Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Marsh, Othniel Charles

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Edition of 1900. See also Othniel Charles Marsh on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer. The 1888 edition notes that his studies at the Yale scientific school lasted two years.

Appletons' Marsh Othniel Charles.jpg
Appletons' Marsh Othniel Charles signature.png

MARSH, Othniel Charles, naturalist, b. in Lockport, N. Y., 29 Oct., 1831; d. in New Haven, 18 March, 1899. He was graduated at Yale in 1860, and at the Yale (now Sheffield) scientific school. During this time he showed himself a devoted student in mineralogy, and made an important beginning in paleontology in the discovery and description of Eosaurus Acadianus, a large reptile from the coal-formation of Nova Scotia. From 1862 till 1865 he studied zoölogy, geology, and mineralogy under Ehrenberg and other eminent teachers in the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, and Breslau, occupying his vacations in field-work in Germany and the Alps. He returned to the United States to accept the chair of paleontology, which had been established for him at Yale in 1866, and which he continued to hold. He afterward devoted himself to the original investigation of extinct vertebrate animals, more especially of those remains that have been collected in the Rocky mountain region by scientific expeditions organized and led by himself, and, in later years, by trained parties sent into the field under his direction. During these researches Prof. Marsh has crossed the Rocky mountains twenty-one times. His earlier expeditions were carried into regions that had never before been visited by white men, and were frequently attended by much hardship and danger, as the localities that he visited were often occupied by hostile Indians, and explorations could be carried on only under the protection of a strong escort of U. S. troops. While on one of these expeditions Prof. Marsh became aware of frauds that were practised on the Indians, and his vigorous efforts in their behalf at Washington, in 1875, resulted in procuring for them better treatment. In Prof. Marsh's various explorations more than 1,000 new species of extinct vertebrates have been brought to light, many of which possess great scientific interest, and represent wholly new orders, and others that were not before discovered in America. He had already published descriptions of about 300 of these, principally in papers in the “American Journal of Science.” Among the more important of them are a new sub-class of birds with teeth (odontornithes), and the first known American pterodactyles, including a new order (pteranodontia), from the cretaceous strata of Kansas; two new orders of large mammals from the eocene tertiary of the Rocky mountains, the tillodontia, which seem to be related to the carnivores, ungulates, and rodents, and the dinocerata, which were huge ungulates, elephantine in bulk, bearing on their skulls two or more pairs of horn-cores; also, from the same formation, eohippus, orohippus, and epihippus, the earliest known ancestors of the horse, and the first monkeys, bats, and marsupials that were found in this country; from the miocene, the brontotheridæ, a new family of great ungulates, with their skulls armed with a single pair of horns; and from the Jurassic, the first mammals of that formation to be found in America, representing two orders and many species, and several new families of dinosaurs of most interesting character, some of these reptiles being of enormous size, and probably the largest land animals yet discovered. Since 1876 Prof. Marsh had been engaged in preparing a series of monographs containing full illustrated descriptions of his western discoveries, which are in course of publication under government auspices. These include “Odontornithes, or Birds with Teeth” (Washington, 1880), and a volume on the “Dinocerata” (1884). A third large volume, now in press, describes the gigantic dinosaurs of the order sauropoda, and is illustrated by 90 plates and over 200 wood-cuts. A fourth will describe the stegosauria, another group of extinct reptiles from the Rocky mountains, a fifth describes the brontotheridæ, and other memoirs will follow. These volumes will be issued by the U. S. geological survey, of which Prof. Marsh was the paleontologist in charge of the division of vertebrate paleontology, but previous to 1882 all of his explorations were made at his own expense. Charles Darwin wrote to him: “Your work on these old birds, and on the many fossil animals of North America, has afforded the best support to the theory of evolution that has appeared within the last twenty years.” In 1878 Prof. Marsh was president of the American association for the advancement of science, and for many years he was president of the National academy of sciences. He was a fellow of the Geological society of London, from which, in 1877, he received the Bigsby medal for important discoveries in paleontology, and also a member of many other European and American scientific societies. In 1886 the University of Heidelberg conferred upon him the degree of Ph. D., and the same year he received the degree of LL. D. from Harvard.