Texas’ Bone Wars Studied by SMU Professor

SMU paleontologist Louis Jacobs has been studying the role of two Texas fossil collectors in the 19th century Bone Wars, which played out across the American frontier as rivals competed fiercely to uncover new fossils (and thus discover new extinct species.) In doing so he found a poem written by one of the men, Dallas naturalist Jacob Boll, whose Swiss family was among those that founded the utopian La Reunion colony here.

During a break in his field labors, Boll’s fascination with ancient bones prompted him to write in his native German an ode to fossils. Jacobs found the poem in the American Museum of Natural History on a label on the back of Eryops specimen No. AMNH 4183.

SMU biology professor Pia Vogel translated the poem. Vogel and Jacobs worked with SMU English professor John M. Lewis to retain the essence of the poem in English.

“Now you will with some few others
Trek to the professor’s seat.
Awakened through his careful thought,
Be reassembled from your fragments,
To tell to others yet to come
From the sculpting of your teeth
How you lived and disappeared,
Name you he will, and what he found.”

I eagerly await your insightful comments about the Bone Wars.


  • The Bone Wars was an absolutely epic episode in American Science; two brash and willfull science nerds, each with his own army of bone hunters, rampaging about the American West, digging up dinosaur bones and blowing up what they couldn’t take to keep it out of the other guy’s hands.

    It should be a musical