Home Artifacts The Silsbee Ice House Museum has a locally discovered prehistoric fossil

The Silsbee Ice House Museum has a locally discovered prehistoric fossil


There’s no bones about it – the Silsbee Ice House Museum is home to the oldest exhibit in Southeast Texas history.

It’s an ironic truth, given that the exposure that deserves those bragging rights is indeed about the bones.

The artifact sits atop a pillar at the entrance to the museum, the first stop in a timeline of Silsbee’s history that spans the entire first floor of the museum.

Inside are the remains of a prehistoric rhino dating back at least 10 million years.

The bones were found on the banks of the River Neches just north of town by Silsbee native Jason Biggs 20 years ago.

Biggs was fishing when he noticed the fossil protruding from the river bed, a find he would have easily missed had the river not been low.

“He just saw it and said, ‘What is this?

Biggs knew they were fossils, but didn’t know what they were or how old they might be.

He brought them to the museum, which contacted Lamar University paleontologist James Westgate to help identify the remains and estimate their age through carbon dating.

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Westgate came back with an answer: the fossils were those of a prehistoric rhinoceros – the predecessor of the African black rhinoceros – at least 10 million to possibly 20 million years old.

Kilcrease remembers Lamar telling them, “It’s an amazing artifact. It needs to go to a major museum,” but Biggs balked at the idea of ​​removing the artifact from his home.

Then the state of Texas stepped in and claimed ownership.

Biggs has hired an attorney to ensure that the discovery remains, if not in his possession, within his discovery sphere. The courts ruled that the prehistoric fossil could remain in the town of Silsbee if it was kept as an artifact at the Ice House Museum.

This is where he stands today, amazing and educating the youngest of the museum’s visitors, each given a wooden rhino to take home and decorate as a reminder of Silsbee’s prehistoric past.

“We gave away over 200 wooden rhinos to color in for the kids,” said education director Debbie Brown.

She noted that prehistoric rhinos have been found in Dallas and that a trip to southeast Texas would have been “part of their journey (through the state). The Big Thicket was truly an amazing route for the animals because it provides so much food and water,” Brown said, adding, “Some called it the Garden of Eden.

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It is this same dense, impenetrable forest that prevented the area from being settled so late – not until the late 1820s – but also holds a history of secrets from those who came before the flatboats carrying its first families. pioneers.

They were settlers like prehistoric animals, followed by Spanish explorers.

They were the first to give the Big Thicket its name when exploring the area from settlements and missions near St. Augustine in the 1600s, Kilcrease said.

She is assured of this fact, as a DMV dig once unearthed bones which were then donated to the Ice House Museum before becoming the historical museum it is today.

“When we first created this historical museum, we found this box of bones,” she said, adding that they later learned it was a 500 horse. year. “We literally found a skeleton in our closet…Horses aren’t native to this area, so the only place it could have come from are Spanish explorers.”

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It’s all part of the area’s history which is told at Silsbee’s Ice House Museum, albeit one of its more unexpected parts.

“You never think of this country, that its forest, its animals and its people were completely different from what you imagine,” Kilcrease said, adding: “But the Neches River is ancient. It has at least 10 million years.

It’s 10 million years of secrets buried beneath the surface of roads, forests and riverbanks.

Biggs knows there’s more below the surface — the kind of secrets he’s stumbled upon — though state law prevents digging up fossilized remains.

“There’s more out there, but he’ll never say where,” Brown said.

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