In 1854, near Judith Landing, Ferdinand Hayden found the first remains of a dinosaur in North America.
It would be another 68 years before Barnum Brown, of the American Museum of Natural History, was pointed to what would be the first Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. According to a 1924 Billings Gazette story, Brown was dispatched to the Hell Creek area north of Jordan by William T. Hornady, director of the New York Zoo. Hornady was attracted to the area after local wolf hunter Max Sieber had gifted Hornady a triceratops horn he’d found.
“Max Sieber’s conical butte yielded the complete hind legs, pelvis and skull” of a T. rex, the Gazette reported.
The discoveries put Eastern Montana on the map for great fossils from the dinosaur era. In 1997 the most complete T. rex fossil every found was unearthed near Fort Peck Reservoir.
“It’s definitely one of the better spots in the world” for dinosaur fossils, said local dinosaur hunter Clayton Phipps.
Although Phipps said he’s not a big risk taker – “I’m just a cowpoke” – he does take a chance every time he commits resources and time to a dig. “I don’t gamble, except on dinosaurs,” he said. “It might be a bust.”
One time after finding bones on a hillside Phipps moved dirt with a bulldozer for five hours and never uncovered another fossil. Then, 50 feet up the hill, his son Luke found what turned out to be both jaws and much of the rib cage of a triceratops.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Phipps said and laughed. “At least Luke came through.”
Growing up in Eastern Montana, Phipps said he had no idea that he could find a “truckload” of dinosaur fragments laying around the badlands countryside. But once someone showed him what to look for, he got hooked and began doing research at museums and on the internet. Now he’s committed to the hunt.
“I plan on finding and saving as many dinosaurs as I can while I’m on this rock,” he said.
While working in the wide-open country he can’t help but think about what his prairie homeland looked like millions of years ago when an inland sea split North America and Montana’s climate was more like Florida’s is now.
“It does make you wonder what all happened,” he said.