A NovelBook - 2017
Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novel--a thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.
The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America's western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.
Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition. But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions. With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and William's newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the West's most notorious characters.
A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic.
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I still regard three months in the West in much the same way I would three months forced attendance at the German Opera.
According to his headmaster at Exeter, Johnson was “gifted, attractive, athletic and able.” But the headmaster added that Johnson was “headstrong, indolent and badly spoilt, with a notable indifference to any motive save his own pleasures. Unless he finds a purpose to his life, he risks unseemly decline into indolence and vice.”
“Going west is no shakes. Any fool can go,” I said. “But all fools haven’t gone—at least you haven’t.” “I’ve never had the least desire to go,” I said.
… these fossils do not invite interest. They invite passionate commitment, they invite religious fervor and scientific speculation, they invite heated discourse and argument, but they do not thrive on mere interest.
Colorado is a delightful place not to be.
What sort of hotel will you stay in?” “We’ll be camping, mostly.” “Good,” his father said. “Plenty of fresh air and exertion. Invigorating.” “You sleep on the ground with all the snakes and animals and insects? It sounds horrific,” his mother said.
… photography was not a rich man’s pursuit, but rather a shifty business for people who lacked the capital to embark on a more prestigious livelihood. Even Mathew Brady, the most famous photographer of his day, the chronicler of the Civil War, the man who photographed statesmen and presidents, had never been treated as anything but a servant by the eminent subjects who sat for him.
“You expect everything to be easy because you are rich,” Lewis would chuckle, watching him fumble and swear. “But the plate doesn’t care how rich you are. The chemicals don’t care how rich you are. The lens doesn’t care how rich you are. You must first learn patience, if you wish to learn anything at all.”
Centennial Exposition of 1876. The excitement that surrounded this celebration of the nation’s hundredth anniversary was nearly palpable. Wandering the soaring exhibition halls, Johnson saw the wonders that astonished all the world—the great Corliss steam engine, …
President Ulysses S. Grant had opened the Centennial Exposition, but the little general was no longer popular; scandal and corruption characterized his administration, and the excesses of financial speculators had finally plunged the nation into one of the most severe depressions in its history. Thousands of investors had been ruined on Wall Street; Western farmers were destroyed by the sharp decline in prices, as well as by harsh winters and plagues of grasshoppers; the resurgent Indian Wars in the Montana, Dakota, and Wyoming Territories provided an unsavory aspect, at least to the Eastern press, and both Democratic and Republican parties promised in this year’s campaign to focus on reform.
Chicago was the fastest-growing city in the world, both in population and in commercial importance. From a prairie village of four thousand in 1840, it had exploded into a metropolis of half a million, and was now doubling in size every five years. Known as “Slabtown” and “The Mud Hole of the Prairie,” the city now extended across thirty-five square miles along Lake Michigan, and boasted paved streets and sidewalks, broad thoroughfares with streetcars, elegant mansions, fine shops, hotels, art galleries, and theaters. And this despite the fact that most of the city had been razed in a terrible fire just five years before.
Chicago owed its success to its geographical position in the heartland of the country, to its importance as a rail and shipping center, and most particularly to its preeminence in the handling of prodigious tonnages of beef and pork.
Cheyenne boasted one schoolhouse, two theaters, five churches, and twenty gambling saloons. A contemporary observer wrote that “gambling in Cheyenne, far from being merely an amusement or recreation, rises to the dignity of a legitimate occupation—the pursuit of nine-tenths of the population, both permanent and transient.”
“Black Hillers,” Marsh explained. “They outfit here before they go to Cheyenne and Fort Laramie, and from there travel northward to the Black Hills in search for gold.”
“The hopes of humanity for wealth and fame, or at least for creature comfort, can delude them so easily! For surely only a handful of the people here will find what they are seeking. And the rest will meet with disappointment, hardship, sickness, and perhaps death from starvation, Indians, or marauding robbers who prey on the hopeful, questing pioneers.”
“Take some friendly advice. In Cheyenne, don’t touch your guns ’less you mean to use ’em. Round here, people don’t look at your face, they look at your hands, and a great deal of drinking is done in these precincts at night.”
She had a way of smiling with her mouth closed, not revealing her teeth.
Mormon Tabernacle, a building, Johnson wrote, “of such breathtaking ugliness that few edifices anywhere in America can hope to surpass it.” This was a common view. Around the same time the journalist Charles Nordhoff called it “an admirably-arranged and very ugly building,” and concluded that “Salt Lake need not hold any mere pleasure traveler more than a day.”
Marsh … And indeed, the newspapers sometimes referred to him as the “Baron of Bones,” just as Carnegie was the Baron of Steel, and Rockefeller the Baron of Oil.
“…This is the nature of fanaticism, to attract and provoke extremes of behavior. And this is why fanatics are all the same, whatever specific form their fanaticism takes.” “Are you saying Mormons are fanatics?” asked Morton, the minister’s son. “I am saying their religion has made a state that does not halt injustice, but rather institutionalizes it. They feel superior to others who have different beliefs. They feel only they possess the right way.”
Located on the banks of the Missouri River, Fort Benton had been a trappers’ refuge in the early days of the Montana Territory, back when John Jacob Astor was lobbying in Congress to prevent any legislation to protect the buffalo, and thus interfere with his lucrative trade in hides.
“The whole of the Seventh Cavalry under General Custer was massacred at the Little Bighorn last week. More than three hundred army dead. And no survivors.”
Custer led the 7th Cavalry against Black Kettle. His instructions were clear: to kill as many Indians as possible. General Sherman himself had said: “The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next year for the more I see of these Indians the more I am convinced they will all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.”
On July 8, the Fort Benton cavalry set off to fight the Sioux, the column riding out while the band played “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
The first night they camped in a place called Clagett, on the banks of the Judith River. There was a trading post here, surrounded by a stockade, but it had been recently abandoned.
He began to understand why everyone in the West talked so familiarly of certain landmarks—Pompey’s Pillar, Twin Peaks, Yellow Cliffs. These few recognizable features were islands in the wide ocean of the prairie, and knowledge of their locations was essential for survival.
A herd of buffalo, stretching as far as the eye could see, dark shaggy shapes clumping on the yellow-green grass of the plains. The animals seemed peaceful, except for occasional snorting and bellowing. Cope estimated there were two million buffalo in the herd, perhaps more. “You are lucky to see it,” he said. “In another year or two, herds like these will be only a memory.”
In fact, the herd had stampeded past them, without interruption, for two hours.
The scale of the rock formations in the Judith badlands was enormous; great cliffs—Cope called them “exposures”—reaching hundreds of feet into the air, in places towering more than a thousand feet above them. With pastel bands of pink and black rock, the land had a stark and desolate beauty. But it was a harsh land: there was little water nearby, and it was mostly brackish, alkaline, poisonous. “Hard to believe this was a great inland lake, surrounded by swamps,” Cope said, staring at the soft sculpted rock.
“Only a crazy white man’d spend all summer here,” he laughed. “And only a crazy, rich white man would spend his vacation here!”
Aboriginal peoples had hunted on the Western plains of America for more than ten thousand years. They had seen the glaciers recede and the land become warm; they had witnessed (and perhaps accelerated) the disappearance of the great mastodons, the hippo, and the feared saber-toothed tiger.
1841, another physician and anatomist, Richard Owen, proposed the entire group be called Dinosauria, or “terrible lizards.” The notion became so widely accepted that in 1854, full-size reconstructions of dinosaurs were built in the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, and attained wide popularity with the public. (Owen, knighted by Queen Victoria for his accomplishments, later became a bitter opponent of Darwin and the doctrine of evolution.)
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