Mammoth Skeletons found in Missouri

As the climate warmed during the last part of the Ice Age, large mammal such as the Mastodon roamed the United States.

Scarcely a year passes that does not add to the number of localities, of the former existence of an animal era in America, attesting great changes. These discoveries are not alone confined to the Mississippi Valley, where they were first made. The borders of the sea-shore in South Carolina; the great marine deposits of Georgia and Alabama; and the clay and alluvial beds of the valleys of the Hudson River, have yielded some of the largest specimens of these antique bones; even the uplands of Vermont have recently given proofs of this kind. But it is to the valley of the Osage, in Missouri, that we are called, more particularly, to look. Speaking of this region, a correspondent remarks:

“The great West is affording to the learned and curious a vast and varied field for speculation in the various departments of science. It is filling the museums and cabinets of the world with rare mineralogical and geological specimens, while it is affording still more extraordinary and perplexing problems to the naturalist.

“The recent discovery of bones by Messrs. Case and Redman, of Warsaw, in the Osage Valley, transcends anything of the kind yet offered to the public, both in point of number and size. The bones represent a genus of animals long since out of existence. The age in which they lived is so remote, that even tradition does not reach back to it. They were probably contemporary with that race of man which inhabited the prairies and forests before the existing Indians; whose history is only told by the remains of their castles and fortifications, which were constructed upon scientific principles, of which no vestige is found among the aborigines.

“The place where these bones were found, is about two miles from town, and is familiarly known by the western people as a lick. There are many springs of a brackish sulphur water breaking through the ground, which have been resorted to by various animals, till there is an acre or more of it excavated to the depth of eight or ten feet. The bones were found two or three feet below this surface, imbedded on a black gravel. The probability is, that these animals resorted to this place for the salt held in solution by the water, and heedlessly plunging themselves into the mire were frequently unable, notwithstanding their gigantic strength, to extricate themselves; and thus their remains accumulated to such an amount.

“The number of different heads found amounts to seventy or eighty; and the large amount of detached teeth shows that a greater number of these monsters have found a common grave in this basin. The bones which are found near the head of this basin, are in a much better state of preservation than those nearer the outlet. The skeletons of various species of animals are found deposited in this basin; as the buffalo, elk, deer, &c. There are two species only found which are worthy of admiration; of the one there are but few specimens; only some teeth, and part of the maxillary bones in which they were set. These teeth are fissured on the sides, much like the elephant s molar teeth, and smooth on their masticating surface, which measures twelve by fourteen inches. The other species of bones, which are great in number and stupendous in size, have differently shaped teeth, and out of their superior maxillary grow tusks, some of which are twenty-five inches in circumference, and ten or twelve feet long. The tusks are not preserved entire. They appear to have been the finest quality of ivory. Many of the maxillary bones have the molars entire, and tightly retained in their sockets. These molar teeth are eight or nine inches by four or five, on their grinding surface, with deep fissures running across them, in which the eminences of the antagonising molar played. This formation of the molar of this animal is very different from that of the genus herbivorous, the grinders of which have smooth contiguous surfaces. The inferior maxillary is armed with a tusk fifteen or twenty inches in length. The femur is six or seven inches in its center diameter, and presents an articulatory surface with the acetabulum of ten or eleven inches. The connection of the bone of the foreleg with the shoulder blade, presents a similarly large articulation. Few of the vertebra have resisted the corrosion of time. They are entirely denuded of their processes, so that we can only observe on a few of them the canal for the spinal marrow, which must have been three or four inches in diameter.

“A striking peculiarity of these bones is, that they have no cavity for marrow, but are solid bone. They are not petrified, but are preserved as osseous matter, which is a conclusive argument that they have not been imbedded many centuries. We cannot fix the time when these extraordinary animals ceased- to be inhabitants of the prairies, or what caused the destruction of the whole genus. How could they so violate the laws of nature as to forfeit the existence of their entire class? This secret will probably always be veiled in obscurity. The natural philosopher can find enough of curiosity and perplexity on this subject to engage his leisure hours, and the imaginative may entertain himself by clothing these mammoth bones with flesh, and studying what a figure the other animals of creation presented in the presence of this locomotive mountain.”

The “study” here referred to requires great care, and a scrupulous reference to the conclusions of naturalists at home and abroad, to prevent that ” perplexity” which the writer adverts to. Science is simple-minded, slow, and cautious in her steps. It is but a few years ago that the proprietor of a western museum visited this locality, and paraded one of these gigantic skeletons through the land, under the name of “Missourium.”

The discoveries, which went to make up the sum of this huge frame of bones, were made on the Pomme de Terre branch of the Osage River, in latitude 40°.

The largest bones were found in a kind of quicksand about sixteen feet beneath the surface, at a spot where a copious spring of water existed. Over this was spread a stratum of brown soil with vegetable remains of various kinds, some of which were deemed to be tropical. Next on the series of strata, rising, was one of blue clay three feet thick, then about ten inches of pebbles, aggregated, then a light blue clay three feet thick, then another stratum of gravel, similar in thickness to the first mentioned. This was succeeded by three or four feet of yellowish clay; a third layer of gravel, and a brownish loamy earth or clay, mingled with pebbles, and bearing a growth of oak, maples, and elms. The whole formation appeared to be clearly diluvial.

I visited this skeleton after it had been set up at Egyptian Hall, in Piccadilly, London. It was thirty feet long, and fifteen feet high. There was something disproportionate and unnatural about it. By its great length of body, and enormous claws, it appeared, at first sight, to be a gigantic specimen of the megalonyx, with the head and tusks of a mastodon. There was also something that excited incredulity in the arrangement of the tusks. It was certainly a most gigantic specimen of the American faunae, and excited great interest as such. But, aside from its great size, there was nothing new in the species. Mr. Owen, the British fossilist, decided it, from the teeth, to be a mastodon.


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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