Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
As proposed by the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Association, Agate, Nebraska
NPS Logo


This is a classic paleontological site well known for its wealth of Miocene fossil mammal bones. The great paleontologist, the late Henry Fairfield Osborn, has been quoted as calling it the most remarkable deposit of mammalian remains of Tertiary Age that have ever been found in any part of the world. The fossil remains are not only extremely abundant and comprise a wide variety of different species, but they are remarkably well preserved with abundant, complete skeletons, a notable characteristic. The area has been the scene of scientific research since 1891.

The Agate area is also significant because it was here that early pioneers of scientific research in the West centered many of their activities. The late Captain James H. Cook, in about 1878, was the first white man to discover fossil bones here. Since then scientists from the Carnegie Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, the Chicago Natural History Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Colorado Museum of Natural History, Amherst College, Universities of Nebraska, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Michigan, and Kansas and many others have worked at this site. Fossils taken from here are on exhibit throughout the world. Captain Cook, and after him his son Harold, made the Agate Springs Ranch a headquarters for paleontologists and acquired an excellent fossil collection.

". . . the most remarkable deposit of mammalian remains of Tertiary Age that have ever been found in any part of the world." — Henry Fairfield Osborn Courtesy University of Nebraska State Museum

In addition there are historic values associated with the site which, although not of national significance, are of much interest and appeal, such as the story of Captain Cook who was a noted western frontiersman. He was a friend of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians, who presented him with many valuable and historic artifacts at the Agate Springs Ranch. This ranch is a living link with the Old West.

Captain Cook in his book Fifty Years on the Old Frontier, written in the early 1920's, focused attention on the significance of the contributions early scientists of the West made to our national heritage.

The frontiersmen of the type who used the flintlock and percussion cap rifles, carrying bullets that ran from sixty to one hundred and twenty to the pound, and whose headgear and clothing were made almost entirely of the skin of animals, have practically all journeyed ahead with the innumerable caravan. The ox team and stage drivers, also the cowboys of yesterday, are following closely after them. Were not the early pioneers of scientific research in the West also worthy of suitable monuments erected in their honor somewhere in or about the center of their activities? If so, is not the erection of such monuments a thing worth our doing at this time? Have we no people of wealth and culture who would take pleasure in doing something of this sort—something which would not only be a credit to the donors, but which would also give pleasure and comfort to the generations to come as the centuries pass?

The fossil beds and the early scientific research associated with them are of primary importance and justify the classification of this site as nationally significant.

University and Carnegie Hills at the Upper Left Overlook the Scenic Valley of the Niobrara


The Agate site and its surroundings are highly suitable for National Monument purposes. Although the quarries have been worked periodically by scientists for many years, numerous representative remains could be found within the large untouched portions of the hills containing the fossils. It is estimated that at least 75 percent of the fossil-bearing portions of these hills are undisturbed. One slab quarried here with an area of 44 square feet, contained 4,300 separate bones and skulls. W. D. Matthew of the American Museum, in 1923, when most of the quarrying was completed, estimated there remained skeletons of approximately 16,000 Diceratherium, 500 Moropus, and 100 Dinohyus in Carnegie Hill.

The Stenomylus Quarry had given up more than 100 fossil skeletons of the little camel by 1929, and an undetermined number have since been removed as late as 1950. This site probably contains many more fossils. The "Devil's Corkscrews" are quite numerous in an area north of the Niobrara River near State Highway 29.

The area is highly suitable and adaptable for interpretation. The bones, when exposed, are easily seen and are of sufficient size to be readily recognizable as remains of sizeable animals. The sandstone encasing the bones is strong enough to support reliefed fossils for in-place exhibits, but is soft enough to make their reliefing comparatively easy.

Skillful interpretation and exhibition of excavated fossils could provide visitors with an understanding of some of the creatures which roamed the earth millions of years ago. It is not easy to recreate the feeling of such long-vanished times, since contemporary human life has no obvious connection with these events. The possibility of successfully achieving this is greater at this area, however, than at most fossil sites because of the abundance of material concentrated in a small area, the completeness of skeletal remains, and the resemblance of the present terrain to that of the period when Miocene mammals were living.

The scenic grass-covered hills which dip into the comparatively flat, open valley of the Niobrara River are relatively undisturbed by the works of man, except for livestock grazing.

The Agate site is readily accessible and can be reached by car within an easy hour's drive via State Highway 29 from U. S. Highway 20 at Harrison (23 miles to the north) or from U. S. Highway 26 at Mitchell (34 miles to the south). Frontier Airlines has flights to Scottsbluff, Alliance and Chadron, Nebraska, all within a two hour drive. The Burlington Railroad serves Alliance, Chadron and Scottsbluff and the Union Pacific serves Gering.


All of the area within the proposed boundary is privately owned and comprises portions of seven ownerships. Two of these include ranch headquarters; the remainder consist primarily of open rangeland. Cattle ranching and hay production are the primary uses of this region. Early in 1963, the possibility of a National Monument was discussed with the owners who all indicated interest in the proposal and a willingness to discuss negotiations with the National Park Service concerning their property.

Mrs. Margaret C. Cook, widow of the late Dr. Harold J. Cook, owner of the Agate Springs Ranch, has agreed to donate the famous collection of Indian artifacts, wearing apparel and western guns, and her late husband's excellent paleontological library to the National Park Service provided the establishment of the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is assured by January 1, 1967, the year of Nebraska's centennial.

Doctor Cook also had expressed a desire to donate sufficient land in the vicinity of the Agate Springs Ranch quarters for the Monument headquarters, and to donate quarrying rights at the principal Agate Springs Fossil Quarries (an area including Carnegie and University Hills). These rights include provisions for exploration and development of the quarries for scientific and educational purposes and for road access. The surface rights of this area belong to Mr. George Hoffman.

The National Monument proposed has met enthusiastic support in Nebraska and has received a great deal of publicity in the press and on television and radio.

Strategically located between Scotts Bluff National Monument and Fort Robinson State Park, the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument would encourage tourists to stay longer and see more of this most interesting and colorful part of our West noted for its scenic, historic and paleontological resources.

The establishment, development and management of such a National Monument would be economically helpful to nearby communities in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, and to a lesser degree to northeastern Colorado and southwestern South Dakota. Its most important values, however, would unquestionably be in the intangible benefits to the visitor who would receive a ready understanding of the meaning and significance of the life of the geologic past portrayed here, and of the contributions made to science as a result of early scientific exploration and research at this site. Intangibles such as these cannot reasonably be measured in terms of economics.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 12-Nov-2010