The determination of pivotal moments in the history of a discipline of science can depend on the perspective of the observer. This narrative notes the importance of antebellum institutions in fostering research, research communication, and the potential for fossil conservation. The Smithsonian Institution (U.S. National Museum = National Museum of Natural History) provided a federal umbrella for fossil collection and curation when one was needed. However, along with other institutions, the success record of conserved fossil continental mollusks prior to 1855 is abysmal. Fossils from the first (Frémont in 1843), second (Harris–Audubon in 1843), and third (Evans–Shumard in 1853) expeditions to collect specimens are all now missing. As a clue to the general state of confusion one, terrestrial snail named by Hall and Meek (1855) was misplaced for over a century, but was recently found. Continental molluscan fossils should have served as temporal and environmental landmarks in the construction of geologic maps produced in the 1850s by Hitchcock, Marcou, Rogers, and Hall and Lesley. However, except for the Hall and Lesley map, they did not. Fossil information was published and available, but many fossils were not accessible. The Smithsonian was the recipient of Hayden’s fossils and natural science specimens collected in 1854 and 1855. Hayden’s fossils and observations resulted in numerous publications, not the least of which were those by Meek and Hayden in 1856 and 1857. For reasons that remain unknown, a number of type specimens (and associated material) used to describe species in 1856 were replaced by Meek in his 1876a monograph, when Meek and Hayden upper Missouri and Yellowstone River species were finally illustrated. Thus, undeclared neotypes have been masquerading as holotypes or members of syntypic (cotypic) series. Meek and Hayden entered the field of western territorial geological studies with only the preconceptions of geology not particularly relevant to what they were about to see. Their claim to fame was not subtle—they published based on observations and specimens. In almost all ways that were important, they were starting from scratch.