Wooly mammoth once roamed the hills north of the present Whetstone Brook. There is a fossil tusk from a young mammoth now on display in the third floor hallway of the Brooks Memorial Library. James Stanford Morse discovered this tusk on September 2, 1865 while digging in a peat bog for its owner, Daniel Stewart Pratt.
This peat bog lay in what was still called "Blake's pasture" for the former owner of the land from 1836 to 1858, John R. Blake, who raised prize cattle and blooded horses for the stage lines. Just north of the bog-pond begins a five hundred eleven and a half-foot long stone wall, which lies in a direction North by ten degrees East. This was Blake's pasture wall, built before 1851.
The tusk of a fossil elephant was found in a muck bed about 5 feet below the surface, on the farm of D. S. Pratt, in this town, on Saturday, Sept. 2, by a workman who was digging muck. The tusk is forty-four inches in length, and eighteen inches in circumference at the largest end, and eleven inches at the smallest. It is in a fair state of preservation, although some parts of it crumbled after being exposed to the air. The workman on discovering it took a piece to Mr. Pratt, remarking as he handed it to him, that he had found a curious piece of wood. Mr. Pratt on looking at it discovered its true nature. This tusk belonged to a species of elephant long since extinct, supposed to be the Elephas, Primogenius (or mammoth) Blumenback, that inhabited the northern parts of North America, having wandered across the Siberian plains to the Arctic Ocean and Behring Straits and beyond to this country south to about the parallel of 40 degs. Their bones show them to have been about twice the weight and one-third taller than our modern species.
The remains, (tusks, teeth, and several bones,) of one of these elephants were found at the summit of the Green Mountains, at Mount Holly, in 1848, by workmen engaged in building the railroad from Bellows Falls to Rutland. These remains were found in a muck-bed, eleven feet below the surface and at an elevation of 1415 feet above tide water. Most of the bones found, including a molar tooth, were taken by the workmen and others and carried out of the State. The most perfect tusk was secured by Prof. Zadock Thompson and is lodged in the State Cabinet at Montpelier. This tusk was 80 inches long and four inches in diameter. The molar tooth, now in the possession of Prof Agassiz, weight 8 pounds and presents a grinding surface of eight inches long and four broad. A plaster cast of it is on exhibition with the tusk at our State Cabinet.
These specimens of extinct animal life tell a wonderful history of ages long past. How much light they would shed upon science if they were capable of communicating to man an account of the condition of this continent when they inhabited these mountains, long before the Indian, who had an existence here. It seems evident that from the commencement of animal life here a constant change has been going on, one kind preparing the way for another and more useful. If this be a fact does it not argue that even man is here to make preparation for a higher being, and will, in time, become an extinct species? A constant change has been going on from the creation and we cannot see why there should be any limit to progress. The Indian seems to have been the first creative intelligence, and he is fast fading from sight--passing away as civilization progresses.
Article by Albert D. Hager, Curator for the Vermont Historical Society.
West River and Whetstone Brook come down from the eastern slopes of the Green Mountains, and empty into the Connecticut River at Brattleboro village, their mouths being about one mile apart. At a point nearly mid-way between these two streams, and about one mile west of the Connecticut, is the muck swamp in which the elephant's tusk, mentioned in our last issue, was found. This swamp, which covers nearly an acre of ground, is some two or three hundred feet above the Connecticut, and is on a declivity which slopes away to the northward, towards the West river. It seems to consist of a basin partly surrounded by a rim of blue limestone and schistose slate, with a bottom of blue sand, and which, in the course of many centuries, has become filled up to the depth of from five to fifteen feet with decaying vegetable matter.
Or, to give a plainer idea of the character of this swamp, let it be supposed that on the upheaval of the mountains by volcanic force, this basin was left covered with sand. As the water trickled into it, the sand began to germinate with trees and other plants. These came to maturity, went to decay, fell into the watery sand and gave nutriment to another growth, which also in the course of many years added their decaying trunks and branches to the others. In this way the basin may have been filled up with the large deposit of vegetable matter which it now contains.
On examining into this matter, you will find that some of it looks as if it needed nothing but pressure and dessication to be converted into coal. The fracture of a fragment of it is precisely like that of cannel coal. At one point you may take up apparently a mass of mingled leaves and moss. At another, you will find perhaps a pine stump, or a large fragment of a tree; and branches and stems penetrate the mass everywhere. It is, in short, a peat bog, resting on a bed of blue sand. The present growth of trees from the top of this bog, consists of ash, elm, soft maple, birch, etc. The most of the trees have been cut off, and the muck is being dug out from beneath their stumps.
The circumstances attending the discovery of the tusk are as follows: Two men, Mr. James S. Morse and Mr. ___ ___ were at work for Mr. D. S. Pratt, getting out muck. Last Saturday, the 2d of September, Mr. Morse was digging, and had got down to the blue sand, at the depth of about five feet below the surface, when he struck what appeared to him to be a piece of wood. Taking hold of the end of it to raise it up, it broke in two at the middle. Extracting both parts of it, he threw it aside, as is the custom with all the considerable fragments of wood which are met with in digging. The peculiar appearance, however, of the tusk, led to its preservation; but it is in a very advanced state of decay, and will probably soon become disintigrated. Its interior portions are of the consistency of chalk, and it is readily crushed with the teeth. The outer part is harder, and more horn-like. Not another vestige of the animal to which this tusk belonged has thus far been found, though a considerable space around the spot has already been cleared of its muck.
The tusk, as already stated, is about forty inches in length, eighteen inches around the larger end, and eleven inches around the smaller end. But what is particularly remarkable, is the appearance of the smaller end. It looks as if it had been broken off and then worn smooth. The ends of many branches lying in the muck have the same appearance. They look as if they might have been hacked off by a dull-edged instrument, or gnawed off by beavers, and then worn smooth, as sticks not unfrequently are, by the action of water and sand. But as to the cause of this appearance, both in the tusk and branches, we could form only a very unsatisfactory conjecture. Some fancy, that upon these smoothed ends of the sticks, they can even see the marks of beavers' teeth. And marks indeed there are, but what are they? And how did this tusk come there? Was the animal killed by the upheaval of the mountains, and his carcass left upon the sand of the basin to give the first stimulus to a vegetable growth? Has this tusk lain there ever since--six thousand years, more or less? Or did the animal venture into the bog to drink, or to browse upon the herbage, or to cool and refresh himself with the dark shade of the trees, and thus get mired beyond the power of extricating himself? In short, whence came this solitary tusk, which now tastes so much like chalk, and which is found among the boulders of blue limestone and white quartz on the sandy bottom of a muck bog in Brattleboro?
Some years ago the remains of an elephant were found in Mount Holly, in this State. The live elephant still roams through the marshy wilds of Africa and the jungles of India; his carcass hangs dropping piecemeal from the icy cliffs of Siberia, and his bones are found in almost all quarters of the world. May we infer from this, that there was a time, when the earth was young, and her crust was thin, when the surface was near the raging fires within, when all the dry land, stimulated with more than tropical heat, was swarming with elephants? In short, whence come the remains of elephants among the cold primitive rocks of Vermont?
Article by Daniel Stewart Pratt.
The worn and strangely scratched end of the fossil tusk--the feature that was so puzzling to Daniel Stewart Pratt--is explained by the mammoth's constant probing of the earth in search of food.
In another speculation, Pratt asks, "Was the animal killed by the upheaval of the mountains?" This query may have been prompted by the sheer, almost vertical outcropping of blue limestone and white quartz--a mossy, lichen-silvered wall over twelve feet high--that contained, and still contains, the bog at its southern extremity.
Sudden death by the elements seemed to be a compelling explanation in 1865--not only because of the carnage of the War of the Rebellion, but also because geological catastrophe theories had not yet been driven out by the comforting, slow and steady, gradualist Darwinian theories of evolution.
Mammoth extinction theory now stresses geological and electrical catastrophe, disease, and over-hunting by hungry men.
In the Vermont Phoenix for September 8, 1865, "An Interesting Relic" specifies that the site is "in the 'Blake pasture'". In the Brattleboro town clerk's office, the land records Book T, page 346, shows the June 19, 1858 exchange by John R. Blake of his thirty-two acres and his pasture to Daniel Stewart Pratt, in consideration of $960.
The boundary line runs "to the south end of the stone wall a little north of the Pond-hole". This deed also refers to John R. Blake receiving this property from Francis and Joseph Goodhue on September 30, 1836, as recorded in the land records Book L, page 156.
This tusk site, which is one-third of a mile north of Western Avenue, is rich in slate and in the blue limestone with white quartz intrusions which were described by Daniel Stewart Pratt in September 1865.
Daniel S. Pratt owned another farm, which stood along the present-day Fairground Road---but that land never had any connection at all with the mammoth tusk, unless it was the living mammoth that roamed across that gravelled and sandy plain.
Records in the Brattleboro Retreat indicate that Nelson Crosby sold to the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, on December 9, 1854, the land "including quarry", which contained "a slate ledge, yielding suitable stone for the foundation walls of buildings".
Land Records Book S, page 93 records the exchange of ninety dollars for 110 rods of land more or less---and also describes the "stone set in the ground---a long stone". A long stone boundary marker is set close by the west side of the stone wall.
Nearby is an abandoned stone-lined well, or possibly an old storage crib, most likely a pasture sheep pen or animal pound. It is set into the east side of the Blake's pasture wall---
The location of this long stone is seen on an interesting drawing in the Brattleboro town clerk's office. This is a configuration of John R. Blake's deed of sale--dated June 19, 1858 in Land Records Book T, page 346---drawn by James E. Helyar on December 3, 1935. It is stored in the Chart-Plans Cabinet B, as Slide 73.1.
This Helyer drawing shows the pond and the massive stone wall on the Green Hill Farm. Large shattered pieces of blue limestone with white quartz from this quarry-pond-bog were added to the pasture wall built by John R. Blake and are still visible.
The dressed stone foundation for the support of the quarry crane can still be seen---if the ebb tide in the pond is quite considerable---under the water. This structure is roughly twelve by sixteen feet. The foundation walls are two feet thick, set upon the blue sand bottom first excavated by Daniel Stewart Pratt's laborers.
Foundation For Quarry Crane
Nelson Crosby was the son of Isaac Crosby, a West Brattleboro blacksmith. Land Records Book L, page 341 gives the bounds for his two hundred acres, purchased from Francis and Joseph Goodhue on January 22, 1838, for "Eleven thousand dollars".
This deed describes a "Yellow Birch staddle" standing on the Easterly side" of the county road to Newfane, and a Willow standing at the northwest corner of neighbor Charles Chapin's land. Nelson Crosby lived on these acres for years, but died at his house on Chase Street in 1884, not far from his eighty second year.
White Quartz Intrusions
The "Correspondence of the Phoenix" column, initialed by Albert D. Hager, Curator for the Vermont Historical Society, states that "On returning home yesterday we were shown, as I believe, one tooth or Tusk, probably belonging to this one of this class of huge animals, a number of feet in length with a proportionate width, dug last week from a muck hole, on the farm of Mr. D. S. Pratt of this town." The tusk was on display in a store window on Main Street, where it was carefully measured.
"That Tusk" in the Vermont Phoenix for September 15, 1865 informs the public that Albert D. Hager, "having visited the spot where the relic was found," had "already had application for the relic" to D. S. Pratt for its removal to the State Geological Cabinet at Montpelier. The tusk subsequently made its way to the Perkins Museum of Geology at the University of Vermont, and thence to the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center, and finally to its permanent top floor hallway display in the Brooks Memorial Library.
Thomas St. John
Revised May 2010