National Park Service


Date of this Version



BONES OF AGATE An Administrative History of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska By Ron Cockrell National Park Service 1986


U.S. government work.


The history of the Agate Springs Fossil Quarries is a complicated, yet highly interesting story. It begins with an Agate, Nebraska, family named Cook who discovered the bone hills near their ranch in the late nineteenth century. The family unselfishly encouraged instututions from around the world to come to the Agate Springs Ranch and excavate fossils. It was also the Cooks truthful, trusting nature that endeared them to the Ogalala Sioux who were always welcome at the Cook ranch. As the significance of the fossil quarries became known, a central question arose: How could the Cook family best preserve and protect the scientific and historical wonders of Agate? This preservation ethic almost led to the incorporation of the quarries into the Nebraska State Park System, a movement which ceased with the onset of the Great Depression. The idea of an Agate monument did not die, but gained new impetus when Harold J. Cook served as Custodian of Scotts Bluff National Monument in the mid-1930s. This early contact with the National Park Service, and the friendships established with key Park Service personnel, helped lead to the 1965 authorization of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. The planned development of this area failed to materialize for reasons explained in the following pages. Problems over land acquisition are the principal culprits. Agate Fossil Beds' cause was heralded in the mid-1970s by the United States Senator who sponsored the park's enabling legislation--Roman Hruska of Nebraska--the ranking Republican of the Interior Appropriations Committee. Senator Hruska's initiative got the construction of permanent visitor facilities placed on the Service's priority schedule, only to fall victim later to changing national policies. Shifting priorities and lack of funds have been the story of the nondevelopment of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Park Service policies, particularly in regard to land acquisition, unified the community against area managers. The public and politicians viewed higher Park Service management in Omaha and Washington, D.C., as lacking commitment to the remote park and unwilling to fulfill the bright promises of the early 1960s. In fact, the park is commonly perceived in the Service as the stepchild of Scotts Bluff National Monument, the area which administers it. A few cry for deauthorization, disappointed because the Agate Springs Ranch headquarters is not a Service-owned interpretive facility. These voices, and those who belittle Agate Fossil Beds, quite simply are afflicted by the bias which perceives National Park Service units as solely historical and/or natural areas. Science, and certainly paleontology, is unappreciated and misunderstood.