Barnum Brown

Barnum Brown: The Man Who DiscoveredTyrannosaurus rex

LOWELL DINGUS
MARK A. NORELL
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnz7n
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Barnum Brown
    Book Description:

    From his stunning discovery ofTyrannosaurus rexone hundred years ago to the dozens of other important new dinosaur species he found, Barnum Brown led a remarkable life (1873-1963), spending most of it searching for fossils-and sometimes oil-in every corner of the globe. One of the most famous scientists in the world during the middle of the twentieth century, Brown-who lived fast, dressed to the nines, gambled, drank, smoked, and was known as a ladies' man-became as legendary as the dinosaurs he uncovered.Barnum Brownbrushes off the loose sediment to reveal the man behind the legend. Drawing on Brown's field correspondence and unpublished notes, and on the writings of his daughter and his two wives, it discloses for the first time details about his life and travels-from his youth on the western frontier to his spying for the U.S. government under cover of his expeditions. This absorbing biography also takes full measure of Brown's extensive scientific accomplishments, making it the definitive account of the life and times of a singular man and a superlative fossil hunter.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94552-4
    Subjects: Paleontology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Prologue: The mindset of Barnum Brown
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    THE GLITTER OF BARNUM BROWN’S celebrity star has dimmed considerably during the forty-five years since his death and the century since he resurrectedTyrannosaurus rexfrom the daunting badlands of the Hell Creek Formation in Montana. In the mid-twentieth century, however, Brown—known by his adoring admirers as “Mr. Bones”—was one of the most famous scientists in the world. People would flock to the train station when he arrived in the field to collect dinosaur fossils, vying for the right to drive him to his hotel or camp.¹ Thousands of other aficionados would gather around the radio to listen...

  5. ONE Child of the Frontier (1873–1889)
    (pp. 1-18)

    AS HE NEARED HIS NINETIETH YEAR, Barnum Brown determinedly struggled to compile his notes for an autobiography. After decades of racing around the planet in pursuit of paleontological plunder, this project afforded him a rare opportunity to reflect on a life filled with adventure and intrigue. Even his very first memory involved a solitary encounter with a universe that he would later come to revere and explore on his own terms with energy and determination. As Brown described the moment: “My earliest recollection is of lying in a clothes basket under a tree as I looked up and saw the...

  6. TWO Student . . . of Sorts (1889–1896)
    (pp. 19-37)

    BARNUM BROWN’S FIRST STRIDES TOWARD adulthood were not as ambitious or auspicious as his recent odyssey through the western frontier might lead one to suspect. Upon returning from the wilds of the American West, he enrolled in high school in 1889 at the age of sixteen. Because there was no high school in Carbondale, his parents sent him to one in the academic mecca of the newly minted state, Lawrence, a bustling town built around the fledging University of Kansas (KU). For children of the frontier, this represented an unusual opportunity. Few youngsters on the plains had any chance to...

  7. THREE Apprentice Extraordinaire (1896–1898)
    (pp. 38-58)

    DURING THE 1894 EXPEDITION TO the badlands of South Dakota, Williston’s crew encountered not only their collegial nemeses from the University of Nebraska but other crews as well. Among them was a crew from Princeton directed by John Bell Hatcher, who, like Williston, began his career as a collector and assistant for Marsh. More significantly, Williston also encountered a crew from New York’s American Museum of Natural History, under the leadership of Jacob Wortman, a former collector for Cope.¹

    Like many nineteenth-century paleontologists, Wortman had been schooled in medicine before becoming intrigued with fossil vertebrates.² At the time, medical school...

  8. FOUR To Land’s End: Patagonia (1898–1900)
    (pp. 59-78)

    WHATEVER OSBORN AND BROWN may have discussed regarding the young man’s desire to participate in an international expedition, it is clear that Osborn didn’t grant the request immediately. Instead, Brown moved to New York City and apparently began taking an extensive roster of graduate courses at Columbia University. During the summer field season of 1898, Osborn assigned Brown to work under the guidance of another of the museum’s rising stars, William Diller Matthew, who, like Osborn, was interested in the evolution of mammals.

    Matthew joined the museum in 1895 as Osborn’s assistant and quickly became an intellectual lynchpin in the...

  9. FIVE To the Depths of Hell Creek (1900–1903)
    (pp. 79-96)

    BROWN HAD SCANT CHANCE TO flaunt his new suit and goatee on the gaudy streets of New York or regale his friends and colleagues with adventurous antipodal anecdotes. Having arrived back home from Patagonia on June 10, 1900,¹ Brown found himself, once again, ensconced in the field by early July.² This time Osborn sent him to the northern Great Plains along the border between South Dakota and Wyoming. On the way out, the newly minted world traveler had the opportunity to visit his family in Carbondale, where he found his father “very feeble” and so delayed his arrival in South...

  10. SIX Love (1903–1906)
    (pp. 97-110)

    IT’S NOT CLEAR EXACTLY WHEN Barnum Brown first met his match, except that it occurred when he was a part-time student at Columbia. Yet the site of this mutual conquest was duly recorded in notes for his aborted autobiography. Brown lived in a house owned by Dr. Herman E. Meeker, who ran a medical practice on East 67th Street. Meeker’s home doubled as a boarding house, where he rented rooms to a select set of denizens, which included “myself and a Miss Marion Brown, whom I was later to marry.”¹

    Fortunately, Barnum and Marion’s daughter, Frances, is more accommodating in...

  11. SEVEN Loss (1906–1910)
    (pp. 111-127)

    BROWN RETURNED TO HELL CREEK in the summer of 1906 to collect the hadrosaur the museum had purchased the previous year. It was clearly Brown’s desire to bring Marion again to serve as cook, along with his assistant Peter Kaisen. Kaisen did come, but there was a glitch with Marion’s participation. Brown had raised the matter with Osborn shortly before his departure, but apparently someone on the AMNH staff complained about wives accompanying crew members into the field. Before granting permission, therefore, Osborn wanted to check with the museum’s director, Hermon C. Bumpus.¹ In the meantime, Brown and Kaisen set...

  12. EIGHT The Canadian Dinosaur Bone rush (1910–1916)
    (pp. 128-152)

    WITH FRANCES SAFELY ENSCONCED in the care of Marion’s parents, Brown was, as his daughter later put it, “free to seek numbness from pain by throwing himself into the hardest work he could find.”¹ He now had set his sights on a poorly known fossil field in Alberta, where a few dinosaur fossils had been discovered by Canadian geologists surveying for mineral and other natural resources; otherwise, little was known scientifically about this remote and rugged region. The territory had been of great interest to Lewis and Clark, who hoped to discover tributaries flowing south into the Missouri River that...

  13. NINE Cuba, Abyssinia, and Other Intrigues (1916–1921)
    (pp. 153-173)

    HAVING LEARNED A GREAT DEAL about the sequence of geologic formations and their faunas north of the Canadian border along the Red Deer River, 1916 found Brown once again focusing his efforts south of the border, primarily in northern Montana. His goal was to determine how the sequence of formations there correlated with those of the Red Deer region and of the Hell Creek badlands just south of the Missouri River. His primary assistant in this quest was again Peter Kaisen.

    On July 27, Brown reported to Osborn that, having taken the opportunity “to get a car cheap,” he had...

  14. TEN Jewels from the Orient: Raj India (1921–1923)
    (pp. 174-197)

    LIKE PARTS OF A PALEONTOLOGICAL pinball machine, Brown, together with Lilian and her aunt, careened off over the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, and across the Indian Ocean to Bombay. Yet there was a method underlying this madness. Brown was now hot on the trail of more mammals for Osborn and Matthew, the ultimate goal being to discover fossils of Cenozoic primates that would support Osborn’s contention that Asia was the cradle of human origins. Brown’s agenda was ambitious, with an eye to collecting from outcrops of terrestrial Eocene, Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene sediments exposed along the foothills of the...

  15. ELEVEN Perils and Pearls up the Irrawaddy: Burma (1923)
    (pp. 198-207)

    IN HIS LAST LETTER TO Osborn and Matthew from Calcutta, Brown laid out his plans for work in Burma with characteristic confidence. He had consulted with a Mr. Stamp, who had previously collected there and provided Brown with detailed information about his fossil sites. The country contained exposures of latest Middle Eocene sediments, about 37 million years old,¹ as well as Mio-Pliocene beds about 7 to 3 million years old that represented an eastward extension of the Siwaliks. G. D. P. Cotter from the Geological Survey of India had also prospected in the Eocene outcrops in the southern region of...

  16. TWELVE Samos: Isle of Intrigue (1923–1925)
    (pp. 208-226)

    IN 1921, BEFORE LEAVING WITH LILIAN and her aunt for India, Brown had laid the groundwork for his sojourn in Samos by conducting reconnaissance. Earlier collecting on the island, especially by British and Germans, had established that fossils from the Miocene exposures on Samos would be key to interpreting the evolutionary and environmental history of that period from Europe eastward to the localities in Asia from which Brown had just returned.

    Explanations for the fossils found on Samos extend back to around 200 B.C., when the Greek geographer Euphorion identified them as the remains of menacing creatures called Neades. Other...

  17. THIRTEEN Ancient Americans Hunting Bison? Birds as Dinosaurs? (1925–1931)
    (pp. 227-245)

    IN THE WAKE OF HIS five-year international marathon, the list of field trips that Brown compiled near the end of his life for his unfinished autobiography states simply, “No fieldwork,” for the years 1925 and 1926—the only time in his forty-five-year career that he abandoned the field during consecutive years.¹ However, as documents in the Vertebrate Paleontology archives at the museum demonstrate, Brown’s characterization was not entirely accurate.

    As Brown reintegrated himself into a daily routine, a monumental change loomed. In late May, the museum’s acting director, George Sherwood, wrote Brown to inform him that the trustees had decided...

  18. FOURTEEN Digging–and Flying–for Dinosaurs: Howe Quarry and the Aerial Survey of Western Fossil Beds (1931–1935)
    (pp. 246-263)

    BROWN’S 1931 EXPEDITION WAS AIDED by an innovation in field transportation. Undoubtedly spurred on by the CAE’s precedent-setting use of automobiles to explore the Gobi in the previous decade, Brown traded in his horse teams and camel caravans for a seat behind the wheel. But while he extolled the virtues of this new vantage point to his colleague, CAE veteran Granger, he was already looking ahead: “It is simply marvelous how much territory one can cover in a car. I am now longing for a Helicopter plane.”¹ In the interim, Brown launched another expedition, from mid-July through late October of...

  19. FIFTEEN Toward the Golden Years: The Mystery Track-Maker and the Glen Rose Trackway (1935–1942)
    (pp. 264-284)

    FOLLOWING HIS ADVENTURES OF 1934, Brown remained active in the field; however, a lack of funding continued to bedevil his efforts. Part of the problem was no doubt related to the death of Osborn in 1935. Brown’s longtime supervisor had retired from the museum in April 1934, after forty-three years of service. Over the next year and a half he sought refuge in the peaceful surroundings of his estate at Castle Rock on the Hudson River near West Point, north of New York City.¹ He also continued to pursue an ambitious schedule of daily research, pouring his energy into his...

  20. SIXTEEN Brown as a Spy, Movie Consultant, and Showman at the World’s Fair (1942–1963)
    (pp. 285-295)

    WITH WORLD WAR II RAGING on through the spring of 1941 in Europe and Asia, the legendary explorer and then president of the museum, Roy Chapman Andrews, relayed an urgent request from the U.S. government to several paleontologists on the museum staff, including George Gaylord Simpson, Bobb Schaeffer, and Barnum Brown. The government was vitally interested in learning where these curators had done fieldwork, so as to reap the benefits of their knowledge about remote yet strategically critical areas. Brown was only too happy to oblige, citing his travels, with dates, through the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Patagonia, France,...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 296-303)

    WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE of Barnum Brown? First and foremost, he remains the greatest dinosaur collector the world has ever known. Through Brown’s efforts, dinosaurs gained a strong foothold in the psyche of both the scientific community and the general public.

    In writing this biography, a century after Brown’s most famous discovery ofTyrannosaurusand almost a half century after his death, we still profoundly feel his presence. Specimens that Brown collected populate the cabinets and study tables of our offices. Books from his library, inscribed with his characteristic bold signature and passed down by our predecessors, now populate...

  22. APPENDIX ONE List of Major Specimens Collected by Barnum Brown on Display in the AMNH Fossil Halls (57 total)
    (pp. 304-308)
  23. APPENDIX TWO Memoirs of Barnum Brown: Discovery, Excavation, and Preparation of the Type Specimen Tyrannosaurus rex (AMNH NO. 973 ) Discovered 1902, Completely Excavated 1905
    (pp. 309-311)
  24. APPENDIX THREE Summary of Fossil Collections by Barnum Brown and His AMNH Crews
    (pp. 312-314)
  25. NOTES
    (pp. 315-342)
  26. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 343-350)
  27. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 351-352)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 353-368)