February 2007

Earl Douglass, Geologist, Paleontologist

When I first learned that Earl Douglass, the son of Fernando, was sometimes referred to as Dr. Douglass I thought he was another physician in this large family of many physicians. Then I discovered he was not a physician – he was a geologist. One census listed him as a geologist for a mining company. Then I learned that he had died in Utah so I set about to get his obituary. Did I ever get a surprise!


Earl Douglass was born in Medford, Minnesota on October 23, 1862. He received his early education in the Medford schools and the Pillsbury Academy in Owatonna, Minnesota. He then 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, 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 then went to Iowa State College where he received his B.S. the same year.

From 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. Douglass received his Master of Science 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 l90l 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 formations, thus settling a long continued dispute as to the age of these beds.”

In l902, Douglass became associated with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and the museum purchased the extensive collection of fossil remains he had collected in Montana and South Dakota. He continued his work in Montana for the museum during part of l902, and then returned to Pittsburgh. His studies of his collection of fossil remains from Montana appeared in the Annals and Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum between l903 and l9l0.

In l905, 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 29 of that same year Douglass married Pearl Charlotte Goetschius in Sheridan, Montana.

From l907-l924, Douglass devoted himself to the exploration of the fossiliferous strata of the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah. In l909 he discovered the famous dinosaur quarry near Jensen, Utah. The quarry now forms the nucleus for the present Dinosaur National Monument. Out of this quarry, Douglass collected a large number of fossils, mostly vertebrates, some which were new to science. The fossils included dinosaurs of many families, genera, and species.

Douglass resigned his position with Carnegie Museum in l924 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 spent two years completing the difficult preliminary work to prepare the bones for mounting after which his employment ended. From this time until his death in l931, 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.


So if you have ever been to see the wonderful Quarry Exhibit at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, Earl Douglass, Fernando’s son, discovered that. And if you have ever visited the Carnegie Institute and admired the dinosaur collection, there is a good chance that Earl Douglass worked on that exhibit or provided materials for it. The fossil remains that he discovered in Utah were for the longest dinosaur discovered yet, 27 meters long.

This biography also explains the difference in the locations of their marriage in Montana and the birth of their son in Philadelphia.

Earl was second cousin to Fred Douglass, to CAM and TR Mayberry, to Minerva French Taylor and to Wilfred and Frank Douglass. Do we have a great family, or what!

Lineage: (Earl-5, Fernando-4, Alexander-3, John-2, Alexander Douglass-1)


Follow-up on Last Month’s Story

When I was in Toledo last month I found James Hackstedde’s obituary and it gave the names of his married sisters. One of them was listed in the 2004 Toledo directory. I wrote a letter to her and a week later received a phone call from her daughter, Renee. We had a wonderful chat. Renee told me her mother now lived out of state and that her mother was looking for some pictures of her grandparents for me. So now I have made contact with a living descendant of Catharine Douglass Harrison. I can scarcely believe it. That means that the only line yet to make contact with is Mary Ann Douglass Cramer’s. I am hopeful that this year will bring me closer to that goal.

As wonderful as the internet is in terms of making information available to us- and more is coming on line all the time – there is no substitute for actually going to the county where people lived and looking through the local records.

(Renee’s lineage: Renee-8, Martha-7, Harold-6, Caroline Hackstedde-5, Sarah Moore-4, Catharine Harrison-3, John-2, Alexander Douglass-1)

mentions Earl Douglass.
  Thanks to Teresa Creech for bringing this to my attention.


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