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Mammoths Roamed near Maywood

Most people don’t know that one of the world’s most treasured fossilized animals was actually discovered right here on a farm that is now owned by the Dodson Family.  The story of Archie the Woolly Mammoth is indeed a story for this region of the state to be proud of.

Today we don't have many elephants in Nebraska- -- only a few in Zoos across the state, and the few that visit each summer as part of traveling circuses. But that was not always the case. Skeletal remains of elephants have been found in all parts of Nebraska, and many have been preserved in the world famous Elephant Hall, on the campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. It is estimated that there are at least 10 prehistoric elephant remains, on average, per square mile buried in Nebraska---more than there are living elephants in Africa. In 1967, to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of our state, the legislature chose the Mammoth as our State Fossil, symbolized by "Archie, the World's Largest Elephant."

In 1998 there was a banquet catered in Elephant Hall, on the University of Nebraska campus. It was an unusual and very interesting place to hold a banquet. The speakers' table was set up right in front of the huge Mastadon, Archie. Not only did Archie dwarf the speakers, but this awe inspiring behemoth silently dominated the entire program that night.

The remains of this "World's Largest Elephant" were found on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Karriger, located some 16 miles north of Curtis in 1922. Mrs. Karriger had noticed that her chickens were especially fond of a limey substance, which they scratched out of the soil in a sand hill near their farmyard. When she began digging in the area she discovered that the lime was coming from huge decaying tusks. She felt that she had discovered a new nutrient for her chickens. Further digging unearthed a skeleton head of the largest animal she had ever seen. She displayed her find at the County Fair.

Somehow, news of Mrs. Karriger's "discovery" came to the attention of Dr. Erwin Barbour, the vertebrate paleontologist and director of the museum at the University of Nebraska. With the financial help of a Palmyra farmer, Hector Maiben, Dr. Barbour sent out a University field party to make further excavations at the Karriger site.

Later that year Dr. Barbour scientifically described the remains of the Karriger mammoth and named it Mammuthus Archidiskodon (hence the nickname, Archie) Maibeni (in honor of Mr. Maiben, the benefactor of the project). For three years the bones of this great animal rested on the shelves of the Paleontology Lab, unseen by the public, but attracting widespread attention in the scientific community.

In 1925 Dr. Barbour and his crew decided to reassemble the bones of this gigantic prehistoric animal for display at what would become Elephant Hall at Morrill Museum on the NU Campus. However, only the skull, jaws and front legs were complete enough to mount for an exhibit. Not easily discouraged, Dr. Barbour sent out field parties to search for another mammoth of the same species, so that a complete skeleton could be mounted. Despite hardships, including a blizzard in 1928 and a tornado, which destroyed their camp in 1929, Barbour's team was able to excavate a partial skeleton on a farm in Custer County, which they combined with the Karriger find to form a complete skeleton.

Barbour's assistants, Henry Reider and Frank Bell were given major credit for mounting and restoring the complete skeleton, which was finally placed on exhibit in 1933. It immediately became not only the star of the Elephant exhibit in Lincoln, but was the buzz among veterbrate paleontologists around the world.  Later on, a bronze statue of Archie was erected outside of Elephant Hall.

When he was alive Archie must have been something to behold. His height, at the shoulder, was 14', and he was still growing when he died. This

compares with eight or nine feet for modern circus elephants. His tusks were almost 13 feet long, and measured 33" in circumference at the base. He would have weighed in at about 15 tons. He must have made the earth shake, as he roamed the hills along Medicine Creek in what is now Frontier and Lincoln Counties.

Archie had a good pedigree, and would have been able to trace his ancestors back a half billion years, to the banks of the Nile River in North Africa. It is thought that about eight million years ago these primitive elephants began migrating across the Bering Sea Land Bridge, which at that time connected North America with Asia.

The mammoths (elephants) did not reach our Nebraska, on the southern edge of the glaciers, until the late Pleistocene Epoch, about one half million years ago. But scientists are sure that they were still here when early man came into the Nebraska region, some 12 thousand years ago. The Mammoth population was quite widespread. Not only have Mammoth remains have been found in every county of Nebraska, but there are reports from Siberia that frozen Mammoth remains have been found there, still with edible flesh attached.

Since there were so many Mammoths in our state at one time, the natural question is, "What happened to them?"

Like so many scientific problems, there are conflicting answers regarding the demise of the mighty Mammoths. Apparently there were severe climatic changes during the period of 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. The arctic climate changed from cool dry grasslands, which favored the existence of the mammoth, to cool wet tundra, which was unfavorable to the large animals. Then, too, during this period, man made his appearance on the scene and began hunting and killing the mammoth.

It was not that man over hunted the great beasts, but it is thought that he broke up the large concentrations of the animals into small groups, which did not have the ability to survive the climatic changes.

Still another observation is that during this period there was an extreme arctic drought, which though not of a long duration, combined with the other factors and was enough to ensure the extinction of Archie and his kin. Of course, other theories have been advanced to explain the disappearance of the Mammoth. One such theory says that there were cataclysmic forces, which selectively killed the Mammoth, or caused them to commit mass suicide. These theories are not favorably embraced by the mainstream scientific community.

The one thing that we are certain of is that at one time there were large numbers of giant elephants roaming our state, and now they are no more. We take pride in the fact that one of the largest of the great Mammoths, "Archie -- The World's Largest Elephant" (until somebody else proves otherwise) once roamed the hills and drank from the waters of the Medicine Creek in Southwest Nebraska. We're pleased to call him "neighbor."