Discovering TREX

^^ HE TOWN OF JORDAN in eastern Montana has been the headquarters of T. rex country for almost a hundred years. But I knew I wouldn't find anyone who had known the original T. rex discoverer, the great Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, since Brown had stopped digging here in 1909.

The folks around Jordan surprised me, though, especially an energetic lady named Pauline ("Polly") Wischmann, a historian from the nearby town of Circle. Pauline hadn't met Brown, but she told me she'd written to Brown, and she sent me a copy of his brief response, from Guatemala City, dated March 12,1953: I started work in the badlands of the Missouri River in the Spring of 1902 with Jordan on Big Dry Creek as headquarters and I continued working the region each summer until 1909 My first discovery of a dinosaur [there] was the type skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex at the old Max Sieber buffalo cabin on Hell Creek 16 miles northwest of Jordan The second Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton now mounted in the American Museum I found on the John Willis ranch on the Big Dry which I think was also Garfield County

The discovery of T. rex was a lot more complicated and lucky than Brown's note suggests. What Brown didn't have time or inclination to write, I've learned from looking through old scientific papers and from Ralph Molnar. Ralph is an American paleontologist, though he's been living and working in Australia for many years. Ralph has spent more time studying T. rex than anyone alive, and he has also researched and written the history of its discovery.

As Ralph learned, the discovery of T. rex began with a paperweight. The weight was a tubular piece of fossil bone that belonged to William T. Hornaday, the director of the New York Zoological Society, at the turn of the twentieth century. Unlike modern-day zoo directors, Hornaday liked to hunt. He went to eastern Montana to shoot the last woodland buffalo in Garfield County (in 1886) for the Smithsonian's collections (Hornaday's buffaloes are now in our museum in Bozeman). And he had collected his fossil paperweight while hunting deer in Garfield County in 1901, without the slightest idea of what animal it belonged to.

Hornaday worked closely with the scientists of the American Museum, comparing fossil animals to exotic living creatures. So he showed his paperweight to young Barnum Brown, the museum's chief fossil collector. Brown was named for circus showman P T. Barnum and had a flair for the theatrical himself. He grew up in Kansas but dressed like an eastern dude, sporting a raccoon coat, shiny boots,pince-nezglasses, and a gold-headed cane. He'd started digging fossils in college, at the University of Kansas, and even before graduation went to work for the American Museum. He stayed with the museum for sixty-six years, until his death in 1963 at the age of eighty-nine.

In that time he became fabled as a dinosaur hunter with an uncanny knack for finding fossils—it was said he could smell them. He found them throughout the West, and in Canada and India as well. Brown may have found more dinosaurs than anyone before or since.

With his eye, or nose, for potential headlines, as well as dinosaur fossils, Brown recognized Hornaday's souvenir as the core of a Triceratops horn. Brown also looked at photos of the territory of the fossil. To him they resembled the Wyoming badlands where he'd prospected for some of the last dinosaurs, 65 million years old.

The paperweight and photos are what spurred Brown

top: t. rex discoveries don't happen every day around jordan. montana as this marquee on a closed jordan movie theatre suggests, but they do happen more frequently there than anywhere else on earth.

top: t. rex discoveries don't happen every day around jordan. montana as this marquee on a closed jordan movie theatre suggests, but they do happen more frequently there than anywhere else on earth.

bottom: barnum brown (left) and henry fairfield osborn (right) as young dlplodocus prospectors.

Barnum Brown 1902

barnum brown was one to go dinosaur digging along the Hell Creek Formation well-dressed field man as he . t i i t-> i i in 19U2. It was a gamble on Browns part, because even is here, prospecting in 0 r sweetwater, Montana. though dinosaur bones can be found everywhere in that country, geological explorers of the preceding fifty years had somehow missed them all.

Brown passed through Jordan. Today, Jordan isn't a big town, even by Montana standards. There's one big intersection in the middle of town; a few stores, bars, and motels; and a movie theatre that's been closed afew years (though it still advertises a documentary about local T. rex discoveries). A couple of hundred people, mostly ranchers, live nearby, friendly and proud to be from the capital of T. rex country.

But when Brown came in 1902, what he saw of Jordan was "three log houses nestling among the cottonwood trees." He collected plenty of fossils in the area, including a skeleton of a duckbilled dinosaur (Anatotitan copet) west of Jordan and a Triceratops skull near the town. And when he first arrived at the

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