Elmer Cook

In the early 1920s, Hagerman rancher Elmer Cook began his own private collection of fossils. Mr. Cook was an enthusiastic and somewhat efficient citizen scientist by the standards of his days. He collected a large cache of fossils and wrote letters for several years trying to interest the government in his find. In 1928 Harold Stearns of the US. Geological Survey was working on a groundwater project and came to see the fossils on Cook's front porch. Stearns asked to see the source of the fossils and wanted to collect fossils of his own. He sent almost 200 pounds of material to Dr. James Gidley at the Smithsonian's National Museum. Gidley identified the bones as fossilized horses and went to work arranging the first of four Smithsonian excavations over the next six years.

Elmer Cook, along with local Hagerman residents Fred Conklin and Frank Garnier, helped the Smithsonian team find the best fossils locations and assisted with many camp needs. Conklin did extensive work in constructing boxes for shipping discoveries back to Washington, DC. Garnier served as camp cook and general help. Cook assisted with discoveries and suggestions for the better areas to dig near the main camp. Thanks to Cook the Smithsonian discovered various horse fossils, the skull of an extinct species of antelope, the skulls and lower jaws of large beaver, and the bones of a puma like cat.

Details of this story can be found in the book Secrets of Magic Valley and Hagerman's Remarkable Horse by Kathryn Ann Baxter et al.

Last updated: August 23, 2019

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