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U of M's 1st Masters Degree - Earl Douglass - Dinosaur Hunter

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U of M’s 1st. Masters Degree - Earl Douglass – World Class Paleontologist

Earl Douglass is the subject of at least 2 online websites – see links below:



The information below is taken from the Archives West website, which was formerly known as Northwest Digital Archives.[1]

Earl Douglass’ papers are held at the University of Utah, Special Collections. He had a remarkable career in his field and some of his observations from his diaries are available on the internet. Some of them relate to Missoula and Montana. Douglass stated that he received the 1st Masters degree given at the University of Montana – 1899.

The material copied below is taken entirely from the collection of his papers available from the Archives West website.

Earl Douglass, paleontologist, was born in Medford, Minnesota, 23 October 1862, the son of Fernando and Abigail Louisa Carpenter Douglass. He received his early education in the Medford schools and Pillsbury Academy in Owatonna, Minnesota. Subsequently he went to South Dakota, then Dakota, where he worked on a farm, taught school, and studied at the University of Dakota and the state agricultural college until 1890. During this period he made his first plant collection for an herbarium at the South Dakota Agricultural College.

In 1890 Earl Douglass went to Mexico on a botanical trip and after his return became assistant to Professor William Trelease at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in Saint Louis. There he studied systematic botany and plant histology at the Shaw School of Botany at Washington University. In 1892 he returned to the South Dakota Agricultural College. Suspended from the college in 1893 for publishing an article exposing corruption in the school, Douglass went to Iowa State College where he received his B.S. the same year.

During 1894-1900, Douglass conducted geological explorations in western Montana and taught school to pay expenses. There he gathered extensive collections of fossils. Of particular importance was his discovery of various tertiary beds containing extinct mammals and other vertebrates unknown to science. Earl Douglass received his M.S. degree at the University of Montana in 1899 and taught geology and physical geography there from 1899-1900.

From 1900-1902, Douglass held a fellowship in biology at Princeton University and studied geology, paleontology, osteology, and mammalian anatomy. In 1901 he accompanied a Princeton scientific expedition to the region of the Muscleshell River in Montana. During this expedition he discovered lower "eocene mammals in Ft. Union formation, thus settling a long continued dispute as to the age of these beds."

In 1902 Douglass became associated with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and the museum purchased his extensive collection of fossil remains he collected from Montana and South Dakota. He continued his work in Montana for the museum during part of 1902, and then returned to Pittsburgh. His studies of his collection of fossil remains from Montana appeared in the publications the Annals and Memoirs of Carnegie Museum between 1903 and 1910.

In 1905 Douglass was sent to collect vertebrate and invertebrate fossils in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho and to obtain, if possible, data to solve certain geological problems in that region. On October 20 of that same year Earl Douglass married Pearl Charlotte Goetschius in Sheridan, Montana.

From 1907 to 1924 Douglass devoted himself to the exploration of the fossiliferous strata of the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah. In 1909 he discovered the world famous dinosaur quarry near Jensen, Utah. The quarry now forms the nucleus for the present Dinosaur National Monument. From the quarry Earl Douglass collected a large number of fossils, mostly vertebrates, many of which were new to science. The fossils included dinosaurs of many families, genera, and species.

Earl Douglass resigned his position with Carnegie Museum in 1924, and was employed by the University of Utah to excavate dinosaur bones for their museum. After the bones were transferred to Salt Lake City, Douglass worked two years completing the difficult preliminary work in preparing the bones for mounting. At this point, Earl Douglass's employment with the university was terminated, and the memory of his contributions to the institution virtually obliterated. From this time until his death, Douglass was a consulting geologist for companies engaged in developing oil fields in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Texas. During this period he did notable research on oil, oil shale, asphalts, and other mineral deposits, and left much unpublished material on these subjects.

Douglass's interest in botany, his first love, never subsided, and during the last years of his life he devoted more time to paleo-botany than to any other phase of paleontology. He left a valuable collection of fossil plants, leaves, and flowers.

Earl Douglass's published writings included The Neocene Lake Beds of Western Montana (thesis for M.S. degree, published in 1900), The Gilsonite Holdings of the Gilson Asphaltum Company in Utah and Colorado (an extensive report for the Gilson Asphaltum Company, 1928-29), and a number of scientific papers published primarily in the Annals of the Carnegie Museum, Science, American Journal of Science, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, and Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately, many of Douglass's discoveries were written up by other men and his contributions ignored because he was too busy to get to them.

William J. Holland of the Carnegie Museum, said of Douglass that "he added seventeen genera and eighty-three species to the ever growing list of fossil vertebrates. A great deal of his work related to the Merycoidodonts. He had mastered the entire literature relating to this interesting group. His collection, which was acquired by the Carnegie Museum, was rich in the remains of these animals. Important additions were made to it during his connection with the Museum, not only by himself, but by other members of the staff, and the Museum in consequence possesses one of the best assemblages in existence of material representing this long extinct group. Other additions which he made to our knowledge of the extinct mammals of North America were important. His careful observations upon the geology of the region where he collected are most valuable." There was not a good paleontological museum in the world that was not richer for Douglass's work.

On 31 January 1931, Earl Douglass died in Salt Lake City, Utah, age sixty-nine.

South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana

After finishing the term teaching in Minnesota, Douglass returned to the South Dakota Agricultural College in Brookings. He was expelled from the school and continued his education at Iowa State College in Ames, earning his B.S. in 1893. He accepted a teaching position after graduation in the lower Madison Valley, Montana, where he was able to go fossil hunting.1 January 1893--"I am sorry to say that I never have made a very great success of anything. I have been pegging away at books for fifteen years or more but have read very few, and with all this pretending to be studious have learned very little and am thorough in nothing."I have sometimes thought I had some genius but that fond delusion is often dispelled by the sunlight of truth."9 February 1893--"They are going to investigate the Brookings College troubles at Pierre."4 April 1893--"We expect to be expelled, that is we feel we are very likely to go if we have any such thing printed [proposed newspaper article]. But we are cowards, it seems to me if we do not heroically stand up for right."8 April 1893--"They had faculty meetings .... Messers Menzer, . . . and myself were called up and . . . fired or suspended . . . and were to leave by Sunday night."6 November 1893--"After months of suspense, doubts and fears my case is decided at last and I am to graduate, and what I have wished for and hoped for for 10 years or more is on the point of fulfillment. ... In the bottom of my being I am glad it is so and I would not for thousands of dollars have it otherwise yet I have no great happiness, no marvelous exhuberance of spirits."14 January 1894--"I am in exceedingly poor circumstances as in fact the worst I have [been] for years [I] see little or no hope [that] things will be better for a good while." [Bracketed material is in shorthand.]13 April 1894--"Yesterday I recd a letter from Prof. Foster saying that he had a school for me at $35.00 per month and board in the best geological region in that part of the state. This morning I telegraphed him accepting the position."


Douglass taught school in several locations, but his primary interest was in collecting fossil specimens.21 April 1895--"I found just above a little clay rock exposure some small pieces of bones and teeth. I picked them up and concluded by the fragments that they were Rhinoceros teeth. Dug a little and found there were more bones there so went over to where my horse was and got pick &c. . . . and began to dig. I dug carefully and found that the greater part of the skull was there with the upper teeth. Then I found both remains of the lower jaw both with teeth . . . [I] dared not go further as they are very frail. I fear I cannot get them out whole but am going to work carefully and try to .... If I can in any way get them out and preserve their shape I intend to do it if it takes a week. They will be valuable specimens."

Douglass received his M.S. degree from the University of Montana at Missoula, spent the summer on a fossil collecting expedition, and then worked for the university preparing the specimens collected on the expedition.13 June--"Drove up to the University, getting there at just about the time appointed. I was called into the room where the faculty, board and class of '99 were. The class had on their college robes and I felt rather out of place, but did not worry much about it. Soon we went up to the chapel. Mr [blank] of the Anaconda Standard read the address and the diplomas were presented to us. I had the honor of being the first to receive the Masters degree in the University. I have not been working for the degree but for the love of the work but the degree is very acceptable just the same."19 June--"I am at work on my thesis most of the time getting it ready for publication."27 September--"The indications are that my journal is dying a lingering death and is to be a thing of the past .... There are so many things to which I shall wish to refer to later."18 November--"I find that this summers collection is richer even than I supposed. The camel skeleton that we obtained S.E. of New Chicago is near complete, though there are no jaws and teeth. The Palaeanenyx [prehistoric deer] skeleton near the same place is one of the best I have found so that I can almost restore Palarneyx. What I thought was Merycochoerus [one of the extinct Oreodonts] is a new genus if not a new Order. A fragment of jaw I have been cleaning today proves to be not only a good part of a jaw but a good portion of skull and perhaps a new genus."