The Tertiary deposits near Fort Robinson are now world famous. For over one hundred years scientists from all over the world have collected geological data and fossil vertebrates in western Nebraska. Major natural history museums in the United States, Canada, England, and continental Europe feature fossils from the Pine Ridge region in their exhibits. Many foreign visitors to the state comment that their introduction to Nebraska was through fossils observed in museums or referred to in school books. Because of the intense interest in Nebraska’s fossils, the staff members of the University of Nebraska State Museum had been making plans over a number of years to establish a branch natural science museum in the heart of the renowned Pine Ridge fossil-collecting region. The first major step in activating the project was the acquisition of the Army Theatre building from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Fort Robinson in 1955. Since that time the building was converted into an ideal type of museum structure. The process was slow because only limited funds were available, but on July 3, 1961, the University of Nebraska Trailside Museum at Fort Robinson was dedicated and opened to visitors. Many of the displays, as well as the cases, had been prepared at the Museum in Lincoln and then shipped to Fort Robinson. Mr. Lloyd G. Tanner, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology in the State Museum, coordinated the Trailside Museum project, and Mr. Ivan Burr supervised the construction and display installations. The excellent teamwork of the Museum staff members from Lincoln and friends of the Museum from western Nebraska made it possible to open on the designated date.
At the opening ceremony, Governor Frank B. Morrison presented the dedicatory address, and Dr. C. Bertrand Schultz, Director of the University of Nebraska State Museum, outlined the history, aims, and purposes of the Trailside Museum. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents was represented by Mr. J. C. Elliott. The guests included Senator George Gerdes; Mr. T. C. Middleswart, State Highway District Engineer; Mr. William Hudson, Mayor of Crawford; and other civic leaders and ranchers from western Nebraska. Nearly 300 friends of the Museum attended this ceremony and saw the natural science exhibits at the Trailside Museum for the first time.
About 10,000 people from all parts of the nation and foreign countries visited the Trailside Museum between July 3 and September 15, 1961. In 1962, the Museum opened on May 1 so that school children and college students of western Nebraska and adjacent states had the opportunity, through museum field trips, to learn many interesting scientific facts about the region in which they live, or about which they are studying.
The fossil remains on display in the Trailside Museum represent only a few of the many animal forms which have been collected by the University of Nebraska State Museum over the years. These exhibits are concerned with the interpretation of natural history subjects and objects of the Fort Robinson area. The Museum shows representative samples of the present day animal and plant life of western Nebraska; and the geologic history and physiography of the hills and valleys immediately surrounding Fort Robinson.