Letters Shed New Light On Bone Wars

Louis Jacobs

The fieldwork of SMU paleontologist Louis Jacobs normally takes him to Angola, Mongolia or Ethiopia. But Jacobs’ latest research took him to SMU’s DeGolyer Library. There he dug through the archived papers of Robert T. Hill and discovered a treasure trove of 13 historic letters. Hill was a frontier geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is now called the Father of Texas Geology.

“Hill found rocks of an age that were nowhere else known in North America,” Jacobs says. “The Eagle Ford Shale that Hill named and mapped is one of the biggest producers of oil and gas in South Texas today.”

The personal letters to Hill were from Edward D. Cope, one of two antagonists in the infamous 1800s fossil feud known as the Bone Wars. Cope’s letters to Hill sought inside information about Cope’s arch-enemy, O.C. Marsh, who had an in with the USGS. East Coast scientists Cope and Marsh competed for decades during the opening of the American West to collect more fossils than the other.

The Cope letters add new knowledge about the Bone Wars.

“What a treasure these Cope letters are, that nobody ever saw before,” says Jacobs, a professor in Dedman College’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and president of the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man.

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