The Bone War

Back in the days when dinosaur bones were a hot commodity, there were two paleontologists, Marsh and Cope, whose friendship turned to bitter rivalry. They strove to outdo each other both professionally and unprofessionally resorting to bribery, theft, and fossil destruction. Between the two of them, they unearthed a fantastic number of new dinosaur species, but at the cost of their reputations. I thought the Bone Wars would be fantastic material for a TV show or movie, so I threw together a preliminary screenplay. I may have sauced up the historical facts a little for, as far as I know, Cope and Marsh never tried to actually kill each other, but it’s more fun this way. Think of it as There Will Be Blood, but with dinosaur bones instead.


Nineteenth century style museum room with large dinosaur skeleton in the center. Marsh and Cope enter.

COPE: I don’t understand this fascination with Darwin’s simplistic creation method. How can mere natural selection produce the wonders of the prehistoric world?

MARSH: My dear fellow, what would you have me believe in instead? Lamarck’s giraffes who practice stretching their necks from generation to generation?

COPE (fumes quietly): It is a much more believable solution…

MARSH (Slaps Cope on back): Ah no matter. We will not finish this debate anytime soon. Where is this new skeleton of yours?

COPE: (Gestures towards the skeleton): This is it. An almost complete sea dwelling dinosaur, which I have named Elasmosaurus. It was found in the clay beds of western Kansas, by one Dr. Turner.

MARSH: Impressive Cope, very impressive. However there is one small problem?

COPE: What? What is it?

MARSH: You’ve placed the head on the tail I’m afraid.

COPE: (Horrified with embarrassment): You’re right! The head…it’s on the tail.

He grabs his hair and paces back and forth

COPE (CONT’D): But it’s too late to fix the problem! I’ve already sent the Scientific review a paper on the specimen!

MARSH: Well I’m afraid that they will rather enjoy the refutation of your work that I’ll send in!

Marsh guffaws and walks out of the room.

COPE: Marsh! Marsh! Come back here! You wouldn’t, would you?

There’s the sound of Marsh’s footsteps fading away, and then the sound of a door slamming.


Cope knocks off the contents of a nearby table in a fit of rage. He leans over the rail separating himself from the skeleton.


Cope is hiding behind a boulder, clutching a fossilized skull in one hand and a revolver in the other. Henchman one is to his left, looking over the boulder. A second henchman has his head blown out onto the sand in front of him.

MARSH: Come out Cope! You haven’t got a hope! The sheriff is on his way and we’ve got you boys surrounded!

How did it come to this? How did two men of science end up spilling each others blood out into the sands of the American west? And for what? For the glory of finding old bones, of having their names put by the names of bygone giants? Or to simply have the names of their former friends erased from those books forever? Let me tell you, it was as though forces geological, evolutionary in nature and scope had forged us, turned us from peaceful friend, into savage enemies.

Cope rises and begins to fire towards the sound of Marsh’s voice