Oregon Trails: Pre-Historic Bones

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ASHLAND, Ore. — Things in Ashland are a lot quieter now that it’s between Shakespeare seasons, and the community at the base of the Siskiyous is settling back to being a small college town. Down in the railroad district, the Ashland Railway History Museum is working to expand its mission to include other Ashland history, including a display of some pre-historic mammoth or mastodon bones found on the SOU campus about 50 years ago.

“This tooth was actually found on the SOU campus. And the one thing that’s interesting about the Columbian mammoth, it made the woolly mammoth look puny. It was the biggest member of the elephant family to ever walk the planet. It was 14 feet high at the shoulders, and it was prevalent in the–on the West Coast,” said Victoria Law, Museum Director.

Law says that the tooth was not the only thing found when the student health center was built in the ’60s.

“This is, again, a Columbian mammoth tusk also found on the SOU campus in the mid-1960s and had been in the SOU geology department,” Law said.

A newspaper clipping shows science professors Dr. Frank Sturges and Dr. Clarence Dibble inspecting another tusk also found at the site when a maintenance working was digging to find a drain pipe leak. It says the tusk was estimated to be about 20 million years old. That tusk has since disappeared.

“For me, it’s fascinating because we found so many of those in that one location around Omar’s,” Law said.

In fact, it was some 20 years before that several mastodon or mammoth remains were found at the popular off-campus watering hole.

“The blue discoloration that’s on the tusk is evidence that it was buried in salt water for a long period of time, which is very intriguing to me because it was found on the SOU campus. So that implies that at one time there was a body of salt water here, on the SOU campus,” Law said.

Omar’s claims to be built on the site of a former hot springs.

But Ashland is not the only place mammoth and mastodon remains have been found in Southern Oregon. In the 1860s, it was reported that Chinese miners uncovered several bones and teeth and a broken tusk in the Applegate Valley. Then a few years later, more tusks were said to have been found on the banks of Foots Creek, near Gold Hill. In 1928, at a farm on Antelope Creek, on the east side of the valley what were reported to be fossil elephant bones were also uncovered by a farmer’s plow.

“They were huge! And they found them all over the Northwest, and West Coast. Their skeletons,” Law said.

It’s something of mystery as to what happened to the mastodon or mammoth bones that were found during the construction of Omar’s Restaurant back in the ’40s. Those that she has came from the SOU campus. So maybe these bones went to a museum someplace. She’d like to be able to find out so she can complete her exhibit at the Ashland Historic Railway Museum.