National Park Service


Date of this Version



Gail Evans-Hatch, Centuries Along The Upper Niobrara Historic Resource Study: Affate Fossil Beds National Monument. Midwest Region, National Park Service, 2008. 368pp.


Published by Midwest Region, U.S. National Park Service.


As steward of many of the United States' most important cultural and natural resources, the National Park Service (NPS) is required to create background documents along with specific plans aimed at managing and protecting these resources for the enjoyment of present and future generations. An important aspect of managing cultural landscapes requires knowing the past of those landscapes. A historic resource study (HRS) project involves researching and presenting the history of a park. A HRS also attempts to identify and evaluate the importance of all cultural resources within that park. Researching and presenting the broader historical context of a park as well as its specific details is essentially important in making judgments about the significance of cultural resources in that park. Ideally, a HRS becomes a valuable reference document that aids park managers and interpreters better protect the resources and share their knowledge with the general public.

Created by an act of Congress in 1965, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument encompasses 3,057.87 acres in Nebraska's northwestern panhandle, about 50 miles south of the border with South Dakota and 15 miles east of the Wyoming border. The park is situated in Sioux County and is 25 miles south of Harrison, the county seat and small ranching community. The sizeable city of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, is roughly 50 miles south of the park. Laramie, Wyoming, is 150 miles to the southwest. The park occupies portions of Sections 3 through 10 and 12 in Township 28 North, Range 55 West of the 6th Principal Meridian.

Researching and writing the history of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in a historic resource study has been an exciting and challenging endeavor. Some of the history of this place that qualified it for park status in the 1960s goes back thousands of years to the Miocene Epoch. There are also multiple waves of sometimes little-known human interaction that remain puzzling to researchers. There is much about the history of this place that will never be known and can only be surmised and suggested. Organizing the widely varying historical themes pertinent to this park in a coherent, sensible, and sensitive way has been another challenge.

In more recent times, humans who have passed through or occupied this portion of the serpentine upper Niobrara River have pursued a variety of activities— subsistence hunting and gathering, evolving relations between the governments of two nations, Euro-American exploration of a little-known prairie region, dry-land ranching and farming, excavating fossil bones, mineral exploration, tourism, and much more—each with its own convoluted and intricate history. Presenting these multiple historical themes and the specific details of the Agate contribution to the story has required searching in numerous places for all kinds of information— written, cartographic, artistic, geographic, and oral. It is hoped that this historic resource study of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Centuries along the Upper Niobrara, provides a balanced, accurate, and useful history for NPS personnel that is also enjoyable reading for them and the general public.