Expedition held in 1895
Tuesday, November 2, 2004
Niobrara County Library
Clemson University librarian Mike Kohl was thrilled when he recently found an unpublished diary from dinosaur bone hunter J. P. Sams’s trip to Wyoming in 1895. Sams had traveled to the Lusk area with the University of Kansas expedition in search of Triceratops, the three-horned dinosaur.
Kohl will give a program, Tuesday, November 2, at the Niobrara County Library on the diaries and the new book based on the expedition he has co-edited. Participants are encouraged to bring a brown-bag lunch to the talk, which starts a noon.
J. P. Sams, who kept the diary, was a farmer and a member of the University of Kansas Board of Regents, not a scientist, but probably was selected to come to Wyoming for reasons of university politics—a regent was an influential man and his support would be good for the expedition. His diaries deal more with local color, local people, and the landscape, than scientific details of the expedition.
Wyoming was still a “tough cowboy place,” only five years a state, Sams writes. Accustomed to more civilized surroundings, Sams marveled at Hartville, “composed of one shack, a combination of post office and whiskey saloon”; Wheatland, “a small oasis in the desert—being boomed by eastern capitalists”; and Lusk, where the minister was a woman whose husband was serving time in the penitentiary.
The expedition, led by noted paleontologist Samuel Williston, does indeed find a Triceratops skull, which they load onto a railcar at the Lusk depot for the return trip to Kansas.
The expedition was a turning point for two of the young students—Barnum Brown and Elmer Riggs—who would go on to eminent bone-hunting careers of their own. As Riggs later wrote, they chose “to follow the lure of paleontology while lying awake…among the sagebrush of Wyoming…enjoying the coolness of a desert night, and looking up into the starry canopy above.”
When librarian Kohl, an amateur paleontologist, found the diary he enlisted the aid of University of Kansas professor Larry D. Martin, who knew of photographs from the expedition archived at KU, and Paul Brinkman, a scientist at the Field Museum of Chicago, who provided a second diary of the expedition, this one a short journal kept by Barnum Brown. Together they carefully footnoted and documented the journals and wrote an introduction.
Kohl will be signing the resulting book, A Triceratops Hunt in Pioneer Wyoming: The Journals of Barnum Brown and J.P. Sams after the program. Published by High Plains Press, the paperback sells for $15.95 and a limited edition hardcover, only 238 copies available, costs $35.
Contact Niobrara County librarian Deb Sturman ( ph. 334-3490) for more information.