StrangeArk blog
Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

The Killing of the Mammoth

H. Tukeman

Mr. Conradi's sudden death is still fresh in the public mind, and a letter that I have before me from that generous, but eccentric, millionaire will explain my position, and the raison d'être of the following pages, in the fewest words. The letter was evidently dictated from his death-bed.

To H. Tukeman, Esq.,
Wadington Hall, Kent.

Dear Sir: In the event of my death, I release you fully from your promise of secrecy in regard to the killing of the mammoth, and I express the hope that you will make public the facts relating to the same. I have always refused to make any statement as to how or where I obtained this specimen, allowing the public to draw whatever inference it pleased but now that its existence is fully known to the scientific world I see that I have done you some injustice, merely to gratify a whim of my own. The price I paid you included this gratification — as set forth in our contract — but I am satisfied to go down to posterity as the donor to my country of the most remarkable specimen of fauna in the world.

Thanking you for your faithful adherence to the spirit and letter of our contract, I am,

Yours faithfully,
Horace P. Conradi.

It was I then, Henry Tukeman, who secured the specimen of the "Conradi Mammoth," as it has been called, now in the Smithsonian museum, Washington, U. S. A., pictures of which monopolized the papers and magazines in the summer of last year, and over which the scientists of both continents are still quarreling. Mr. Conradi's offer to me was of such magnitude (at least three times what I could have expected to get from any other source) that I, a poor man, found myself unable to refuse it. Many people will, undoubtedly, call me unpatriotic in thus allowing a foreign country to obtain this wonderful specimen, and to this charge I can only reply that the re-purchase of Wadington Hall, with its noble deer park and broad acres, has been the dream of my life. For, till my father broke the entail and sold the estate, it had been handed down from father to son since the time of William the First, as the date and the Latin inscription over the old stable doorway testify.

In 1890, I journeyed, by way of St. Michaels and the Yukon River, to Alaska. The Klondike had not then been discovered, and the Alaska Commercial Company's steamer failing to get further than Fort Yukon, owing to the lateness of the season, it was at this point I found myself when winter set in. A small tribe of Indians live at Fort Yukon. A clerk at the trading-post, a private trader, and a missionary and his wife were the only whites there in 1890, except when a rare visitor called from Circle City, a mining camp eighty miles up the Yukon River. The fort, however, had its traditions, and I listened later to many an interesting yarn from the old tribesmen, who told in broken patois of the doings of the "Company" fifty years ago, when the Hudson Bay Company represented civilization from this far northwestern limit of their fur trade on the Pacific Slope, and from the Arctic Circle, to the Atlantic coast of stormy Labrador.

The Hudson Bay Company abandoned Fort Yukon many years ago, but the statement that I was a "Hudson Bay man" (an unpaid account was my mental justification), and the fact that I had had some years' experience with northern Indians, enabled me soon to become intimate with the tribe, though at the expense of losing the society of the white residents of the fort.

After I had decided to winter at Fort Yukon, I occupied a roomy, vacant cabin. One night I had opened some old "Graphics" for the benefit of "Joe" — otherwise "Na-thu-joyi-a" — an ancient head-man in the tribe. I was explaining the habits of the various animals portrayed in a series of African hunting scenes. Turning the page, we came to the picture of an elephant, whereupon old Joe became very excited, and finally explained to me, with some reluctance, that he had seen one of these animals "up there, " indicating the north with his hand. Nor could any denial of mine that any such animals existed on this continent shake him. To humor the old fellow, I asked him to tell me the tale, which he did after much persuasion; and I repeat it here, though for my readers' sake I omit the broken patois.

"Once, many summers ago, me an' Soon-thai, we go up the Porcupine River — Soon-thai is my son; he is dead; now. By an' by we leave the river, an' go up a little river many days, to the mountain. But the mountain is too steep an' very high, an' we cannot climb up it. We go back a little way, an' we shoot a moose at the mouth of a little gully. Soon-thai, he goes off, an' he finds the gully ends in a little cliff, an' he climbs up it, an' finds a cave. He is brave, Soon-thai — he goes in the cave, an' at the end is a small hole, an' Soon-thai looks through it, an' sees an easy way to climb up the mountain. There is a creek in the gully, which runs in the ground near the cave, but the water is bad.

"I go back, an' I blaze a big tree at the canoe, like this" —crossing his fingers— "where the gully is, for it is hard to see from the river. By an' by we take some meat, an' we go through the cave, an' it is full of big bones, bigger than my body, an' I am afraid; but we go through the little hole into the sunlight, an' I have courage, an' we climb to the top of the mountain.

"Beyond we see a big valley, an' lakes an' trees there, an' far away, on the other side of the valley, we see the mountains, an' beyond them, very far off, high mountains, with the snow on them which never goes away.

"Soon-thai is brave, plenty brave, an' he says, 'We shoot plenty beaver in the valley, eh?' I say, 'No, that is the devil's country,' an' I tell him it is the country called in Indian Tee-Kai-Koa (the devil's footprint). Then Soon-thai, he is a little afraid, but by an' by he says, 'Come, my father, we will not stay long; in two days we will shoot plenty beaver, an' then we will run back.'

"So we go down the mountain, an' we find lakes with plenty of beaver an' ducks an' geese, an' it is the month of the first salmon, an' the geese cannot fly, so we get plenty; but we see no moose or caribou sign in the valley. By an' by, after two days, we make a raft, an' cross a long lake, like a river, an' next day we see Tee-Kai-Koa!"

The old man paused, and stiffened in his seat; I sat silent and motionless, waiting.

"At sunrise we go in the woods to hunt. By an' by Soon-thai comes to me — he is a little way off on one side — an' he whispers, 'Look!' An' I come where he says, an' I see that sign, an' my knees are weak, an' shake. The ground is not hard there, an' I see a sign like this" — he drew a circle on the door — "an' deep in the ground as this" — he placed a finger on his arm, half-way from the finger-tip to the elbow. "An' I can lay my gun in the footmark, except for this much" — he indicated a finger length. "But Soon-thai, he is brave; he says, 'I will see this devil, an' if he is no bigger than a very big bear, I will shoot him from a tree, perhaps.' But I — I am afraid, yet I follow Soon-thai as if I slept. Oh, he was brave, my son—very brave!

"Presently we hear a splashing in a lake which is beyond some willows; an' there are no trees there; but we creep in very softly, an' we come to the reeds, an' wade through them to the edge, up to our knees in the water. He is there, the Tee-Kai-Koa, standing on the other side of the little lake."

The old man rose, and pointed before him. A strange glitter was in his eye, and the beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. I could not doubt for a moment that he was describing what he had really seen. "He is throwing water over himself with his long nose, an' his two teeth stand out before his head for ten gun-lengths, turned up, an' shining like a swan's wing in the sunlight. His hair is black an' long, an' hangs down his sides like driftweed from the tree branches after the floods, an' this cabin beside him would be as a two-weeks bear cub beside its mother. We do not speak, Soon-thai an' I, but we look, an' look; an' the water he throws over his back runs in little rivers down his sides. Presently he lies down in the water, an' the waves come through the reeds up to our armpits, so great is the splash. Then he gets up an' shakes himself, an' all is a mist like a rain storm round him.

"Suddenly Soon-thai throws up his gun, an' before I can stop him, he fires — boom! — at Tee-Kai-Koa. Ah, the noise! It is a cry like a thousand thousand geese, only shriller an' louder, an' it fills the valley till it reaches to the mountains, an' all the world seems to have nothing in it but that angry cry. As the gunsmoke rises above the reeds, Tee-Kai-Koa sees it, an' begins to run through the water towards it, an' the noise of his splashing is as of all the wild fowl in the world rising from a calm lake at sunset.

"We turn an' run, Soon-thai an' I. We run through the reeds to the willows, an' to the timber. But once I turn, an' I can see plainly a streak of red blood on the long nose of Tee-Kai-Koa, as he throws it in the air an' fills the valley with his cry. The smoke of the gun has blown across the little lake between us, an' he turns to it, an' stops, an' whistles like a steamboat when the white steam is escaping.

"We run through the trees away from our camp, for it is towards it Tee-Kai-Koa has gone, chasing the smoke, an' after we have run a long distance, we rest an' listen. But again we hear the great cry of Tee-Kai-Koa as he seeks us, an' we have new strength in our legs to run on an' on, till the sun has gone down an' come up again to where it stood when Soon-thai fired his gun. We have no axe, nothing but our guns; but the fear of that which is behind'us makes us strong to travel on without sleep or food."

The old Indian sat down and wiped his hand over his forehead, and for fully ten minutes no word was spoken, — he perhaps thinking of his dead son, I racking my brains to remember what my school edition of Cuvier said about mammoths, for I had confirmed a wild idea that had flashed through my brain when the elephant's picture was first noticed. Presently the old man rose, and stepped to the door of the cabin. I made a motion to him to stay, but he shook his head. "I am old an' tired," he said simply; "an' to talk of Soon-thai, my son, makes me weak like a woman. Do not seek Tee-Kai-Koa, white man, lest you have no tale to tell us as I have told you." And he stepped out into the clear, frosty night, leaving me to wonder how he had divined my thoughts so accurately.

Later I got Joe's account of his return from the land of Tee-Kai-Koa. He had crossed the flrst range of mountains on the side of the valley opposite that on which he had entered it, and found on the further side of the mountains high, precipitous cliffs, which he had the greatest difficulty in descending. Making a boat out of a moose-skin, he had gone "many days" down a stream which flowed into the Chandelar, a river entering the Yukon about one hundred miles below the mouth of the Porcupine. While in the valley they had seen the huge footprints of the mammoth, but never more than those of one animal, and always of the same size, so that it seemed as if this prehistoric giant must be the last of his race alive there.

 

In the tribe of Indians wintering at Fort Yukon was an active, intelligent young fellow named Paul, who spoke English well, and was always in demand during the summer months as pilot on the steamers of the A. C. Company. Paul had a strain of white blood in his veins, derived, doubtless, from some hardy Scotchman of the old company, and I found, after becoming intimate with him, that he had as much curiosity as I had about Tee-Kai-Koa and a profound contempt for the superstition of its being a "devil."

When I told Paul of some elephant-shooting experiences of mine in Africa in the '70's, he proposed, in the most matter-of-fact way, that we should go off together during the coming summer, and bag the mammoth, if he really was there. He was doubly eager when I told him of the vast fortune awaiting any man who could get this absolutely unique specimen of supposedly extinct fauna to the hands of taxidermists in civilization. I had nothing heavier than a couple of Lee-Metfords, a weapon which I had never tried, even as an elephant rifle, and which seemed to be still less suitable as a mammoth slayer. But I had plenty of solid nickel bullets, and I was satisfied these would penetrate the hide or massive skull. It was therefore merely a question of quantity.

By spring we had all our plans completed for the journey, and I had a rough idea formulated as to how I should hunt the mammoth, and (what was equally difficult) preserve, when we had killed him, his vast hide and bones. Paul and I both swore secrecy: he because he did not wish the tribe to know, I for commercial reasons; and giving out that I had had a letter from the Hudson Bay Company calling me to the Mackenzie River district, we bid good-by to Fort Yukon on a fine morning early in July, and prepared to pole our way up the Porcupine River in a long, narrow poling-boat which we had built for the purpose.

I shook old Joe cordially by the hand, and promised to avoid the "devil's footprint" country, though I think the old fellow had a vague suspicion of what I had in mind, roused by my many questions throughout the winter. A round of presents to the Indians (not forgetting an extra one for Joe's pretty daughter) made my departure more easy, for I had become excellent friends with the tribe, and they were genuinely sorry to lose me. I held out no likelihood of returning for several summers, while Paul had stated that he would stay with me till I went "outside" once more to the "Grand Pays" and civilization. He had no kith or kin to worry about, and the handsome scamp's attentions to the girls were too impartial to call for any particular and individual congratulation.

On the nineteenth day after leaving Fort Yukon, we arrived at the mouth of the "little river" described by Joe, easily identificd by a high, sandy bank on the right hand. The high water in the Porcupine had delayed us, and after the second day on the "little river" we were unable, even with the utmost exertion, to make more than six or seven miles a day. Sometimes twice or thrice a day we would unload, to drag our boat over shallows or around log-jams, and on one occasion we had to portage everything a mile overland to avoid a canon. We had cut our outfit down to the simplest necessaries, but I had secured from the steamer 500 feet of stout rope, three double-blocks and tackle, augers, a whipsaw, and a few other tools; and these, with our cooking utensils, winter clothing, and a few supplies, necessitated many weary journeys on the portages. And then the mosquitoes! I have had some experience of them, but I have never seen them so bad as they were on the upper reaches of the river during the month of July.

On August 2d — my birthday, I recollected — we came to the blazed tree. There we cached our stuff, pushing on to look out our route and have a peep at the "devil's country." The blaze was deeply cut, and showed plainly, though it was evidently many years old. The dug-out canoe had been washed away by a freshet. The gully was apparently nothing but a depression in the mountain-side, and it terminated in an abrupt declivity. This cliff extended, as far as we could see, to the head of the river. Soon-thai's object in climbing it had probably been to inspect some massive bones which projected from a ledge about fifty feet up. Above this rose an unscalable ascent of rocks and earth. Climbing to the ledge, we found the cave, or tunnel, as it more properly was. It was about 200 feet long, and wide enough for three men to walk abreast. The entire length was literally paved with gigantic mammoth bones, which made even the matter-of-fact Paul exclaim. I experimented on a skull, and also on a piece of spinal vertebræ, and was glad to find that the solid bullet of the .303 drilled through them with ease.

The end of the tunnel was blocked by a recent fall of rock and rubbish, which it took us some hours to remove. Had we not known there was an exit, we should have turned back, believing this to be a cave. Having effected a passage through, we found the "gully" to be in reality a considerable creek, which had evidently been blocked by a rock slide or an eruption. The water sank into the ground near the exit from the tunnel. I did not notice where the creek joined the river we had just left. Three hours' easy climbing took us to the summit of the divide from the tunnel.

I shall not easily forget the first view we had of the Tee-Kai-Koa River and Valley, as they will now be named on the maps. The sun was low in the sky when we won the summit of the divide, and a high range of snow-clad mountains to the northeast stood out so distinctly that they seemed to be but a few miles away. They were very rugged and precipitous, and dark patches of perpendicular cliffs assumed fantastic shapes against the intensely white background. As I knew the Noyukuk River must rise in these ranges, I estimated the distance to be about 200 miles. Below us extended a valley fifty miles wide, bounded by a range of low mountains which hardly ran above the timber line. This valley ran southward for about seventv miles, when the mountains on either side contracted sharply. I was at once satisfied that Joe's "long lake" was in reality a sluggish river, and I had no doubt I should find a deep cañon where the vallev ended. Looking north, the valley showed no sign of narrowing, but turned to the northeast behind the opposite mountain range. From one end of it to the other, as far as eye could see, shining patches of water showed here and there, and the pine trees appeared to be larger than I should have expected to find them in these latitudes. The descent to the vallev was on an easy incline.

I will not detail the weary work of the portage from the "little river." We had to use our blocks and tackle to land our stuff at the tunnel entrance. We had difficulty in obtaining water in our camp on the creek, the creek water being undrinkable from the presence in it of copper ore. And there were delays and troubles without number. Finally, however, we had everything at the summit, and a few days later, on the banks of the Tee-Kai-Koa River. As to Paul, I have never met his equal in any of my travels. He was strong, active, untiring, cheerful, and full of a native ingenuity which overcame obstacles as soon as they appeared, while his courage, and his quiet and absolute confidence in our ultimate success, acted as a nerve tonic to me when I found myself speculating whether we had too heavy an undertaking on hand.

We rafted across the Tee-Kai-Koa, the current being hardly perceptible, and camped on a small island about one hundred yards from the main bank. My plan of campaign was based largely on an assumption which, on reflection, I am bound to admit had very little foundation. Joe had told me how the mammoth had run after the gun smoke, and assuming the huge beast to be fearless — what living thing could inspire it with fear? I speculated — I decided to make a fire within and beneath a pile of green logs, the largest I could find, and then from the biggest adjacent tree to open fire with our Lee-Metfords, trusting to the brute's blindly attacking the log pile and fire, under the impression that this was the source of danger. But from the moment of reaching the mammoth's country, we were extremely careful to build no campfires, unless the smoke blew back across the river, and only allowed ourselves the smallest fires by which to cook our meals. We found some large pieces of cottonwood bark, which helped us, since after being thoroughly dried in the sun this bark will burn to a white heat, and is almost smokeless. Paul kept the camp amply supplied with young ducks and geese; shooting them with a bow and arrow from a moose-skin canoe, the raw hide for which we had brought with us. He used an arrow with a large barbed head sharpened to a knife-like edge; fired from a hide in the reeds, it would skim into an unwary brood, often cutting the throats of two or three at a flight.

The first day that we explored back from the river we found enormous footprints of the mammoth, but they were not fresh. The track was nearly circular, and even on hard ground the indentations were made to stay, while in the softer soil around the lakes they were frequently three or four feet deep. Though lichen was abundant in the vallev, I saw no caribou sign, nor, indeed, signs of any other game whatever.

On August the 29th, we had our first sight of the mammoth. There he stood in a little clearing, the great beast that only one other living man had seen, tearing up great masses of lichenous moss and feeding as an elephant feeds. His lifelike presentation — an enduring testimony to the wonderful patience and skill of American taxidermists — which now occupies the new wing of the Smithsonian museum, has been so fully pictured in the magazines and newspapers of every country in the civilized world — has not his picture been hung on the line in the Royal Academy this year? — that it is idle for me to describe him closely, and I need only speak of the feeling of awe inspired by the sight of this stupendous beast, quietly feeding in oblivion of the two pigmies who were planning his destruction. His long, thick hair, hanging down beneath his belly like a fringe, had the effect of shortening considerably the appearance of his legs. The points of the immense tusks looked as if they could hardly belong to their owner, being, as all the world knows, thirty-one feet, nine inches away from the bases. The portion between the points and the bases was hidden from our sight by the scrub and long tufts of grass.

Paul must have watched him very coolly, for on comparing notes in camp (we had slipped quietlv back without disturbing the monster), I found that he had observed details, such as the smallness of the eye and the absence of any tail, which had escaped my notice. The shortness of the trunk, as compared with an elephant's, was what struck me the most.

About twenty-five miles below our first camp we had found a clump of spruce trees larger than any we had seen in the valley, and here we set to work. At one side of the two largest trees, and across a small dry watercourse, we built a solid erection of five rounds of logs, and placed within this a mass of dry and rotten wood, leaving one small hole where we could crawl in and light it. On top of the "house" we felled the nearest large trees, and others we felled and drew up by the aid of our block and tackle, stacking them up in such a manner as to leave a slight air-space, but pinning them very solidly together with green birch. When the structure was completed, it looked like a huge drift-pile of green logs. We put ladder pegs up to the branches (about sixty feet up) of the two highest standing trees, and selecting suitable places, built seats, and took up rope, with which we could lash ourselves in if necessary. By the end of September we had everything prepared, and we had but to prove the truth of my supposition, namely, that smoke would attract our quarry.

We had from time to time reconnoitered, and found that the mammoth was slowly working towards us. At first I thought it remarkable that we should have found him so near the place where the Indians had seen him years before; but the rapid lichenous growth in the vicinity probably made it a favorite spot, and the lonely giant had it all to himself. On October the 11th, the wind was favorable for our experiment, and having gone over the details carefully, we proceeded to make a preliminary trial, on the failure or success of which hung the fate of our large venture.

The mammoth had now worked up to within three miles of the wood-pile. Having first located him, we laid pieces of dry rotten wood about 300 yards apart through the trees, and directly in line. Having done this for about a mile and a half, and selected a large tree into which we drove ladder pegs, we crept back, and were lucky enough to find the mammoth standing on the far side of a small lake. We lighted the first piece of rotten wood, and then ran back to the tree at our best speed, igniting the other pieces on our way, and a final one near our tree, into which we hastily climbed to watch the result of our experiment.

We were scarcely ensconced among the branches when a cry resounded over the valley which made the chills run down my back. I have heard the scream of an angry bull elephant, the roar of an African lion, and the savage, half-human cry of the great gorilla; but none of these compare with the awe-inspiring cry of a mammoth. Perhaps the Indian's description of "a thousand thousand geese" approaches it most nearly, for there were two distinct pitches; but the very immensity of the volume of sound as the brute approached us confused any comparison I tried to make. For five, perhaps ten, minutes we waited, strung up to the highest pitch of excitement. Then suddenly the huge form loomed up through the trees, and seeing our smoking fire, he rushed at the burning logs with a cry which shook the very branches on which we sat, and with his ponderous foot trampled them into the ground. Though the tree was fully seventy-five feet away from him, it trembled noticeably, and I was glad that I had placed our log-pile twice that distance away, with the dry watercourse to still further isolate us from the vibration. My chance conjecture had evidently hit the mark: the mammoth, with the instinct born when volcanoes were active and fire was the only foe to be dreaded by these mighty beasts, had hastened to stamp out the threatened conflagration.

Having satisfied himself that the fire was out, Tee-Kai-Koa proceeded to smell the ground. Our scent evidently troubled him somewhat, for he frequently blew with a sound not unlike escaping steam. After a while he turned away, and struck into the woods at right angles to the course we had to make to our camp. We climbed down the tree, and hastened off, well satisfied as to the result of our plan.

By the 16th, everything was ready, and before daylight we placed our riffes and cartridges in our stations in the trees. We then started out, and by 10 A.M. had located our quarry, about three miles away. He seemed to be restless, and kept sniffing the air. A very quiet breeze was blowing in the tree tops. We fired an armful of dry wood, and started back as fast as we could run; but the moment the smoke rose, that terrible cry came booming down the valley behind us, and we felt the earth vibrate as the mammoth charged down in our direction. High up in the branches of a stout tree we had felt comparatively safe; but it was a very different matter on the ground, and we knew it was a veritable race for life as we tore through the woods, touching off the prepared fires with a match as we passed.

At last we came to the log-pile, and in a few seconds a thin wreath of smoke announced that the battle would soon begin. We hastened to our respective stations, and awaited developments. We were not kept in suspense long. Rushing forth from the forest, and charging up to the wood-pile with an ear-splitting cry, the king of the primeval forests stood beneath us in al1 his pride of strength. He was evidently puzzled for a moment by the huge log-pile confronting him, through which the smoke was now rolling in a thick volume. But with the crack of our rifles came the most appalling scream of rage I have ever heard, and the vast brute, apparently unaffected by our shots, attacked the wood-pile with incredible fury. Charging his enormous tusks beneath it, he gave a mighty heave, and for a second lifted the whole mass of green logs — remember they were pinned together, and stood at least twenty-five feet high — clear off the ground. Finding this more than even his colossal strength could compass, he seized a top timber, a solid green log twenty-five feet long and over a foot in diameter, and threw it clear behind him.

Meanwhile our rifles had not been idle, and I had already got through my second magazine-full, generally aiming behind the ear. So loud was the noise, seream following scream till the hills rang with the sound, that I could not hear the report of my rifle; but the barrel, hot in my hand, told me that the wicked little bullets were speeding on their mission. I glanced at Paul, and saw him aiming and firing with a coolness that I envied, for the din in my ears confused and worried me, and the sweat was running down my face as I fired again and again at the massive target.

The mammoth seemed to have no idea that his assailants were above him, but blindly attacked the burning wood-pile, seizing the logs and hurling them this way and that, till I saw it was only a matter of minutes until the whole edifice should be scattered far and wide. One log, smaller than the rest, came hurling through the air into my refuge, and crashed through the branches overhead. Another struck the tree about half-way up, splintering the bark, and nearly shaking me off my seat.

But the end was drawing near, for the great brute was bleeding profusely from the mouth and ears, and staggered uncertainly back and forth. A feeling of pity and shame crept over me as I watched the failing strength of this mighty prehistoric monarch whom I had outwitted and despoiled of a thousand peaceful years of harmless existence. It was as though I were robbing nature, and old Mother Earth herself of a child born to her younger days, in the dawn of Time.

Suddenly the noise ceased, the mammoth seeming to realize that the danger came from the trees behind him rather than from the now demolished wood-pile. Our rifles cracked again, this time to a square forehead shot. But the huge animal stumbled uneertainly forward, crossed the dry ditch, and turned towards Paul's tree, as if to tear it down. I saw Paul seize the piece of rope and quickly lash it round him, when the mammoth, stumbling half-way past the tree, suddenly swayed from side to side, pitched forward on his knees, and slowly, very slowly, subsided. As he rolled gently on his side, the tree, torn from its roots by the weight, fell forward, and for one horrible moment I thought that Paul and the tree would be dashed to the ground. But at an angle of forty-five degrees the tree swayed and stopped, upheld by the weight lying on its long roots, and Paul walked down the trunk, and climbed on to the body of the mammoth, waving and cheering to me.

When I joined him and stood beside our quarry, I could hardly realize that we had killed so enormous an animal with such comparative ease and with the diminutive weapons that we held in our hands. Now that the excitement was over, I found that I had become deaf from the noise, nor did I recover my hearing for some days.

The deed was done, and we now had to justify it by saving the skin, bones, and every portion capable of preservation. This proved a tremendous task. The skin we cut into sections, using our block and tackle, attached to a tree, to pull it back. We skinned one side completely in this way; then took out the ribs, and removed the immense entrails, by the same means. The weather was our salvation, being cool and frosty at night; for though we worked like beavers, it took us ten days to get all the hide removed, scraped, and carefully rolled, and the several pieces tagged to identify their positions. The tusks were the most difficult things for us to handle, for with the portion of skull attached to them their weight was enormous. By the middle of December, the bones were all removed from the body, and carefully cleaned and numbered. When once we had the hide safely away, we were able to light a large fire and roast a lot of the meat. This greatly helped in cleaning the bones. I took careful measurements of the lungs, heart, and all the perishable portions. We worked steadily till nearly the end of January, not leaving the camp at all. The meat was not unpalatable, but terribly tough. We buried the best portions in the ever-frozen ground, and were thus able to preserve it perfectly.

It is unnecessary to detail how we spent the rest of the dark winter days, until they lengthened sufficiently for us to explore the valley at its lower end, about thirty miles from our camp. As I had expected, it terminated in a narrow and extremely deep cañon, where the river went rushing over the rocks, and I saw at once that no boat could possibly ascend it. We found this gloomy gorge to be about three and a half miles long. We could see the stars overhead when the sun was shining, so high and straight were its walls; and with the noise of the water beneath the ice, in this gloom, it was one of the weirdest places I have ever been in. At the foot of the cañon the valley widened as suddenly as at the head, and I saw that the river was navigable.

Our only chance of getting our prize out of the valley was to sleigh it over the ice through the canon; so we hurried back, and proceeded with all possible despatch to this rather formidable task. Fortunately, the months of March and April were remarkably fine, and as the sleigh trail improved with usage, and the sun began to make its power felt, we were able to increase our loads. We moved everything to the head of the cañon, and then made two trips a day to the foot, camping below. Finally we built a solid cache of heavy green logs in a safe place, and having shut everything securely in it, we built a small boat, and waited for the opening of the river.

The rest of my story is told in a few words. We journeyed down the Tee-Kai-Koa River to the Chandelar, and thence to the Yukon and St. Michaels, and proceeded by the first steamer to San Francisco. There I met Mr. Conradi — quite by accident — and finding him deeply interested in zoology, I disclosed the secret of the prize we had left on the banks of the Tee-Kai-Koa. I had kept the matter secret because I wished to find out for myself from the various authorities in America and Europe something as to the value of the mammoth. My design was, if possible, to get the British Museum authorities to purchase it. Mr. Conradi's offer astounded me — it was in millions of dollars — and after a week's thought I closed with him.

Paul absolutely refused to accept more than a quarter share, arguing, not without reason, that even this portion was more than he knew what to do with or could possibly spend. Civilization had few attractions for him; he soon tired of 'Frisco, and used to long impatiently for the wilds. He and I went north that summer, and wintered on the Tee-Kai-Koa River near our cache. In the spring, we conveyed the mammoth to a certain place on the Yukon River, where we met Mr. Conradi, and everything was packed in specially prepared cases. At the mouth of the river we were met by Mr. Conradi's steam yacht, which had wintered in North Sound, and at once sailed for San Francisco.

I do not know what it cost him to keep the crew silent; but judging from the wildness of the conjectures made by the newspapers in dealing with the matter, and from the fact that it never got published that the specimen was taken aboard at the mouth of the Yukon, the sum paid for secrecy was certainly sufficient, and must have been considerable. I believe that the most general]y accepted theory heretofore has been that Mr. Conradi found the carcass frozen in an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean. The various dimensions of the mammoth, both of the skeleton and the mounted specimen, are too well known to need tabulating here. The measurements, exactly as taken by me, were handed to the Smithsonian authorities by Mr. Conradi for publication, and accepted without question as his own.

 

Back to Cryptofiction
Valley of the Spiders | Spirit Island | Hunt for the Soko | Last of the Vampires | Pterodactyl | Black Seal | Red Hand | What Jorkens Has To Put Up With | The Thing in the Weeds | Stone Ship
Wildmen

Cryptofiction

Bug Cryptofiction

Sea Monster Cryptofiction

Dino Cryptofiction

Sign of the Spider

Beyond the Great South Wall

Killer Plants

Chambers' Cryptofiction

Lost Worlds, Strange Beasts