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2012 Morris F. Skinner Award Winner

The Engdahl Family


Over many years, three generations of the Engdahl family of Jordan, Garfield County, Montana, have provided support and hospitality to vertebrate paleontologists studying the Hell Creek and Tullock formations in eastern Montana. The history begins in 1916 when Lester Engdahl, then a young boy, and his family settled in the valley of Hell Creek a stone’s throw from the type locality of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Barnum Brown had finished his work in the area about decade before, but his quarries were fresh as were stories of his work. Many years later Lester was able to take paleontologist back to these quarries where they could collect more geological information.  Lester and his wife, Cora, established their ranch upstream from the T. rex locality where they raised their family, Arlys, Larry, and Robert.

In the 1960s, Harley Garbani from the Los Angeles County Museum began work in Garfield County. Among the many ranchers who helped Harley, Lester particularly contributed to the spectacular success of his field work. Harley relocated a large claw that Lester had seen weathering out in a gulley on his ranch. The claw was part of one of two skeletons of T. rex that were uncovered during excavation of this site. Lester’s son Larry bulldozed the overburden from the quarry. His other son, Bob, and his wife, Jane, helped with the excavation of the bones.  In the 1970s field parties from the University of California Museum of Paleontology followed up on Harley’s discoveries of small Cretaceous and Tertiary animals on the Engdahl Ranch. After the deaths of Lester and Cora, Bob and Jane and their children Duane and Cathy continued to support the “bone diggers” in their work.

The hospitality of the Engdahl family is well known and greatly appreciated among the generations of “bone diggers” who have had the good fortune to work in Garfield County.  For many this was their introduction to life on a working ranch.  Whether it was from searching for fossils together or helping with branding, friendships were quickly established and long maintained. Now many who first came to the area as students return for visits and are beginning to bring their students back to Garfield County to meet the Engdahls. It is a pleasure to be able to recognize all the Engdahl Family has contributed to our lives and our field.