The O.C. Marsh Story
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In the early 1860s, while George Peabody was making plans for the eventual distribution of his fortune to worthy causes, his nephew Othniel Charles Marsh persuaded him to include Yale (which he attended with his uncle’s financial support) in his list of beneficiaries. In 1866 the Peabody Museum of Natural History was founded with a gift of $150,000 from Peabody, and in the same year O.C. Marsh was made Professor of Paleontology at Yale, the first such appointment in the United States. In 1867 he was appointed one of the Museum’s first curators (with George J. Brush and Addison E. Verrill), and he also assumed the (unofficial) directorship of the museum which he had been instrumental in establishing.

Professor Marsh himself received a substantial inheritance after Peabody’s death in 1869, which spared him the necessity of receiving a salary from Yale—and doing the teaching to earn it. Marsh used his inheritance to build a large house (now the home of Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies)—in which he entertained visitors ranging from Sioux Chief Red Cloud to Alfred Russel Wallace—and to amass large collections of vertebrate fossils, fossil footprints, invertebrate fossils, osteological specimens, and archaeological and ethnological artifacts. In 1898 Professor Marsh presented his extraordinary collections to Yale.

 

The Yale College Scientific Expeditions to the American West

In 1868, after attending a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, O.C. Marsh participated in an excursion to Omaha that then continued west along the length of the Union Pacific Railroad, then under construction.

On August 17, 1868, his party reached the end of the line 60 miles west of Benton, Wyoming. On the way, Marsh had managed to have the train make a brief stop in Antelope Junction, Nebraska, where “human remains” had been recently reported. Marsh did not find human fossils, but fragments of Tertiary mammals in sediment excavated from a nearby well. Marsh asked the station agent to collect the rest of the fossils, and when the train passed through the station on the return trip east he was given a “hatful of bones.”

This episode produced the holotype of Equus, later Nannippus, parvulus. The find, along with the geology he saw exposed along the railroad route, ignited Marsh’s interest in the American West. As a result of this trip, beginning in 1870 Marsh led a series of four student expeditions to the West.

See also the Yale College Scientific Expedition of 1870 | 1871 | 1872 | 1873