Arthur Lakes (1844–1917) was an English naturalist who discovered dinosaur bones near Morrison in 1877, setting off the “dinosaur bone rush” in Colorado and the American West. Additionally, his research on mineral deposits and extraction methods proved essential to the region’s mining industry. An insatiably curious scientist, as well as a talented illustrator and teacher, Lakes is considered one of the founding fathers of American geology.
Born in England in 1844, the son of an Episcopalian minister, Lakes grew up in the Channel Islands. In 1863 he enrolled in Queen’s College at Oxford to study theology and natural sciences. By May 1866, Lakes found his way to New Brunswick, Canada, probably on a merchant ship captained by his older brother, John Gould Lakes. Working his way west through Chicago, Lakes arrived in Colorado by January 1867. He helped found the Calvary Episcopal Church in Golden and Bishop George Randall soon hired him to teach writing and drawing at the local prep school, Jarvis Hall. By 1874, Lakes was teaching mineralogy at Jarvis Hall. Ever the writer, Lakes penned pieces for local newspapers describing the unspoiled natural wonders of Colorado’s mountains and plains.
In June 1874, Lakes was hiking on South Table Mountain, just east of Golden, with his students. One lad, Peter T. Dotson, found a huge serrated tooth. School of Mines geologist Edward L. Berthoud later packed it up and sent it to O. C. Marsh, a leading vertebrate paleontologist at Yale. They never heard anything more about it. As it turned out, the tooth found in Golden in 1874 was rediscovered by Dr. Kenneth Carpenter in the Yale Peabody Museum in 2000, who declared it to be the first tooth of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever found.
On March 20, 1877, Lakes and a collecting friend, Henry C. Beckwith, along with other local residents, were hunting for fossil leaves along the Dakota Hogback north of Morrison when they came upon a huge saurian bone. This was the start of the “dinosaur bone rush” to the American West. Lakes’s important finds in Morrison included the first Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus, and a small crocodile, Diplosaurus felix.
For the next two years, Lakes and his men collected for O. C. Marsh, both at Morrison and, after a winter at Yale working in Marsh’s museum, at Como, Wyoming, where they discovered an almost complete Stegosaurus. Lakes painted the only visual records of the great dinosaur digs in Morrison and Como. His illustrations depicted geology quite accurately and rendered individual diggers recognizable. His dinosaur sketches often reappeared in publications other than the American Journal of Science, much to the disdain of O. C. Marsh, who, because of his rivalry with Edward D. Cope, wanted all the information kept secret.
While in Como, in March 1880, Lakes received notification that he had been hired as a full-time professor of geology at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. Over the next fifteen years, Lakes built on the collections that he, Berthoud, and the students had started, filling drawers with local plant fossils and minerals from Colorado mines. His specimens are still slowly surfacing from the cabinets of the school’s world-renowned geology museum.
Reports of the school’s summer field excursions and explorations appeared in the annual reports of the School of Mines, complete with drawings and maps. Lakes’s sketches of the school’s specimens appeared in his first textbook, The Geology of Colorado Ore Deposits, in 1888. A year later, his Geology of Colorado Coal Deposits, including sketches and drawings of the coalfields, laid the literary foundation for Colorado’s coal industry for at least two decades. At the same time, Lakes was a founder of the American Geologist, a prestigious journal that later became Economic Geology and the Bulletin of the Society of Economic Geologists.
Geology and teaching were Lakes’s passions. He toured Colorado in the name of the school, drumming up students and mapping and analyzing everything he observed. In 1883 he turned to family life. According to the Colorado Transcript, the thirty-nine-year-old “staunch bachelor” married sixteen-year-old Edith Slater, one of his drawing students in Golden. They lived in a “neat cottage” on the corner of Fifteenth and Washington Streets in Golden. Edith bore three sons—Arthur, Harold W., and Walter. In 1892 Edith died after a lingering illness, leaving Lakes with three growing boys. Lakes took a new, better-paying position as editor of the Colliery Engineer in the journal’s new western office in Denver. At first, he commuted to work by train so the boys could grow up in familiar Golden; however, in 1896 the family moved to Denver, probably so the boys could attend school there. In 1898 the Lakes family suffered a second tragedy when a bullet from a pellet gun fired by young Arthur ricocheted and hit nine-year-old Walter in the eye. The boy was buried next to his mother in Fairmount Cemetery in south Denver.
By this time, Lakes had published the first of three editions of The Geology of Colorado and Western Ore Deposits. His sojourn with the International Correspondence Schools, which published the Colliery Engineer (later named Mines and Minerals), continued full time for a decade, then part time until 1912, when the Denver office closed. Lakes was prolific: he sometimes published a dozen or more illustrated articles a month for the Engineer. He also authored units in the correspondence school’s technical library. Scans of over a thousand of his works fill a CD-ROM that accompanies the book The Legacy of Arthur Lakes.
Illustrator and Teacher
Lakes’s illustrations and sketches were amazingly accurate. Taught by the artists for the United States Geological Survey, he developed a technique for transferring the vast panoramic scenes of the West onto small pieces of paper. His paintings—mostly watercolors—were dramatic in their vivid shades, particularly Colorado skyscapes. Many of his paintings, including a group of dinosaur paintings, hang in the Colorado School of Mines’ Arthur Lakes Library. Other illustrations of dinosaurs and paintings of dinosaur hunting reside at Yale’s Peabody Museum and in the archives of his descendants. Still others, done late in life, are in the museum at Nelson, British Columbia, where Lakes retired to live with his sons—both renowned mining engineers—in 1912.
A consummate teacher, Lakes was always giving talks or leading field trips. In the course of his life, he traveled from England to Europe, to America, across the American West, back east to New England, to Southern California, and finally to southern British Columbia. He continued to publish articles and paint until his unexpected death—likely from heart failure—on November 20, 1917, in Nelson.
Arthur Lakes’s works illustrate his vast understanding of the forces that shape the Earth and the methods humans use to extract its riches. Geologists in Colorado and across the country are indebted to Lakes for the broad, solid foundation he built for today’s geological professions. Those who study the same ground that Lakes walked on, wrote about, and illustrated stand on the shoulders of a man, small in stature but big in science, writing, and artistic talent.