Forget sharp-toothed wildcats, cagey mountain lions, huge bison and poisonous snakes. Never mind treacherous landscapes and fearsome storms. These are all part of north Texas and southern Oklahoma’s past and present, yet they are almost tame compared to what Texomaland was like millions of years ago.

Forget sharp-toothed wildcats, cagey mountain lions, huge bison and poisonous snakes. Never mind treacherous landscapes and fearsome storms. These are all part of north Texas and southern Oklahoma’s past and present, yet they are almost tame compared to what Texomaland was like millions of years ago.


For anyone willing to look and learn, Texomaland’s fossils tell a fascinating tale of an area once covered in water and home to creatures right out of a sci-fi writer or artist’s dream. It’s a story that Ed Swiatovy of Sherman has researched for years — and he’s got the teeth, jaws, and complete bodies to prove it, along with thousands of other once-living creatures and relics.


Swiatovy’s lifelong interest in the past began when he was just a boy, growing up on Staten Island, New York. It started with an encyclopedia on dinosaurs and quickly grew. By age 12, he was visiting the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan at least once a week. The lengthy journey required the determined boy to use various forms of public transportation, along with walking, to make the lengthy trip. Fossils were of special interest, but none were to be found on the island he called home. This, however, didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.


In the late 1960s, Swiatovy got a job with General Cable. Bonham happened to be the destination of one of his business trips. The area renewed Swiatovy’s childhood fascination.


"I kept hearing Bonham people talk about finding ‘dinosaur knuckles’ in the Sulphur River," says Swiatovy. "But what they were actually talking about were vertebrae from a mosasaur. … Basically, the mosasaur was the T-Rex of the ocean at the end of the Cretaceous period. … When I found ‘dinosaur knuckles’ and it was obvious what they were, I remembered my days at the American Museum of Natural History."


Texomaland had been under water, as had all of the central United States — a sea — thanks to constant shifting of land masses. The Cretaceous period was a particularly active period with the Rockie Mountains having a major upward thrust and the seas continuously rising and falling. It was at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago, that the dinosaurs met their demise.


"The sea went from the Gulf of Mexico up to Canada," explained Swiatovy. "There were three progressions and regressions and there were a huge number of different creatures in this area. … Texomaland is on the Preston anticline. As you go east, it gets younger. As you go west, it gets very, very old. The states to the west are about 250 million years old. … South from Lake Texoma to Sherman is about 82 to 90 million years old."


In 1972, General Cable moved to Bonham and so did Swiatovy, his wife, Cathy, and their children. It offered Swiatovy a chance to delve deeper into his hobby.


"We and the kids explored Sulphur River to hunt for fossils and Indian artifacts," said Swiatovy. "In the North Sulphur River, the most common fossils are the mosasaur fossils."


Unlike her husband, Cathy Swiatovy never had an interest in fossils and the like until she married.


"He (Ed) was always into it. It took him a little while to get me into the Sulphur River. Once I got in and started finding fossils I was hooked. I like finding treasures. I mainly like just finding them where Ed studies them."


The Swiatovys moved to Kentucky in 1985 but returned to Sherman upon Ed’s retirement. Their explorations began again, this time encompassing not just the Sulphur River in Fannin County, but Lake Texoma as well as creeks and areas right in the heart of Sherman, including Post Oak Creek. Their fossil finds range from nautilus, ammonites, echinoids and sea urchins to ptychodus, large, now extinct sharks with a crushing, 500 teeth, and pliosaurs (similar to a giant crocodile with flippers).


"About four years ago, we had a dig in Denison, just off Highway 131 and excavated the most complete pliosaur ever found," said Swiatovy. "It now resides at the University of Oklahoma."


Some of the Swiatovy’s mosasaur fossils have been donated to Southern Methodist University, and some of their sharks teeth are now at the Smithsonian.


"You find many sharks teeth in this area," says Swiatovy. "The smaller sharks were in the lake area (Lake Texoma) and the bigger ones are found in Sherman."


Texomaland has evolved into an area of great interest for fossil hunting, per Swiatovy, who is a member of the Texoma Rockhounds and the Dallas Paleontological Society.


"This area was fantastic (in prehistoric times)! … In the Texoma area, you can actually find fossils from the early Cretaceous Period up to the Pleistocene Period with the mammoths. There is an unbroken fossil record of 100 million years just in Texoma," said Swiatovy. "When I first hunted the North Sulphur River, there was almost no one hunting, but now there are so many people hunting that it’s harder to find things.


"It’s all a matter of looking in the right spot and the right time and knowing what you’re seeing. One man found a Mosasaur head in the Sulphur with a head 57 inches long. The jaw could open to about 80 inches. … There were turtles here that measured 10 feet across. … Woodbine, just outside of Whitesboro, has dinosaur remains. … A mammoth was found in a tributary of Post Oak Creek near Highway 11. … We live on a fossil gold mine!"


The Swiatovys remain dedicated to the hobby Ed cultivated so long ago.


"Fossil hunting is addictive," said Ed Swiatovy. "And in our fossil hunting we have met some of the most interesting people, from college professors to astronauts, right here in this area. … Lots of people come here from all over the world to hunt in the Sulphur River. We just hosted a guy from Georgia and one from England this past month."


Swiatovy also shares his knowledge and finds with local students, organizations and anyone interested in learning about Texomaland’s wet and wild past. He can be reached at 903-892-6864.