Jul
04
2008

The Building That Used to Walk

Fossil Cabin Museum: Como Bluff is located just over the ridge seen in the background.
Fossil Cabin Museum: Como Bluff is located just over the ridge seen in the background.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Out on the High Plains of Wyoming about 50 miles northwest of Laramie you'll find one of the wackiest constructions in the world, a museum built entirely from fossilized dinosaur bones!

Known today as Fossil Cabin Museum, the structure sets smack dab on the border of Carbon and Albany counties near the nose-end of the Como Bluff anticline. It still operates as a museum, but access to it is spotty, depending on whether anyone’s around to let you in.

Fossil Cabin Museum wall: Fragments of 150 million year-old dinosaur bones make up the museum's exterior walls.
Fossil Cabin Museum wall: Fragments of 150 million year-old dinosaur bones make up the museum's exterior walls.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The oddity was built using 5,796 dinosaur bones fragments, more than 50 tons of them! At the time of construction traffic flowing past the site was heavy with motorists on their way east or west along Highway 30, the popular Lincoln Highway route.

Thomas Boylan, the guy who put together this strange museum, came to Wyoming from California, and established a homestead on the site in 1902. Boylan’s land was within walking distance of Como Bluff, an historic dinosaur graveyard from which 30 years before many of the first Jurassic-aged dinosaurs were dug up and introduced to the world. Boylan spent a lot of time hunting for dinosaur fossils and after 15 years had amassed quite a collection bone fragments. His dream was to construct an entire skeleton out of them.

“At first I planned to get enough of them together to mount a complete dinosaur skeleton, however erecting such a skeleton is a long and costly task for an individual to undertake so I abandoned the idea and proceeded to use them the best I could,” Boylan said.

Fossil Cabin postcard c. 1936
Fossil Cabin postcard c. 1936Courtesy Mark Ryan collection
Cost and time weren’t the only reasons Boylan abandoned his dream. After consulting with paleontologists at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum he also learned that although he certainly had a boatload of dinosaur bones, they were from a large variety of species and didn’t amount to an entire skeleton of any one creature. Whatever the case, he and his son Edward (who for a time would serve as the museum’s curator) spent late 1932 and early 1933 constructing the building out of his collection.

Fossil Cabin postcard c. 1936
Fossil Cabin postcard c. 1936Courtesy Mark Ryan collection
Nearby, they also built a residential home that - while not constructed out of dinosaur bones - was intentionally built to approximate the length of a Diplodocus in order to give visitors an idea of the size of one of the larger creatures extracted from the nearby dinosaur pits. Boylan also operated a service station alongside the roadside attraction, filling visitors’ cars with gasoline, as his museum filled their heads with science.

In 1938, Robert Ripley of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” fame mentioned the museum in his syndicated newspaper feature calling it "The Oldest Cabin in the World". But the museum has gone by several other names including Fossil Museum, Dinosaurium, Creation Museum, and Dinosaur House. Boylan often referred to it as “The Building That Used to Walk”.

Fossil Cabin Museum entry
Fossil Cabin Museum entryCourtesy Mark Ryan
The Boylans operated the roadside exhibit throughout the 30s and 40s, playing host to tourists and the occasional paleontologist revisiting the historic fossil fields. After Tom died in 1947, his wife Grayce continued the operation until the new interstate was built through Laramie in the late 1960s and tourist traffic past the museum all but disappeared. Nearby towns like Bosler, Rock River and Medicine Bow faded as well. In 1974, Mrs. Boylan sold all the property to Paul and Jody Fultz, who tried to keep the attraction going, but the Fossil Cabin’s glory days had passed.

I’ve visited the area a few times and only once was anyone around to let me inside the museum. It looked closed, but I walked up to the nearby residence and knocked on a door framed by two large sauropod femurs. A young kid appeared, and was kind enough to allow me inside the museum for a $2 admission fee. As I “toured” the museum, he explained in a western drawl how he and his dad were living on the property, watching over it for the owner who had moved to Medicine Bow. They worked mainly as hunting guides for animals a little more current than what made up the museum’s exterior walls. Fossil Cabin Museum information sign: Brontosaurus was first named for a specimen discovered at Como Bluff.
Fossil Cabin Museum information sign: Brontosaurus was first named for a specimen discovered at Como Bluff.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The displays inside had seen better days, and I regret not taking photographs. A couple dusty glass cases held some large dinosaur bones, minerals, and marine fossils found around Como. A few faded and out-of-date science posters hung in tatters on the otherwise bare walls. Generally, it was a shambles. Which is too bad, because it could be a very nice little museum, and probably was in its time.

[1-9-10 UPDATE. I located these two photos taken inside the museum: photo 1, photo 2 ].

If anyone’s interested, the property is currently for sale. I know if I won the lottery it’d be the first thing I’d buy. With a little paint and wallpaper, and a pullout bed or futon, it’d make a nifty summer cabin for visits to Wyoming. Or a pleasant addition to the Dinos and Fossil gallery here at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

I should mention that this building is not the first of its kind. Bone Cabin Quarry, a rich dinosaur fossil site located along the Little Medicine river about 10 miles north of Como Bluff, was named after a sheepherder’s cabin built in the late 1800s. The cabin’s foundation had been created from the abundant dinosaur bones found in the region.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

mdr's picture
mdr says:

Shephard's bone cabin remnants: Dinosaur bone fragments are all that remain of the cabin's original foundation. The building inspired the name for the nearby Bone Cabin Quarry.
Shephard's bone cabin remnants: Dinosaur bone fragments are all that remain of the cabin's original foundation. The building inspired the name for the nearby Bone Cabin Quarry.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Here's a photo I came across recently showing the remnants of the shephard's hut that inspired the name for the Bone Cabin Quarry in Wyoming.

posted on Tue, 07/29/2008 - 12:12pm
Victor porter's picture
Victor porter says:

Where did you find this photo?..I have been to the area and could not locate the cabins remains.

posted on Mon, 08/17/2015 - 12:25pm
Bev Robbins's picture
Bev Robbins says:

Your article is absolutely fascinating! We have been there, and you'd better hope we don't win the lottery first! Have you any idea if there is any land in the area where people are allowed to poke around? We're from Maine, and are coming out again this summer. We don't want to get arrested, but would like to see what we could find.

posted on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 5:19pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Thanks Bev. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Regarding fossil hunting in the area: most of the land in the vicinity is either public land or privately owned. The collecting of vertebrate fossils on public land is illegal in Wyoming (in general you can collect a reasonable amount of invertebrate fossils for personal use on BLM land but not in state or national parks), and collecting on private land without the owner's permission is at a minimum trespassing. You need to check local laws for yourself and determining public from private would take some research. You could try contacting Jody Fultz, the owner of the Fossil Cabin and acquire permission to collect on her property which I think runs up to the ridge-top behind the house and museum. I don't know that she owns any of the actual bluff side of the ridge where the dinosaur bone beds are exposed.

If you want to get a good view of the bluffs themselves Marshall Road is a gravel road located about 5 or 6 miles east of the Fossil Cabin on Hwy 287 (30). Take Marshall seven miles into where it crests a hill at the ridgeline. On your right will be a low rocky structure known as Indian Fort, and on your left is Como Bluffs. It’s along this rather non-descript geological feature that the historic dinosaur quarries were located. Some of the famous 19th century “Bone Wars” were played out here, and pioneer American paleontologists Edward D. Cope and Othniel C. Marsh both visited the site during that time.

posted on Wed, 03/18/2009 - 10:17am

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