MEYER, Herbert W., National Park Service, P.O. Box 185, Florissant, CO 80816, Herb_Meyer@nps.gov|
The Florissant fossil beds of Colorado attracted the attention of prominent scientists beginning with the Hayden Survey during the 1870s. The site became world famous as paleontologists Leo Lesquereux, Samuel Scudder, and E.D. Cope described hundreds of new species of fossil plants, insects, spiders, and vertebrates. The extent of these contributions might not have been possible without the assistance of an early homesteader, Mrs. Charlotte Hill, who lived at the site and collected many of the first specimens. In 1880, a Colorado newspaper described that Mrs. Hill “has turned naturalist, and has displayed at her home an elegant array of geological specimens.” Some of the earliest paleontological expeditions to the site sought to make contact with Mrs. Hill, who provided them with hundreds of fossil specimens. For example, a large portion of the type specimens of fossil plants described by Lesquereux were collected by Mrs. Hill. Lesquereux described her in an 1883 monograph as “the proprietress of the land where are exposed the banks containing the richest fossiliferous shale,” and he named three new species in her honor including a fossil rose, Rosa hilliae. One of the most remarkable fossil butterflies ever found was the specimen of Prodryas persephone collected by Charlotte Hill and described by Samuel Scudder, and it remains a hallmark in the collection at Harvard University. Evidence in support of her contributions has come from the development of a new database of published fossil specimens, and from investigations of early newspaper reports, scientific publications, expedition journals, and museum records. As a young woman homesteader, Charlotte Hill exemplified an unusual passion for understanding and promoting the fossil resources on the land that was her home, and she played a significant role in unveiling Florissant’s place in world fame.
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