- Historic Sites
Professor Cope Vs. Professor Marsh
A bitter feud among the bones
August 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 5
He counterattacked wherever he could find an opening. When the USGS came under congressional attack in mid-decade he and other former Hayden men supplied the anti-Powell forces with a twenty-three-thousand-word assault on Powell and Marsh. In the Academy he tried to prevent Marsh’s re-election with such violent mudslinging that even his friends shied away. “I received your letter of March 27 [188g] … but have let it lie for a few days to think over the matter,” wrote Alphaeus Hyatt. “I shall, as in duty bound as a friend of yours, talk ‘English Straight’ Unfortunately … your antagonist is strong, he being in possession. … A second fact on his side lies in the sympathy people are sure to feel for an orRcer attacked by a person suspected of having personal motives. … A third support lies in the use his personal friends k* are sure to make of every fact of this kind. … I consider such accusations as hardly worth the trouble of the making. … I strongly advise you as a friend to drop the affair, no good will come to you, and you may, and I think will strengthen the position of the man you are working to defeat. …” Cope was outraged. “You really only give me advice as to the ‘political’ situation, and do not appear to care about the real merit of the case. You must care whether we arc to be represented before the world by the most consummate fraud in the country.” A month later he seethed, “The National Academy disgraced themselves by rcelccting O. C. Marsh President.”
In January, logo, alter a decade of frustration, Cope finally lost control of himself. The occasion was a letter from the Secretary of the Interior instructing Cope to turn over to the National Museum all of the fossils he had collected while working for the Hayden Survey. Cope considered these fossils, the core of his collection, an economic as well as a scientific resource. He claimed that he had expended eighty thousand dollars of his own money in their collection, as no doubt he did. But the demand that they be given to the National Museum seems valid. He had collected them while working for Hayden. The material he amassed the year he worked for Wheeler had already been deposited there.
Five years before, Cope had discovered the chink in Marsh’s armor, but one thing and another had prevented him from striking home. It was an undeniable fact that at least some of Marsh’s assistants in New Haven loathed him. Cope had sniffed this out by 1885, when he and Scott travelled to New Haven, ostensibly for a Yale-Princeton football game but in reality to meet clandestinely with four of these disgruntled employees. Each seems to have had his own reason for turning on Marsh, but in general three motives prevailed: Marsh was frequently in arrears in the payment of salaries; he gave his assistants little opportunity for self-expression, by closing the Peabody collections to their own research and publication; and he gave little or no recognition of his debt to assistants in the preparation of his own publications.
All these accusations were finally trotted out for public view in the pages of the Sunday New York Herald on January 12, 1890. The reporter, W. H. Ballou, was a friend of Cope’s who had once worked for the Naturalist . In column after column Cope repeated every charge, verified and unverified, that he had been collecting on Marsh for twenty years. To the dismay of his friends he quoted private correspondence in which Marsh had been criticized. But the core of his scatter shot came from the Marsh assistants. They charged that Marsh’s publications had been written by others and that Marsh had stolen his work on the horse from Huxley and a Russian named Kowalevsky. As for the USGS , Cope called it a “gigantic politico-scientific monopoly next in importance to Tammany Hall.” He accused Powell and Marsh of conspiring to pack the Academy with Survey men. Many of the slanders against Powell given Congress earlier in the decade were aired. Powell replied in the same edition with a dignified denial of every accusation. He even made the disarming offer to publish Cope’s book if he would send the completed manuscript. (A shrewd stroke, for Cope never came close to completing the book for which he crusaded so energetically, although the plates were published after his death.)