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The following is an article by the PMNS Curator

Article from the Backbenders Gazette of November, 1999
(Fourth Place winner in Adult Advanced Articles 2002 competition South Central Federation of Mineral Societies)


DETERMINATION = BIG REWARDS
(English subtitle - A great trip to "The Badlands" of Northwest Nebraska)

© 1999 Terrell William "Terry" Proctor, J.D.


I hadn't thought particularly about Nebraska as being a fossil digging site. However, I probably should have, because I had dug dinosaur bones a couple hundred miles West in Wyoming in 1984, with Paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker, PhD. I had dug various other fossils in Colorado and Utah to the Southwest. Therefore when I was talking with David Wolf, a former chairman of the Paleo Section of Houston Gem & Mineral Society (HGMS), he mentioned that he was going to be digging oreodonts and other fossils in Nebraska and dinosaurs in Montana again and invited me. I had purchased some dinosaur bones and other fossils from David, so I knew that he did know where to find things, and that what he dug would be legal.

I, in turn, with David's consent, invited Duanne Clark, a former client of mine (I'm an attorney), who had become a friend and whom I had persuaded to join HGMS many months ago. Duanne was interested, so we started planning in about April to make the trip to Nebraska and Montana in June. As it turned out, the Montana portion was omitted, because of how things evolved on the trip and it wound up being strictly a Nebraska trip. Also, as it turned out, the ranch where David had dug before, was now leased out and not available to us. Therefore, with the trip planned, all things purchased, and the trip virtually underway, we suddenly didn't have the dig site to dig at the Shalimar Ranch any longer. I called and talked with a lady named Becky. The Shalimar Ranch owners told me that Becky had leased out their ranch for the summer. After a number of tries, I finally got Becky on the phone and she told me that her backers had fallen through but someone else was leasing Shalimar Ranch instead. However, Becky said she would be there and to come by and see her when I got to Nebraska and she would give me something. More on this later.

Since my original expedition trailer had met its demise in Wyoming in 1996, the first thing I had to do was to obtain another trailer. I found a used, four wheel trailer with a UPS type roll up back door, fiberglass top to let light in and tie-down rings all around the walls. It was a honey for the purpose. I added a high shelf near the front with a metal strip full of holes for hooks, with a matching metal strip full of holes bolted to the top, so that I could attach bungie cords between the top strip and the front edge of the shelf. Then I put light things which would scarcely affect the center of gravity of the trailer on the shelf, to get them up out of the way, and attached bungie cords between the edge of the shelf and the strip on the ceiling to keep them from falling off the shelf in transit. I added a couple of the large heavy-duty aluminum tool boxes sold for pickup trucks, so that I could carry 500# of Plaster of Paris in one and digging tools etc. in the other. I purchased 125 yards of burlap to take also, along with camping equipment (this was taken on the trip, but since the Montana portion of the trip was later scrubbed, this was not used).

Duanne purchased an ATV and a trailer to haul it to Nebraska. When we got there, he hooked up the same trailer behind the ATV to go out to the dig site. Without his foresight in buying these, we would have had a far less successful trip. The combination of me bringing the logistics of equipment and Duanne bringing the transportation means to the sight, we eventually had a fantastic dig. But more about that later, first let me tell you about the determination it sometimes takes to complete a field trip successfully.

Because my law practice often refuses to allow me to leave when I plan to do so, because there remain work to be done on files which won't wait until I get back and clients suddenly have things which have to be done on an emergency basis, which I feel I can't just say no to. After 35 years of practice, I should have learned, but haven't, that some times you just have to put your own interests ahead of the demands of others.

David Wolf, his dad, George Wolf (also a former HGMS Paleo Section Chairman), David's brother, George Wolf, Jr., a friend of the Wolfs, and Duanne Clark were all able to leave on time, before I could get away. David Wolf was actually going to ride with me and fortunately he was unable to do so, in the end.

I finally pulled away from the office on at 1:14 AM on Wednesday, June 9. On the way out, there was a chug hole which caught my trailer jack and bent it backwards so that it would no longer hold up the trailer when I stopped to unload the trailer. What a great start.

After about 2 hours of driving and something after 3:00 A.M. my 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood with my four wheel trailer in tow, suddenly ceased running. I was approaching an exit at Buffalo, Texas, which I tried to coast off of. Unfortunately my car is big, the trailer was heavy and it wouldn't coast off the exit. I coasted off the 2 northbound lanes if I.H. 45 as much as I could, but there being virtually no shoulder or grassy area. The 18 wheelers were whizzing by, rocking my car and trailer like crazy.

A friend of mine had loaned me a cellular phone, thank goodness. I called her in Florida to ask her how to call 911, which she told me how to do. The operator gave me a number for a tow truck and I was towed back to Houston with my trailer left leaning in Buffalo, and a promise to put a new trailer jack on it while I was gone. At least I would accomplish one thing out of this second disaster. The tow and a new fuel pump (they are in the gas tank, of all places, in the 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood--not an easy or cheap place to replace one) set me back about $1,000.

Two days later, I once again started for Nebraska from Houston, this time at 9:25 PM. I safely arrived at Buffalo again, at 12:25 AM on Friday morning, picked up the trailer, paid for the trailer jack, which the mechanic was nice enough to meet me so I didn't have to wait until the next day, and was once again on my way.

After stopping to catch a small amount of sleep along the road, I arrived in Plainville, Kansas about 10:00 PM on June 11, with the rear end of my car making a disturbing noise. No there is not a lot in Plainville, Kansas, except a lot of nice people. I stopped at a drive-in gas and grocery, and they called a mechanic on this Friday night. He met me and I told him I feared that it might be my transmission going out or possibly the differential. He drove my car around a few blocks and agreed that my diagnosis that it might be my differential might be correct. He told me to bring it in Saturday morning to the shop where he worked and they would see if they could get me right on the road. There is only one motel in Plainville, the Evergreen Motel.

The next morning I took my car to Blaine's Tire & Alignment Service & Auto Parts, Inc. (when there is a limited market, you do several things--referred to hereinafter as Blaine's T&A ). The diagnosis was that it was the differential and they would order one Monday and have me on my way Tuesday. I left my car with them and walked back to the motel which was about 3/4 mile away and walked the rest of the day to eat and other errands, so I at least was getting in shape to carry things around when I got to Nebraska, like bags of plaster, buckets of water, big bones, etc.

Monday, I went to the shop and found out the bad news. After it took hours of checking around and finding first one place and then another that the differential cluster gear I needed, wasn't going to be available at Hays, Kansas, nearby, at Wichita, a good bit further etc. The part would have to come out of Chicago, and they would have me on the road, hopefully on Friday afternoon. I called Duanne and David Wolf both a number of times, but they were where their cell phones would not work (a disadvantage to not being around heavily populated areas is that there are few relay towers). I learned that David Wolf, his dad, George Wolf, Sr., his brother George Wolf, Jr. and another man, were leaving to head back to Houston on Wednesday.

At that point, it seemed the logical thing to do, to wait, get my car fixed, and head home, because no one but Duanne would be left and he wouldn't probably want to stay much longer after the others left. But, logic has no part to play in decisions of a rockhound, right!

Blaine, of Blaine's T&A, took me to a used car lot where he had an old rusted-out Chevrolet blazer I believe, which he would let me have for $2,500. He said the dealer also had some other vehicles, but this was the best buy. Blaine said he had over $2,500 in repairs to it, and the rust was from it having been driving around feed lots and the salt and chemicals from the feed lots. I wasn't too impressed, but it was cheap. However, JW of Antrim Motors, the used car dealer had a 1988 Dodge Ram Charger, with four wheel drive (RAM herein) for $4,995 which he promptly told me he would take $4,500 for. It looked much better than the Chevrolet and I felt if I was going to sink money into another vehicle, I would sink more in and get one which didn't have such bad appearance.

After adding a trailer hitch, electrical hook-up for the trailer lights and brakes, brake controls etc. I had another $500 at least, but at least I was on my way on Tuesday, June 15, having to stop and have the additional things for the RAM/trailer hookup as we went which Blaine's R&A could not do.

In Alliance, Nebraska, I stopped, met and visited with attorney Dean Forney, whose family owned thousands of acres in Nebraska, and where I was invited to dig. Most of their land is sand hills, and after some consideration, in talking with Duanne in Harrison, Nebraska, it looked better where he was. I thanked Dean, who also referred me to another attorney Kirk Meade, and his wife, who is also an attorney, in Scotts Bluff. They offered to meet me in Harrison and introduce me to a rancher there who might let us dig on his land. Kirk's family were the ones who owned the land where the present Agate Bed Fossil National Monument is now located and they have land which backs up to the Monument.

Finally at 10:15 AM, on Thursday June 17, 1999, I met Duanne to start digging in Harrison, Nebraska, almost a week later than anticipated. Duanne had scouted out ranchers in the area and found a ranch where he had already dug some. We drove to the G Ranch which was about a 20 to 25 minute drive from Harrison, Nebraska. We were less than 10 miles South of South Dakota and about the same distance East of Wyoming. We were literally in the Northwest corner of Nebraska.

Agate Fossil Bed National Monument was only a short distance South of Harrison, on the highway to Scotts Bluff. It has a very good visitor center and a wonderful display of the type of fossils from the area with explanation of different types of actions on fossils, such as predators, weathering etc.

Before the dig was over, I swung by the Shalimar Ranch and met Becky Hyne. I was going to give her a copy of the book "Discovering Fossils" by my friend, Paleontologist Frank A. Garcia, with whom I have dug in Florida, and Donald S. Miller which is illustrated by Jasper Burns. This is one of the best fossil books I have in my library. When I asked Becky Hyne if she had seen this book, she said "Oh yes, I'm familiar with it. I'm in it". Then I felt foolish, because I remembered reading about her and her husband having found the finest collection of Carcharocles megalodon {prehistoric great white shark} teeth in history, in the Lee Creek phosphate mine near Aurora, North Carolina. True to her word that if I came by she would give me something, Becky most generously gave me an oreodont skull and a small sized giant land tortoise. One of her party, Eric Thompsen also gave me six fossils of shells and teeth. I gave Becky one of my "Honey Bee" water color prints and each of them some of my pen & ink drawings. My gifts were small in comparison with what they had given me.

Finally we were ready to start digging. I followed Duanne out to the G Ranch, where we parked our vehicles. Duanne unloaded his ATV off the trailer and we put some tools and supplies on the ATV and headed out to the "Nebraska Badlands" site to dig. Duanne had a site where he had already started excavation, so I helped him for awhile, then headed off to find my own place to dig.

I walked for several hours, finding small pieces of bone on the surface, once in a while. I would do some digging, but find nothing under the piece of bone. Actually I had very little to dig with that first day. I had wandered over to some alluvial fans and found there quite a bit of bone, but it was pretty well broken up pieces. In the meantime, Duanne had hollered at me from a distance a couple of times, that he had found several places where there were large areas of bone. He had the advantage, as I was on foot and he could cover a lot more ground than I, on the ATV. We found what appeared to be some bison bones, but Duanne said he understood they were fairly recent in origin.

As the first day came to a close, Duanne felt that this location lacked the potential to return. I asked him to take me to the places where he had seen a lot of bone on the surface and he did. When we got there, I was appalled. There were pieces of bone all over the surface in an area of perhaps 30 feet square or more. It looked a lot like the type of bone I had been seeing, but there was so much more of it. Duanne and I debated for awhile about whether to return here the next day or go across the road to a location where he had already started digging out an oreodont skull. Duanne wanted to finish getting out the oreodont skull and I thought we should return here the next day and give this area a try first. Duanne decided to humor me, and agreed to come here first (after all, he was driving) as long as he could go get the oreodont skull after we checked this area out. We returned to our vehicles and visited with the G Ranch owner. We thanked him for allowing us to hunt, told him our day's work had been pretty much unproductive and we might or might not be back the next day, but that we had found one place which we wanted to check out.

The rancher, his wife, daughter and son were extremely nice, friendly folks. They treated us like family and even offered to let us stay in their bunkhouse, which was without water and other facilities, but near the house and the dig site. Duanne opted for continuing to stay in the motel room in town with a shower.

Let me make a note here. Having dug one summer with Dr. Robert Bakker (noted Paleontologist, exponent of hot blooded-dinosaur and regular public T.V. expert on dinosaurs to those uninitiated to Dr. Bakker). The second day out, I commenced what I believed to be the proper protocol on digging. I took a compass reading on a site or piece of bone on the surface, photographed it (even Dr. Bakker didn't do that), took measurements from the point where the compass set to each end of the bone, and the elevation below ground of all or any part which was below the surface. Then I took each piece of bone and lovingly wrapped it with aluminum foil, and if small, then wrapped it with duct tape, and attached a carefully prepared label with all of that information, and logged both the photograph and the item into two different logs (the photo log to tie in the picture number in chronological order and the item number to tie it in chronological order also, but since the photos were of other things and not ever item was photographed, the logs were not the same).

When we arrived the site, I saw again a ring of rectangular pieces of bone, which we had seen the day before. I photographed it and began to measure, then carefully lay out the bones in the same order on a large piece of aluminum foil, as they lay on the ground, so that the pieces would be in the same order. I wrapped them, tagged them and laid them to be carried out. That was the end of digging at the site I started, because virtually all of my attention from then on was at the dig site six feet away, where Duanne had started digging.

Duanne noticed a couple of small pieces of bone, sticking just above the surface. That was the start of seven days of digging in an area perhaps eight feet long by four feet wide by two feet deep. Out of that excavation came dozens of bones, including a lower jaw of a Titanothere, several camel jaws, additional Titanothere teeth, rib bones, leg bones, toe bones and on and on and on. For hours I could not dig, because on the side of the excavation where Duanne was digging, he was finding bones on top of bones on top of bones. Shortly after the dig started, we found a round spot near the surface of the ground, just on top of the Titanothere jaw. I set the compass on that spot and began to take my compass readings and measurements with a steel tape from that spot, photograph each unearthed bone, then assist in removing it, after it was excavated and wrapped with aluminum foil, wrap it in duct tape, or the larger bones we wrapped in Plaster of Paris and burlap.

I complained to Duanne that I wasn't getting to dig, but only measure, photograph, log in the photo and item logs, wrap and label. Duanne is on the Board of the Proctor Museum of Natural Science, of which I am the curator. When I complained to him to slow down, so I could get a chance to dig also, Duanne said "That is why you are the curator and I just dig". Suddenly being the curator took on a new meaning for me. However, I did get in some digging and found a cache of Titanothere teeth, an unknown tooth and jaw, which may be a llama/camel jaw and tooth. I also extracted some excellent bones, but we found many which were in such poor condition, that even pouring the Butvar glue and/or Elmer's glue to them, and handling them carefully, we still were unable to recover them in good enough condition that we hope they will be worth much to restore.

Duanne, being newer at digging than I am, and not having been drilled by Dr. Bakker and other on every item being important, occasionally would complain about a poor quality bone being in front of another which he wanted to get to. He would comment that he thought he would just get rid of a "superfluous bone" so he could get on to digging on another. I would tell him there were no superfluous bones, and I would actually get a little upset each time he said that. I'm sure he was just being funny, but I was trying to dig professionally all the way. Once in a while when I was working on a particularly fragile bone and it would break in spite of my efforts to keep it from doing so, I would say "darn" or "oh shoot, it broke" or such expressions.

Finally Duanne laughed and said to me "the difference between you and me, is that I say I'm getting rid of a superfluous bone when I want to get rid of one without digging it, whereas you just destroy it and then say "oh shit" (which isn't what I said, but I thought it was funny and I quit getting on his case about his comments on "superfluous bones").

If you aren't very familiar with Titanotheres, Oreodonts, and such, as I didn't before this trip, let me fill in a little background. The areas involved in the badlands are not only Northwestern Nebraska, but also include at least Eastern Wyoming and Southern South Dakota. The age of this area includes the Oligocene, Lower Miocene, Middle Miocene, Upper Miocene and Pliocene, ranging from about 36.6 to 1.6 MYBP. I believe from study that the G Ranch was located in the Chadron Formation of the Oligocene, which is known also the Titanotherium beds.

The Titanothere was called the "Thunder Horse" and is an extinct distant relative of the horse. One of the first persons to recognize these bones as relics of an ancient and strangely alien ecosystem was Joseph Leidy of Philadelphia in the 1840s. Titanotheres means "titanic beast". They are by far the largest of the extinct animals found in the badlands. They and other fossils were unearthed by the White River and its tributaries. They stood up to eight feet a the shoulder and weighed up to 2- tons. They were the largest mammals until the elephants arrived some 20 million years later. They ate soft, leafy vegetation and some had two horns on their nose, but side by side, instead of in-line like some rhinoceros do.

The oreodonts were about the size of a collie or sheep but were browsers, not grazers like sheep. They ate bushes, not grazing on grasses. Oreodonts are one of the most common mammals found in Northwestern Nebraska (although I didn't find one in the Chadron Formation, nor did I particularly expect to).

There are numerous other mammals, as well as tortoises, found in this Northwestern Nebraska, Southern South Dakota and Eastern Wyoming area. These include in the group known as Eutheria (there are no Metatheria, i.e. marsupial forms, in the White River badlands), which are divided into four categories: Insectivora (insect eaters); Carnivora (flesh eaters); Rodentia (gnawers) and Ungulata (hoofed mammals). The Ungulata is divided into two orders, the Perissodactyla (even-toed mammals) and the Artiodactyla (odd-toed mammals).

The insectivores included early moles, hedgehogs, shrews and other small animals, usually walking on the soles of their feet and with elongated snouts, sometimes as a proboscis and eating primarily insects.

The carnivores were, of course, flesh eaters, usually with simple stomachs, well developed brains and toes provided with long sharp claws and agile bodies, along with usually mouths with gripping, cutting and tearing teeth and fangs. These included:

Creodonta: a wolf-like animal about the size of a modern black bear.

Canidae: about 20 species existed and occupied a position intermediate between generalized carnivores, such as raccoons and the most specialized cats. However their brains were superior to all other carnivore families. Some undoubtedly roamed in packs like wolves, being smaller than a fox and others were the size of a grizzly bear.

Felidae: this is the cat family. There were two genera that were commonly known as saber-tooth cats or tigers. They were Hoplophoneus and Dinictis.

Mustelidae: this included creatures similar to today's badger, mink, marten, weasel, ermine, skunk, otter and ratel. They were abundant and although they go back to the Eocene, the oldest in the White River formations go only back to the Miocene.

The rodents found include a dry land burrowing beaver which dug a strange downward spiraling burrow, which at the bottom had a "nest chamber". These are called "devil's corkscrews" and were originally thought to have been made by plant life.

The number of toes of ungulates changed over time. There were, and are, two types of ungulates. The Perissodactyls have an odd-number of toes, with the axis of the foot being on the middle toe. These have gone from five to three and then to one toe, such as the horse, tapir and rhinoceros. The Artiodactyla have even numbers of toes, and include camel, llama, deer, giraffe, antelope, ox, sheep, goat and bison.

I understand that George Wolf found part of both a saber toothed cat and also rhinoceros. It is believed that the rhinoceros family originated in North America, and later spread to the old world, along with the horse and other animals which originated on this continent.

Finally we left, after a week of fantastic finds and a lot of "wish we could have gotten it out in better shape" comments. We gave some money to our G Ranch family, not that it was expected, but they were great and we appreciated them so much. I presented them with one of my "Honey Bee" watercolor prints for the new home they had built themselves and were still working on.

Just as the trip up had its downside, so did the trip back. With the 90+ temperatures, hills, and pulling a two axle trailer, Duanne and I had to stop every few miles to cool off my radiator, add water and make some repairs. Finally at Wichita, I decided to not try to keep up the pace and told Duanne to go on without me. He gave me his 10 gallon water can, which I kept full in the trailer and found that by slowing down and not trying to keep up with him (and he wasn't speeding), that I could go a good bit further without having to cool the radiator and add water. However, I drove for 2 days without air conditioning and I was very dehydrated. Then I had to catch a greyhound bus from Houston back to Hays Kansas to get my Cadillac which by now had the differential fixed for another $1,000+ in expenses.

Riding the bus today is a real experience. Many tattooed people, aggressive people who never heard the word manners, much less practice it, virtually no air conditioning again for the trip up, and almost every bus leaving behind schedule, resulting in the 26 hour trip becoming a 38 hour trip. Therefore I arrived in Hays at 2 on Saturday morning, instead of 2 on Friday afternoon. I had tried to switch to a train, rented car or some other way to get there, but nothing was available. Fortunately, the fine folks at Antrim Used Cars in Plainville, lived in Hays, and they picked up my Cadillac for me on Friday, one of them drove it home to Hays and left it for me where the bus came in to Hays. During the bus trip, they had to remove one man and at the stop before Hays, there were three car loads of police to keep a drunk from getting on the bus. I learned that at that same stop some weeks earlier a man had gotten on with a gun and shot and killed his wife or girlfriend on the bus, hence the police took anyone causing a problem seriously at that stop.

I can not tell you the joy of seeing a vehicle which has air conditioning that works, after almost four days of riding vehicles without air conditioning in 90+ temperatures.

The problems now seem very small and the trip a simply wonderful experience. Already Duanne and I are planning a return next year in May or June to see our friends at G Ranch and again dig for these 25 to 37 million year old fossils, in this beautiful, peaceful, relaxing land called "The Badlands".

For more very good information on the area and prehistoric animals to be found in "The Badlands", let me recommend the following sources, which I have used in study and preparation for this paper:

The White River Badlands by Cleophas C. O'Harra, Ph.D., LL.D., South Dakota School of Mines, Department of Geology, Bulletin No. 13, November, 1920, available from the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument for about $7.25 (perhaps by mail + s&h).

NEBRASKAland Magazine's Vol. 72, No. 1 January/February 1994 "The Cellars Of Time", Paleontology and Archaeology in Nebraska, published by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for about $12.95, also available at the Agate Fossil Bed National Monument.

The Bone Hunters by Url Lanham, Dover Publications, Inc. 1973 for about $9.95. Again available at the Agate Fossil Bed National Monument.

Discovering Fossils by Frank A. Garcia and Donald S. Miller with illustrations by Jasper Burns 1998, Stackpole Books. List price is $15.95, but check the gift shop where you can save a little.

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.