The most important early discovery of mastodon bones happened in 1739 at a place called (in a gift to thirteen year old boys everywhere) Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, just a few miles downstream from the present-day location of Ken Ham's ridiculous creationism museum in Covington. This was not the first European discovery of mastodon bones, but it was the first to receive serious scientific attention in the Old World. The story is simple enough. In 1739, a small French army accompanied by their Indian allies traveled from Quebec to Louisiana to make war on the Chickasaw Indians. Their route took them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to a place near modern-day Memphis where they were to meet a second army coming up from New Orleans. Half-way down the Ohio, they camped at the mouth of a small stream. Some ways up stream, they found some large bones. They collected a few of the bones and, after the campaign, sent them to Paris. This story has been repeated, embellished, corrupted, and deconstructed for almost three centuries. Using some documents that have been largely ignored till now, I hope to clear up a couple of points and contribute my own version of the discovery and of how word of the discovery was communicated to the outside, literate world.
First, some history
The French and British adopted different strategies to exploit North America. The British settled the East Coast and moved west. The French settled in the St. Lawrence valley and moved to occupy the interior of the continent through its waterways. Rather late in the game they moved to add the huge Mississippi drainage to their claim on the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes drainage. When Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the founder of New Orleans, tried to exert actual French power up the Mississippi he found his way blocked by the Chickasaw nation who were settled between modern Natchez and Mobile and ranged over a much larger area east of the river. The Chickasaw already had an already established an overland trade relationship with British merchants from the Carolinas. After several years of raids and counter-raids, Bienville decided to end the Chickasaw problem once and for all. In 1736, he raised an army in New Orleans which was to coordinate its attack on the Chickasaw's villages with a second army sent from the Illinois country. The Chickasaw separately defeated both armies. Not deterred (or perhaps desperate for his career) Bienville wrote to Paris for support. Paris gave him everything he wanted. The government sent cannons, mortars, grenades, thousands of pounds of powder and shot, and five hundred troops. They also ordered another, larger army to be raised in Quebec to advance from the north under the command of Bienville's nephew, Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil. It was this expedition that collected the bones at Big Bone Lick.
The campaign against the Chickasaw was another failure. The cannons got stuck in the mud, draught animals died, the French soldiers got sick, draftees deserted, and the Iroquois, who made up half of Longueuil's army, made a separate peace with the Chickasaw after exchanging gifts of cheese and pottery. In early summer 1740, Bienville called off the campaign. He and Longueuil released their troops to go home. As long as they were in North America, the French never did manage to defeat the Chickasaw. Longueuil sailed down the Mississippi to New Orleans with his uncle. From there, he took a ship back to France. In Paris, he donated the bones to the Cabinet du Roi (the museum of the King).
Now, some historiography
The story was retold several times over the following two centuries. By the early Twentieth Century, huge differences existed among the stories. Three different years for the discovery were being put forth. Three different versions of the actual discovery and collection of the bones existed. Some publications included a beautiful etching of a mastodon tooth. In some versions, an officer known only as Fabri or Fabry was present at the discovery, might have returned there in the late forties, and either met or wrote a letter to the Comte du Buffon in 1748 giving a short description of the native legends surrounding the bones. Another mysterious Frenchman known as Hamel or du Hamel seems to have known something about the circumstances of the discovery.
In the English language, the most important attempt to make sense of the various versions came in 1942. This was made by the most influential American paleontologist of his generation, George Gaylord Simpson. He wrote two articles on the subject. This version comes from "The Beginnings of Vertebrate Paleontology in North America," published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society where he wrote:
In 1739 Longueuil was placed in command of French and Indian troops dispatched from Canada to aid Le Moyne de Bienville, founder and governor of New Orleans, in an attack on the Chickasaw Indians. ... The expedition left Montreal in June, 1739, and proceeded to the Ohio River by way of Oswego, Lake Chautauqua, and the Allegheny River. In late summer of that year they descended the Ohio and at some distance before reaching the falls, where Louisville now stands, they found a marsh on the edge of which were large bones and teeth, representing what they took to be the remains of three elephants. Longueuil had some of these remains gathered up, including a tusk, a femur, and at least three molars, and these were carried with the army to its rendezvous with Bienville, on the Mississippi near the present site of Memphis.
After the successful conclusion of the Chickasaw war in the spring of 1740, Longueuil went on to New Orleans, taking the fossils with him, and hence transported them to France at about the end of 1740. The fossils were placed in the King's collection of curiosities, Cabinet du Roi, whence they were transferred to the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes....
I'll address six questions here.
- When were the bones found?
- Who found the bones?
- How were the bones added to the royal collections?
- Is that etching really one of the teeth?
- Who is du Hamel?
- Who is Fabri?
Other writers have answered some of these questions. My purpose here is not to claim their work as my own. My goal is to bring their research together with my own to create what I hope is the most accurate version.
When were the bones found? The first published mention of the bones is on a map entitled "Carte de la Louisiane Cours du Mississipi et Pais Voisins [Map of Louisiana, the Course of the Mississippi, and Neighbouring Countries]." It is dated 1744 and was prepared by "N. Bellin" (Jacques-Nicolas Bellin 1703-1772). Halfway down the "Oyo ou la Belle Riviere" is the notation "Endroit ou on à trouvé des os d'Elephant en 1729 [The place where Elephants' bones were found in 1729]." In 1756, Jean-Bernard Bossu ascended the Mississippi and wrote a series of letters to a friend in France. While stopping at a fort on the Illinois River, he was shown a giant molar. The commandant would not let him go to the place, because of the danger posed by the British, but told him the story behind the tooth: "In 1735, Canadians, who came to make war with Chickasaws, found around the Belle River or the Ohio, the skeletons of seven elephants, which makes me assume that Louisiana is in India..."
Which date is correct: 1729, 1735, or 1739? There is no doubt that 1739 is the correct date. The 1729 date is simply a mistake by the mapmaker. Bellin's source for that part of the map was a manuscript map drawn by Philippe Mandeville who, in turn, used information gathered Joseph-Gaspard Chaussegros de Lery, an officer with Longueuil. On Mandeville's map, "Endroit o yl a Ett trouv Les Eaux de plusieurs Elephans pard L arme de Cannada Command pard Mr. Le Baron de Longuille et o il a fait mettre Les Armes du Roy en 1739. [Place where the bones of many elephants were found by the army from Canada commanded by the Baron de Longuille, and where he had the Arms of the King set up in 1739]." The 3 in the date is smudged and hard to read. Sylvester Stevens and Donald Kent demonstrated this through the elegantly simple method of giving a skilled draftsman Mandeville's drawing and asking him to produce a map. The resulting map also had the date 1729. Bossu's date is based on the fact that, as mentioned above, the French waged two wars against the Chickasaw Nation. Longueuil's 1739 expedition down the Ohio was during the second of these campaigns. During the earlier war, Pierre D'Artaguiette led a force from the Illinois country during the winter of 1735-6. He never passed by Big Bone Lick.
Bellin's 1744 map incorrectly dating the discovery to 1729. Source.
Who found the bones? This one is both easy and hard to answer. At various times it has been claimed that the French found the bones, that their Indian allies found the bones, or that the Indians told the French about the bones after which the French went to the spot and collected them. Simpson says "they" found them, referring to the whole army, and Longueuil ordered the bones collected. There are no surviving records of the discovery written by Longueuil. There aren't even references by French scientists that such a report ever existed. There is, however a note from the mysterious Fabry. It reads in its entirety: "Baron de Longueuil left Canada with a large party of French and Indians to come and join M. de Bienville on the Mississippi at an appropriate location to assemble and march against the Chickasaw Indians. M. Longueuil, instead of taking the usual route through Detroit [to the Illinois River], portaged five leagues from Lake Erie, and went down the Ohio River by canoe to its juncture with the Mississippi, thirty-five leagues above the Illinois. When he was nearly halfway down the Ohio River, a few Indians who had gone hunting from their camp found the remains of three large animals on the edge of a swamp. They brought back to the camp a thigh bone and tusks that are believed to be from an elephant, and that M. de Longueuil brought to France in 1740. M. Lignery, Lieutenant in Canada, who was with M. Longueuil, wrote a Journal of the campaign, in which he detailed the discovery of bones in question." Fabry is not is very clear and to the point. The bones were found by an Indian hunting party and brought to the French. There is no mention of the French going to site or doing any collecting, though the mysterious du Hamel (below) gives me reason to think they did. Presented with mysterious giant bones, wouldn't you have gone and taken a look?
"Indians" is a pretty vague term. Is it possible to narrow that down a bit? In her book, Fossil Legends of the First Americans, Adrienne Mayor attempts to do just that. Longueuil's force was made up 442 men. Of these, 123 were French and Canadian and 319 were from allied Indian nations. According to Mayor, the nations living in the area where Longueuil would have been recruiting that were most likely to join him were the Iroquois, Wyandot, and Abenaki. Of these, she believes the Abenaki are the most likely discoverers. Many of them were Christians and spoke French, making them more attuned to know what might interest the French. The Abenaki also had a history of joining French expeditions and, thus might have been familiar with the attractions of lands outside their home territory. Mayor is comfortable enough in this conclusion that, after laying out her reasons, she refers to the discoverers as Abenaki for the rest of her book. Based on the information available to her, it's a solid conclusion. I've had no reason to question it since I first read her book six years ago.
That is, until last fall when, while writing my chapter about the mastodon, I came across a set of documents from the campaign. In 1922, the Archivist of Quebec published these documents in the annual report of the Archives. One of the documents is the roster of the army that departed Montreal and two others are reports from Longueuil while on the road. Unfortunately, both of the reports were written before he reached Big Bone Lick and do not describe the discovery. The roster names all of the officers and cadets who traveled with him and breaks down the rest of the army into soldiers, draftees, and Indian allies by nation. The latter are: 237 Iroquois, 50 Abenaki, and 32 Algonquin and Nippising. That's still a reasonable number of Abenaki. Let's move on to Longueuil's two reports. By August 4, the army had made their way up the St. Lawrence River, crossed Lake Ontario, portaged around Niagara Falls and made their way to the point where they were to portage over to the Ohio drainage. In this report he says that a large part ("une grand partie") of the Abenaki and Two Mountain Iroquois deserted when they were passing the English settlement at Oswego, New York, seduced by English brandy. He put the total at around seventy, but hoped they could be replaced with other Iroquois recruited in the Ohio country. Six days later, having completed the portage into the Ohio basin, he wrote that the actual number of deserters was closer to ninety. The Abenaki and Two Mountain Iroquois contingents of his army amounted to 101 men.
It's not likely that there were enough Abenaki left to make up a hunting party large enough to feed 350 men. But, if not the Abenaki, then who? Longueuil wrote that he hoped to recruit more Iroquois in the valley. None of the records I'm aware of say whether he was successful in that or not. However, there is a piece of evidence that indicates who he did recruit. In 1749, ten years after Longueuil passed through, competition between the British and French to be the dominant influence in the Ohio country was heating up. It would soon flare into the open warfare that Bossu was warned to avoid. In that year, the French sent Jean Baptiste Celoron de Blainville down the Ohio to convince the local Indians to stick with the French. For some reason, Anglo historians prefer to ignore his title and call him Celoron. That might be because he was kind of a jerk. Celoron was a veteran of the Chickasaw wars who, then, had brought his own contingent of French and Indians from the Illinois country. Celoron's style on this mission was to scold the heads of the villages he passed and then hand out gifts. His final stop was a large Shawnee settlement at the mouth of the Scioto River. He estimated the settlement as having 80-100 households. Celoron's welcome was underwhelming. First the Shawnee tried to scare him off with a show of arms (which Celoron dryly notes were probably provided by the British). Next, they erected fortifications around the village. When they finally allowed Celoron in to address them, he scolded them for their bad hospitality. He demanded to know what had happened to the good will they had when, "ten years ago, Monsieur de Longueil (sic) passed by here on his way to the Chuachias [Chickasaws]. You came out to meet him, and you showed him in every way the kindness of your hearts. A company of young men also volunteered to accompany him."
This, I think, is the true identity of the discoverers. The Shawnee settlement at the mouth of the Scioto was about 130 miles upstream from the Big Bone Lick and the lick was known to the Shawnee along the Ohio. In the summer of 1755, a group of Shawnee warriors attacked the small settlement of Draper's Meadow in western Virginia. Several settlers were killed and five were taken prisoner. One of the prisoners was Mary Draper Ingles. Ingles was taken west to an encampment of French and Shawnee just above mouth of the Bone Lick stream. She was then taken to the salt lick and put to work boiling water to collect salt. Her later escape and journey back to Virginia has been retold by historians, novelized, and made into more than one movie. Her story shows that in 1755, sixteen years after Longueuil passed, the lick was well known to the Shawnee.
There is one final question about the discoverers that has been insufficiently examined. What was the motivation of the hunters in bringing the bones to the camp? In the narrative that assumes the hunters had no previous knowledge of the bones, the logical course of events is that the found a salt lick, which is a place where buffalo and deer would gather, then hunkered down, waiting for the game to come to them. During this period of quiet observation, they saw the bones and decided to bring them back to the camp. Why? They thought the French would be interested in them. In the narrative that assumes the hunters did have previous knowledge of the bones, the logical course of events is that some of them went directly to the salt lick to collect bones, while the rest of the party hunted. In either case, why did they bring them back? This is a good question. If they had joined the expedition a few days earlier, as I believe, their motive might have been as much to impress the other Indians as it was to give the French something they might be interested in. Maybe more so. How ethnocentric is it for Euro-Americans to assume that we were the intended audience for the bones? Their retrieval might have been motivated by the newest members of the expedition trying to impress everyone in the expedition, not just the French.
How were the bones added to the royal collections? Most accounts are very specific that the bones were donated directly to the museum. Those bones were one femur, one broken tusk, and three molars. The note from the mysterious Fabry, quoted above, mentions only a femur and tusks (plural). Fabry's note appears twice in the literature of the time, both by the same writer: Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton. Daubenton was hired by Buffon in 1742 to assist him in writing his massive encyclopedia of nature, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, and to catalog the various royal collections. In 1762, Buffon began working on the volume his history that included the elephant. That same year, presumably as a result of his research for Buffon, Daubenton presented a paper to the French academy about the bones discovered on the Ohio. In this paper he only indirectly tells the story of their discovery: "Baron de Longueuil going out of Lake Erie in 1739 with a large party of French & Indians, went down the river Oyo on his canoes up to where it joins the Mississippi, thirty-five miles below the Illinois: while they were camped halfway down the Oyo, some Indians out hunting, found the bones of three large animals on the edge of a swamp, and brought to camp the femur in question and tusks that they [presumably the French] thought came from an elephant, and that M. de Longueuil brought to France in 1740." This is a paraphrasing of the note from someone he identifies only as Fabry. Later he writes that "M. du Hamel, of the Academy, told me that M. de Longueuil had brought from Canada very large molars, these are in the Royal collection."
Daubenton concluded that the teeth and the tusk and femur came from two different animals. The former he determined were from a relative of the hippo and the latter from a relative of the elephant. In Buffon's Natural History the sections on each of those animals include Daubenton's inventory of the royal collections. True to his earlier conclusions, Daubenton describes the femur and tusk with the elephant and the three teeth with the hippopotamus. In the inventory entry for the femur, he gives the full text of Fabry's note. Just as before, this is followed by the statement that "M. Hamel, of the Royal Academy of Sciences, said that Mr. Longueuil also brought in 1740, very-large molars that had been found in Canada, perhaps along with the tusk and femur [singular] I have just mentioned." In the next volume, in the section on the hippo, he says the three teeth came from Canada with the femur and tusk. Daubenton's three entries agree with each other in the most important details. These are: Fabry says the bones were discovered by an Indian hunting party and that they brought a femur and tusks to the camp, there is only one tusk in the collections delivered by Longueuil, and that he learned about the teeth from du Hamel (or Hamel), not from Fabry or Longueuil.
Is that etching really one of the teeth? In 1752, a Swiss geologist, Jean Etienne Guettard, presented a paper before the French Academy. The topic was a comparison of the geology of Switzerland and North America. Guettard included a short section on the fossils of North America. In it he writes, "I should have so much desired to compare a large fossil tooth that is place that is marked on maps of Canada as the canton where elephant bones are found. What animal is it? And does it resemble fossil teeth of this size that we have found in different parts of Europe? [i.e. mammoths]. I give this figure; the research we do on it later should shed some light on the subject." The maps he refers to can only mean Bellin's, which had been published twice by then. When his paper was published four years after its initial presentation, it included two plates of a giant tooth and a small Crinoid fossil. Every published example of the etching that I've seen, except one, identifies it as one of the teeth Longueuil donated.
Guettard's tooth. He identifies the small crinoid fossil on the lower left as a moth. Source.
There are some good reasons to doubt that. First, Guettard never mentions Longueuil or the royal collections. Second, he says he would like to examine a tooth, not that he already has examined one. I suspect the image was something he added to his paper before publication in 1756. Third, the tooth doesn't match any of the descriptions Daubention gave for the teeth. I'm not the only person who has had doubts about the illustration. In 2002, Pascal Tassy went through the fossil collection at the Museum trying to identify Longueuil's bones. In the 260 years since their donation, the bones were cataloged three times and given different numbers each time. Old numbers rubbed away, tags fell off, and the collections were moved several times. But, Tassy was successful and located all three teeth with traces of their Daubenton numbers visible using a black light. He also located the tooth in Guettard's illustration. After some detective work, he was able to match the tooth to a number in an 1861 inventory with the notation "Collection Drée." From here, he was able to find an illustration of the tooth and a reference to Drée in Georges Cuvier's Recherches sur les Ossemens fossiles (1806). When Buffon published an illustration of teeth from the Ohio in 1778 and this tooth was not one of them.
Guettard gives one possible clue as to the origin of the tooth. In the published version of his paper, he says that Jean François Gautier, a prominent Canadian naturalist, sent him a note commenting on his draft. Gautier wrote, "All those who have been to this place, who have seen the skeletons or bones of these animals, relate that the skeletons are almost complete: we do not assume that they include the teeth, because these are the only parts that we can easily carry away; the other bones are too large and too heavy." Gautier adds that he will have Father Bonnecamp, a Jesuit of impeccable scientific credentials, make drawings of the skeletons during his next trip down the Ohio. Bonnecamp was part of Celoron's 1749 expedition. He never made a second expedition down the Ohio, but Gautier's interest in the bones might have led one of the men to acquire one of the teeth from another traveler.
The likely history of the tooth is that Gautier acquired it sometime before 1756 and sent it to one of his scientific correspondents in France, possibly even Guettard. The tooth was in private collections until some point between 1778 and 1806 when it was either donated to the Museum or confiscated by the revolutionary authorities.
Who is du Hamel? This is the easiest question to answer. Daubenton describes du Hamel as being "of the Royal Academy of Sciences." This makes him Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau who was elected to the Academy in 1738 and served three times as its president. That he knew about the teeth, which are not mentioned in Fabry's letter, raises the possibility that he was present when Longueuil donated them. Like Guettard, Duhamel was a regular correspondent of Gautier's, which makes him another possible recipient of the fourth tooth.
Who is Fabri? Stanley Hedeen, in his book Big Bone Lick, refers to "A Frenchman by the name of Fabri [who] was likely at the Lick in the 1740s when he saw 'heads and skeletons of an enormous quadruped called by the Savages, the father of oxen.'" Mayor writes, "Little is known about Fabri except that he participated in the campaign from Montreal down the Ohio and on to New Orleans..." Hedeen cites no source; Mayor cites Cuvier and Henry Chapman Mercer's The Lenape Stone (1885). Mercer writes that the tradition that the bones were those of a monster "appears in the song tradition of the ‘Father of Oxen,’ from Canada, and in a monster tradition from Louisiana, both spoken of by Fabri, a French officer, in a letter to Buffon from America in 1748." Cuvier mentions Fabri twice. His first reference reads: "We have three such [teeth] at the Museum, previously brought back by Fabri." He refers to Daubenton's catalog as his source. The second reference reads: "A French officer named Fabri announced to Buffon in 1748 that the Indians looked upon these bones scattered in various parts of Canada and Louisiana as coming from a particular animal they called the father of oxen." For this he cites Buffon (1778) as his source. What Buffon wrote was, "In the year 1748, M. Fabri, who had made great excursions into the northern parts of Louisiana and the southern regions Canada, informed me that he had seen heads and skeletons of an enormous quadruped, called by the Savages the father of Oxen."
Except for Duhamel's mention of the teeth, everything we know about the discovery of the mastodon bones at Big Bone Lick comes from Fabry/Fabri. And, all the information we have about Fabri ultimately comes from Buffon and Daubenton. Daubenton, who wrote first, quotes the note describing the discovery and says that it was written by M. Fabry, as he spells it. In the note, Fabry does not say he was present at the discovery; he refers Daubenton to Lieutenant Lignery for details of the discovery. In my reading, by referring to Lignery's journal for more information, it seems likely that Fabri was not at Big Bone Lick and that Lignery was his source of information. Buffon, writing sixteen years after Daubenton, says Fabri, was a great traveler who saw the "heads and skeletons of an enormous quadruped." Buffon makes no mention of Longueuil. Buffon gives us one solid detail that might help identify Fabri. He met him personally in 1748.
Looking at the roster of officers who left Montreal with Longueuil, I find no mention of a Fabri, Fabry, or any other variant spelling. I do, however find Lignery. François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery (or Ligneris), a major, not a lieutenant, was later an important commander in the frontier wars with the British.
We haven't reached a dead end on Fabri. I finally located Fabri in the online Dictionary of Louisiana Biography put out by the Louisiana Historical Association. He is André Fabry de la Bruyère, the secretary to Longueuil's uncle, Governor Bienville. Fabry participated in both Chickasaw campaigns as part of the New Orleans contingents. He was an explorer who tried to establish a trade route between New Orleans and Santa Fe. He was also in Paris for most of the years 1747 and 1748 when Buffon mentions meeting him.
After eliminating secondary retellings, I believe these are the most dependable sources to use in reconstructing the story of the bones' discovery and final fate.
Fabry's note as quoted by Daubenton in Buffon's Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, vol. 11, 1764.
Buffon's memory of the conversation with Fabry in 1748 recounted in Buffon's Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, contenant les epoques de la nature, supplement vol. 6, 1778.
The campaign roster, and two letters of Gilles Hocquart, the intendant of Canada, repeating Longueuil's letters of August 6 and 10 found in Rapport de l'archiviste de la province de Québec, 1922.
Celoron's speech scolding the Shawnee from his journal in Galbreath, C.B. ed. Expedition of Celoron to the Ohio Country in 1749, 1920.
Daubenton's descriptions and analyses of the bones and teeth in Histoire de l'Académie royale des sciences avec les mémoires de mathématique & de physique, 1762 (pub. 1764); Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, vol. 11, 1764; and Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, vol. 12, 1764.
The analysis of Mandeville's map in Sylvester K. Stevens and Donald H. Kent, eds. The Expedition of Baron de Longueuil, 1941.
The rediscovery of the bones by Tassy in "L’émergence du concept d’espèce fossile: Le mastodonte américain (Proboscidea, Mammalia) entre clarté et confusion." Geodiversitas 24, 2002.
The best source possible for the discovery would be Lignery's journal, but I have been unable to find any trace of it. A later journal of his is in the Canadian archives, but not this one.
Leaving out all of my historian's probablys, it-is-likelys, and it's-safe-to-assumes, this is how I reconstruct the events as a story.
By the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, France was established in the drainage area of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. Some of their agents had even portaged from Lake Michigan into the Illinois River valley and established trading posts there. The next stage of their American expansion was from their Caribbean colonies to the Gulf coast and Mississippi Delta from whence the claimed the entire drainage area of the Mississippi River. In the 1720s, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the founder and governor of New Orleans, began expanding French influence up the river with the goal of hooking up with the French in the Illinois country and, ultimately, with Quebec. Making such a connection was not just to the economic advantage of the colonies; it was an important move in the geopolitical Great Game being played by France and Britain for control of the continent. Connecting the two colonies would contain the British on the East Coast giving the French a chance to monopolize everything north a New Spain (Mexico).
At first the plan went well. The settlements at Baton Rouge and Natchez were established a few years after New Orleans and good relations were established with the Choctaw nation. However, above Natchez, their expansion was halted, first by the Natchez nation and then by the Chickasaw. Both of these nations already had established trade relations with the British out of the Carolinas. When attempts to lure the Natchez into the French orbit failed, they resorted to force. By 1731, the French had destroyed or scattered the Natchez. The Chickasaw proved to be a more difficult problem. In 1735, Bienville gave up on negotiations and decided that, once again, war was the only way to deal with his intransigent neighbors. A great campaign was planned for the spring of the next year. The plan was a simple one: one army would come down the Mississippi from the Illinois country while a second would come from New Orleans overland through modern Alabama and they would crush the Chickasaw between them. The actual campaign was a miserable failure. The two armies failed to coordinate their actions and the Chickasaw defeated them one at a time inflicting a great number of casualties on the French. Bienville returned to New Orleans to plan another campaign.
Bienville began his second campaign in the summer of 1739. This time, the New Orleans force was reinforced with troops from France, artillery, and siege weapons. A second force, under Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville, was to come down from the Illinois country while a third, commanded by Bienville's nephew, Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil, was to come down from Quebec. Longueuil's force was made up of 123 French and Canadian and 319 from allied Indian nations (186 de Sault Iroquois, 51 Two Mountains Iroquois, 32 Algonquin and Nipissing, and 50 Abenaki). Their planned route was to be almost entirely by water up the St. Lawrence, across Lake Ontario, a portage around Niagara Falls, across Lake Erie to a place where they could portage into the headwaters of the Ohio River, and down that river to the Mississippi. This route allowed the expedition to perform a second service to the authorities in Montreal and New Orleans. The Ohio River was barely known to the French. By following this shorter route, Longueuil was able to assess whether it was superior to the established route through the Great Lakes and over the Chicago portage into the Illinois River. For this purpose he was provided with a young surveyor, Joseph-Gaspard Chaussegros de Lery.
The expedition left Montreal in two detachments on June 16 and 30 by birch bark canoe. On August 4, they reached the place where they were to make their portage to Lake Chautauqua on the headwaters of the Ohio. Before making the portage, Longueuil sent a progress report to the governor in Montreal, the Marquis de Beauharnais. In this report he says that a large part ("une grand partie") of the Abenaki and Two Mountain Iroquois deserted when they were passing the English settlement at Oswego, New York, seduced by English brandy. He estimated their number at about 70. A week later, having completed the portage he sent a second report to Beauharnais estimating the number of deserters at 90. He hoped to make up for the desertions by recruiting more Iroquois along the way. There is no record that he had any success with the Iroquois, but he did recruit a number of Shawnee at Scioto Village.
One hundred thirty miles downstream from Scioto Village, the expedition made camp at the mouth of a creek on the southern bank of the river. De Lery noted on his map of the Ohio River that Longueuil made a formal showing of the Arms of the King, claiming the land. De Lery called their camp, "[The] place where the bones of many elephants were found." The bones were those of the American mastodon. One of the officers, Major François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery, wrote in his journal the circumstances of how these bones were found. A party of Shawnee, who were familiar with the country, went hunting to reprovision the army. Somewhat later, come of them returned bringing with them giant tusks and a femur that the French officers identified as coming from an elephant. The hunters said that there were three skeletons of this animal in a salt lick not far from the camp. A group of officers went to look at the site and collected some more bones as souvenirs. Longueuil collected three teeth. The bones, tusks, and teeth were added to Longueuil's baggage and the army continued on their way to their rendezvous with the armies of Celoron and Bienville, which they made at the end of November.
The campaign against the Chickasaw was no more successful than the previous one. This time, rather than defeating the French in battle, the Chickasaw wore them down by refusing to engage them. By the summer of 1740, almost 500 French troops had been felled by disease and most of their Indian auxiliaries had abandoned them. Bienville called off the campaign and released the armies—at least, that part that hadn't already deserted—to go home. Longueuil joined his uncle and escorted the sick soldiers downriver to New Orleans. The bones from the Ohio were not a secret. Longueuil's officers told Bienville’s officers about them and maybe showed off their own souvenirs. One conversation that we know for sure happened was between Lignery and Bienville’s secretary, André Fabry de la Bruyère. Lignery referred to his journal while telling the story. We’re lucky that he did talk to Fabry because the journal has not survived.
Longueuil returned to France in the fall with the bones and teeth where he donated them to the Cabinet du Roi (the museum of the King). At the time of their donation, the bones failed to attract much attention. Academy member Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau was the only French scientist who was aware of the donation at the time. It is from him that we know of the three teeth that were donated along with the tusk and femur. It's curious that Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, the new director of the Jardin des Plantes, which included the Cabinet only learned about the donation when Fabry spent the winter in Paris in 1747-8. Fabry wrote a short note describing the discovery as he heard it from Lignery and orally told Buffon about legends along the Mississippi calling the skeletons the father of buffalo ("le pere aux beufs" which translates literally as "the father of oxen"). Buffon's ignorance of the discovery is doubly curious considering word of the discovery had been published twice by then on maps using de Lery's survey of the Ohio River. New maps of unexplored parts of the world were not trivial matters at the time.
In the spring of 1748, around the same time that he met Fabry, Buffon published the first volume of his encyclopedic Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. The project would eventually run to thirty-six volumes and occupy the rest of his life. Buffon’s assistant at the Jardin, Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton, helped with the project by writing an inventory of related items in the Cabinet for each chapter Buffon wrote. It wasn't until the early sixties that they got around to the chapters they deemed relevant to the Ohio bones and teeth. On examining them, Daubenton found them interesting enough that he wrote a major paper on them, which he presented to the Academy in August 1762. Daubenton compared the bones and teeth to those of an Asian elephant that had once been part of the king’s menagerie and to mammoth bones that Joseph-Nicolas Delisle had brought from Russia in 1747. Daubenton's conclusion was that all three sets of bones represented a single species and that the differences between them were attributable to age and sex. For the teeth, he came up with a different conclusion. The Ohio teeth in no way resembled the mammoth or elephant teeth in the royal collection. After some study of other teeth in the collection, he decided they most resembled those of a hippopotamus—a giant, carnivorous hippopotamus.
Daubenton’s paper and the volumes of Buffon's Natural History dealing with elephants and hippos were all published in 1764. Had they studied the Ohio bones and teeth earlier, their publications would have had much greater influence than they did. But, during the years between Longueuil depositing them and Daubenton writing about them, the bones and teeth of the Ohio came to the attention of other learned Europeans. The British learned about the lick and its bones as early as 1744 when Robert Smith opened a trading post on the Great Miami River, which debouches into the Ohio a few miles above the salt lick. In 1751, he gave two teeth to surveyor Christopher Gist. All through the fifties, other merchants and travelers brought back teeth and stories. Important men in Philadelphia, New York, and London heard these stories and received teeth as gifts. At some point between 1752 and 1756, a Swiss member of the Academy, Jean Etienne Guettard, learned about the teeth and the lick and had a detailed engraving of a tooth made. The tooth was not one of Longueuil's. The Academy published the engraving in its journal.
Longueuil was not the first European to encounter fossils of unknown mammals and realize that they were something worthy of comment. That distinction goes to Cortez and his officers in 1519 when they were shown the femur of a relative of the mastodon by Tlaxcalan elders. They took the bone and sent it to the king of Spain. Nor do Europeans deserve credit for realizing that they were something worthy of comment. That distinction goes to the Native Americans of North, South and Central America who showed them to the Europeans. The importance of Longueuil's recognition and collection is that these were the first bones of large vertebrates from the New World to be carefully studied and written about. Guettard made only a short mention of his tooth in a paper on the geology of Canada making the comment that he would like to know more about it. The British passed teeth and bones round and discussed them in letters, but no one made a detailed study of them for publication until several years after Daubenton's three articles came out.
In 1942, the American paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson made a point of dismissing the interest of Native Americans in the bones they encountered and wrote that Longueuil's moment at Big Bone Lick was the beginning of North American vertebrate paleontology. Simpson’s point is valid only if we speak specifically of the European scientific discipline of paleontology. Regardless of how many qualifications are applied to it, there is no denying that the collection of the Big Bone Lick mastodon fossils and donation to the Cabinet du Roi was an important milestone on the road to understanding extinct proboscideans.
Note: I wrote a big sloppy version of the first part of this post last fall while trying to figure out the sequence of events for the mastodon chapter of my book. Last week Adrienne Mayor posted a short essay on Cuvier and the mastodon that made a brief mention of the 1739 discovery. This inspired me to whack my historiographical notes into a coherent (I hope) post. While doing so, I noticed a few points that I missed last time and am making appropriate corrections to the chapter.