The petrified wood strewn in the Jasper Forest valley was once encased in the surounding bluffs. When erosional forces removed the softer rocks, the petrified wood tumbled and accumulated on the valley floor. Once filled with fallen logs, Jasper Forest was plundered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by commercial collectors seeking petrified wood to sell as souvenirs.
Completion of the nearby railway line in 1882 provided early travelers, and relic hunters easy access to Jasper Forest. Many tons of Jasper Forest's petrified wood were carried away, piece by piece, in railway cars. Outrage against Jasper Forest's devastation contributed to the extablishment of Petrified Forest as a National Monument in 1906.
"Wood thieves" once carried out petrified wood by wagon, buggy, and cart, sometimes using dynamite to break large logs into smaller pieces to expose hidden crystals. A mill to grind petrified wood for abrasives was built at the nearby railroad settlement of Adamana in 1892. Though the mill never operated, the appetite for commercial spoils remained.
"...we had filled our hats with chips.... Reached Forest #1 [Jasper] about noon, resorted our collections.... Oh such a time as we did have deciding which part of the forest to leave and which part to pack out."--From the diary of Grace Spradling, 1917, recording her hike from Adamana through the petrified forests. Although these areas were then protected by Petrified Forest National Monument, travelers continued to remove petrified wood.