John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
NPS Arrowhead logo


Historians, like other subject matter specialists, are trained to bring context and evaluation to the forefront of their work. It is therefore tempting to use an administrative history project as a way to expound on broad themes, such as agency policy in paleontological areas or even changing perceptions of what constitutes a national park area. The fairly narrow scope of administrative history, which generally confines narratives to summarizing the specifics of certain issues, often precludes treatment of more conceptual topics. Nevertheless, National Park Service-sponsored administrative history has, at times, provided guideposts for future scholarship by citing literature of a general nature. Examples such as Hal Rothman's bibliographic essay in his history of Bandelier National Monument (Santa Fe: USDI-NPS, SWR, Cultural Resources Center, 1988) or David Louter's list of references concerning Craters of the Moon National Monument (Seattle: USDI-NPS, PNR, Cultural Resources Division, 1992) come to mind as having covered that ground already, so the reader is referred to those works for more general literature about national monuments.

Well over half of the source material that supports this administrative history originates from the monument's central files and its library. This helped to minimize the time and expense associated with locating documents housed in one or several branches of the National Archives. Part of the reason why on site records are so complete is the fact that the monument has been only recently established. Much of the chapter devoted to the park campaign, however, was dependent on source material compiled at the NPS group office in Klamath Falls. When that office closed in 1982, these documents were sent unsolicited to park headquarters in John Day. Ben Ladd retained them there until this project began a decade later, thereby eliminating the need for what could have been a frustrating and expensive search through less specific files housed in one or more branches of the National Archives.

Where the group office files were virtually complete for the period from 1965 to 1975, state park records covered a larger span of time. While sometimes fragmentary, the files in Salem could be combined with source material originating from John C. Merriam or Robert W. Sawyer. Merriam's voluminous correspondence deserves further examination, not only with respect to his role at the John Day Fossil Beds, but also because he played an important role in the history of certain national and state parks.

A series of relatively informal oral history interviews contributed to the writing of this administrative history. Larry Merriam assisted with the search for material concerning his grandfather, while also providing vital clues to locating a transcript of the Senate subcommittee authorization hearing which represented the monument proposal's final hurdle. Three of the principals during the park campaign--Dave Talbot, Jack Steiwer, and Gordon Glass--consented to extended interviews which gave the chapter on that subject additional bulk. Ernie Borgman and Ben Ladd likewise added much to the chapter on the formative years of NPS management in the John Day Basin. The final three chapters benefited from conversations with Ted Fremd, Jim Morris, Kim Sikoryak, and Ken Till because they supplied needed context for areas where source material was sometimes difficult to interpret.

Readers should note that no attempt to list scientific literature has been made, since almost 6,000 manuscripts are germane to the organisms, events, and processes preserved in the John Day Basin. What follows is a sampling of material pertinent to the area's human history which relates in some way to establishment or administration of the monument.

Published sources

Buwalda, John P. "Earth History of a Portion of the Pacific Northwest," pp. 695-710 in Cooperation in Research. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1938.

Chaney, Ralph W. "John Campbell Merriam (1869-1945)," pp. 381-387, in Yearbook of the American Philosophical Society, 1945. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1946.

Condon, Thomas. "The Rocks of the John Day Valley," Overland Monthly 6:5 (May 1871), pp. 393-398.

Cox, Thomas R. "Conservation by Subterfuge: Robert W. Sawyer and the Birth of the Oregon State Parks," pp. 47-56 in The Park Builders: A History of State Parks in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Fremd, Ted. "'I've Seen the Miocene' in Central Oregon," Park Science 12:3 (Summer 1992), pp. 12-13.

Fussner, F. Smith (ed.). Glimpses of Wheeler County's past Portland: Binford and Mort, 1975.

Jackson, Royal G. "Oral History Adds Cultural Texture at John Day," Park Science 3:3 (Spring 1983), pp. 10-l1.

Jones, Connie H. "Forty Million Years of History at Hancock," OMSI Magazine 3 (May 1988), pp. 4-5.

Merriam, John C. "The John Day Fossil Beds," Harper's Monthly Magazine 102:610 (March 1901), pp. 581-590.

-----, "A Contribution to the Geology of the John Day Basin," University of California Bulletin of the Department of Geology 2:9 (April 1901), pp. 269-314.

Merriam, Lawrence C. (Jr.) Oregon's Highway Park System, 1921-1989: An Administrative History. Salem: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, 1992.

Miller, Loye H. "The John Day Basin of Oregon," pp. 104-129, in Lifelong Boyhood: Recollections of a Naturalist Afield. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950.

Oberson, Viola L. "Alonzo Wesley "Lon" Hancock (1884-1961): a profile," Oregon Geology 41:12 (December 1979), pp. 187-191.

Orr, Elizabeth L. and William N. "A History of Geologic Study in Oregon," pp. 9-20, in Geology of Oregon. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt, 1992.

Ray, Verne F. "Tribal Distribution in Eastern Oregon and Adjacent Regions," American Anthropologist 40:3 (July-September 1938), pp. 384-395.

Sternberg, Charles H. "Expedition to the John Day River in 1878," pp. 170-204 in The Life of a Fossil Hunter. San Diego: Jensen Printing, 1931.

Stock, Chester. "Oregon's Wonderland of the Past--The John Day," Scientific Monthly 63 (July 1946), pp. 59-65.

Toepel, Kathryn A., et al. Cultural Resource Overview of BLM Lands in North- Central Oregon. Eugene: University of Oregon, Department of Anthropology, 1979.

Willlingham, William F. "Family and Community in the Eastern Oregon Frontier," Oregon Historical Quarterly 95:2 (Summer 1994), pp. 176-204.

Zucker, Jeff, et al. Oregon Indians: Culture, History, and Current Affairs--An Atlas and Introduction. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1987.

Unpublished sources

Davis, Wilbur A. Survey of Historic and Prehistoric Resources in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Report CX-9000-6-0058, May 1977.

Fremd, Theodore, et al. John Day Basin Paleontology Field Trip Guide and Road Log for 1994 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting, Seattle. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, 94-1.

Langille, W.A. John Day Fossil Beds - A State Park of the Yesterdays. Oregon State Parks mimeographed handout dated May 12, 1948.

-----, The Painted Hills - A Unique State Park of Wheeler County. Oregon State Parks mimeographed handout dated November 4, 1948.

Luxenberg, Gretchen A. Historic American Buildings Survey documentation, James Cant Ranch, HABS No. OR-142, June 1988.

Rensberger, John M. Paleontologic Information, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Report dated February 1976.

Shotwell, J. Arnold. A Report to the National Park Service on the Significance, History of Investigation, and Salient Paleontological Features of the Upper John Day Basin, Wheeler and Grant Counties, Oregon. Report dated July 20, 1967.

Sikoryak, Jane A. Review of Paleontological Specimens and Related Records from the Vicinity of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. A Report Submitted to the Pacific Northwest Region, National Park Service, April 9, 1988.

Steggell, Norm, et al. Blue Basin Cultural Resource Inventory in the Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds, Grant County, Oregon. Report identified as MNF/640- 81002, October 1981.

Toothman, Stephanie S. James Cant Ranch Historic District. Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, June 1984.

Manuscript materials

Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. John C. Merriam Papers, collection no. C-A 284, C-B 970, and MSS 71/100.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Archives portion of the museum collection. Other material housed in central files or the park library.

Knight Library, University of Oregon, Eugene. Robert W. Sawyer Papers, collection no. Ax 100.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. John C. Merriam Papers.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Salem. Archive files and drawings related to the three former state parks.

System Support Office, Columbia-Cascades Cluster [formerly Pacific Northwest Regional Office], National Park Service, Seattle. Deed acquisition files, Lands Division.


John Day Blue Mountain Eagle
Klamath Falls Herald and News
Medford Mail Tribune
Portland Oregonian
Portland Oregon Journal


T.J. "Jeff" Adams, 9/10/92, telephone
Ernest Borgman, 7/28/92, Klamath Falls
Daron Dierks, 7/21/92, Dayville
Camille Evans, 7/23/92, Cant Ranch
Ted Fremd, 7/21/92, 3/3/93, and 7/24/95, Cant Ranch
Gordon Glass, 7/22/92 and 7/24/92, John Day
James Hammett, 7/24/95, Cant Ranch
Ben Ladd, 5/19/92, John Day, 2/2/95 and 2/28/95, Crater Lake
Lawrence C. Merriam, Jr., 11/26/88 and 2/7/94, Corvallis
Jim Morris, 5/21/92 and 3/3/93, Cant Ranch
John Rutter, 5/13/93, telephone
Jane Sikoryak, 1/27/93, telephone
Kim Sikoryak, 1/26/93, telephone
Don Spalding, 6/3/92, telephone
J.P. "Jack" Steiwer, 3/1/93, Fossil
David G. Talbot, 4/2/93, telephone
Ken Till, 7/23/92 and 7/24/95, Cant Ranch

Table Of Contents | Introduction | Chapter 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |

Home page
Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002