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BIG BONE LICK-BACKWOODS-VINCENNES.
I QUITTED Cincinnati with regret, as I had been introduced to some very pleasant young men, from whom I received a great deal of kindness and attention.
Having left my own horse at Louisville, I hired another, and crossing the river into the State of Kentucky, took the road to Big Bone Lick. This celebrated spot is situated on a small stream that runs into the Ohio, and is fifty miles distant by water, and twenty-one by land, from Cincinnati. The road to it is through a wild and wooded country; though, indeed, I ought rather to call it pathway than road, for it is very narrow, and in many places somewhat difficult to find, as it is crossed by several others. The lick, or spring, is situated at the bottom of a natural basin, through which runs the little stream, called Big Bone Creek. The hills forming this basin are high, and covered with forest. The disagreeable smell emitted by the water is very sensibly perceived at a great distance. The following is from an account of it published by Dr. Drake of Cincinnati.
“ The waters of Big Bone hold in solution, besides common salt, the muriate of lime, sulphate of soda, and a few other salts of less activity, but
no iron. They afford a great quantity of sulphurated hydrogen gas, which is constantly escaping in bubbles. From their effects on sulphates of copper, they appear obviously to contain a certain portion of gallic acid, which is no doubt furnished by the vegetable matter, through which the waters rise. . The springs are situated near the termination of the back-water of the Ohio, and consequently at a point, where great quantities of twigs and leaves, (most of which, from the nature of the surrounding forests, are of oak,) are brought down by the current and deposited. The temperature of the water is 57°; the taste and smell sulphureous, and very offensive.”..... ....,
The bottom, whence the spring rises, is covered with a thin coat of marle, beneath which is a bed of very stiff adhesive blue clay. In this blue clay are found the bones of the mammoth, mixed with an innumerable quantity of the bones and teeth of deer, of elk, and of a very large species of ox. The skull of this last animal differs somewhat from that of the bison, or, as it is erroneously called, the buffalo, an animal which, in fact, does not exist anywhere in the whole continent of America. Herds of these bisons, as also of elk,* could be seen not forty years ago in Kentucky; and prodigious numbers of them still range in the prairies of the Mis
* Some of these animals, which are very common, I have seen exhibited in London, under the ridiculous name of the Wapeti.
souri and the Arkansas, and throughout the whole of the country between the Mississippi and Mexico. · All the bones found in the blue clay, are in the most perfect state of preservation, and have not in the slightest degree become petrified. After severe rain, when the stream washes away a little of the exterior marle, thousands of the teeth and bones of the smaller animals are exposed to view, and not unfrequently some of those of the mammoth.
It was probably owing to there having been a very heavy fall of rain just before I arrived, that I was enabled to pick up about four inches of the point, and several large fragments of a tusk of this enormous animal. The bones found here are much larger than those of the Siberian or European mammoth.
The vast quantities of other bones and teeth sticking out from the clay is quite extraordinary : and it is a scarcely less remarkable circumstance, that most of the mammoth bones are found broken. How indeed could such enormous tusks and thigh bones have been thus injured ? It would require a strong man with a sledge hammer to break them at present; and how also could these apparent remains of a Præ-Adamite world have been mixed with such myriads of smaller bones? and why should they all have been deposited in this particular spot?
I have heard several theories, but all of them highly unsatisfactory; so much so indeed, that the lover of the marvellous will probably have re
course to the old Indian tradition; which, though I am afraid few savans will adopt it, I will relate as it was delivered to some gentlemen by an old chief :" In ancient times,” said the Indian, “ a herd of these tremendous animals came to the Big Bone Lick, and began an universal destruction of the bears, deer, elk, buffaloes, and other animals, which had been created for the use of the Indians. The Great Spirit above, looking down and seeing this, was so enraged, that he seized his lightning, descended on the earth, seated himself on a nieighbouring mountain, on a rock where his seat and the print of his feet are still visible, and hurled his bolts among them, until the whole were slaughtered, excepting the big bull, who presenting his forehead to the shafts, shook them off as they fell; but missing one at length, it wounded him in the side; whereon, turning round, he bounded over the Ohio, the Wabash, the Illinois, and finally, over the great Lakes, where he is living to this day."*
I am astonished that some lover of natural history does not search and dig near this spring; for I have not the least hesitation in affirming, that! for the expense of a few hundred dollars a complete skeleton of the Antediluvian monarch of carnivorous animals might be obtained. This is a great desideratum, as at present no perfect one is to be found in any collection. The only attempt
* Jefferson's Notes on Virginia.
that has been made was by a Dr. Goforth, a very scientific but very poor man, who expended nearly all his little property, amounting to a few hundred dollárs, in digging near the spring. Here he obtained such a vast quantity of the bones, teeth, and tusks of the mammoth, as to fill seventeen very large chests, from which, no doubt, more than sufficient to complete an entire skeleton might have been selected.
Unfortunately he became acquainted with a certain Englishman, called Ashe, who taught French for a time at Cincinnati, under the name of Arville. This is the same man, who afterwards, to the astonishment of those who knew him at Cincinnati, published three volumes of Travels, which have become in America almost proverbial, for their extraordinary and gratuitous lies. Now this Mr. Ashe persuaded Dr. Goforth to allow him to take the bones to New Orleans, from whence, if they could not be sold there to advantage, he might transport them to Europe. For doing this he was to have a large share of the profits. But poor Dr. Goforth never heard anything more of the bones ; and as it is very generally asserted, that Ashe took them to Europe and sold them for a large sum of money, this story has found its way into most of the works, that give any account of the Ohio, or of the neighbourhood of Cincinnati.
But conversing with Mr. D'Orfeuil, one of the