Pendleton barber Ray Spangle discovered the rear leg bones of an aquatic rhinoceros while fishing the banks of Pendleton’s McKay Reservoir on two separate occasions in 1947. In October 1949 he joined in an archaeological dig with University of Oregon scientists to find more of the skeleton.
Thirty million years ago, Umatilla County was covered in swamps and marshes. Discovery of the rhino remains and those of a deer-like animal added to what little scientists knew about the area’s geologic and ecologic prehistory at the time. The rear leg bones of the rhinoceros were large, about 18 inches long, and weighed over 15 pounds in their fossilized state.
Spangle attributed his find to his hobby as an amateur geologist, saying the bones were the same color as the rocks along the shoreline but that he knew they were fossilized bones by their shape.
Aided by Spangle, his son Charles and East Oregonian reporter George Skorney, University of Oregon paleontologist Sam Sargent and Arnold Shotwell, curator of the university’s museum of natural history, unearthed six large leg bones, five complete teeth of at least two different animals, two fragmental tusks and the bones of several small animals in the same area where Spangle’s rhino was found.
After the search was completed, Sargent and Shotwell conjectured that the finds may not necessarily have been from the same water-laid volcanic ash formation as Spangle’s rhino and deer, possibly because the bones were found in gravels exposed by erosion of the dam’s waters rising and falling. While the rhinoceros lived some 30 million years ago, bones of a prehistoric horse and a saber-tooth cat found in the same general area were laid down during the last Ice Age, 1-2 million years ago.
Sargent and Shotwell urged people who find fossilized bones to leave the site intact and contact scientists who can remove the finds properly.