Reprint from The Blue Mt. Eagle
Publisher Orin L. Patterson
Long Creek, Oregon Jan. 05, 1900
CAYUSES GO TO THE SOUTH FORK OF JOHN DAY TO DIE
A PUZZLE TO THE PEOPLE
[In That Locality Are Found Rare Remains
of Paleozoic Horses That Scientists Highly Prize.]
If you stampede a band of cayuses anywhere in Central Eastern Oregon they
will run, unerringly, in the direction of the South Fork of the John Day river.
A nomadic Oregon equine's stenary is never complete without at least one pilgrimage to
that point before death. If convenient, he goes there to die. The steep slopes of
the bald hills in that region are strewn with bones of thousands of this kind.
If he dies elsewhere his spirit visits the place anyway.
These things, for twenty years profound puzzles to the people of this section, have
been explained only after science has taken the matter under consideration and evolved
the truth. It was left to Prof. Thomas Condon, state geologist for Oregon, and one of the
most learned and ardent paleontologists in the West, to make the discovery. His
hypothesis, based upon paleontological finds, is at once plausible and weird, apparently
impossible yet true. Briefly Prof. Condon has demonstrated that the region immediately
contiguous to the South Fork of the John Day is horse heaven.
It has long been remarked by stockmen of the John Day valley that the South Fork held some weird
and wonderful attraction for horses. The fact that it was a region of scant grass, of steep hills
and of vast wastes of metamorphosed rocks, precluded the possibility of its attracting by virture
of any superiority as a grazing ground. In the light of the stockmen's years of experience the
matter is peculiarly inexplicable. It is the natural belief of anyone who has had much to do with
horses that the cayuse is a creature of appetite, whose rosiest airms and ambitions do not mount
higher than unlimited oats and no harness; that given free rein he gravitates inevitably toward the feed
box; and that allowed to roam the prairies free and untrammeled, he arrives ultimately, with a regularity
almost astonishing, at the best accessible feeding grounds. The stockman thoroughly understands, perhaps, the
materialistic side of a horse's nature; but obviously his experience has never led him upon the discovery
that there is a spiritual side as well.
The South Fork of the John Day river finds its source among the myriad canyons and gullies of Bald Butte,
in Grant County, 30 miles east by south of Canyon City, in Eastern Oregon. It is a mountainous country, neither
scenically lovely nor agriculturally possible. And yet it presents one of the most interesting geological
formations known to that absorbing science. Fore here are found paleozoic fossils in such abundance as to have
attracted to the region some of the most emminent scientists in America.
The first and most important excavations were made by Prof. Condon in 1884. His researches extended over
a period of four months, during which time he unearthed fossils dating from the earliest ages known to geological
science. His most important find, however, was the fossil remains of an extinct variety of 3-toed horse, calculated
to have existed such a number of years ago as to be beyond the counting.
Paleontological discoveries in various parts of the world have demonstrated acceptably that the horse
is a prehistoric animal who has undergone peculiar changes since his original inception. His
evolution is traceable through successive ages simply by his toes. Dating from his creation with three, he has been
tracked through the millions of years of existence as a species simply by his evolutionary discardance of those
members. In the Neolithic age, after un-numbered centuries of life with three, he is discovered with only two.
Today, reduced in length of hair, in strength of tooth, shorn of his shagginess and fed on oats, he has but one.
The evolution of man, as compared with the evolution of the horse presents this peculiar distinction;
that while man has perfected in his fingers and toes, and has even increased in the number of the latter during
the progress of the ages, the horse has traveled a different road, and while not degenerating (for the latter day horse
is nearly perfect) he has lost his toes. Whether it is a realization of this saddening fact which
impels the 20th century cayuse to visit the graves of his ancestors in the South Fork region can only remain a matter
of conjecture. That he does, however, is a most astounding fact.
Prof. Condon's fossil horse was an Eocene relic, deposited sometime during the dawn of the
existing order of things, in the earliest tertiary strata. The bones of his 2-toed successor of the Neolithic age
have also been found on the South Fork, relics of a later era, the middle or Miocene division of the
tertiary period. The relics of these small, shaggy, 2-toed equines are also frequently found in the Pliocene
period of the tertiary deposits, which although a few million years old, is just back of the Quarternary, or most
recent of periods. The South Fork region abounds also in fossils of the cretacious deposits, which are the oldest
known to geological science. Relics of more recent ages are in abundance as well. The occurrence of these fossils in the
South Fork country in such correct chronological sequence, and the fact that they embrace relics of all the well-defined
ages, marks the region as particularly interesting to paleontologists. It was this fact which attracted Prof. Marsh, of
Yale, one of the most eminent scientists in America, who brought to the region a corps of enthusiastic paleontologists,
three years ago, and who made many valuable finds, daily chronicled in scientific publications in the East.
Harvard and Princeton have also dispatched expeditions, the results of which have prominent places in the museums of
those universities. Prof. Condon's 3-toed horse is now in Yale. It is one of the most valued fossils ever found in the
West. A relic of bos elephantus columbianus, or Columbia elephant, found in the fossil deposits of Hangman's creek, Idaho
is another paleontological gem taken from the Northwest. Bos has been articulated and is in the Smithsonian Institute at
Washington. His height is estimated to have been 18 feet.
A scientific expedition from Harvard will visit the So. Fork region in the spring. Princeton
also contemplates another visit.
But that two horses, separated by millions of years, should have selected the So. Fork of the John Day as a dying
ground; and that their toeless successors should at this late age display such a sentimental yearing to go there and
shuffle off this mortal coil are matters marvelous and mysterious. It is small wonder, then, that the
suggestion that the So. Fork is horse heaven is accepted as explaining these profound phenomena.
L. Bush Livermore.
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument can only be called, "Oregon's Cenozoic Park!"
The John Day basin contains great numbers of well-preserved fossils of remarkable diversity, spanning
over 40 million years of "The Age of Mammals."
For further information on monument hours, facilities, activities, education programs,
or arranging a special program on geology or paleontology, contact:
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
HCR 82, Box 126
Kimberly, Oregon 97848
Voice/TDD (503) 987-2333 Fax 987-2336
The monument is located in Oregon's Blue Mountain region, north of the east-west
corridor U.S. Route 26, and between the north-south corridors of U.S. Routes 97 and 395.
The Sheep Rock Unit is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 26 and State Route 19,
six miles west of Dayville, Oregon.
The Painted Hills Unit is located off U.S. Route 26, nine miles northwest of Mitchell, Oregon.
The Clarno Unit is located 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon, along State Route 218.
..... The John Day Fossil Beds
..... Clarno Unit
..... Painted Hills Unit
..... Sheep Rock Unit
..... Links to other Archeology and Cultural Sites
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved
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