In 1990, a researcher working in South Dakota for a nonprofit corporation known as the
Black Hills Institute of Geological Research discovered the most complete and valuable
Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton then known to humanity on the ranch of Maurice Williams.
Mr. Williams was an Indian person. His ranch was situated on federal trust land in which he
owned a beneficial interest.
Black Hills scientists began to excavate the skeleton of the dinosaur, who they named
Sue. They paid Mr. Williams $5,000 for the right to excavate the fossil. When the
excavation was complete, Black Hills moved the ten tons of Sue’s bones to a restoration
Then in 1992 federal officers seized Sue and moved her to the South Dakota School of
Mines and Technology. They did this upon the basis that Black Hills violated federal
criminal statutes when it removed Sue from Williams' land, because Mr. Williams’ ranch
was on Indian trust land.
Black Hills sued for a court order stating that it owned Sue. The court proceeded to
interpret the pertinent statute, and concluded that when she was in the ground, Sue herself
was in fact Indian trust “land.”
So Mr. Williams could not transfer his right to excavate this priceless fossil in return for
$5,000 without first obtaining approval from the Secretary of the Interior. Since he didn’t do
that, Mr. Williams' agreement to sell this valuable right for $5,000 was void.
Black Hills Inst. of Geologic Research v. South Dakota School of Mines and Tech., 12 F.3d
737 (8th Cir.1993).
|These contents are for general education
and are not to be construed as legal advice.