Historical Details

Dinosaur Fossils in Niobrara County

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 07/09/1986

Mummy dinosaur found in Niobrara County
By George F. Sternberg, Curator of museums, Fort Hays Kansas State college, Hays, Kansas

It was June, 1907, when, with my brothers, Charles and Levi, I landed at Lusk, Wyoming, tired and dirty were we after an overland trip of ten or twelve days coming from Western Kansas, where we had been for over two months collecting fossils of marine life from the chalk rock exposures of Gove county.

Our outfit consisted of two 9' tents and camping equipment, a covered wagon drawn by two horses, and a third horse hitched to a light spring buggy.

Our father, Charles H. Sternberg, for whom we were collecting fossils, had returned to our home at Lawrence, Kansas, to take care of the fossils we had secured there. My orders were to wire him for instructions and where to meet him when we reached Lusk. We were headed for the Clarence Sheldon ranch, over on Lance Creek, in search of dinosaur fossils in the region of Lance Creek, Old Woman, Dogie, Schneider Creeks and the south side of the Cheyenne River northwest of the Warren postoffice. I was the oldest of the three boys and the owner of the horses, wagon and camp equipment. Father had placed me in charge since I had had a lot of experience in collecting fossils. He was paying me $50 a month and expenses for my services and the rental of my equipment.

Well do I remember pulling my outfit to a halt and making camp in sight of the railroad station at Lusk, close to where the Foster Lumber yard now stands. I soon had a reply from my wire to father telling of our safe arrival. It read, "Purchase a two weeks' supply of groceries and head for the Clarence Sheldon ranch," where he would join us later.

Lusk was a small but thriving town with a railroad, but wasn't the county seat. That was before Converse County was divided to form Niobrara to the east. There were no oil wells in the Lance Creek country, most of the people doing business in town seemed to be ranchers, with a scattering of both sheepherders and cow hands. We were not in the country long till we began hearing of sheepherders being killed, but we did not actually come in contact with any feuding between the cattlemen and the sheep men. The region we were heading for was mostly grazing land.

I do not remember much about Lusk at that time, since I did not see it again till the end of our field season, when all of us returned to ship our last load of fossils before trekking back to our homes in Kansas. Father and brother Charles had made all the trips back and forth to town, while brother Levi and I remained in camp to prospect and collect.

We found Sheldon a most obliging rancher. He was running a couple of herds of sheep on the north side of Lance Creek up in the Dogie Creek country, and gave us permission to camp and work anywhere we cared to on his range.

We found the neighbors most obliging and were soon acquainted with the Jones family who ran the Warren postoffice, the Galbreaths who were homesteaders not far away, as well as others whose names do not come to me just now, all of whom were most helpful to us in our work.

Four summers here
We spent the summers of 1907-1908-1909 and 1910 in those dinosaur fossil bearing formations, working on Cow Creek, Dogie Creek, Schneider Creek and the breaks along the south side of the Cheyenne River. The first season we secured several incomplete skeletons of a duck-billed dinosaur, as well as a skull or two of a Triceratops, but it wasn't until the second year, 1908, that our best discoveries were made.

Mummy dinosaur
It was my good fortune to locate the now famous skeleton of a so-called mummy dinosaur, Trachedon annectens, which was found in the upper Cretaceous deposits known as the Laramie formation of Wyoming. It was considered, at that time, to be the finest dinosaur specimens known. The most important thing about this dinosaur specimen is that the skin impression has been preserved over the greater part of the skeleton, all of which was present except the tail. This specimen, Museum No. 5060, is mounted just as it lay in the sandstone rock from which it was removed. It is known as the "Mummy Dinosaur" and has been viewed by millions of people since it was placed on exhibit in the Dinosaur Hall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Later my brothers found several other outstanding specimens in the same general region, a very fine skull of a horned dinosaur, Triceratops, which is also mounted at the American Museum, and in the late fall of 1910, brother Charles located a second mummy dinosaur skeleton. The latter was sent by my father to Dr. Dreverman of the Seckenberg Museum at Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany. The specimen I found has been fully described and published on by Dr. H.F. Osborn. Numerous other books have devoted much space telling of its importance to science. In about 1909 brother Charles took a homestead on Old Woman Creek, not far from the Brown ranch, and a short distance west of the old Hogg place. There he built a log cabin, where he and his wife lived for several years, he collecting fossils in the summer and preparing them in the winter, using a part of his cabin for a workshop. Father located in the Seaman Hills the skeleton of a large Titanothere. This was in the fall of 1910 and Charles prepared it in his cabin that winter, and the following fall I went with father to Ottawa, Canada, where we mounted the skeleton in the Vicoria Memorial Museum. The dinosaurs are extinct reptiles but the Titanothere is an extinct mammal and lived during the Oligocene period of Tertiary time, much later than the dinosaur.

Wonderful town full of wonderful people
I did not see much of Wyoming from 1909 until about 1928, when I again returned to that State to collect mammal fossils.

I have spent many a night in Lusk and used it for my headquarters during the last 35 years while collecting fossil mammals in all directions from there, especially in the Seaman Hills and on the breaks of Indian Creek. I count many of the present day residents of Lusk and the surrounding county among my very best friends, and I am sorry that my age of over 70 years, finds me unable to carry on the work which I have enjoyed so much since I was 14, and I am now giving most of my attention to building up a museum at the Fort Hays Kansas State College, Hays, Kansas, where I have been Curator of Museums since 1927. I hope to be able to visit Lusk again in the near future and I know I will find many changes have taken place since I last visited there. It's a wonderful town full of wonderful people.

Images & Attachments

Said to be the world's oldest mummy, this dinosaur fossil was discovered in Niobrara County.

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