Queen of the Tyrant Lizards.
A Tyrannosaur named Sue. A government doing the same thing.
When paleontologist Peter Larson unearthed the most complete tyrannosaur skeleton in history in the South Dakota badlands in 1990, little did he know he was also uncovering the worst part of human nature.
After the team of Peter, his brother Neal, Terry Wentz and Sue Hendrickson (after whom the fossil was named, for first sighting it), discovered the bones, excavated them, bought them from the landowner (Native American Maurice Williams) for $5000 and a handshake (i.e. no written contract), and transported the extensive remains to the local museum for study (the Black Hills Institute in September 1990), one year later, the United States government descended upon the small town of Hill City with federal agents and army vehicles, confiscating all the bones, charging that the fossils were not Williams’ property to sell in the first place and that they were illegally removed from U.S. land. In the grandest tradition of Orwell doublespeak, the U.S. attorney in charge of the seizure, Kevin Schieffer, made a statement to the press: “The purpose of our action this morning is to preserve the scientific knowledge and integrity of these fossils” – which is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what he was doing.
Fossil collector Leon Theisen observed, “If that dinosaur seizure wasn’t a publicity stunt, I don’t know what is. There could have been a gang in this town with a warehouse holding a ton of cocaine, and human bodies hanging from the rafters, the federal government wouldn’t have sent 45 agents and the National Guard.”
The purpose of the seizure, and the Gestapo manner in which it was performed – while the townsfolk protested ineffectually around the army – is the biggest question mark surrounding one of the greatest finds in human history. There is speculation of Maurice Williams conning the paleontologists out of $5000 and later reporting the bones as “stolen from his land”; there is the doublespeak that Schieffer’s office purveyed, supposedly acting for the good of fossils and land owners everywhere, also citing violation of the Antiquities Act of 1906; some say the federal agents acted on complaints from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, who claimed Larson had illegally removed the fossils from Indian land, so the government made a spectacle of reacquiring them to please the tribe (but then, when has the American government ever done anything to appease the Native Americans? So though a complaint may have been lodged, it is dubious the government performed the seizure in that manner for the benefit of the Natives, so we can cross that reason off the list); there is speculation over archaic sub-clauses about land division and prospecting rules – attorney for the Black Hills Institute Patrick Duffy drawls, “You could not have discovered this rex in a worse and potentially legally complicated place”…
… while everyone misses the ACTUAL REASON this opportunity for knowledge was bulldozed so thoroughly and publicly.
The raid did not just seize the fossils, but all the notes, photos and information about it. They were trying to WIPE IT OUT. Was the local government trying to rewrite history – OR – not allow prehistory to be written?
Now we’re getting closer to the truth…
Directed/edited/produced by Todd Douglas Miller, DINOSAUR 13 opens with the excitement of discovery, the excavation, the science behind the tyrannosaur fossil, and scientists commenting on the wonders of the find (paleontologists Phillip Manning, Philip J. Currie, Vincent Santucci, NatGeo photographer/filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, and legendary dino hunter Robert Bakker PhD, channeling Willie Nelson). We are taken through the yearlong diligence of removing bone from around the skull, the process being constantly observed in wonder by a surge of inquisitive, supportive visitors to the Black Hills Institute; all the while, the local media, with the encouragement of the council, touting the rex as the anchor exhibit for a new museum at Hill City.
Then in May 1992, “all hell broke loose.”
Federal agents and National Guard, helmed by Kevin Schieffer, descend upon the small town and set in motion a legal clusterfuck involving the FBI, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, sparking conflicts, the ramifications of which still resound negatively throughout the science and civilian community.
No one in this doc can effectively explain the motivations of why the wonder of discovery is crushed by the close-minded fist of ignorance. But I have a theory. And by teasing out hard-to-find details and corroborating them, my own research proves my theory correct. It’s about politics. And religion. (Those two things you should never mention at parties – and never mix with scientific research.) I realized the political affiliation of Kevin Schieffer is never mentioned in this documentary; I’m presuming because it would create a polarizing effect that might lose half the film’s supporters. Well, Kevin Schieffer is —
Does it all fall into place now?
From the time of her discovery in 1990, everything was going swimmingly with the Tyrannosaur Named Sue. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Schieffer United States Attorney for South Dakota. Having gotten wind of the 65 million-year-old T. rex fossil through the Native American complaint of removing material from their lands, Schieffer (whose political party believes the Earth is 6,000 years old) used that inconsequential complaint to leverage a religious coup against scientific progress.
Does the conflict become clear now? Not financial, not pragmatic, not ethical – religious. The worst kind of conflict for a numbnuts in power to have. It doesn’t matter what else is tacked on as the official agenda or the “reasoning” behind Schieffer’s actions. He unilaterally made a decision to stultify scientific progress. And only by viewing the prehistoric world through the prism of his anti-science Christian Fundamentalist Ignorance does any of this make a lick of sense.
Appealing to the South Dakota governor wouldn’t have helped – he was Republican too (George S. Mickelson, 1987-1993). And although the mayor of Hill City, Drue J. Vitter, was also Republican, he was busy looking at one of the other bedrock Republican planks – money! He openly supported the T. rex as a museum exhibit because Sue was a tourist trap, poised to drive the economy of his city into the black. Though petitions from all 50 States and other countries were received to Free Sue, she would remain locked in storage crates for years (at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology). I think every Republican in the audience will have a quiet snigger when they hear Larson say he used to peer through the windows and “talk to the crates”…
At this point, the film tugs at our emotions, as the paleos are reduced to tears remembering that frustrating, helpless time. But I am filled with a white hot Mesozoic volcanic rage instead.
Schieffer’s actions would presage the singularly Republican practice of appointing Emergency Financial Managers to ostensibly pull a District or State out of financial crisis; Managers given unilateral control of their cities, stripping power of opposing party officials, passing budget bills, doing all those things that usually require votes in a democratic system. Now – No Votes Required. Like Cartman, “doing what they wownt!”
The seizure footage in DINOSAUR 13 showing FBI, army and police, crime scene yellow tape, roadblocks, industrial machinery – looks exactly like a dictator “takeover.” It is. It’s the government unilaterally making public decisions. No voting. No choice. In other words, a Republican dream.
But the Republicans are not fully to blame for the perception of governmental ignorance. The film company has a lot to answer for as well. DINOSAUR 13 is released by CNN Films, a company launched in 2012 (a division of CNN, the pandering “news” network owned by megalithic corp Time Warner). Among the handful of films they’ve released: the puff piece OUR NIXON (2013, a home movie compilation showing Richard Satan’s Vagina Nixon laughing and acting human), and WHITEY (2014, a crime doc that hedged on blaming the FBI for enabling Boston gangster Whitey Bulger). From prior knowledge of these two topics, we know CNN is not only avoiding leaning one way or the other, the company actually avoids leaning INTO THE STORY to provide all the facts. (CNN Films is no 60 MINUTES or VANGUARD.)
With this in mind, we cannot rule out that CNN Films is spinning even this story about DINOSAUR 13 for its own agenda, which would be to Not Offend those who keep them funded.
To its detriment, it is framed like a Michael Moore film, with ominous music, the villain defined (but not described), and at least three people exclaiming in outrage, “This is America!” (No critique against Moore, but against Miller misusing Moore’s approach.) Like their “news” division, CNN Films has devolved to a wide-demographic entertainment vehicle, not a comprehensive information disseminator. We realize this doc is dramatically framed like a “movie” when the adversity hits at exactly the 25-minute mark – as it should for any feature film worth its First Act fiction. But is that also now a prerequisite for telling a factual story?
Instead of the Republican party being singled out, the movie presents such a false view of Government-as-Villain (implying the U.S. government as a whole is to blame) that The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology issued a statement, clarifying that the government should be allowed to legally protect fossils on public land. They’re right, of course. Protection of fossils is paramount and the U.S. government should do it. But what the Republicans in government did to Peter Larson was not protect Sue or the landowners; rather, “Sue was seized pursuant to a search warrant – but there was never a crime charged” (Patrick Duffy, attorney); the Republicans in government confiscated and expressly forbad the knowledge that could be gained from Sue’s skeleton – because Jesus said so.
DINOSAUR 13 gives us many reasons why Mankind should really just go extinct.
Here’s the irony of this (ahem) boneheadedness: in all the fracas – I’M the one who sounds crazy. Yeh, not the funsters who believe in a talking snake and a virgin birth; not the unevolved peabrains with no imaginations or curiosity; not the creationists and the ancient-alienists. The people who IDENTIFY these numbnuts walking amongst us are vilified. That’s why director Todd Miller kept his mouth shut.
The question kept arising: Who owns the bones? Though many people lay claim, in the scheme of the planet, NO ONE “owns” the bones. They are part of The Land, as humans are. Although the paleontologists paid Maurice Williams $5000 to gain the superficial right to make them public, they will be the first to tell you that the bones are for humanity to experience, not quibble over ownership. No one owns space, or the Moon. And here’s something White Man finds hard to wrap his brain around: No one owns The Land either. The tribes who are native to the area where the fossil laid will tell you that humans give and take from The Land as required, nothing more. So it is doubly criminal how Maurice Williams – who passes himself off as Native – lied to Peter Larson and stole his $5000. Though he claimed to be the “land owner,” he was merely a trustee for the U.S. government, so had no right to sell artifacts from that land anyway. And then to claim the bones were STOLEN?! And diddle his story to then claim he accepted the $5000 as a visitation fee for the scientists! Meanwhile, all we have to do is watch the VIDEO of him accepting the payment from Larson! He might have Native blood in his ancestry, but this redneck is an embarrassment to Natives, closer in culture to Cliven Bundy than Crazy Horse.
Nonetheless, for his lies, Maurice would be awarded ownership of the bones by a judge and jury too myopic to see anything but appeasing the Indian Nation for Whitey Guilt. And Peter Larson, for the “crime” of removing material from federal land, would be sentenced to 18 months jail by another judge too parochial and ignorant to warrant mentioning his name here. I’m not giving you the fame or satisfaction, you lardass cave-dweller.
Maurice, in his avaricious bloat, would auction the bones.
In October 1997, Sue’s bid would top out at $7.6 million (the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil), bought by the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Sue’s real owners (Larson and co.) were happy to see the fossil bought by an institution for public display, rather than a private collector. Even so, Disney, McDonald’s and other donors had to pitch in on the buying price. Blame the greed/dishonesty of Maurice Williams, who made out like the bandit he is. May he rot in whatever bullshit version of hell he pretends to believe in as a fake Sioux Nation Native.
Here is where half my readers ask, “So Poffy, if Republicans wanted to stultify the evidence of evolution, how did they allow Sue to EVER become public?!” Answer: something bigger than their love of Christ – money. (To witness proof of this hypocrisy, just turn your TV to any megachurch broadcast. Or fathom the cost of any cathedral. Or estimate the cost of the Pope’s funny hat, interwoven with threads of gold.) As much as Williams profited, we can only surmise how Schieffer’s government wrought their malfeasance on him to taste some of that pie. Because, whether it’s reported or not, you know they did: Williams is a Native American (or claims to be), which means he’s The Original Nigger; he’s living on land as a trustee for The Man – AND – he’s an ignorant, dishonest son of a bitch, all these aspects giving Whitey the “right” to claim any wealth of his as their own…
Doc ends on an uplifting note – Sue’s story and prehistory finally being revealed to an eager public – the grand opening in May 2000 worthy of a beast of her stature. But there is that underlying discordant note of concern: that for every one story of bureaucratic dung-swill defeated by scientists – like this one – there are a thousand other stories of scientists less fortunate, whose work towards advancing knowledge has been strangled at the hands of low-browed imbeciles in power.
Imbeciles like Kevin Schieffer – Queen of the Tyrant Lizards.