Fremont County, Iowa

Elephants in Our Past??
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
August 4, 2014

When I think of elephants, I think of Africa and India. When I think of Woolly Mammoths, I think of Siberia or the Mush Ox in Alaska. I donít know whether the Mammoths were the early elephants or early musk ox. I just know that until I came to Fremont County, I never thought Mammoths roamed in what we now call Iowa.

We have just reopened the new museum in Sidney, and are rediscovering all of wonderful things in our collection. The biggest point to me is that everything in the collection was found in Fremont County. The prehistoric exhibit includes two Mammoth tusks that were discovered in the Fremont County gravel pit near Thurman thirty some years ago.

Imagine being a worker that day and encountering these bones as you were digging up gravel. It would have been quite a surprise because the County is not known for fossil finds. Especially with the Loess Hills being piles of dust formed by wind in our ancient past. The gravel bed that was being excavated was deep in the ground and an indication of an old river bed When the Mammoth were here, there was probably a flat plain much like the river bottoms of today. Either the Missouri River would have already been in existence or this was the edge of a shallow sea. It would have had to be a lush area of vegetation to support a Mammoth herd.

Since we know Mammoths existed up to the last glacier period, they may have walked along the edge of a glacier or through the gravel bed from a melted glacier that was in this area. When it died, it had to be close enough to water or perhaps in the water so that over time as the flesh decayed the bones would have been covered and preserved in the sand and rocks that would become gravel. Perhaps a strong current washed the tusks away from the body or maybe the other bones were carried away by a Saber Tooth Tiger that had killed it.

Thank-goodness the workers that day recognized they had found something special. There are pictures from the newspaper showing the tusks being encased in plaster for protection. They were then donated to Historical Society to be preserved. The first exhibit for the display was a large wooden case in the old building. Then we began our building project in the 2000s and for almost seven years the tusks were stored on the Dave Roberts farm.

As we prepared the exhibits, the question became were we sure we were looking at Mammoth tusks or maybe they were Mastodon tusks. This spring, students in a second semester Sidney High School class helped with the exhibit preparation. The team preparing the pre-historic display decided to research this question. During a college visit they went to Morrill Hall at the University of Nebraska. The result, they reconfirmed we had Mammoth Tusks because they turned inward. Mastodon tusks curved upward.

The tusks are now in their new home ready for viewing and for others to imagine Mammoths roaming Fremont County.

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Page updated on June 20, 2017 by Karyn Techau