Paul Fairchild’s Tall Tale of Acro
By Russell Ferrell
These comments are in response to Paul Fairchild’s article titled The Tall Tale of Acro in the November, 2015, issue of The Oklahoma Magazine. I was contacted by Joyce Hall, who was quite upset about the article. The article was riddled with errors and conceptual flaws that were probably caused by bias or faulty sources. Fairchild did not do his homework and this sloppy excuse for journalism is unacceptable and unprofessional. What follows is a summary of the many errors and misperceptions found throughout the article, which are profoundly atrocious. On behalf of Joyce Hall and the memory of Cephis Hall, I am trying to set the record straight.
Joyce and Cephis Hall had collaborated with me on a book project about their ordeal and harrowing experiences in connection with the discovery and excavation of the Acrocanthosaurus, the State Dinosaur of Oklahoma. I spent many, many hours interviewing Joyce and Cephis and other witnesses involved with the characters and events of the story; many have since become deceased. I also examined and read all the newspaper articles, archives, legal documents, and anything I could get my hands on in connection to the story. I spent almost four years researching and investigating the facts and several years writing, editing, and revising the manuscript, which resulted in two titles. The first publication, Acrocanthosaurs—The Bones of Contention, (now out of print) was superseded by the newer and better title, The Bone War of McCurtain County.
In my conversation with Joyce Hall, she had stated that she was concerned about the motives of Mr. Fairchild after he called to interview Cephis about his Acro story. She informed him that Cephis had passed away December 24, 2013. Fairchild proceeded to interview Mrs. Hall, but when she asked him if he would send her a copy of the article, he was evasive and non-committal. This raised a suspicion in her mind that he might not be a friendly interviewer or custodian of her husband’s story and memory. Her fears proved well-founded when she finally uncovered and read the article on the internet.
After having read the article myself, I share her sentiment. There was one particular part of the article that caused Joyce Hall to gasp in revulsion. I will explain the basis of Hall’s complaint as well as my own criticism of the article in the following passages.
Mr. Fairchild’s story is blatantly biased against Hall and riddled with errors. I cannot determine if Fairchild is himself biased, or has merely consulted biased or estranged sources. Other than Joyce Hall, he names only two sources in his article—Henry Moya of the Museum of the Red River and Ken Carpenter—neither of whom are first hand or knowledgeable sources concerning Hall and Love’s personal story.
Mr. Moya, the current museum director, did not arrive at the museum until well after the real storied heart of the Hall-Love-Acro kernel had fully germinated and sprouted to fruition. By that time, the events of the story were largely over. The previous museum director, Greg Perino, was the man with inside knowledge. Perino was a witness to the transaction between Hall-Love and the corporate official who approved Hall and Love’s excavation. Perino gave a signed affidavit and had agreed to testify in court.
Carpenter, a member of the elite scientific establishment, touts an academic bias and has a penchant for belittling Hall’s accomplishment. Carpenter knows little, if anything, about Hall’s personal story from a firsthand source, except maybe little snippets uncovered during small-talk with Hall during the Acro Fest ceremony.
Some establishment paleontologists do not look upon the Hall-Love story with favor, nor relish the idea of amateurs winning glory by making world-class discoveries or excavations. Cephis and Sid battled not just academics, but corporate officialdom and their politicians who wanted to seize their Acro treasure, but failed. Whether Carpenter or Fairchild wish to acknowledge it or not, the Hall-Love recovery of the Acrocanthosaurus represents one of the greatest paleontological discoveries (and excavations) of the twentieth century, indeed of all time. This is not because I say it; the facts speak for themselves.
Fairchild’s article is not just biased against Hall, but against the book that chronicles Hall’s accomplishment. The use of the descriptive term “tall tale” could have either innocuous or vicious connotations. Given the general negative slant of the overall story, I believe it was meant to have a pejorative connotation—inferring that the book, and possibly even the newspaper stories on the subject, is hyperbolic and ridden with deceit and fabrication. His use of the words anecdotes, rumors, and half-truths are highly loaded—implying that he has a superior source of information than what has been published, even exclusive access to the real truth. His article proves otherwise.
There have been some very good newspaper articles and reviews about the book published in such mainstream publications as: The Oklahoman, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the Raleigh Telegram, the Texarkana Gazette, and the Nashville Leader, to name only a few. Local newspapers in southeastern Oklahoma did a fine job with day-to-day coverage of the topic over the almost two decades that the story unfolded. Needless to say, I have never seen such biased, distorted, and sloppy coverage as that provided by Fairchild in the November issue of the Oklahoma Magazine. I will now spend the balance of my comments addressing specific factual errors or biases in Fairchild’s article.
v The most egregious example of distortion and error is Fairchild’s reporting on the Hall-Love recovery of the Acro from the Balcones Lab at the University of Texas in Austin, which Joyce Hall considers to be slanderous and libelous. He alleges that Hall and Love committed theft when they burglarized the lab to recover the Acro skeleton. This description is erroneous and the contention of theft is fictitious and ridiculous. The term repossession would be more accurate, although a little bit devious as many repos are. To call it burglary implies that Hall and Love clandestinely and illegally broke into the building while it was locked and no attendant present. Actually Hall and Love had a scheduled appointment to meet with the lab director.
Coming with the intent of recovering their skeleton, they knew the staff would not be receptive to returning it. Thus, they had concocted a devious but legal stratagem to catch the lab attendants off guard and surprise them.
Outfoxed, the stunned laboratory staff could do nothing but watch the two men load the skeleton in plain view, and even unlocked some cabinets for them. If the lab attendants had thought a burglary or theft was occurring, they had ample time to call the police while the two men were loading their truck.
The bones were not owned by the university. A written agreement between Hall-Love and the university spelled out the stipulations and obligations of both parties. The bones were merely on loan to the lab, which had failed to live up to the terms of the agreement.
v Fairchild goes on to claim that the theft set off a dragnet—spurring the Texas Rangers to get involved in a search for the stolen dinosaur. This is totally spurious as the Texas Rangers had no jurisdiction concerning this Oklahoma-originated property dispute. The university might have had its feathers ruffled, but had no right to decry theft—having possession is not necessarily the same as ownership. Although the corporate landowner later alleged theft of the Acro from its’ timberlands, this, of course, turned out to be a bogus claim as the litigation settlement later demonstrated. Hall and Love were never formally charged or arrested for any alleged crime in connection with their recovery of the Acro. Paleontologists at the Balcones Lab in Austin were in no position to allege theft at any time—but they were out for revenge.
v Hall and Love had previously secured permission to excavate from a corporate official in McCurtain County and were told that the company wasn’t interested in any paleontological products they exhumed. Of course the corporation didn’t take the two amateurs seriously, thinking they were incapable of finding—let alone excavating—anything of scientific significance.
v After the bones were recovered from UT and brought back to Oklahoma, they were stored and hidden in a remote shed in rural Arkansas that belonged to Cephis’s brother, not a distant relative as Fairchild avers.
v Fairchild next leads the reader to believe that Hall’s house was subsequently raided after Texas policemen extended the search for the fugitive bones into Oklahoma. The raid on Hall’s house actually occurred almost a decade later and the real motive for that raid is unclear. Mysteriously, only two days prior to that raid, Hall had supposedly returned home from South Dakota with an artificial cast, rather than the real skeleton. Mere coincidence, or was the raid motivated by revenge on the part of Hall’s enemies?
v Cephis’s son’s house was never raided as Fairchild states in his article.
v A sub-heading in the article states: “The Dinosaur No One Wanted”, a catchy phrase but inaccurate. Scientists in Texas and Oklahoma wanted desperately to get possession of the Acro specimen. Scientific lobbyists even crafted legislative strategies inside the Oklahoma State Legislature in an apparent attempt to force Hall and Love to turn over the Acro to the public interest. The corporate landowner and friendly politicians were pressing to recover the lost treasure on several fronts. This was one of the rarest and most valuable dinosaur finds on record; consequently, it was a coveted prize.
v The article alludes to some boys who had found a bone near the river and implies that their discovery elicited local interest and motivated Hall to go check out the site. The events and timelines Fairchild refers to in his article do not square with the facts or with Hall’s testimony. For instance, Hall did not break ground at the site for almost two years later and was unaware that bones had already been discovered there. A few bones were finally taken to the University of Oklahoma in Norman by Christi Silvey, the Beaver’s Bend State Park naturalist, but were not identified until much later when a paleontologist was finally brought on staff. One of the boys and his father spearheaded a primitive excavation of the site and recovered a few pieces; but soon afterwards they abandoned the dig and the bones were forgotten—until Hall finally arrived. Hall’s excavation site remained a secret.
v The article incorrectly describes Sid Love as an amateur anthropologist. Actually, a rock hound, naturalist, or amateur geologist would be more accurate.
v Fairchild states Hall and Love got $50,000 for the dinosaur. Actually, they sold the specimen to a commercial fossil dealer for $225,000, with a further stipulation that they be provided a mountable cast of the skeleton valued at $50,000. After paying the attorneys over $50,000, they ended up with about $87,500 each and eventually a defective cast.
v Hall did not take the skeleton to the Black Hills Institute. Instead, he sold it to a commercial paleontologist in Ardmore who subsequently transported it there.
v Hall’s defective cast was not stored in a barn, but in his clustered rock shop.
v The article says that the Museum of the Red River led the charge to have the Acro named State Dinosaur of Oklahoma. Actually it was local legislators, State Senator Jeff Rabon of Hugo, State Representative Paul Roan of Tishomingo, and State Representative Jerry Ellis of Valliant, all democrats, who pushed the legislation against partisan Republicans who opposed it. The strongest opposition came from the Tulsa area.
v Contrary to Mr. Fairchild’s report, the Acro was named the State Dinosaur in 2006 – not 2005.
v Fairchild states that the only displaying museum less than 200 miles away was the Museum of the Red River in Idabel. Actually, a cast of the Acro is also on display inside Graffham’s Hall at the Goddard Youth Camp Museum, 151 miles from Idabel, or an even shorter distance from Hall’s house in Hochatown. Cephis lived in the village of Hochatown, not Broken Bow, as Fairchild states in his article.
v The State Fossil of Oklahoma is not Aurophaganax maximus as named in the article, but Saurophaganax maximus.
v Fairchild claims the friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science didn’t do their research and that the Acro was never traced to North Carolina. Dr Dale Russell, the museum paleontologist, stated in a press release: “The ancient coastal plains where the Acro hunted are now submerged, making discovery of their bones nearly impossible. A delta containing sediments the same age as those where Acro was found lies buried under the waters of Pamlico and Albemarle Sound. It’s the right age, contains evidence of similar environments, and probably also acro bones, but they are hidden from us.”
There are a few other factual errors and conceptual flaws in the article, but I think I have mentioned enough. The article is so sloppy and devoid of accuracy it is doubtful that any violation of copyright protections could be raised. However, innovators like Fairchild need to always be cognizant of copyright protections, especially on a subject like this where the principal characters have all passed away and the only remaining source of their recorded testimony is found in a copyrighted book. Had Mr. Fairchild approached me in a sincere and friendly way, I would have been happy to assist him in getting an interesting and accurate story on the subject.
Russell Ferrell, January 10, 2016
Author of The Bone War of McCurtain County
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