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Bones, Bones, Bones
 

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By Pat Mestern
 

Bet you haven't heard of the Amaranth and Highgate mastodons. They was pretty famous during the late 1800's when, after being discovered, they were put on display and toured around the country. Bet also that you haven't heard of Thomas Cruzon Allardice's find "of a stash of bones" just north of p resent-day Fergus. Although it's not unusual to find bones in a bog, what
is unusual is that the bogs mentioned in this case were in Southern Ontario.

In 1839 while he was clearing cedar from some of his acreage to make sturdy fences, Allardice unearthed parts of a large skeleton in "the peaty boglands just north of my friend Webster's village and west of the curling meadow". In today's Fergus, his "find" would have been near the bog hole on Beatty Line. If you drive north on the road, the bog hole is on your right just past the T-intersection of Colborne Street and Beatty Line. Allardice owned lots #19 and #20, Concession #14 in Upper Nichol. Later the land on the west side of the road belonged to Thomas's daughter, Anne M. Allardice while that lying on the east side was the domain of one of his sons, William K. Allardice.

Allardice who was educated at Edinburgh University, knew the significance of his find. He was aware that the bones were "as those of an ancient pachyderm, of immense size that lived centuries ago. What no doubt is part of a leg is large and thick and well preserved." From the description, we assume it was bones from an Ice-Age mastodon that Thomas C. unearthed. After showing them around, the bones were reburied in Allardice's "tip pit near the west bush road". He felt strongly, according to Webster, that the giant elephantine-like mammal should be buried close to where it died. Allardice also figured that "where one beast died there be more of its ilk
succumbed to the bog, therefore more bones could be unearthed". In fact, Thomas C. never unearthed any other pieces of an ancient skeleton.

Allardice also had an excellent collection of Indian artifacts that he gathered from his fields and from former Indian camp sites located around the Beaver/Curling Meadow. Today those sites have been destroyed by the Victoria Woods sub-division, located to the west of St. David Street N. What folks don't do in the name of progress amazes me. Allardice's collection of artifacts was in daughter Anne's possession when she died. No one knows what happened to them when the estate was broken up. Perhaps no one valued them and they ended up in the "tip pit" with the mastodon bones.

What John Jelly found in 1887, on his cousin's farm in Amaranth Township, in what is today part of Dufferin County had to be from much the same type of animal. As Jelly's relatives had a number of holdings in Amaranth, it's unclear what area produced the bones. A. Jelly's name appears on part of Lot #32, Concession 2 - on Lot #32, Concession 3 and Concession 4,
near Shelburne. He also held part of Lot #10 on Concession 5. W.B. Jelly's name appears on Lot #11, Concession 7, at the village of Bowling Green.

The bones that John Jelly unearthed nearly fifty years after the Allardice find, were definitely from an Ice-Age mastodon. Dufferin County Museum and Archives has the pictures to prove it. John Jelly had spent other summers working for his relatives and had on at least one other occasion found fragments of a skeleton - or two. He knew where to dig if he wanted to
find more. He'd also taken the time to read several tomes on animals that roamed the earth ions ago so it is assumed that he had a good idea of what he was looking for. Imagine the excitement in the neighbourhood when the bones were unearthed. A few folks knew about fossils as they were prevalent in the limestone along the Grand River. But rarely did you find someone during the 1880's that could speak knowledgeably about mastodons. Bones from the s skeleton of a huge ancient animal were something to talk about - and to see.

John Jelly was an entrepreneur who saw the benefit-of-the-buck. After cleaning the bones, he assembled them, put the resultant partial skeleton on display in a vacant store in Shelburne and charged ten cents admission. The exhibit was moved into a tent for the annual Fair after which it went on a tour of the province. Thomas Young and Thomas C. Allardice saw it at the Drill Shed in Fergus in either late 1887 or early 1888.

When Jelly was finished touring Ontario he headed west which was where his luck ran out. When he took seriously ill, the mastodon bones were put into storage. And that seems to be end of them and the tour. There's nothing written about what subsequently happened to the Amaranth Mastodon. Was it left to rot in some dusty warehouse? Or as rumour has it, did Jelly sell or donate his Amaranth Mastodon to the Toronto Teacher's Museum which was "rolled over into the Royal Ontario Museum"? Who's left that knows the truth?

Three years after the John Jelly find, William Regcraft unearthed bones while digging a ditch on his uncle's farm, a mile from Highgate, Ontario which is on the north shore of Lake Erie. John Jelly, who had by this time recovered his health, couldn't get mammoth bones out of his system. Jelly and his cousin, William Hillhouse, bought the rights to continue the excavation
and subsequently found an almost complete skeleton of an ice-age mastodon. The bones were cleaned and strengthened with two layers of hot white glue, but not without accident. Only one tusk, "a perfect beauty" had been found. It was dropped during the cleaning and broke in two places. After repairs, Hillhouse and Jelly offered R.A. Essery $50. if he would take the mastodon
on tour. Essery agreed. The St. Thomas Evening Journal stated " . . . the cavity in the head from whence the fire of a mastodonic eye . . . is almost large enough to admit a man's head." Essery,repeating Jelly's interrupted tour, headed west. Handbills proclaimed "A Monster Unearthed! Do not fail to see the Highgate Mastodon".

Like Jelly, Essery took sick out west. But unlike Jelly, he died and the story of the skeleton - "The World's Greatest Wonder"- became a little murky. Hillhouse learned from a handbill out of Neche, North Dakota, that his Highgate Mastodon was being displayed by a Mr. Thompson and Mr. Glover. When contacted, the pair swore that they bought the skeleton from Essery then they, and the skeleton, dropped from sight.

For years Jelly and Hillhouse continued the search. They were able to ascertain that the skeleton had been in storage at the Bibb Broom Corn Co. in Minneapolis, Wisconsin, then sold to Harry Dickinson. Harry shipped it to his father's home in Barnesville MN for reassembly. For the next several years the skeleton was on display in Minnesota and the Dakotas - but never was
it called the "Highgate Mastodon".

Around 1899 James Grassick bought the skeleton and in 1902 loaned it to the University of North Dakota. After write-ups appeared in major newspapers giving the proper name for the skeleton, a letter was received by Grassick from William Hillhouse claiming rightful ownership to the Highgate Mastodon. When Hillhouse's attorney's visited Grassick with papers in hand, they found that the bones had been sold to the university for $100. Hillhouse and Jelly
eventually gave up the quest to see the mastodon returned to Canada.

During the controversy, the University stored the boxes of mastodon bones in an attic and forgot about them. Forty-nine years went by before the Highgate mastodon surfaced again and was shipped to thethethe North Dakota State Historical Society where it was again put into storage until the late 1990's. When the Heritage Center Museum in Bismark, North Dakota wanted an
eye-catching display to greet visitors, the skeleton of Ontario's Highgate Mastodon was reconstructed.

Now, it's not so much the skeleton that's impressive but what paleontologist John Hoganson found in a cavity in a breast bone. In dirt from the pond that entombed the mastodon, tests revealed more than 200 grains of pollen indicating the animal probably foraged in a boreal forest with an open grassy area. Pollen from trees included tamarack, birch, ash, oak, elm, ironwood, butternut and hickory along with 156 grains of spruce pollen. Makes one think about what Thomas C Allardice's mastodon ate as it browsed the forest cover of the future Wellington County, doesn't it. Also makes one wonder if the rest of the Allardice skeleton lies buried in the spongy terra - and how old an animal the mastodon was when it was entombed by the present
day Beatty Line bog.

 

(cC) Pat Mestern,

555 St. David Street N.,

Fergus, Ontario, N1M 2K5

#1-519-843-3842 E-mail: mestern@sprint.ca

Author: Works of fiction - "Clara" - "Anna-Child of the Poor House" - "Rachael's Legacy" -
"Magdalena's Song" and "No Choice But Freedom" due for publication September 2005.

 

Non-fictional books include "Fergus, A Scottish Town by Birthright"

 

 

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