Category Archives: story

“A Tuesday in late March”

Quarry #10 near Morrison, or Clay Saurian #1, as drawn by Rev. Arthur Lakes.

One hundred forty years ago this month, Morrison entered the history of paleontology in an impressive way, with the discoveries made by Rev. Arthur Lakes on the hogback north of our small town.

On a Tuesday in late March 1877, a young professor made a discovery at what is now Dinosaur Ridge, near Morrison in Jefferson County, Colorado. This discovery transformed American geology and started a revolution in our understanding of dinosaurs. It also sparked a dinosaur “gold rush” that led the great scientific institutions of the East to turn their sights west. The fabulous wealth of such men as George Peabody, Andrew Carnegie, and Marshall Field was unleashed in a quest for the biggest and most bizarre dinosaurs to fill their museums. —Hunt, Lockley, & White, 2002

Arthur Lakes sketch of the quarries along the west slope of the Dakota hogback, from a letter to in 1879.

Ultimately, Lakes agreed to send the dinosaur bones discovered at Morrison to Professor O.C. Marsh at Yale’s Peabody Museum. For the next two years, Lakes and colleagues (including Benjamin Mudge, in white in above drawing) continued to send bones and reports to Marsh documenting their work at 14 sites along the hogback. Lakes also recorded their activities in his diaries, leaving us an extensive historical record of Morrison’s part in the “Bone Wars” of the late 19th century.

Lakes sent his first letter to Marsh on April 2nd, 1877. This letter told Marsh about the discoveries and their position in the sequence of rocks. He included good drawings of two partial bones and a detailed sketch of the geology of the area now known as Red Rocks Park and Dinosaur Ridge. —Hunt, Lockley, & White, 2002

Only four of the quarries yielded significant discoveries. Quarry #10, the Clay Saurian, is known for Apatosaurus ajax (YPM 1860). This site near the southern end of Dinosaur Ridge was relocated in 2002 and has been worked since then by teams from the Morrison Natural History Museum. Based on Lakes’s sketches of the hogback, his diaries, old photos, and field surveys, the location of Quarry #1 was identified in September of 2009 (Ghist & Simmons, 2010). The rediscovered quarry site was named a county landmark in 2014. This and other sites along Alameda Parkway are managed and interpreted by the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge.

National Natural Landmark Plaque on Dinosaur Ridge

The entire “Morrison Fossil Area” was named a National Natural Landmark in 1973. In 2011, the Landmark was expanded to include Late Cretaceous track sites near Golden, and is now called the “Morrison-Golden Fossil Area.”

References
Ghist, John, Simmons, Beth. 2010. Rediscovering Arthur Lakes’ Historic Lost Quarries at Dinosaur Ridge (Morrison, Colorado) Presented at 2010 GSA Denver Annual Meeting, 1 November 2010.)

Hunt, Adrian, Lockley, Martin and White, Sally. 2002. Historic Dinosaur Quarries of the Dinosaur Ridge Area Friends of Dinosaur Ridge and the University of Colorado at Denver Trackers Research Group.

JCHC. 2014. Preserving Prehistory: Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, Meyer Award for Historic Preservation. In Historically Jeffco magazine, Vol. 35: 39-40. Jefferson County Historical Commission.

JCHC. Dinosaur Ridge Describes Dedication of National Natural Landmark in May 2004.

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A New Home for the Cox Cabin

See Part 1 of this story here.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

We’ll pick up where we left off, with Town Manager Carol O’Dowd’s account of her meeting with Lee Cox:

We reminisced about his life and how to save his home, now in the new state highway right-of-way. I offered the idea of using his cabin for a town museum. He liked the idea and approved. Lee died soon after he and his relatives gave the necessary signatures; he died comforted by knowing that his log home would live on as Morrison’s natural history museum….

Then came the challenge of moving the cabin. The Highway Department guys had a soft spot for Morrison and maybe for me—I had taken some pretty serious razzing from them in meetings where I was the only woman in a room with 20 engineer-type males. They gave us the cabin and 10 days to move it before the bulldozers arrived. Robin Smith helped me find a house-moving company just in time.”

Meanwhile, retired USGS paleobotanist and Town Board member Dick Scott had convinced the Town Board that a natural history museum, especially a free building complete with himself as free paleontologist-director, would be a great asset for Morrison. He writes:

“We picked out a site on Morrison’s 80-acre Designated Open Space at the south edge of town. The spot was next to the highway and on a hillside where a basement would double our space. Jack-of-all trades DeWayne Rhodig fired up the town backhoe.

The moving company slid long steel beams and wheels under the cabin. Early one Saturday morning a bulky procession led by our lone police car crawled down Morrison’s main street, lumbered around the left turn southward across Bear Creek, and inched its way into position above DeWayne’s excavation. Later, DeWayne constructed basement walls underneath. Lee Cox’s cabin then became the Morrison Natural History Museum…”

Cox Cabin on the move through Morrison in December 1987.

Cox Cabin on the move through Morrison in December 1987.

More from Dick Scott’s notes on Morrison’s late 20th-century history:

A few pages back we left the Cox cabin perched on steel beams over a hole in the hillside, awaiting conversion to be the Morrison Museum. Why start a museum? I had multiple reasons to believe in the project. First, Morrison’s unique role in the history of paleontology certainly justified a museum. Second, the museum’s visitors could bring needed dollars to our restaurants and shops. Third, the museum as an informal teaching tool could broaden children’s interest in science and nature through their strong fascination with dinosaurs. It was worth a try.

Arthur Lakes’s discovery of dinosaur bones north of Morrison in 1877 earned the small town a significant spot in history. Before the Morrison Museum formally opened, interest was arising in another kind of dinosaur fossils. When Alameda Parkway was extended over the Dakota hogback in 1937 by WPA workers, dinosaur tracks were uncovered along its route.

The east-side road cut through the steeply dipping Dakota sandstones, exposing large surfaces bearing ripple marks and literally hundreds of dinosaur tracks… Then reports surfaced about people digging up the tracks and stealing them. As the Morrison Museum began to take shape, Denver’s Metropolitan State University professor Dr. Martin Lockley, a dinosaur track expert, expressed concern about theft and destruction of these tracks. His concern led to the forming of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge. The origins of the Morrison museum and the Friends were intertwined.

The early history of the Morrison Natural History Museum is tied to that of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, who aimed to protect the dinosaur tracks and educate the public about them. Dick Scott served as the first director of both entities, and the Friends initially met at the unfinished museum, which remained their headquarters until about 1993.

Cox Cabin arrives at a newly excavated site south of Morrison.

Cox Cabin arrives at a newly excavated site south of Morrison.

With its foundation/basement completed, the building awaits final transformation.

With its foundation/basement completed, the building awaits final transformation.

Winter view of the museum in its early years.

Winter view of the museum in its early years.

The museum in summer, mid 1990s.

The museum in summer, mid 1990s.

Bead Hill Angus Ranch

The headquarters of the Bead Hill Angus Ranch.

The headquarters of the Bead Hill Angus Ranch.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

The Cox Cabin, date unknown.

In its original setting, this cabin nestled into a rocky hillside north of Bear Creek was built here by Lee Cox in the 1940s. The one-story building was designed after a stagecoach stop from settlement days, giving it a vintage look earlier than its origins. Mr. Cox probably also gave the adjacent hill its name, Bead Hill, for the Native American artifacts he collected in the area and elsewhere. It is not, to our knowledge, an official placename.

Lee Cox, relaxing on his porch in happier days.

Lee Cox, relaxing on his porch in happier days.

Mr. Cox continued to raise cattle on this land, once owned by the Rooney family, until the 1980s, when the site was endangered by the advent of the beltway being constructed around Denver. His later years were reportedly spent in frustration and bitterness, and he died about 1987 in a nursing home in Morrison. Former Town Board member Dick Scott reconstructs the story:

When the Town hired Carol O’Dowd [as Town Manager] in 1985, the state had already begun obtaining right-of-way for the new four-lane beltway, C-470, around the metro area. The Morrison interchange plan crossed Lee Cox’s ranch and, unable to sell it to be moved, the state would soon demolish his large, modern (built in 1945) “log cabin” ranch house. Lee alone, heartbroken, ill at eighty-some, dourly resisted each visitor while holding his shotgun when answering each knock at his door. Carol described her visit with Lee to me:

“Visiting all Morrison’s neighbors, I knocked on Lee Cox’s door. My smile got me past his shotgun, and I built a relationship of trust. Ill health soon sent him to the Morrison Nursing Home and I visited him there. We reminisced about his life and how to save his home, now in the new state highway right-of-way….”

A last-minute effort saved the cabin itself (read Part 2 here), but the site, now a stone’s throw from C-470, is currently occupied by the Town of Morrison’s sewage treatment plant.

Lee Cox's champion entry in the 1948 National Western Stock Show.

Lee Cox’s champion entry in the 1948 National Western Stock Show.