we have of the Cope-Lucas Quarries, other than a map that was probably drawn by one of Lucy Ripley’s children, most likely Oramel’s nephew David. After Oramel earned his bachelor’s degree and began seminary at Oberlin in 1880, his involvement in the quarries at all becomes debatable.
Ira Lucas, now head of the excavations for Cope in Garden Park, was eleven years Oramel’s senior and the oldest child of their parents. Ira had been a Union soldier during the Civil War, working primarily in an army hospital . He had also briefly attended Oberlin College, but unlike Oramel did not return to finish his degree. Ira appears to have been living with the rest of the Lucases in Cañon City at the time of his brother’s dinosaur discoveries, working primarily as a carpenter and joiner.7
Ira was not the only other Lucas to become involved in the Garden Park Quarries. An excavator sometimes listed among the workers in the quarries as C. H. Lucas was probably Oramel and Ira’s youngest sibling Clarence. Felch’s claim of having to fend off the Lucases from his fossils suggests a group effort from the family regarding the Garden Park dinosaurs.
<hrdata-mce-alt="After the Quarries" class="system-pagebreak" title="After the Quarries" />
The Cope quarries stayed active until the end of the summer of 1883.6 In the spring of that year, Oramel had graduated from seminary and married Harriet Hitchcock, then moved to Oregon to begin his career as a congregational minister.8 Ira seems to have left Cañon City soon after the last bones from the Lucas quarries were shipped in January of 1884.6 County records in 1885 no longer list him as a resident of the town.
Oramel and his wife Hattie had two children: Ethel Eudora and Arthur Leroy (who, sadly, died at age 2). They later moved to California, where Oramel spent the majority of his career.8 Oramel William Lucas died in Berkeley in 1935.9
Ira also spent time in California, leaving his former career of carpentry and fossil excavation to work as a chiropractor. He eventually married a woman named Celia Greenleaf and had a daughter named Annie May.2 Ira died in Miami, Florida in 1920.10
Most of the bones the Lucases had excavated ended up in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. They had been obtained by the museum in 1902, along with the rest of Cope’s partially prepared dinosaur collection five years after Cope’s death. One femur of Amphicoelias latus had been brought to Oberlin, but appears to have been lost.6 The bones Oramel Lucas had sent to Marsh probably came to reside in the Smithsonian with most of the rest of his collection after Marsh’s death in 1899.3
During the course of the Lucases’ excavations in Garden Park, fossils were extracted from as many as 17 different quarries. At least 17 shipments of bone were sent from Cañon City to Philadelphia between the summer of 1877 and January, 1884.6 Cope used these bones to identify 18 species (16 dinosaurs, one turtle, and one crocodile-like animal), 17 of which were new to science.11 Only five of these species are considered valid scientific names today, and two of those are debatable. Marsh also named one new dinosaur from the bones Lucas sent him. The Cope-Lucas Quarries, along with the Marsh-Felch Quarry close by, began an over 130 year long history of fossil collecting in Garden Park that continues to this day. Fossil hunters have come to Garden Park from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and, more recently, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the local Dinosaur Depot Museum.
1 Lucas, O. W., and Lucas, E. E., Discovering Dinosaur Bones in Colorado.
2 ancestry.com, Oramel William Lucas Family, last accessed 2010.
3 Jaffe, M., 2000, The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E. D. Cope and O. C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science: New York, Three Rivers Press, 424 p.
4 Felch, M. P., 1883, Letter to O. C. Marsh.
5 Lucas, O. W., 1878, Letter to E. D. Cope.
6 McIntosh, J. S., 1998, New information about the Cope collection of sauropods from Garden Park, Colorado: Modern Geology, v. 23, p. 481-506.
7 United States Census, 1880, Fremont County, Colorado.
8 Lucas, O. W., 1930, Address to Oberlin College Class of 1880.
9 Death Certificate of Ira Hiram Lucas
10 Obituary for Oramel William Lucas
11 Paleobiology Database, Cope Quarry, last accessed 2010.