The earliest mention of turtles from the Kayenta Formation in the literature is within the description of the ornithischian dinosaur Scutellosaurus by Colbert (1981). These first specimens were collected during the 1970s and early 1980s by field parties from the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) and the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University. Specimens from these field excursions were used to establish the taxon Kayentachelys in 1987, and it is an MNA specimen (MNA V1558) which was designated as the holotype of the taxon. During the early 1980s, addition turtle specimens from the Kayenta Formation were collected by field parties from the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), which were reported by Clark & Fastovsky (1986) prior to the naming of Kayentachelys. Many additional specimens of Kayentachelys were collected by the Texas Memorial Museum (TMM; now the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections ) at The University of Texas at Austin between 1997 and 2000. That work by the TMM remains the most recent large-scale collecting of vertebrate fossils from the Kayenta Formation in Arizona.