Like all early American periodicals, The Children’s Friend reprinted pieces from other periodicals. Here it’s reprinting a description of a frozen mammoth discovered in 1799 by an Evenki hunter and collected in 1806 by a Russian botanist. (See the article on the mammoth collected by Mikhail Adams.) Early descriptions and illustrations were … fundamental, showing the skeleton without attempting to show the actual creature. This was typical for discussions of the mammoth and the mastodon in early works for children on fossils; “clothing the bones” was complicated, with many and varied attempts. (See American Monster: How the Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity, by Paul Semonin, for some amusing examples.) Here, however, we have the mammoth pictured whole—hairy and tusked—standing before an astonished hunter.

It’s an excellent illustration: the mammoth peacefully snoozing deceased, trunk artistically curled, eyes closed, standing on all four legs—our idealized image of the magnificent beast emerging from its frozen tomb. In The Mammoth, other information also gets stretched. The hunters, having waited five years for the beast to thaw, then … eat it: a trope that would be repeated for at least another century, in stories of frozen prehistoric critters being eaten by explorers and paleontologists and citizens of imaginary Alaskan towns. (See the Northern Exposure television series episode, “Lovers and Madmen.”)

Even with the idealization, the piece informs readers about the world around us and the ways in which we’ve explored it. And, with the idealization, it gives a sense of the wonders that have always surrounded us and of the value of curiosity (and patience!).
“The Mammoth” (reprinted from Young Folks’ News; from The Children’s Friend [West Chester, Pennsylvania], Twelfth month 1871; pp. 379-381)

There is a vast country, of which Siberia forms a part, in the north of Asia, stretching from the mountains which separate Europe from Asia, and reaching as far as the straits which are between that continent and America. On the north of this region, which is larger than Europe, is the Polar Sea; and the great mountains—whose southern chain, the Himalayas, contains the highest peaks in the world—bound it on the south.

It is a dreary land, high and rocky on the south, and flat and frozen to the north. In the year 1799 a chief of a native tribe was searching for ivory along the banks of the Lena, when, to

p. 380

his great horror and fright, he saw in a cliff of the gravel just mentioned a huge block of ice, and in it what he considered a beast of evil omen. He became ill from terror, but, on his recovery, remembering that the beast had tusks which were like those he was searching for, he again visited the spot. There stood, all encased in transparent ice, a creature like an elephant in shape, nine feet high and sixteen long, and with enormous tusks projecting for eight or ten feet, and curving at their tips. The huge brute was hairy; it had long black bristles all over it, and they were from a foot to sixteen inches long; it had also long red hair covering the whole body, and short fur. The chief waited

a man stands before a huge woolly mammoth

and watched for five years. By the end of that time the ice had melted, and the mammoth presented itself in its flesh and hairy hide to the astonished natives. The tusks were cut off and sold, the neighboring inhabitants came with their dogs and feasted on the carcase, and the wolves picked the bones. Fortunately, a naturalist heard of it, and collected the bones and specimens of the hair, thirty pounds weight of which were gathered from the wet sand bank on which the mammoth rested, and the tusks he re-purchased. He carried the whole to the nearest capital, St. Petersburg, a distance of 7,330 miles, where it became one of the Wonders of the World, and where it may still be seen

p. 381

in the museum of which it forms a most remarkable feature, Our illustration shows the gigantic carcase as it appeared to the astonished eyes of the chief, still half-encased in the ice block which had preserved it for so many years.

It is supposed that the mammoth lived amongst the forests of the great plain of Siberia, and that it was often overtaken by floods, and drowned.—Young Folks’ News.

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