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.