Dr Earl Douglass

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To his great discoveries and researches in the field of paleontology, Utah and the world are permanently indebted to the late Dr. Earl Douglass, whose labors as a scientist took him all over the West and East, but whose home in later years was in Salt Lake City, where he died January 13, 1931.

Doctor Douglass was born in the little town of Medford, Minnesota, October 28, 1862, son of Fernando and Abigail Louisa (Carpenter) Douglass. His father was born in New York State, December 20, 1829, and died at Jensen, Utah, January 26, 1916. In the family were two daughters and one son. The daughters were Mrs. Ida Douglass Battin and Miss Nettie, the latter dying at Jensen March 24, 1922.

Doctor Douglass' father was a carpenter and farmer. About 1862 the family moved to a farm a mile west of Medford. This farm proved the source of some, of the deepest impressions made on the plastic character of the boy. There he developed both a love for poetry and science, and from the age of five to ten learned to read the lessons of the bleached bones on the prairie, the beautiful pebbles of the little stream where he waded barefooted, and came to know in an intimate personal way the flowers, so that in later years he could look back and write of that farm as "a land of poetry and romance to the boy."

His first schooling was acquired in a little cabin school on the prairie. When  he was twelve years old the family returned to Medford, where he continued his education in the village school during winters, working on the farm in the summer. In the winter of 1881-82 he helped build a cabin in the woods, and chopped cord wood for a merchant in Medford. In the spring of 1882 he again resumed his work in the village school, and later took examination for a teacher's certificate. He first taught in a Swiss-German district near Medford, and afterwards taught in other schools in that community until 1885. In that year he attended the Pillsbury Academy at Owatonna the following year taught a term of school in the `Supper room" of his home village, and in August went to live with an older sister in South Dakota, where she had taken up a homestead. He worked on her farm and in September, 1886, again taught a district school nearby. In 1888 he entered the spring term at the University of Dakota (now the University of South Dakota) at Vermilion. Here he met his only perfect ideal of a college president. From that time he continued his college education, working in the intervals, teaching, and finding opportunity to study geology and botany not only from text books and the crude laboratories of that time, but in field trips. While in the South Dakota Agricultural College in 1889 and again in 1892 he was employed by the botanical department to collect wild plants and start a herbarium. This was his first real scientific collecting.

In 1890 he was sent to Mexico to join Prof. C. G. Pringle, who was collecting plants for herbariums in the United States and foreign countries. He went as far south as the City of Mexico, and later returned to St. Louis to take a position in the Missouri Botanical Gardens. In 1892, having definitely decided to specialize in geology, he gave up his work there and returned to the South Dakota Agricultural College in Brookings. He was one of several students who went from there to the Iowa State College, where he was graduated Bachelor of Science in 1892. In 1894 Doctor Douglass obtained a school near Bozeman, Montana, where he could teach and study geology.

In the Madison Valley he made his first collection of fossil bones. This region is a part of the rich field opened for the study of paleontology in the Rocky Mountain region, a region which in later Mesozoic times was covered with a mild inland sea, with a climate tropical or semi-tropical. He was one of the first to collect what were subsequently identified as the bones of camels, rhinoceroses, three-toed horses and other extinct animals. From this time until 1900 he was engaged in teaching and collecting fossils representing the different geological ages in Montana. In 1900 he was awarded the Master of Science degree by the University of Montana, where he taught geology, physical geography and physics. His Master's thesis, published by the University of Montana, was his first scientific paper. Following this he held a science fellowship in Princeton University until 1902, which afforded him an opportunity to study intensively geology and paleontology under the eminent Prof. W. B. Scott. He was the first to receive this science fellowship two years in succession.

Doctor Douglass in 1901 accompanied the Princeton Scientific Expedition to the Crazy Mountains north of Big Timber, and after the return of most of the expedition to Princeton in the fall he discovered and excavated from ancient sea deposits a land dinosaur called the Duckbill Dinosaur. This discovery was sent to Princeton. He also made what Professor Scott termed "an epoch making discovery" in fixing the age of the Fort Union deposits by discovering fossil teeth and jaws of mammals along with fossil leaves and fresh water shells.

In the spring of 1902 he entered the employ of the Carnegie Museum, which had recently been established at Pittsburgh, and was. associated with that institution for twenty-two years. During the summers he led expeditions into the West in search of new fossil material, and the winter months he spent in classifying and studying and writing scientific papers to describe the new finds. His publications were numerous and important, including about twenty-four contributions to the literature of paleontology and geology. These reveal the fact that Doctor Douglass was responsible for giving the world of science seventeen new genera and eighty-three new species of fossil vertebrates. Perhaps his chief specialty was related to the merycoidodants. A recent publication says: "He had mastered the entire literature relating to this interesting group."

Doctor Douglass at different times was employed as an expert geologist by oil and mining companies throughout the West, but his chief interest always was in the study of evidences of earliest life forms as recorded in the rocks of the earth crust. He was one of the eminent paleontologists who have done most toward reconstructing an orderly account of the development of prehistoric mammalian life. In 1908 he was sent at his request to the Uinta Basin in Utah to collect fossil remains. With permission of the officers of the Gilsonite Company he established a camp for the summer in an abandoned stone cabin at Well No. 2 on the stage route from Dragon to Vernal, Utah. This was a banner season for his work. He collected and shipped to the Carnegie Museum a large number of fossils, among them numerous species new to science. "The Devil's Playground" yielded numerous new fossils, among them a collection of fossil turtles, which later was named and described by the late 0. P. Hay. A most remarkable discovery of this season was a complete skeleton of dolichorhinus longiceps, an early eocene forerunner of the titanotheres, now an attractive exhibit in the gallery of fossil mammals in the Carnegie Museum and the most perfect specimen of this benus in existence.

In the summer of 1909 Doctor Douglass was sent by the director of the Carnegie Museum, Dr. W. J. Holland, to the Uinta Basin, this time to look for and collect dinosaurian remains. On August 19, 1909, he discovered what is known as the "Dinosaur National Monument." This was probably the largest undertaking of its kind in the history of paleontology, and later proved to be the greatest quarry of its kind in the world. Year after year Doctor Douglass and his able crew brought forth new and unexpected discoveries in dinosaurs representing many new families, genera and species. In the Carnegie Museum a slab mount of one of these small dinosaurs is probably the most complete skeleton of a small dinosaur ever unearthed.

Doctor Douglass labored faithfully and unceasingly for twelve years at this wonderful quarry. About 300 tons of fossil bones were shipped to the Carnegie Museum, and fifty tons were sent to Washington, D. C., and the University of Utah. A very rare skull and skeleton of an undescribed dinosaur excavated by him rests in the storerooms of the University of Utah.

While earnestly devoted to his scientific pursuits Doctor Douglass never turned a visitor or inquiring mind away. Often after a day of hard work he would trudge up the long winding path to the quarry of ancient relics to explain some of the mysteries of the past to a belated visitor.

The last few years of his life were devoted mostly to expert work and his literary efforts and in making collections of rare fossils. In 1928 he wrote a valuable and extended report on "The Origin of Gilsonite and the Source from Which it Came." Much of his time was spent in investigating the origin of petroleum. One of his unpublished manuscripts on oil problems in Utah treats that subject from the standpoint of both historical and economic geology.

While known to the world as a scientist, Doctor Douglass was at heart a poet, and he was an able connoisseur in painting, poetry and general literature. As he once wrote in his diary: "I think that the element that predominated in my nature, and has predominated all through my life, is that of poetry."

Elsewhere he wrote: "It is the imagination which appeals to me and I consider it the highest human faculty. . . . I never cease to love to go over new roads and see new scenes." At his death he left unpublished a volume of unusual poetry, and he was also writing a popular story of the origin of man based upon scientific and geological facts. His last publication was Fossil Records of Utah, published in the Professional Engineer, December 30, 1930. He often said there was more real thrill in the discovery of a new flower than in the finding of an immense dinosaur skeleton. A great pioneer in science, one of the ablest scientists who ever came to Utah, he was at the same time a man of deeply religious feeling, kind and gentle, and enjoyed the love and affection of all who had ever come into the circle of his presence. A long and patient study of the past had brought him that perhaps greatest of all qualities of character, a true humility, and also a vision which was undisturbed by ephemeral conflicts and turmoils.

On October 20, 1905, he married Miss Pearl A. Goetschius, of Alder, Montana. Mrs. Douglass at that time was a teacher in the public schools. Nine years earlier she had been a student in his school at Ruby Valley, Montana, and a pupil in his class in geology. After his marriage Doctor and Mrs. Douglass returned to Pittsburgh, where he had bought a home. Mrs. Douglass is a daughter of John F. and Charlotte Louisa (Whitmore) Goetschius. She resides at 139 South Twelve East Street in Salt Lake City. Her only son, Gawin Earl Douglass, born January 30, 1908, is a student of engineering and paleontology.

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