"What is it that urges a man to risk his life in these precipitous fossil beds? I can answer only for myself, but with me there were two motives, the desire to add to human knowledge, which has been a great motive all my life, and the hunting instinct, which is deeply planted in my heart.
Not the desire to destroy life, but to see it...
It is thus that I love creatures of other ages, and that I want to become acquainted with them in their natural environments.
They are never dead to me; my imagination breathes life into 'the valley of dry bones' ..."
Charles H. Sternberg, paleontologist, after an 1879 visit to eastern Oregon
In 1859, On the Origin of Species
was published, written by the British naturalist Charles Darwin.
The book suggested that new species of plants and animals evolved from old in an ever changing world.
This idea was soon argued in the halls of learning and on street corners worldwide, even in the new state of Oregon.
In 1862 gold was discovered along Canyon Creek, near present-day Canyon City.
Wartime cavalry were soon sent out to guard ore shipments and supplies.
Several of the soldiers brought back fossils from eastern Oregon to their base at The Dalles and showed them to the town's Congregational Minister, Thomas Condon. Condon
was an avid geologist and joined the army patrols to search for riches of another sort.
Oregon gold for the Union might decide the Civil War.
Oregon fossils for science might decide the evolution debate.
Near Mitchell and Dayville, Condon found a lost world of eroded gullies and pinnacles. Here was a wealth of fossils, a rich source of evidence of past life. Thanks to the efforts of Condon, scientists across the country soon sent several teams to Oregon in search of fossils.
In the 1900s, concern for the protection of the fossil beds grew. Beginning in the 1920s, Oregon set aside portions of the fossil beds as state parks.
In 1975, most of that land was turned over in the National Park Service. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was created.
In recent years, the search for fossils in the John Day Fossil Beds has been busier than ever before.
The fossil bed study area has spread out over one-fifth of Oregon.
More than 45,000 plant and animal fossils are now in the national monument's collection, representing over 2,100 species. Gold wasn't the only treasure discovered in eastern Oregon in the 1800s.
1865 visit - Thomas Condon, later the first Oregon State Geologist and professor at the University of Oregon
1871 visit - Othniel C. Marsh, Yale University
1879 visit - Charles Sternberg, for
This replica fossil skull is of an adult Merychippus.
It is a member of the prehistoric horse family tree.
The original fossil is in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Several of those horse fossils have been found in the John Day Fossil Beds.
A plant eater, Merychippus is a genus of horse that had three toes on each foot.
They were about as tall as a small pony.
Many species of Merychippus lived in North America about 15 million years ago.
They are considered a "grazing" horse.
The fossil record reveals that the earliest grasses in North America lived about 20 million years ago.
This genus of horse was among the first to have evolved cementum on their teeth.
Cementum helps strengthen the teeth for chewing tough, silica-enriched grasses.