The Whiteside Museum of Natural History will open its doors for the first time this summer. I can’t think of another small town that is more deserving and long overdue for recognition of its cultural and scientific importance. Thanks to the endless vision and charitable generosity displayed by Judge Clyde Whiteside, the people of Seymour will soon receive an institute that not only celebrates the incredible fossils found nearby, but will praise the community as well. From Elvis to Seymouria, the latter being Seymour’s paleontological namesake, the town has witnessed more than 280 million years of cultural and natural history.
The focal point of much of the areas rich fossil history is the Craddock bone bed, a truly amazing place with its colorful biological record preserved magnificently in the red clays. Discovered around 1909 by Lawrence Baker of the University of Chicago, the Craddock Ranch has continued to relinquish its ancient secrets, depicting a prehistoric world full of monsters.
I walked into Dave Temple’s office one afternoon 8 years ago, shortly after being hired by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I had heard from coworkers the Dave was a renaissance man, knowledgeable of everything from bugs to bones, the latter of which struck my interest, as I had been digging fossils since a child. We became fast friends and soon began chatting about a rancher he had heard about whom had access to Permian fossils on his famous Craddock Ranch. “Want to dig Permian?” he asked me. I was thrilled. I hadn’t had yet experienced the Permian, but I was well aware of the monsters that thrived there. If you had told me that 8 years later I would be moving to a little town to run a museum next to the worlds greatest Permian bone bed, I would probably have chuckled politely and moved on. But here I am, building a museum from the ground up.
What do I look forward to the most? Sharing my knowledge with others. Educating the town of Seymour of the tremendous significance it represents to the scientific community is a dream come true. No other town in Texas can proudly say, “One of the best Permian bone beds in the world is right down the street.” 280 million years ago, fabulous finback Dimetrodons and Edaphosaurs called this area home. Seymour’s paleontological namesake, Seymouria, was first discovered in 1882 by a young Charles Sternberg, a legend in the world of Paleontology. The small reptile-like creature possessed both amphibian and reptile features, and is an immensely important character in the Permian lineup. As the Permian became arid and dry, Seymouria became adapted to surviving in both wet and dry environments.
In the past decade, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has maintained an important presence at the site, making astounding fossil discoveries every year, including multiple species new to Science. It’s a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to preserve these incredible natural resources native to Baylor County and share them with the current tenets of this ever-changing world. The enjoyment I receive out of sweeping away the red dust from sleeping giants hundreds of millions of years old mirrors the gratification I gather from sitting down for coffee and pancakes with strangers I now call friends and colleagues.