The Scopes Monkey Trial and WJ Bryan

A high school substitute teacher, John Scopes, was accused of teaching human evolution in Dayton, Tennessee where it was against the law (Butler Act) in 1925. The trial became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. It was never clear he actually did teach evolution, but the attention the trial brought to the subject and location made it much of a publicity stunt. The lawyer for the prosecution was William Jennings Bryan who was an active anti-evolutionist as well as a politician. When Bryan was embarrassed by questions from defense lawyer Clarence Darrow, the judge expunged the testimony and the case was closed without a summation, Bryan being declared the winner. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and Scopes was released a free man.

Special Delivery Fee paid by Issue of 1986

Special Delivery Fee partially paid by Bryan Issue

First class letter (25¢ postage) from Durham, Connecticut to Greensboro, North Carolina dated May 17, 1990 with Special Delivery service ($5.35 fee). The Special Delivery fee was paid with two copies of the $2.00 Bryan issue of March 19, 1986 supplemented with additional stamps (1.60) for a total of $5.60.

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Jefferson Card Cutout

Postal card indicia are valid for postal cards they are printed on. Sometimes, when the indicia on a card is mistakenly not canceled, the indicia is cut out and pasted onto a mailable item, usually a first class letter. This practice is not sanctioned by the post office, however many examples can be found as frugal users of the postal system used whatever postage they had to mail letters.

Thomas Jefferson was not only president and a statesman, he was also a naturalist. He had a keen interest in prehistoric life (fossils) as well as archaeological objects found throughout the United States. His support for expeditions to both map the country and find historical artifacts or fossil remains is unparalleled by any other president.

Jefferson Postal Card Indicia Cut-out

Jefferson Postal Card Indicia Cut-out

This local rate letter mailed within the city of Buffalo, New York on 4 June, 1928 used a Thomas Jefferson postal card indicia cutout to pay the postage. In this case, postal system personnel caught the attempt and assessed the letter two cents postage due as indicated by the manuscript notation. A precanceled postage due stamp of Buffalo, N.Y. was applied to indicate the missing postage was paid.

Hand Cancel – Seeley, California

Harry Govier Seeley (18 February 1839 – 8 January 1909) was a British paleontologist and professor of geology and mineralogy at King’s College and Bedford College as well as a lecturer on geology and physiology at Dulwich College. He was the first to divide dinosaurs into two groups, the Saurischians and Ornithischians, based on their pelvic bones and joints.

The postal card is from Seeley, California (02/15/84) at the domestic postcard rate of 13¢, to Army Post Office, New York 09333, Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany.

Hand Cancel - Seeley, California

Hand Cancel – Seeley, California

Seeley authored the 1901 book Dragons of the Air, an Account of Extinct Flying Reptiles (this link is a free Kindle version) and believed that birds and pterosaurs were related, disputing Sir Richard Owen’s description of pterosaurs as cold-blooded. Seeley thought they must have been warm-blooded animals.

Multiple Use of Swiss Issue – Andrias scheuchzeri

It’s interesting how mistakes are often as strange as prehistoric life itself. Fossil remains of giant salamander Andrias scheuchzeri were found by Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733) and the interpretation was that they were of a human who had drowned in the Great Flood of the bible. (One guy who really missed the boat!) He named the specimen Homo diluvii testis. If one looks at Scheuchzer’s illustration, you can see how this mistake might have been made by naturalists who were only beginning to understand the origins and progression of life forms with the implements and scientific instruments of the day.

Drawing by Johann Scheuchzer

Illustration by J. Scheuchzer

The cover below uses four copies of the 40+10 centimes value and a single copy of the 30+10 centimes value from the 1959 Swiss Pro Patria issue (the 10 centime surcharge of each stamp went to charity). This stamp combination paid the airmail rate of 1 Franc 40 centimes (50c for the first 20 grams plus 3 x 30c for an additional 60 grams) from Zürich (Hottingen), Switzerland (Oct 19) to the Los Altos, CA as well as the registration fee (50c) shown by the ‘R’ label attached with tracking number 069. The letter may have contained something of some small value as it also cleared customs inspection without charges or penalty, indicated by the San Francisco #32 US Customs Inspector marking (Nov. 4).

Multiple Use of Swiss Issue

Multiple Use of Swiss Issue

The father of paleontology, French naturalist Georges Cuvier, corrected the misclassification of the fossil remains after studying the illustrations by Scheuchzer and this proposed ancestor to our history never came to be.

O.C. Marsh, Chief Red Cloud and the Thunderhorses

The American west was a fertile landscape for fossil hunters of the late 1800s. Remains of fish, giant shells and bones were recognized as fossils by geologists and surveyors preparing the untamed land for the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. They reported their findings to scientific journals and sold articles describing their experiences to newspapers in the east. These enticing discoveries also had their hazards as the American Indians living in the areas were unwelcoming hosts to these pale-faced newcomers.

American Indian

American Indian

A rush to uncover western fossil riches began in 1871, the same year Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon were being explored. Reports of undocumented fossil types by these new expeditions lured major scientists into the great outdoors regardless of the hardships. One of the most renown of these new explorers was Othniel Charles Marsh, a professor of paleontology at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut.

O.C. Marsh of Yale University

Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale University

Marsh explored many western sites with mixed results after receiving various geologic reports and maps. On hearing of interesting samples found in the Dakota badlands, he decided to explore the area in November of 1874. This move into the Wyoming Territory was accompanied by a full entourage of wagons and a number of hired hands to do the lifting and digging.

The starting point for this expedition was an Indian agency not far from a railhead belonging to the Northern Pacific Railroad. The agency was named for Chief Red Cloud, the local Oglala Sioux war leader and chief. Chief Red Cloud lead the resistance during the Indian wars at Powder River hunting grounds where the U.S. Army was soundly defeated. After this conflict, he settled near the agency after the army agreed to close forts in the area and spent his remaining years mediating differences between the white man and the Sioux.

Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux

Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux

Evidence of gold quartz had also been found in earlier expeditions and that news brought many unwelcome fortune hunters onto Sioux lands. Marsh arrived white skinned and a stranger to the area. To the Sioux, these two traits marked him as another gold seeker. Some were so upset by his presence, especially by the number of wagons and men he brought with him, that they demanded the local Indian agent tell him and his party to return to the train and leave the area.

Marsh, a stubborn man by nature, refused to leave and insisted on meeting Red Cloud to discuss the purpose of his expedition. On hearing of this white man’s refusal to leave, even after being told to do so by the Indian agent, Red Cloud’s curiosity outweighed his distaste and he agreed to talk. The meeting resulted in Marsh obtaining Red Cloud’s permission to look for fossils on Sioux lands. The Sioux were also familiar with fossils and called the remains ‘Thunder Horses’ in recognition of their size.

Using his maps and following Red Cloud’s instructions, Marsh found several wagon loads of fossils and returned to the agency so the Indians could examine the rocks and fossils. After seeing that no gold was secretly hidden and Marsh had kept his promise, Red Cloud was impressed with his honesty and invited him to visit the nearby Sioux encampment.

While in the Sioux encampment, Marsh viewed food and supplies provided by the U.S. government’s Bureau (Office) of Indian Affairs and became outraged after seeing spoiled foodstuffs and poor quality goods in terrible condition. He heard accounts of general corruption among U.S. government officers and agents. Returning east, Marsh reported on ‘our vile bureaucrats’ to anyone who would listen, but few did.

Office of Indian Affairs Official Mail Penalty Cover

Office of Indian Affairs – Official Mail Penalty Cover *

The matter did not end there as Red Cloud sent further information to Marsh in the Spring of 1875 indicating no supplies had been provided to the Sioux after Marsh left the agency. Public reaction was immediate when Marsh reported these further activities to the New York Herald newspaper resulting in a series of articles outlining the misdeeds of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Shortly thereafter, President Ulysses S. Grant “regretfully accepted” the resignation of Christopher Delano, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. A full investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs followed and Red Cloud’s Oglala Sioux finally received the subsistence aid they were promised.

Red Cloud was impressed with Marsh’s continued efforts and named him “the best white man I’ve ever seen”. Further explorations by Marsh’s workers were always accompanied by Sioux braves to protect and guide the diggers. In 1880, Red Cloud visited Marsh in New Haven and the two men became fast friends.

The cover illustrated below was posted from the Red Cloud Agency No.2, Nebraska on June 25, 1875 (year date in manuscript) and is addressed to Professor O.C. Marsh at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut.

Letter to O.C. Marsh from the Red Cloud Indian Agency

Letter to O.C. Marsh from the Red Cloud Indian Agency

The script docketing on the side indicates the letter was posted by H.E. Farnam using an imprinted envelope of J.W. Dear, an Indian trader at the agency. This likely indicates the content was not trader or agency business, but rather an envelope used on behalf of a third party.

As the contents are no longer with the cover, the following is speculation based on historical information. Very little mail was sent from the Red Cloud Agency addressed to Marsh. This cover correlates with the reported springtime message sent by Red Cloud to Marsh and may well have been the one asking for assistance with his continuing problems with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It’s a gem of a cover and historical testimony to Marsh’s presence and activity in Wyoming. end of article

* Office of Indian Affairs penalty cover courtesy of Lester C. Lanphear III

Sir Arthur Keith

Sir Arthur Keith (1866 – 1955) was a Scottish anatomist and anthropologist. He was a professor and conservator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, England as well as President of the Royal Anthropological Institute. His interest in the subject of human evolution led him to become a strong supporter of the Piltdown Man discovery together with Charles Dawson. It has been suggested that he prepared the fake remains for Dawson to salt the Piltdown site with, however, more recent information points to Martin Hinton, Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum. Evidence discovered in a trunk at the museum belonging to Hinton had bones and teeth processed in a similar manner to those of the hoax. The case remains a mystery as to “Who done It”.

This cover is an example of envelope reuse during WWII. Originally, the cover was sent from London (postmark indistinct) to: “Sir Arthur Keith, F.R.S., Buckston Browne Farm, Farnborough, Kent” (seen through the address label). The return corner card beneath indicates “In case of non-delivery please return to MACMILLAN & Co., St. Martin’s St., London”.

The reuse is addressed to Dr. Beatrice McDown, 203 Hooker Avenue, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. USA and was sent on February 12, 1945 from Bromley & Beckenham, Kent at the surface rate of two and one-half pence for the first ounce.

Cover from Sir Arthur Keith

Cover from Sir Arthur Keith

The obverse of the cover has the manuscript text: “from Sir A Keith, Downe, Kent” in what one must believe is his own hand.

Cover obverse with name in script

Cover obverse with name in manuscript

It’s an interesting element in the far-reaching story of paleoanthropology in general and the Piltdown man hoax in particular.

Wyoming Territory – Fossils in the Badlands

A rush to uncover western fossil riches began in 1871, the same year Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon were being explored. Reports of undocumented fossil types by these new expeditions lured major scientists into the great outdoors regardless of the hardships. One of the most renown of these new explorers was Othniel Charles Marsh, a professor of paleontology at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut.

Letter to O.C. Marsh from the Red Cloud Indian Agency

Letter to O.C. Marsh from the Red Cloud Indian Agency

The illustrated cover was posted from Red Cloud Agency No.2, Nebraska on 25 June 1875 and is addressed to Professor Charles Marsh at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. The script docketing on the side indicates the letter was posted by H.E. Farnam using an imprinted envelope of J.W. Dear, an Indian trader at the agency.