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Cowboys and Indians

The following story is true. Only the names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent. All participants are probably guilty of a lot of crimes, but I forgive them. This is my story. I remember when I was young that the neighborhood kids would get together and play Cowboys and Indians. Nobody wanted to be the Indians because everyone knew they were the "bad guys". It was all about the "good" guys and the "bad" guys. There was no in-between. But now that I'm older I realize that there is a "between" guy. Someone who's in what we refer to as the "Gray" area. We realize now that the Indians got a raw deal and were poorly represented by the people writing the history books at the time. That gray area surrounds fossil collecting today and the line between right and wrong gets crossed far too often. I'm writing about fossil poaching. We're all guilty of the minor offenses. Picking up a piece of petrified wood for a souvenir. Climbing over a fence to follow a creek bed to a better site. Digging a little too far into the river bank. Knowing that the next time the river rises that the adjacent owners property will wash away. These things happen in the gray area. But far too often today there are people who will break the law outright to collect fossils. This problem has escalated out west. It's a black mark on all of us as amateur collectors. A few years back I was collecting out west under a federal permit. The area I was in was well known for Brontothere material. The fragmented remains of these rhino sized grazers were the most common fossil encountered. So when one of my crew found a few pieces of bone on a hillside I patiently reminded her that we were collecting rodent material this year. But when I glanced up the hill I noticed a large hole. I also saw what appeared to be dried plaster of paris around the edges. Closer examination revealed that an excavation had taken place within a few days. We had been briefed by the local federal paleontologist about theft sites we might encounter. A phone call summoned the paleontologist, and Forrest Rangers, to the site. And yes! The rangers carry very big guns! It was designated a crime scene and we figured our job was over. Except for a minor detail. I had noticed that there was more bone sticking out of the bottom of the hole. After dozens of pictures the paleontologist was able to check it out. I recognized it as the back of a brontothere mandible. A brontothere skull had probably been removed in a hurry, leaving the mandible behind. The dilemma was, there were no local staff that could help remove it. If it was reburied it would eventually erode out. Or even worse, the thieves would return for it. I still had a week left at the site. I made the decision to help excavate the material. I knew that it would benefit the Forrest Service as well as giving my crew some well needed experience in jacketing large fossils. What we encountered over the next two days were both mandibles. Also several associated vertebrates. The temperature was over a hundred degrees in the shade. But my crew never complained. We completed the task and went back to collecting the significantly smaller material we had come for. But the story isn't over yet. The day before we were to come back east we received a call from the federal paleontologist, wanting to know if we would like to sit in on a lecture to the local Forrest Service personnel. The topic was on fossils. How could we resist! What came as a shock was that after the lecture the regional Forrest Service Supervisor called us up front and presented each of us with a letter of appreciation.For helping with the theft site. He also presented a Forrest Service Medal to each of us. A . 999 percent pure silver type medal. It was a great way to thank us for taking time out to help. And the slogan on the medal? "CARING FOR THE LAND. AND SERVICE TO THE PEOPLE" No "gray" area there!
Location Undisclosed, Undisclosed

Date Added10/25/2006

Typical weather in early June. Chased back to the truck by heavy hail one day. 100 degrees two days later.
Both mandibles were uncovered. One on top of the other.
It was determined that each mandible would be removed individually.
The top mandible was jacketed and then twisted. Once it was broken loose it was "flipped" over exposing the bottom mandible. Additional wood braces were plastered into the jacket to add strength.
Once the top mandible was removed an additional vertebrate was exposed. I decided to jacket it in with the next mandible.
A trench was dug around the second mandible. Matrix must be carefully removed from under the item to about six inches. This is so that the plaster wraps can be placed under part of the block. This will prevent the fossil from falling out when the jacket is "flipped". The tighter the wraps are put on, the better odds that it won't fall apart. Remember to write information on the jacket with a permanent marker. Location, date, horizon, etc. There were loose bone scraps that I left in a plastic ba
It was over 100 degrees in the shade. If we could have found some. Even the brontothere asked for a cold coke.
Mickey, our volunteer from the United Kingdom, takes a well deserved break. Is he sleeping under those shades?
I wish I could give one of these to all of the dedicated people in the Forrest Service. They deserve it more than me!

I toed you so!
I toed you so!





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