200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 56: “Considered Harmless ”

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Photo of Ferdinant Vandiveer Hayden
Ferdinand Vandiveer HaydenAcademy Library & Archives coll. 457

Considered Harmless

Most of today’s paleontologists go into the field to collect the fossils they study, but it was common practice for the early paleontologists to depend on others for their fossils. New York State Geologist James Hall and father of American vertebrate paleontology Joseph Leidy did just that. They sent explorer Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden on an 1853 expedition to the White River Badlands of South Dakota to characterize the geology and collect fossils. But the Badlands were located in the middle of Sioux country, and as settlers moved west to settle on lands already occupied by the Sioux, relations between the two groups were often hostile.

Like many Americans at the time, the Sioux were unfamiliar with paleontological research. Though they didn’t know what Hayden was doing, they weren’t worried about his presence. They named him “he who picks up stones running,” deciding that a harmless eccentric scurrying over the rugged surfaces of this desolate landscape to fill his saddlebags and wagon with rocks was not a threat.

Visit ansp.org to learn more about Leidy’s fossil collectors.

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