Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thomas Jefferson, from Query 6 (on Productions Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal) in Notes on the State of Virginia (i.e. a direct response to Comte de Buffon's theory of a naturally degenerative biotic and cultural environment in the New World)

 Our quadrupeds have been mostly described by Linnaeus and
Mons. de Buffon. Of these the mammoth, or big buffalo, as
called by the Indians, must certainly have been the largest.
Their tradition is, that he was carnivorous, and still exists in
the Northern parts of America. A delegation of warriors
from the Delaware tribe having visited the Governor of Vir-
ginia, during the present revolution, on matters of business,
after these had been discussed and settled in council, the Go-
vernor asked them some questions relative to their country,
and, among others, what they knew or had heard of the ani-
mal whose bones were found at the Saltlicks, on the Ohio.

Their chief speaker immediately put himself into an attitude
of oratory, and with a pomp suited to what he conceived the
elevation of his subject, informed him that it was a tradition
handed down from their fathers: "That in ancient times a
herd of these tremendous animals came to the Big Bone Licks,
and began an universal destruction of the bear, deer, elks,
buffaloes, and other animals, which had been created for the
use of the Indians; that the Great Man above, looking down
and seeing this, was so enraged that he seized his lightning,
descended on the earth, seated himself on a neighboring
mountain, on a rock, of which his seat and the print of his
feet are still to be seen, and hurled his bolts among them till
the whole were slaughtered, except the big bull, who, present-
ing his forehead to the shafts, shook them off as they fell;
but missing one at length, it wounded him in the side; where-
on, springing round, he bounded over the Ohio, over the Wa-
bash, the Illinois, and finally over the great lakes, where he is
living at this day." It is well known that on the Ohio, and in
many parts of America further North, tusks, grinders, and
skeletons of unparalleled magnitude, are found in great num-
bers, some lying on the surface of the earth, and some a little
below it. A Mr. Stanley, taken prisoner by the Indians near
the mouth of the Tanissee, relates that, after being transfer-
red through several tribes, from one to another, he was at
length carried over the mountains West of the Missouri to a
river which runs westwardly; that these bones abounded there;
and that the natives described to him the animal to which they
belonged as still existing in the Northern parts of their coun-
try; from which description he judged it to be an elephant.
Bones of the same kind have been lately found some feet be-
low the surface of the earth, in salines opened on the North
Holston,.a branch of the Tanissee, about the latitude of 36J°
North. From the accounts published in Europe, I suppose it
to be decided that these are of the same kind with those found
in Siberia.* Instances are mentioned of like animal remains found in the more Southern climates of both hemispheres; * but they are either so loosely mentioned as to leave a doubt of the
fact, so inaccurately described as not to authorize the classing
them with the great Northern bones, or so rare as to found a
suspicion that they have been carried thither as curiosities
from more Northern regions. So that on the whole there
seem to be no certain vestiges of the existence of this animal
further South than the salines last mentioned- f It is remark-
able that the tusks and skeletons have been ascribed by the
naturalists of Europe to the elephant, while the grinders have
been given to the hippopotamus, or river horse. J Yet it is
acknowledged that the tusks and skeletons are much larger
than those of the elephant, and the grinders many times
greater than those of the hippopotamus, and essentially dif-
ferent in form. Wherever these grinders are found, there also
we find the tusks and skeleton; but no skeleton of the hippo-
potamus nor grinders of the elephant. It will not be said that
the hippopotamus and elephant came always to the same spot,
the former to deposit his grinders, and the latter his tusks and
skeleton. For what became of the parts not deposited there?
We must agree then that these remains belong to each other,
that they are of one and the same animal, that this was
not a hippopotamus, because the hippopotamus had no tusks
nor such a frame, and because the grinders differ in their size
as well as in the number and form of their points. That it
was not an elephant, I think ascertained by proofs equally
decisive. I will not avail myself of the authority of the cele-
brated anatomist, who, from an examination of the form and
structure of the tusks, has declared they were essentially
different from those of the elephant, because another anato-
mist, equally celebrated, has declared, on a like examination,
that they are precisely the same.

* Clavigero says: "Non mi sovviene che appo qualche nazione Americana vi sia
memoria o degli elafanti, o dogl ippopotami, o d' altri quadruped! di si fatta gran-
dezza. Non so che fin ora, fra tanti scavamenti fatta nella Nuova Spagna, siasi mai
ucoperto un caroamo d' Ippopotamo, e quel ch' e piu, ne anche un dente d' elefante.—

* 2. Epoques, 276, in Mexico; but, 1. Epoques, 250, denies the fact as to S. America.
t22. Buffon, 233; 2. Epoques, 230.
J 2. Epoques, 232. Buffon pron 

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