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  • Ednold

Wheeler 10/8/21

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Wheeler High School is located in the county seat of Wheeler County, Fossil, and they’ve teamed up with Spray and Mitchell to form the Wheeler County Rattlers football team. This game would be played in Spray, so the kids from Wheeler High would be playing a home game that wasn’t at home, but the CPHC board had let us know that we still needed to visit the town and report on the football facilities there. Not a problem.

Wheeler County Courthouse

Fossil is a town of about 500 people that has been around since 1876. The first post office, opened that year, was on the property of Tom Hoover’s ranch, and he called the town Fossil because he had found fossils on that ranch. Fifteen years later when the town was incorporated, Hoover became its first mayor. In the 1920s William Jennings Bryan was one of the speakers at a Chautauqua meeting held in Fossil. The town grew until, at one time, it had four gas stations, three grocery stores, three car dealers, and a lumber mill. You’d never know that from looking at it today.

It’s hard to believe Fossil is the biggest town in the county, but it is, and as the county seat it has a county courthouse unlike any others. I made a quick stop at the courthouse to submit the papers to have Mrs. Ednold's name changed to Dorcas. I believe Henry Wheeler must have been a very happy man to have a wife named Dorcas. It's impossible to say that name without a smile on your face. It's just a name that makes you happy to say and hear and the world needs more Dorcases. I didn't tell Mrs. Ednold what I was doing in the courthouse, but I think she'll be o.k. with it.

Another thing Fossil has going for it is all those fossils. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is in southern Wheeler County and there are lots of fossils all over the county. Fossil is home to the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute where you can find out all about the natural history of the county. But the only place that allows the public to come and find fossils and take them home is at the high school. So we went to Wheeler High School and went looking for fossils.

Paleo Lands Institute

We came into town on Highway 19 and found the high school uphill at the north end of Main St. The football field is behind the school and looks like it’s in good enough condition to host a game with the exception that it’s missing one of the goalposts. I believe the three Wheeler County schools rotate as hosts for home games, so I hope someone knows where it is. Just to the east of the main parking lot you’ll find parking for people who just came to dig for fossils. That was us.

Fossil Hill directly behind the football field

There’s a donation box where you make your contribution to extra-curricular activities for the students in exchange for a chance to find fossils. We dropped in our $5 apiece and followed the path up the hill beyond the football field. We were on a schedule so we were only there an hour or so, and it took most of that time to learn the correct approach for finding them, but both of us were able to find some interesting specimens. Even if we’d have found nothing it would have been worth the price to dig around in the dirt for awhile and just sit and look at the Wheeler County scenery from the hillside on a warm October day. None of our finds were super impressive until you think about the fact that these leaves had been fossilized tens of thousands of years ago and had just been waiting there all that time for us to come along and dig them up. Even the little broken leaf prints we found are pretty awesome when you think about it that way.

The Wheeler football team won an 8-man state championship on their own in 1966, but haven’t found that same success yet as part of the Wheeler County Rattlers. But the Rattlers finished with a 1-7 record in 2019 and they’re undefeated so far this season, so apparently they’ve put in a lot of work over the past few years that’s starting to pay off.

The football field from Fossil Hill

I have a feeling that we’ll attend a game at Wheeler High School one of these years and I’ll have a chance to come back and add onto this story, but since this game wasn’t actually played in Fossil, there’s not much more to say. For now you can read the Spray story to get the rest of the details.

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