Santee's Mesozoic Mystery

The Santee Nation's sandy hills hide much more than human history in their depths, as discovered by fossil hunters Shane Tucker, Mike Voorhies, and George Corner.

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With no delay in construction, and in only three days, the bone collectors have isolated the skull and applied a protective plaster cast. Before being exhumed from its ancient grave, a Santee delegation led by a tribal elder arrive to meet the paleontologists and stake claim to the ancient treasure. Then, the treasured youth of the next generation, 110 in all from Santee Community School, arrive to take advantage of the unique educational opportunity.

“The Highway Paleontology Program has collected more than 200,000 specimens, including several species that are new to science,” said Tucker while handing fossil ammonites and shark’s teeth among the students.

“Each fossil is a piece of a puzzle and the more pieces we have to study, the better, clearer picture we have of Nebraska’s prehistoric past. Each day leads to new discoveries that stimulate curiosity and inspire students of all ages to learn more about our state’s rich natural heritage.”


After taking in the ancient treasure of the Santee, and asking Tucker a hundred questions he’s answered thousands of times, the children reluctantly gather in the buses.

“How many students can say one of their most cherished memories was going to a fossil site and watching a huge, multimillion year-old fossil being dug out of the ground?” said Santee High School social studies teacher, Sheri Plumbtree.

Dust devils erased the children’s footprints as the buses pulled away, and we strained to hear the pulse of ancient drums along the Missouri. We truly live in a unique and mysterious part of the world.

(This story originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Nebraska Life Magazine)

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