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The following is an article by the PMNS Curator

Article from the Backbenders Gazette of December, 2004
(Not yet submitted for competition with the South Central Federation of Mineral Societies;
or the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies)


POST PUBLICATION NOTE--see correction of snake ID at bottom of the page
:


Brazos River frontage of
Terry Stiles Ranch,
near Bryan, Brazos County, Texas
Boy Scouts at Terry Stiles Ranch
with plastic fashioned diaper to
prevent muddy pants damaging
vehicle seats of Scout Leaders
Paleontologist Neal Immega conversing
with Terry Stiles, Ranch Owner and
Administrator of the Texas A & M
Veterinary College
Class: Gastropoda; Family Conidae
Genus & species
Conus (Lithoconus) sauridens
Cone Shell from Stone City formation

KIDS ARE THE ROCKHOUND FUTURE

© 2004 Terrell William "Terry" Proctor, J.D.
Member Houston Gem & Mineral Society and
Curator Proctor Museum of Natural Science

In my last article, I asked "What is the greatest single asset which Rockhounds have?" The answer: "It is LANDOWNERS who are WILLING to let US HUNT on THEIR PROPERTY!!!"

The next question is "What is the future of our avocation as Rockhounds?". The answer is simple. KIDS!!! Pebble Puppies or whatever title you want to give them.

Why did you become a Rockhound? Who got you interested in Earth Science? Maybe it was a teacher. Maybe it was a family member, friend, fellow employee or someone at your church, club or social group. Maybe it was working on a Scout Merit Badge. Or, maybe it was another kid.

Whenever and whoever it was, aren't you glad someone took the time to get you interested?

Believe me, there are forces at work in government, who would like to severely limit or kill off our hobby of collecting fossils and minerals. How many kids of yesteryear are now geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, paleobotanists, microbotanists, science teachers and on and on BECAUSE someone got them interested in digging in the Earth and it was all right to do so. What would we do without a continued interest in Earth Sciences?

We need to have the right in this country for our adults and children to dig and collect from the Earth, without fear of being arrested, fined and their vehicles and other property confiscated.

Kids need to learn about the Earth and become interested in what treasures the Earth holds, by being involved. My own experience with Earth Science was in the 7th grade. Ms. Kennedy, Science teacher at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High School, had each of us learn the different types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic), the geological ages, the phyla of living things and many other wonderful things. It initialized a lifelong interest in Earth Science for me.

So let me tell you about a trip on October 23, 2004 of which I was the Field Trip Leader. Each year, the Houston Gem & Mineral Society-Paleo Section (HGMS) and the Proctor Museum of Natural Science (PMNS) jointly hold a field trip to dig for Brazos River Eocene fossils. Our annual trip is to the Stone City formation in Burleson County, Texas. Our dig location is on the bank of the Brazos River, just below what is called "Whiskey Bridge". The location is about half way between Bryan and Caldwell, Texas, on State Highway 21.

To get to the dig site, you go Southwest from Bryan, toward Caldwell, Texas on State Highway 21. Immediately after you cross "Whiskey Bridge", you do a 180 right turn over to a grassy (and muddy) area near the railroad tracks and park. Next you walk several hundred feet down a grassy incline until you arrive near the bottom, then you turn left onto a path to the dig site. This year, at this point, the rockhounds were faced with a dense growth of cane, poison ivy and other shrubbery virtually blocking the path.

Stone City has been a fossil dig site over many years for Earth Science students from Texas A & M University, University of Texas, public and private school groups, Scouts and many other groups and individuals. From a dig at Stone City, Rockhounds always come home with a good number of middle Eocene, Claiborne Group, invertebrate fossils (and occasionally some shark teeth).

The annual HGMS & PMNS Stone City trip is planned for the fall each year. Members who go on various digs call this the 'best trip of the year'. Why? Because, after the dig, rockhounds and friends retire to Terry Stiles Ranch. Terry Stiles is the Administrator of the Veterinarian College at Texas A & M University and his ranch is nearby, with thousands of feet of frontage on the Brazos River.

After our dig, Terry Stiles barbecues chickens for our late lunch. HGMS & PMNS members bring cold drinks, salads, desserts, chips and other trimmings for a pot luck lunch, after the dig. The trip is great and the quantity and quality of the 43 to 46 million years old fossils collected is awesome. The most impressive fossil shell to most of the rockhounds is the gastropod cone shells--most commonly the Conus (Lithoconus) sauridens.

Our grandson, Julien Vinluan (now age seven), has gone on the Stone City formation trips since he was three years old. Julien loves digging fossil shells, throwing rocks in the river, getting dirty and playing with Terry Stiles' dogs. This year, PMNS invited Boy Scout Troop 512 of Houston Texas' Holy Trinity United Methodist Church, to join us on the trip. Scoutmaster Dean Rogers and my son, Asst. Scoutmaster David Proctor and seven of the Troop 512 Scouts came on the dig this year. This was the first fossil dig for most of the Scouts. Starting home, the Scouts said that they are looking forward to going again next year.

This year's trip was shall we say "interesting" and unusual, for several reasons. First, we had a much larger number of young rockhounds with us. Second, it rained on us most of the way from Houston to Bryan, and it had rained most of the night at Bryan, Texas, according to our host, Terry Stiles. Third our trail had grown up in poison ivy and cane. Fourth a rattlesnake elected to be on the path.

The result of the rain was a very muddy condition at the Stone City dig site. Most rockhounds who make HGMS-Paleo Section trips know that they are usually "come rain or shine". This year's trip was definitely in the "come rain" category. When we got to the dig site, the rain had stopped. However, conditions weren't pretty for several reasons. On the trail down from the bottom of the incline to the dig site, poison ivy flourished; cane had grown up so it virtually blocked the usual path to the dig site; and the mud was everywhere--in some cases, deep.

One thing is common to about all young boys. They mix well with mud. Perhaps it would not have been so much fun for the Scouts and Julien if it hadn't been so muddy. They loved it and all of them took home not only fossils, but quite a bit of mud also--on shoes, pants and fairly well all over.

The boys all dug fossils for awhile. Then some waded through mud, skipped rocks on the surface of the river and did things which young boys always do when turned loose to have fun.

Because I had been on this dig a number of times before, I remembered this time to bring some Roundup weed killer. I sprayed weed killer on the poison ivy along the path. Hopefully that will reduce the amount of this nuisance next year. I also took rose clippers and cut the cane, which was blocking the path, to make for easier access by others, as they came and went from the dig site.

On one trek, up to my Yukon SUV, I saw one of the Scouts stopped on the path, looking at the grass just ahead of him. He barely got out the word "snake". So I hurried to where he stood frozen. There on the ground appeared to be a small rattlesnake about 12" to 15" long, but without rattles. I put my boot on the viper, and safely picked it up from behind the head. The tail was vibrating rapidly, as if to rattle, but there was no noise and no rattle. I forced the rattlesnake's mouth open, and sure enough there was a set of fangs. The shape of the head had already given away that it was a rattlesnake. In Southeast Texas, we call these rattlesnakes, "ground rattlers". In the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians, they are also called "pigmy rattlesnakes". These rattlesnakes grow to between 15" to 30" and eventually have very small rattle on the end of the tail. The scientific name for this Western Pigmy Rattlesnake is Sistrurus miliarius streckeri and they can live up to 15 years.

By invitation, I had appeared at the Troop 512 Scout meeting the Thursday before the trip, to show Stone City fossils shells and other artifacts from prior trips, to the Scouts. I offered to help identify the Eocene shells which they found on the trip. I expect at least some of the Scouts to take me up on my offer. The Boy Scouts have a Geology Merit Badge, which this trip will go to help some of these Scouts earn.

At the barbecue after the dig, the Scouts had a great time. They not only stuffed their faces and went out to visit Terry Stiles herd of cattle, but they had a brand new experience, electric cattle fencing.

Terry Stiles had installed an electric cattle wire around the perimeter of his huge lawn area. He said he sometimes grazed the cattle there, so he had installed the electric wire fence to keep the cattle from wandering off down the front lawn area, to the Brazos River below.

The Scouts learned how the electric wire would shock. After that they had a wild time experimenting and then laughing at these shocks. Each took a turn to find out that the wire gives a hard shock when touched. The Scouts then made human chains of various Scouts, holding hands, with one grabbing the wire. There would be a crackle as the electricity went through each set of hands, to the next Scout. All would yelp, then laugh hysterically, at this trick. There was no danger as the electricity does nothing but shock and cannot actually hurt an animal or human. However, the boys thought it was a great added attraction to this trip.

Shoes and socks had come off at the Brazos River and were totally coated with mud. The innovative Scouts therefore took plastic trash bags and made themselves substitute shoes, as there are sand burrs in the lawn. Several of the Scouts, who had gotten their pants muddy, now made themselves make-shift diapers out of the plastic bags, so as not to get vehicle seats dirty while riding. The Scouts all found each other hysterically funny, in what appeared to be white diapers.

Did the adults and kids have a great time? All would say yes. Did the kids learn anything new about fossils? I believe all would say yes. Will this have any effect on any of the Scouts' future interest in Earth Science and becoming Rockhounds? Only time will tell. However it was a fun experience which all will remember. I would bet that one or more of the Scouts may now have some interest in Earth Science to consider it as something he may want in his future.

The future of Rockhounding really is our KIDS!!!

NOTE: Collecting is always more enjoyable when you have a good identification manual for the location where you are digging.

Middle Eocene Claiborne Group Invertebrate Fossils is an extensive and detailed book by John and Barbara Emerson, who are long time HGMS members. This great identification book for use for fossils from the Stone City formation, and other Middle Eocene Claiborne Group locales, is available from John H. Emerson, 2227 Briarwest Blvd., Houston, TX 77077-5636 or through their website jab77077@hal-pc.org; OR through the HGMS-Paleo Section 10805 Brooklet, Houston, TX 77099 or (281) 530-0942 or its websitehttp://www.hgms.org; OR from PMNS, 630 Uvalde Road, Houston, TX 77015-3766 or (713) 453-8363 or its website www.proctormuseum.us.

Joshua Proctor, wading through mud
& having a wonderful time doing it
at Stone City formation.
Whiskey Bridge is in the back ground
over the Brazos River
Group of diggers for Stone City formation
fossils include (l. to r.)
Julien Vinluan (age 7), Terry Proctor (curator)
Peter Ragusa and wife Alicia Ragusa
long time HGMS & PMNS members
Christopher Proctor, ??????????
and other Troop 512 Boy Scouts,
played with an electric cattle fence wire
by joining hands to get shocked. Christopher
has jumped into the air in this picture.
Western Pigmy Rattlesnake (a/k/a ground
rattler) Sistrurus miliarius streckeri
This snake was on the path at the
Stone City formation. It is approx. 15"
long, has no rattle, but has fangs

Contact: Terrell William "Terry" Proctor, J.D. c/o T. W. Proctor & Associates
630 Uvalde Road, Houston, Texas 77015-3766
Phone: 713) 453-8338 FAX (713) 453-3232 eMail: auraman@swbell.net
Other Websites: https://terryco.us and http://www.terrylaw.us.

POST PUBLICATION NOTE:

The snake shown and called a Western Pigmy Rattlesnake aka ground rattler Sistrurus miliarius streckeri is actually a young Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma). Normally we would correct an article, but this is a published article and hence we cannot change the article as published, but we do make this correction and apology on the incorrect identification as shown in the article.