We Call It Morrisonite

Morrison Ranch Jasper has been a sought after lapidary material since the 1950’s. Below is a very early article published in The Sundial of Payette Idaho in the May-June issue of 1948. A special thank you to Doris Snyder of the Midwest Mineralogical and Lapidary Society of Dearborn, Michigan for providing a copy of this article.

"We Call It Morrisonite"
by Julian Field

Quite often a certain gem stone or mineral is named for the person by whom it was first discovered. Being new, it must be given a name, and what is more fitting than that it be given the name of the one who first brought it to public notice?

And that is the reason one of the most outstanding ornamental gem stones found in Malheur county, eastern Oregon is known as "Morrisonite," named for James Morrison, who for a half century has made his home in a canyon of the Owyhee river some six or eight miles above the discontinued post office of Watson. During those years Mr. Morrison has explored much of that rugged area known locally as the Owyhee breaks. Deeply interested in Indian lore, Mr. Morrison has accumulated a large collection of Indian artifacts most of which he found at old campsites and in caves along the river.

It was fifteen years ago that I first heard of Morrison and his unique place on the Owyhee. The Morrison Cabin on the Owyhee -- one of the few pictures ever taken of Jim MorrisonIt was thru Riley Horn, an old-time stockman in Malheur county, that I learned of the Morrison collection of artifacts and of the Indian rock writings along the Owyhee about eight miles above the Morrison ranch.

I believe that Frank Zimmerman of Payette, and myself can justly lay claim to being the first rockhounds to make a trip to the Morrison ranch, for that same summer we managed to find our way in. That was a trip well seasoned with grief, such as car trouble and much walking. At that time neither of us was particularly interested in rock collecting...Indian relics is what we were after. But while we were there "Jim" called our attention to a few small pieces of the gem stone which were lying about the place, and told us where he found them.

I don’t recall bringing any of the material out with us on that trip. Don’t believe we did. But on a later trip we went with the express purpose of bringing back some "Morrisonite," realizing here was an unusual gem stone. We made but one trip to the location, which, measured in terms of miles, is but a short distance from the Morrison ranch, but on a hot summer day that was plenty, for the steep climb out of the canyon is really something.

As a result of that trip 15 years ago, Morrisonite, as far as I know, was first brought to the attention of rock collectors in this region. I remember sending a small specimen to a rockhound in Boise, a charted member of the Idaho Gem club. He immediately came back at me with the query: "Where in h---l did you get that rock?" That was Harry Eslick, now located at Auburn, Calif.

Soon after that the Boise rockhounds got wind of the location, as did other collectors in nearby communities, and several parties made trips to the locality. In spite of the this, not a great deal of Morrisonite has been taken out. It is formed in rhyolite, and is confined to a small area, by no means being what one would call plentiful. I have made a number of trips to the place, but my supply of Morrisonite is quite limited, though a few pieces I think are outstanding.

Now you have been given a brief history on "Morrisonite." What type of gem stone it is I would not say. Some say it is a form of jasper. Others call it a jasp-agate... if there is such a stone. It has even been classified as jade, perhaps because occasionally solid green specimens are found. But those who have sawed and polished the material are inclined to disagree and are content to call it Morrisonite, and let it go at that.

Strange as it may be, the fact remains, Morrisonite is confined to one small area, although the surrounding territory is of the same formation. At least it would appear thus, for Morrison has pretty well covered the country and reports no new finds. Therefore the material is not easy to find, and collectors are loath to part with it.

Perhaps you will think I have described this Morrisonite in terms rather glowing; which I have. But it rates all of that. However, rockhounds, I’m telling you this: The road to Morrison’s is rough and there’s lots of it. We found it plenty bad 15 years ago, and it is no better today.

But here is a real gem stone, and classify it as you may...we call it Morrisonite.


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