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  • Colonel Fowler and the Mammoth, 1887 February 27, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Col. F. Fowler lived for 12 years in Alaska, from c.1877-1889. On finishing his time there he was asked by a reporter about the most interesting thing he had seen there. He answered as follows:

    Two years ago last summer I left Kodiac for a trip to the head waters of the Snake River, where our travelling agents had established a trading station at an Innuit village. The chief of this family Innuit was named To-lee-ti-ma, and to him I was well recommended. He received me hospitably, and I at once began negotiations for the purchase of a big lot of fossil ivory which his tribe had stored near the village. The lot weighed several thousand pounds and was composed of the principal and inferior tusks of the mammoth, the remains of thousands of which gigantic animals are to be found in the beds of interior Alaskan water-courses. I subjected the ivory to a rigid inspection, and upon two of the largest tusks I discovered fresh blood traces and the remnants of partly decomposed flesh. ‘I questioned To-lee-ti-ma, and he assured me that less than three months before a party of his young men had encountered a drove of monsters about fifty miles above where he was then encamped, and had succeeded in killing two, an old bull and a cow. At my request he sent for the leader of the hunting party, a young and very intelligent Indian, and I questioned him closely about his adventure among a race of animals that the scientific people claim are extinct. He told a very straightforward story and I have no reason to doubt its truth.

    Cryptozoologists here should be salivating but presumably if we were to doubt the Inuit tale then the partly decomposed flesh would be from a frozen specimen? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOM Cue legends of eating defrosting paleo flesh.

    In any case, back to the lost valley.

    He and his band were searching along a dry water-course for ivory and had found a considerable quantity. One of the party, who was in advance, rushed in upon the main body one morning with the startling intelligence that at a spring of water about a mile above where they then were he had discovered the ‘sign’ of several of the ‘bigteeth’. They had come to the spring: to drink from a lofty plateau further inland and had evidently fed in the vicinity of the water for some time. The chief immediately called about him his warriors, and the party, under the leadership of the scout, approached the stream. They had nearly reached it when their ears were suddenly saluted by a chorus of loud, shrill, trumpet-like calls, and an enormous creature came crashing toward them through the thicket, the ground fairly trembling beneath its ponderous footfalls. With wild cries of terror and dismay the Indians fled, all but the chief and the scout who had first discovered the trail of the monsters. They were armed with large caliber muskets and stood their ground, opening fire on the mammoth. A bullet must have penetrated the creature’s brain, for it staggered forward and fell dead and subsequently on their way back to their camp-ground they overhauled and killed a cow ‘big-teeth,’ which was evidently the mate of the first one killed. I asked the hunter to describe the monster, and taking a sharp stick he drew me a picture of the pale animal in the soft clay. According to his description it was at least twenty feet in height and thirty feet in length. In general shape it was not unlike an elephant, but its ears were smaller, its eyes bigger and its trunk longer and more slender. Its tusks were yellowish-white in color and six in number. Four of these tusks were placed like those of a boar, one on either side in each jaw; they were about four feet long and came to a sharp point. The other two tusks he brought away. ‘I measured them and they were over fifteen feet in length and weighed upward of 250 pounds each. They gradually tapered to a sharp point and curved inward. The monster’s body was covered with long, coarse hair of a reddish dun color.’

    To the best of my knowledge the description of the tusks is hardly credible unless the molars are being so described? Fowler claimed that Alaska’s recent governor Swineford had decided that ‘large herds of these monsters’ were to be found above the Snake River and the news raced around the world. One British correspondent to that great Victorian journal Science Gossip wrote in excitement: ‘Upon the whole there seems a very good chance that we may yet see a living mammoth in the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park, and that we may have the pleasure of feeding it with buns.’ Then this news story, like so many other cryptozoological efforts, fell away and took up its place in the newspaper archives. Then in 1899 Henry Tukeman actually killed an Alaskan Mammoth…

    This is all new for present blogger: can anyone advise a good book or extensive website with all Alaskan mammoth sightings from the nineteenth century? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Seems too good to waste.

    28 Feb 2014: Wade and KR have sent some fascinating links in: a heartbreaking baby mammoth, a sensible assessment of late mammoth sightings and an overview.

    2 March 2014: Bob writes: The ‘father of Cryptozoology’, Bernard Heuvelmans, has a chapter in his book On the track of Unknown Animals (published entitled The Mammoth of the Taiga (pp. 331-353, English translation, 1958, London). This chapter  iincludes an extended section on the account of M. Gallon (French chargee d’d’affaires at VladivostocK) of what he was told in 1920 by a Russian witness who spoke of finding tracks in 1918, and eventually observing a large hairy tusked elephant-like animal in Russia.  Heuvelmans also includes reference to a “large hairy elephant” reported as being seen by in the late 16th Century by Yermak Timofeyevitch, leader of a cossack expedition n the Ural mountains. “According to the natives it was part of the wealth of the Kingdom of Sibir, valued as food and known as “mountain of meat”. This happened at a time when even the Slav world had never heard of the mammoth.” ( Heuvelmans, ibid, p. 353). further to the contributions you have already received, I will add the following page, assessing some of the alleged reports of sightings of Woolly mammoths in Alaska and Russia. Thanks Bob!

    2 March 2014: Bruce has this: David Thompson (1770-1857), explorer and mapper of western Canada, heard stories of large animals from Indians in British Columbia in 1807: “The Old Chief & others related that in the Woods of the Mountains there is a very large Animal, of abt the height of 3 fms [fathoms] & great bulk that never lies down, but in sleeping always leans against a large Tree to support his weight; they believe, they say, that he has no joints in the mid of his Legs, but they are not sure as they never killed any of them, & by this acct they are rarely or never seen.” source In 1811, in what is now Alberta, Thompson himself saw large tracks that his men believed were made by ‘a young mammoth’, although Thompson thought they were from an old bear with worn claws. source  Thompson concluded: ‘The circumstantial evidence of the existence of this animal is sufficient, but notwithstanding the many months the Hunters have traversed this extent of country in all directions, and this Animal having never been seen, there is no direct evidence of it’s existence, yet when I think of all I have seen and heard, if put on my oath, I could neither assert, nor deny, it’s existence; for many hundreds of miles of the Rocky Mountains are yet unknown, and through the defiles by which we pass, distant one hundred and twenty miles from each other, we hasten our march as much as possible.’ Thanks Bruce!

    23 Jan 2016: Donald sends this great source in for Canada

    The following extracts have been taken from two editions of the Scots Magazine of 1818 and relate to a large unknown animal in the Rocky Mountains of North America.

    The Scots Magazine – Monday 01 June 1818
    Mr. Editor, the following short notice relative to what seems to me to be a subject of no slight interest may probably be deemed worthy of insertion either among your customary memoranda of natural history, or in some vacant corner of your instructive miscellany. You know that specimens of what has been denominated the wool-bearing animal have lately been transmitted from the rocky mountains of North America, to the professor of natural history in this city. This animal had not been described in any of the great works on natural history; and though it is a remarkable quadruped, not only from its haunts, which are among the high precipices of stupendous mountains, but from the great beauty and value of its fleece, it has till within few years been altogether unknown to any of the numerous scientific individuals who have been so actively engaged in investigating the wonders of every quarter of the globe. The fact is, however, that this animal, which we are informed is intermediate between the goat and the antelope, has been long familiar the traders who traverse the immense wildernesses which encompass its haunts, and I have repeatedly heard descriptions of it from individuals of that profession, who were not aware that in this part of the world it was so great a curiosity. What I wish particularly to state at present, however, is, that, in the course of these conversations, I have received from the same individuals the most positive assurances of the existence of another animal among the same mountains, of immense size, and equally unknown certainly to the naturalists of Europe. The fact of its existence rests upon the testimony of two different parties who had been sent some errand into the interior vallies of those mountains. The first party came suddenly upon the animal in a deep and formerly unvisited recess, and were so alarmed at its prodigious size, (exceeding that of the largest elephant,) and at its unknown aspect, that they immediately retreated in great consternation to the encampment from which they had been dispatched. Another party was sent to the same spot to ascertain the fact; and though the animal was not observed, its footsteps could be distinctly traced, and each compartment of its hoof is stated to have admitted both the feet of the travellers. It ought to observed, that these parties were perfectly familiar with the appearance of the buffaloe (sic) which indeed they were in the daily habit of killing; and that the animal which they saw cannot therefore be regarded as an individual of that tribe. It was seen, too, as I have already stated, in a very remote and central valley, and the intervals between its paces are described having been of astonishing magnitude. Now we know well that animals of immense size have inhabited the northern parts of our earth in former times, and the huge remains which are every day dug up, are more likely to have belonged to individuals of such an animal as that now alluded to, than to any extinct species of a former world. Nor is there any part of the globe to which we should more naturally turn proofs of the continued existence of such animals, (if they do still exist,) than the immense mountains where this individual was seen. These mountains have been untrodden in many of their solitudes by any even of the savage nations that inhabit these regions, for I am informed, that these tribes have one path by which they uniformly descend from the great interior wildernesses, to the encampments of our traders, for the purpose of disposing of the produce of their chase; and the majestic grandeur and extreme solitude of the mountains themselves, seem to harmonise with the attributes of so wonderful an animal. I am well aware, at the same time, how strongly fear and amazement might operate in exciting the imagination of men who found themselves amidst the awful stillness of a region so remarkable in every respect, and how natural it was for them in these circumstances to give preternatural magnitude to some familiar but bulky animal. Yet when I reflect on the character and experience of the individuals by whom this relation was given, and on all the probabilities by which their assertion is supported, I confess, that I feel a strong inclination to give full credit to every particular of their testimony. You will also be aware, that the existence of such an animal, if well ascertained, would be one of the most interesting facts which it is possible in our present state of knowledge to acquire; and if the Ornithorinchus, or any small prowler of the lakes of New Holland, is beheld with wonder and preserved with care, with what overpowering amazement should we contemplate the image of a quadruped, surpassing, according to our present accounts, the largest and most formidable that either browse in silence beneath our primeval forests or roam unmolested in the deep vallies of the hottest and least frequented regions of the globe ; and the existence of which would at the same go so far in illustrating some the darkest passages in the past history of this earth. My object, however, in transmitting to you this notice is simply to elicit such further information, either in the way of confirmation or denial as may set this interesting query on more certain grounds; and as many of the individuals employed either in the service of the Hudson’s Bay or of the North West Company, are daily arriving in this country, I hope that this hint may draw from such of them are actually of the parties before a satisfactory account of their expedition and discovery. I am yours truly, P.
    Edinburgh, June 6, 1818.
    This account is interesting but must be regarded as hearsay because P was not actually present on either of the occasions he quotes. The creature itself was only described as of a prodigious size and though reference is made to an elephant as a comparison in size the report does not say that it looked like an elephant. P appeals to more trappers or servants of the Hudsons Bay or North-West Company who may be arriving home in Scotland to give any account of their experiences and this drew a letter from a Thomas Pollock in the following July.

    The Scots Magazine – Wednesday 01 July 1818

    FURTHER NOTICE OF A HUGE UNKNOWN ANIMAL IN NORTH AMERICA. MR EDITOR, Having been shown a number of the Edinburgh Magazine by a gentleman in this neighbourhood, which gives some account of an uncommon animal seen among the mountains of North America, and signifies a hope that some person who has actually seen the animal will come forward and describe what he knows of it, I take this opportunity of testifying, that, in so far can judge from the description, I have seen the very animal in question. In the year 1803, I was sergeant in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in that capacity accompanied the late Louis in an incursion into the interior, with view to open a direct communication with the Indian nations immediately to the west of us. We left York fort on the 19th of May 1803. About fortnight after, having been sent across a river, the name of which I do not now recollect, by Mr Louis’s orders, the guide and myself suddenly came upon animal of an enormous size. It appeared about 20 feet in height, and had a very heavy and unwieldy appearance. I can give but a very lame account of it, on account the consternation into which I was thrown. The largeness of its belly was enormous, nearly touching the ground. Its colour was a dirty black. By Mr Louis’s desire I attempted a drawing of it, which he got, but I am sure it could not have been very accurate. Mr Louis unfortunately saw only its footsteps and dung. He took correct measure of the former, which was about two feet square. I am positive, however, that the feet were not divided, as the account in your Magazine bears. It appeared from the impression, that the feet were hollow in the middle. Perhaps the account in your Magazine is derived from the same source; but I think that the records the Hudson’s Bay Company could give the scientific observations of Mr Louis, to which I could make pretence. I recollect his saying, it was evident from the dung that the animal must live upon vegetables. When I returned home in 1812, I gave the above account to Dr Hodgson, minister of this parish, and to several other Persons whom I thought it might interest but as they did not seem to give much credit to my words, have ever since ceased mentioning the particulars. If my character for veracity has suffered, hope the coinciding testimony of your correspondent P. will have the effect of re-establishing it in the good opinion of these gentlemen. If you think the publishing of this letter will be of any use in leading to farther information, you are welcome to print it, and to use my name as you please. I remain your obedient servant, Thomas Pollock. Blantyre Hamilton, 6th July 1818.

    Again the description is lacking in detail but this time purports to be a first-hand account, which is more valuable. One is tempted to infer that both these letters refer to a mammoth. The latter description by Thomas Pollock affirms that the feet were not divided and this rules out bovines and probably does point to a mammoth.

    There is no reference to a Thomas Pollock or Mr Louie in the Hudsons’ Bay Company online archives. However this may not be conclusive as not all biographical records have been put on line yet.

    York Factory served, for many years, as the HBC’s supply depot and main entry point for the fur trade in Western Canada. It was also the headquarters for the Northern Department. It was also known as Fort York. During the first half of the nineteenth century, York Factory boasted a staff of approximately 35-40 men. York Factory also served as a base for many explorers and had an artisan manufacturing program which supported many skilled tradesmen.

    York Factory was a settlement and Hudson’s Bay Company factory (trading post) located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay in northeastern Manitoba, Canada, at the mouth of the Hayes River, approximately 200 kilometres (120 mi) south-southeast of Churchill.