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Bones for Barnum Brown

Adventures of a Dinosaur Hunter

James O. Farlow

Publication Year: 2013

Roland Thaxter Bird, universally and affectionately known to friends and associates as R. T., achieved a kind of Horatio Alger success in the scientific world of dinosaur studies. Forced to drop out of school at a young age by ill health, he was a cowboy who traveled from job to job by motorcycle until he met Barnum Brown, Curator of Vertebrae Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a leader in the study of dinosaurs. Beginning in 1934, Bird spent many years as an employee of the museum and as Brown's right-hand man in the field. His chart of the Howe Quarry in Wyoming, a massive sauropod boneyard, is one of the most complex paleontological charts ever produced and a work of art in its own right. His crowning achievement was the discovery, collection, and interpretation of gigantic Cretaceous dinosaur trackways along the Paluxy River near Glen Rose and at Bandera, Texas. A trackway from Glen Rose is on exhibit at the American Museum and at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin. His interpretation of these trackways demonstrated that a large carnosaur had pursued and attacked a sauropod, that sauropods migrated in herds, and that, contrary to then-current belief, sauropods were able to support their own weight out of deep water. These behavioral interpretations anticipated later dinosaur studies by at least two decades.

From his first meeting with Barnum Brown to his discoveries at Glen Rose and Bandera, this very human account tells the story of Bird's remarkable work on dinosaurs. In a vibrantly descriptive style, Bird recorded both the intensity and excitement of field work and the careful and painstaking detail of laboratory reconstruction. His memoir presents a vivid picture of camp life with Brown and the inner workings of the famous American Museum of Natural History, and it offers a new and humanizing account of Brown himself, one of the giants of his field.

Bird's memoir has been supplemented with a clear and concise introduction to the field of dinosaur study and with generous illustrations which delineate the various types of dinosaurs.

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

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pp. vii-viii

IT WAS MY PRIVILEGE to have known Roland Thaxter Bird during those years when he was right-hand man to Barnum Brown. That was mainly back in the thirties, when Brown was enjoying his well-deserved reputation as a hunter of dinosaurs, and when Bird was his enthusiastic, energetic, and innovative field assistant. ...

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pp. 1-16

ROLAND THAXTER BIRD was born on December 29, 1899, the first of four children of Henry and Harriet Slater Bird of Rye, New York. Henry Bird was a successful businessman, a practical man who insisted that his children learn a trade; thus at one point in his youth R. T. was apprenticed to a plumber. At the same time, however, Henry Bird (or "Pater," as his children called him) had a deep respect for learning. ...

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pp. 17-18

WHEN ROLAND T. BIRD was a boy, there was a great deal more agreement about what dinosaurs were really like than there is today. Everyone believed they were all coldblooded, because they belonged to the Reptilia, and scientists knew, of course, that all reptiles are cold-blooded. Everyone knew that a tremendous ...

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Chapter One

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pp. 19-22

AT FIRST the distant buttes were purple, little purple boxes floating on the Arizona vastness. The desert road stretched long and straight and empty toward the nearest of the box-like hills. I checked the cycle's mileage on the speedometer against the road map. Winslow and Holbrook and ...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 23-26

THE SUN WAS UP before I was. The long, lean shadow of every dumpy creosote bush and sage clump told me it hadn't been up for long. Fat dewdrops on the varnished leaves of creosote and the silvery mist covering the fuzzy sage leaves told me it was cool, plumb cool. ...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 27-30

THE DIRT ROAD from Winslow to Pine led southwest. The rough bumping under the wheels was familiar, even as was the terrain. Only the season was different. Not November, but June. June's warmth made an all-but-forgotten memory of the cold of last fall. The sunlight lay white and bright on the gray-blue desert. The road ...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 31-34

THE PINE FOREST thinned out as the road north from Flagstaff left the slopes of the San Francisco Mountains. Tall sugar pines gave way to pinon pine, creosote and sage, and finally to scrub desert where only the horizon bounded vision. ...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 35-40

NOT ONE BUT DOZENS of dinosaur trails crossed the face of the stone. The creatures had come and gone in all directions. All left three-toed prints with clear claw marks. Here and there were little furrows between the footprints, tail-drag marks, but oddly rare. ...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 41-46

DR. BROWN will be glad to see you," Mrs. Lord said. The secretary to the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology smiled warmly at Father and me from behind her desk. "You may go right on in; to you, he won't be busy." ...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 47-52

THE LETTER READ, in part, "Carl Sorensen is leaving for Wyoming, in charge of an advance party, on the twenty-fifth of May. If you care to join the expedition at Howe Qu arry ... " ...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 53-60

... "We've already turned up five scapulas, and here's another string of caudals," he went on. ''I'll be badly mistaken if there aren't four or five more or less complete skeletons. I had that notion Sunday, looking at what we've turned up and at Brown's pile of fragments." The bones at the end of the quarry were the ones Brown had picked up from ...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 61-65

I T'S A GOOD THING I934 came around only once in my lifetime; I couldn't have taken it twice. I began it as a wandering motorcycle cowboy, looking for almost anything to happen. And it had happened in spades ... and awls and prospecting picks and dust brushes ... on the most interesting job in the world. ...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 66-67

... We climbed up to the quarry. Brown had flown back from Montana and gone on again, leaving Lewis to assist in the job ahead. However, our personnel had been cut by the departure of Rainsford, his son Laurence, and Green, whose summer vacations had come to an end. ...

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Chapter Eleven

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pp. 68-70

OCTOBER BROUGHT with it warnings of impending winter. An unexpected snow squall near September's end had disrupted quarry work for a week and left some of us, including me, marooned at the Patons, where the heavy fall of soggy flakes caught us on the way back from Greybull. The delay threw us further ofT schedule, but Indian summer came in with the departure of ...

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Chapter Twelve

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pp. 71-74

THE NEW YORK TIMES and the Herald Tribune both carried stories of the returned expedition. It was, after all, more than a run-of-the-mill thing, even for the American Museum of Natural History. Brown had set out on the trail of a simple, normal dinosaur or two and had stumbled into a graveyard of dinosauria so vast, so ...

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Chapter Thirteen

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pp. 75-80

THE FALL of 1935 slipped quickly into winter. I enjoyed working in the warm lab, with snow swirling by the big windows just beyond my table. But by spring the yearning to get into the field again yanked at me. I had worked long and hard and faithfully on the Howe Quarry material, and all of it was interesting. ...

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Chapter Fourteen

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pp. 81-87

A WARM SEPTEMBER afternoon. I was at work refining the job on some incompletely cleaned bones. Otto Falkenbach stopped by my desk. ...

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Chapter Fifteen

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pp. 88-90

THE SAME BLAZE of dawn that broke over the Painted Desert east of Cameron splashed over the wall of my room and brought me out of bed. I went to the window and looked out on the canyon of the Little Colorado. The wall opposite dropped from the rim sheer and straight, like the side of a red box. ...

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Chapter Sixteen

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pp. 91-95

THE HUGE SKULL turned out to be a phytosaur, the largest ever found. Teeth like marlin spikes. A jaw fifty-four inches from hinge to tip. We uncovered a few vertebrae, too, but nothing more; apparently the skeleton had been disarticulated before burial. Brown decided the limb bones he had found here years before must ...

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Chapter Seventeen

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pp. 96-99

THE LONG TABLE in Brown's office was littered with maps and aerial photographs. He had just held a press conference. I floated by the open door, treading lightly on clouds; winter had come and gone; the air was charged with plans for a new expedition. ...

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Chapter Eighteen

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pp. 100-102

BARNUM BROWN led a strange procession, so strange, so special, I wanted the worst way to have it preserved for posterity on film. Unfortunately, there was no camera loaded, and I couldn't lay hands on a film. ...

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Chapter Nineteen

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pp. 103-105

THE CITY of Grand Junction, Colorado, sprawled out on the Mancos shale. The Mancos here, Brown said, was the equivalent of the Cody in the Baxter Basin. The grey soil of the surrounding countryside was soft clay, bed of an ancient ocean that lay here before the Rocky Mountains were born. ...

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Chapter Twenty

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pp. 106-109

BACK IN ROCK SPRINGS I asked how the crew was making out on the Long Canyon dinosaur. Bob shook his head. "You and Erich sure started something, finding that skeleton," he said. ...

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Chapter Twenty-One

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pp. 110-114

FOR THREE DAYS Bob Chaffee had been chipping away in hard shale in a small quarry, high up in the sharp face of the cliff under the Point of Rocks beacon, following bone into the matrix, chiselling a shelf on which to stand. The specimen Erich had located on his first day was leading into a fine skeleton. ...

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Chapter Twenty-Two

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pp. 115-117

BROWN, as early as June, had talked about taking time to visit Mesaverde exposures near Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Partly a nostalgia trip, perhaps; over forty years before he had captured his first dinosaur near there, from the Morrison Jurassic. ...

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Chapter Twenty-Three

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pp. 118-120

IT RAINED ALL DAY on September 8, which was the sour cherry atop a daub of sour cream. Mud Springs, where we had been trying to work, "was named by a local with an aptitude for accurate nomenclature," Brown remarked. "We can stay here mired down in this clay country for days. ...

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Chapter Twenty-Four

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pp. 121-124

WE MADE JACK RYAN a member of the party when Maw left the cook stove to go home to Montana, when Mrs. Brown left us for relatives in California, when the oncoming fall term took the rest of our boys back to the college circuit. Jack wasn't as lovable as Maw, but he could cook. He could also wield a hammer, drive a truck, ...

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Chapter Twenty-Five

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pp. 125-128

A SOFT RAIN fell Saturday night. Sunday the bright green leaves of the quaking aspen had gone to brighter gold. The freshly washed sky had changed from dusty blue to an almost harsh indigo. ...

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Chapter Twenty-Six

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pp. 129-132

... We stood in the center of a small square room in pitch dark but for our lamps, which served only to push the darkness back a little. Far above us there seemed to be a glimmer of light, light of a different color, the color of daylight. We couldn't be sure; we couldn't even be sure it was important. ...

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Chapter Twenty-Seven

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pp. 133-139

HEAVY TRUCK rolled by the bunkhouse slowly. The sound reached my ears but just stirred hazily in my mind. It seemed Ryan and I and Fogg and a couple of good old boys were somewhere struggling in mud and rain. Water fell in sheets and the night was going to run on all night and all day and it was away past midnight and morning was cancelled for the day but the job of loading ...

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

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pp. 140-145

.. The engineer in charge of installing large exhibits in the American Museum of Natural History shook his head. The huge track slab from the States-Hall Mine was in New York, but the problem of displaying it was still unsolved. An upright wall panel was being considered. ...

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

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pp. 146-151

SNOW SWIRLED down the empty street ahead of me, swirled around me like windblown thistledown. The Hill place was a barn-like structure between two nondescript buildings, half-hidden by them, half-hidden by the snow. On each side of the door were small showcase windows. ...

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Chapter Thirty

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pp. 152-155

IT WAS THE SIXTEENTH day of December 1938 when I brought the museum's venerable Buick in through Holland Tunnel and turned toward home. I felt well-pleased. I had been able to postpone return to the city and with great justification. ...

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Chapter Thirty-One

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pp. 156-159

BACK IN BROWN'S OFFICE I listened to my chief outline plans. All work in Wilkes-Barre was laid aside for the time, worthwhile though it was. I was to leave for Texas immediately, but not for Glen Rose. ...

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Chapter Thirty-Two

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pp. 160-163

MRS. DAVENPORT proved to be as big a problem as any in the field. She was pleasant enough over the phone. She was most open to permitting us to view, even to clean the dirt out of any tracks on any of her property. ...

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Chapter Thirty-Three

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pp. 164-174

APRIL 7, in Glen Rose. All efforts to locate suitable sauropod trails on West Verde Creek having proven futile, Dr. Sellards had made arrangements to have a quarry opened in the bed of the Paluxy. ...

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Chapter Thirty-Four

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pp. 175-185

SO THE MEN built a second coffer dam, fifty feet long, forty wide, six sandbags high. The volume of water it impounded was considerable. With everyone manning the buckets, the power of the crew to remove water was considerable, too. In an hour the rims of the new track Monk had found began to appear. ...

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Chapter Thirty-Five

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pp. 186-189

I STOOD LOOKING at the Buick in the falling rain, thankful that she had not sheltered us from this particular downpour. Lightning was only a passing event in a life of many trials. Eleven years old, she had been driven so many miles and fleetingly dammed so many rivers it seemed foolish to throwaway stuff as rare as money on her. ...

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Chapter Thirty-Six

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pp. 190-194

THE AGED BUICK droned across the endless expanse of west Texas. The pace of the last few days had left me with numbed nerves, and I guided the car toward the ever-receding horizon in sort of a trance. ...

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Chapter Thirty-Seven

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pp. 195-200

I WATCHED THE LINE of heavy vans rumbling into the museum courtyard, van after van after van bringing in the mountain of crates and boxes Brown and I had packed in Glen Rose and had last seen as a tarpaulin-draped mountain in the lumber yard there. By truck and freight and ...

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Chapter Thirty-Eight

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pp. 201-203

IN MY ROOM in the Department of Geology I bent over a smoked paper record from the museum's big seismograph. Dinosaur hunting, like many other things, had been put aside for the duration of the war. I hadn't touched a fossil for months. Instead, I had taken over routine duties ...

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pp. 204-207

R T. BIRD'S HEALTH failed him in mid• life. On a uranium-hunting trip out West for the government, his body gave out. For the balance of his life, he considered himself all but clinically dead. But he learned to live with his "old body." The medical profession could not identify ...


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pp. 208-219


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pp. 220-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780875655161
E-ISBN-10: 0875655165
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875650111

Page Count: 226
Illustrations: 100 b&w illus., Fig.
Publication Year: 2013