Tag Archives: Killick Aike

Elmer’s first fossil, #1001

I recently spent a week at Chicago’s Field Museum looking through historic photographs and fossils from the Captain Marshall Field Paleontological Expedition to Argentina and Bolivia, 1922-1927. Together with Sergio Vizcaino, an Argentine paleontologist who specializes in fossil mammals, and Bill Simpson, Collection Manager, I looked at every fossil collected by Elmer S. Riggs & his colleagues in the Santa Cruz beds of southern Patagonia. We found many gems, including field number 1001, the first fossil collected by Riggs and recorded in his field notes.

Elmer's first fossil, a distal left tarsometatarsus of Psilopterus australis collected at Killik Aike. Photo courtesy of Bill Simpson.
Elmer’s first fossil, a distal left tarsometatarsus of Psilopterus australis collected at Killik Aike. Photo courtesy of Bill Simpson.

Sergio also took a picture of me with Elmer’s first fossil.

A bird in the hand....
A bird in the hand….
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Attention: buckboard aficionados!

A North American buckboard in action
A North American buckboard in action

Several readers asked about the photograph of the ruined North American buckboard wagon that appeared in my previous post. Whose wagon was it? How did it get there?

The word "National" appears on this wagon's hub.
The word “National” appears on this wagon’s hub.

My attention was directed to this ruined wagon when I visited Killik Aike last February while doing fieldwork in the Santa Cruz beds with a very accommodating group of Argentine paleontologists and geologists, including Sergio Vizcaino, Susana Bargo and others. My trip to Argentina was funded in part by a generous Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society.

A view of the ruined wagon.
Another view of the ruined wagon.

My Argentine colleagues were there to collect Santa Cruz fossils. My purpose was to revisit historic fossil localities of the Captain Marshall Field Paleontological Expedition. One morning Sergio decided to visit Killik Aike to search for fossils there, and I jumped at the chance to see this historic place and talk to the present owners about old family records. While the rest of the party was fossil-hunting, I visited the estancia and had a long interview with John Locke Blake, sheep breeder, author and master of Killik Aike. Later we were all treated to a wonderful asado of wood-fired lamb and an abundance of carrots and potatoes plucked from the estancia’s famous garden.

Hatcher's wagon in Patagonia. Thanks to Lowell Dingus for the scan.
Hatcher’s wagon in Patagonia. Thanks to Lowell Dingus for the scan.

Locke told me that when he bought the place from the Feltons in 1980, he found two North American wagons abandoned near the shore. When he tried to move them to higher ground, they fell to pieces. He believes they were owned and used by John Bell Hatcher and the Princeton Patagonia Expedition (1896-1899). Hatcher did, in fact, bring his own outfit from the US when he came here to collect fossils, and he left this outfit in the care of Barnum Brown, of the American Museum of Natural History. Brown then abandoned the wagon in Patagonia when he returned home in 1900. Brown had collected fossils at Felton’s estancia, also, and at least one report claims that Hatcher sold his wagon to Felton. Could one of the North American buckboards found at Killik Aike be Hatcher’s wagon? Very likely.

A wagon wheel partly buried.
A wagon wheel partly buried.

The other wagon might have belonged to Handel T. Martin, another North American who collected in the Santa Cruz beds in 1904. Martin also brought his own outfit from North America. It is not known what Martin did with his wagon when he abandoned the field and returned home.

Driver's seat?
Driver’s seat?

I took many pictures of these two wagons. I paid particular attention to marks or manufacturer names that I thought would be helpful in untangling these remains. If there are any buckboard experts out there who can identify the make and model of the wagon depicted here, and tell me something about its history, I’m all ears. Help me put the cart before the horse.

Detail of the ruined wagon.
Detail of the ruined wagon.

Establishing camp at Killik Aike

This formal portait shows Carlos Felton (right) as a young man in the early 20th century.
This formal portait shows Carlos Felton (right) as a young man in the early 20th century.

After he landed at Rio Gallegos on New Year’s Eve, 1922, Elmer S. Riggs was eager to get to work collecting fossils. In his journal, he recorded the preparations he and his party made, and the help they received from local residents, before finally getting into the field:

The first days at Rio Gallogos [were] marked by the cordiality of the English-speaking residents and their eagerness to lend a helping hand. Scarcely had our party become settled at the Hotel Argentina when Mr. Smith of the Frigorifico (Compania Swift) came in to call and to advise us of police regulations and requirements. Next day we had lunch with him and acting Supt. Whitney who had in the meantime called at the hotel. In the afternoon (Jan. 1) we went with Mr. W. for a drive on the Punta Arenas road to [see] volcanoes…. On this ride we saw our first Guanaco and first rhea. …Two days later Mr. Whitney provided us with an interpreter … to present us to the Governor…. So well was the matter handled that our party had a most cordial reception[.] [We] spent a pleasant half hour and stayed to tea.

Provided with sedulas and a special letter from the Governor, Mr. Whitney again came forward with his car and driver to take us to Killick Aike, the Felton ranch. There we had a cordial reception from Mr. Carlos Felton present owner, and were shown the really wonderful garden of the estate which is known throughout the territory. We visited also the barranca near the house and saw the first fossil in situ, part of a foot of Nesodon. This on Jan. 4. …Abbott and Sternberg remained at the ranch and began active collecting the following day. When I returned on Saturday evening Mr. S. showed [me] a fine skull of Protypotherium which he had found.

A cliff, teeming with fossils, near Killik Aike.
A cliff, teeming with fossils, near Killik Aike.

Riggs went back to Rio Gallegos with the driver the following day to buy supplies and overhaul their field equipment and arranged to have it all taken by truck to Killik Aike. When Riggs returned, the Feltons

…insisted upon my remaining at the ranch home over Sunday and made me quite comfortable. On … Sunday the men established camp at a spring just over a ridge from the house and I spent part of the day there while the family [was] away on other engagements. Monday morning Jan. 8, I moved over to camp and began work on the barranca. A standing invitation was extended for us to dine at the ranch on Saturday evenings. Had birthday dinner there.

This was the expedition's first camp near Killik Aike.
This was the expedition’s first camp near Killik Aike.

The birthday Riggs mentions, his 54th, was 90 years ago today, 23 January 1923. The party remained at Killik Aike for the next three weeks. During that time, the Feltons supplied fresh meat,vegetables, saddle horses when needed and a team of mules to move them away when their work in that locality was finished. In gratitude, Riggs wrote: “We shall not soon forget the courtesy and hospitality of Mr. Felton and the charming hostess, his sister, Mrs. Henstock.”

This ruined wagon was probably left at Killik Aike by a North American fossil hunter.
This ruined wagon was probably left at Killik Aike by a North American fossil hunter.