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Gateway Science Museum

Permanent Collections

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HOOKER OAK LEGACY: Gateway donation box

Historic photo from archives of the original Hooker Oak Tree.

The donation box created from Hooker Oak wood has been at Gateway since February 2012.  At one time, Chico’s Hooker Oak tree was considered to be the largest valley oak in the world, standing more than 100 feet tall. The circumference of the outside branches was nearly 500 feet. 

California is a global hotspot for oak diversity, with more than 25 native oak species, natural hybrids, and oak varieties. Known for their long lives, oaks are dominant influences on the larger ecology, creating drought-tolerant, shady habitat for many other plants and animals.

In 1887, Annie K. Bidwell named the tree in honor of British botanist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. A friend of the city founders John and Annie Bidwell, Hooker was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Hooker Oak fell during a windstorm May 1, 1977. Once the tree fell, it was determined that Hooker Oak was actually two trees that had grown together, forming the appearance of a single tree.  The site of the tree is registered as California Historical Landmark #313.

The Hooker Oak is one of Chico’s great legacies, conserved and protected by the city and private citizens like the Hall family. The family milled and helped store the Hooker Oak wood, stamped with the Hooker Oak brand, from 1980 until 2005 when they returned much of the wood to the city.

In 2011, the Hall family passed along some of the Hooker Oak wood to Gateway Science Museum, and Jim Ellisor used it to create the donation box. The box was designed to maintain the rustic appearance of the legendary wood, and all of the saw marks from the original tree cutting and board preparation are still present.

Ice Age Skeletons

The short-faced bear and saber-tooth cat are considered "Ice Age" skeletons because both mammals roamed the Americas during the Pleistocene. The Pleistocene has been dated from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago and is known as the ice age because vast areas of land were covered in massive ice sheets. A major extinction event of megafauna (large mammals) began at the end of the Pleistocene.  

Short-faced bear skelatonShort-faced bear, Arctodus simus: The short-faced bear may have been the largest carnivorous land mammal that ever lived in North America. The short-faced bear primarily lived in open country grasslands in North America from approximately 800,000 to 11,000 years ago. The type specimen was found in Potter Creek Cave, located in Shasta County, California. The common name for the bear originated from its lack of a well-defined forehead, as well as a short, broad muzzle. The giant short-faced bear was nearly five-feet tall when walking and up to 11-feet tall when standing on its hind legs. The bear’s autumn weight has been estimated to be about 1,700 pounds, which includes its collection of fat for the winter. Don't let its size fool you. The giant short-faced bear is believed to have run about 40 mph despite its enormous size! 

Saber-tooth cat skeleton.Saber-tooth cat, Smilodon fatalis: The saber-tooth cat lived in North and South America from about 1.6 million to 11,000 years ago. was especially common in California. Weighing up to 600 pounds with up to 8-inch canines, this animal was certainly no domestic cat! Using its enormous canines, the saber-tooth cat preyed on and consumed larger animals for food. Sloths, deer, bison, small mammoths and mastodons, peccaries, horses, and camels were all thought to have fallen prey to the saber-tooth cat.