During the Pleistocene Era, 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, mastodons roamed much of the woodlands and forests of North American, Africa, Europe and Asia. Mastodons were large elephant-like mammals with flattened foreheads, long rounded lower jawbones, and straight upper tusks. Their teeth were used to grind vegetation; their diet consisted of twigs, leaves, and high growing vegetation. An adult mastodon could weigh between 3,600 and 5,500 kilograms, with males being larger than females. Mastodons were covered with coarse brownish hair.
Mastodons became extinct between 9,000 and 12,000 years ago, though scientists are not entirely sure why. The Ice Age ended and the warming temperatures may have caused their extinction. However, early humans had learned how to use stone tools in hunting, and may also have contributed to mastodon extinction.
In October 1879, the Sedalia Democrat noted it was not unusual for people to find remains of animals long since extinct. It mentioned the mastodon remains that had been found near Warsaw in 1864, and that the bones were on display in a Warsaw drug store. The Democrat then mentioned it had its own collection of mastodon bones on display at its offices in Sedalia.
The mastodon bones had been found on the Wade Mosby farm seven miles southeast of Sedalia. The area had been settled in about 1839, and the spring discovered. The Mosby home was about 100 yards from the spring, and the family used the spring for water.
Workmen were engaged in cleaning the spring and building a rock wall around it. While excavating for the wall, workers found mastodon bones. They began to fill the excavation in with rocks.
Word of the find spread to Sedalia and caught the attention of A.R. Blair, a Sedalia businessman with an interest in archaeology. He rode to the Mosby farm to stop workers from filling the excavation and to supervise the search for mastodon bones. He found several pieces of vertebra, a jawbone with two molars, some other teeth, and a portion of a tusk. He arranged with Mosby to allow him and Bert Leaky further excavate the area in hopes of finding more mastodon bones.
Blair brought the bones to the Democrat office where “hundreds of our citizens” came to view the remains. On Oct. 18, the Democrat announced Blair had found the upper portion of the skull, about four feet by three feet, had been found, as had some bones of a smaller mastodon. The skull, Blair believed, was too fragile to move from the earth.
Blair and Leake continued to excavate and on Oct. 23, the Democrat reported further finds. The men had found seven mastodon tusks, two large skulls, a “lot of fine teeth,” and a great mass of mixed bones. These finds were being brought to the Democrat office for public viewing.
Blair and Leake found some evidence that humans were involved with the death of one of the mastodons. The Democrat reported they found an “Indian arrow head” and an “Indian slung shot.” What they actually found is in question, however, because archaeologists in the 19th century did not fully understand the tools and hunting practices of early Native Americans. If Blair’s collection were to be located and examined, perhaps some conclusions could be drawn.
Do any local archaeologists know the location of the Blair collection?
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.