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John Muir's Mamoth Tusk – Two Stories, One Tusk
David Blackburn and Jill Harcke
Story One: Tusk Donated to Historic Site
by Jill Harcke
Over 120 years ago John Muir took a trip on the Thomas Corwin to
explore Alaska. While Muir was on that trip he picked up a few
artifacts. One of them ended up in his grandson's possession.
Years ago, Walter and Margaret Muir, who were friends with Maymie
and William Kimes, Collectors of John Muir, gave the artifact to
Bill and Maymie because "they were getting tired of dusting it".
Maymie and Bill did some research and discovered it came from the
Here is part of the research Stan Hutchinson, Muir researcher,
provided the Kimes with.
"I have worked with fossil mammoth ivory and am convinced that
this piece is not modern elephant ivory but that of an Alaskan
Typical of this ancient materiel this tusk fragment is tan inside
rather than the white to creamy color of our modern elephant
ivory, It's estimated age is 910,000-150,000 or more years old.
Fossil wooly mammoth ivory from Alaska is not petrified as one
might suppose but is workable with primitive hand tools. It was
an essential material for the Eskimo for a -variety of tools,
utensils and personal object from ancient times up to their art
of the present day.
I believe that Muir acquired this fragment of tusk in Alaska
during the 1881 voyage of the Thomas Corwin. On pages 134-137 of
Cruise of the Corwin, Muir wrote "July 14 came to anchor this
morning at the head of Kotcebue sound opposite the mouth of
Kiwalik River. Lt. Reynolds with six seamen took Mr. Nelson and
me up the river in one of the boats. Reached the point about 8
miles from the mouth of the estuary. Thus region is noted for
it's fossil ivory. Found only a fragment of a tusk and a few
On April 18th, the night of the JMMA's Annual Dinner, Maymie
Kimes donated the Wooly Mammoth Tusk to the John Muir National
Historic Site in honor of Walter Muir. When we build our New
Education and Visitor Center, it is items such as these which
JMMA has purchased from. The Kimes Collection, which will
enhance our Education Center and enable us to put ore of the
picture puzzle of Muir's life together.
A special thank you to Walter and Margaret Muir, who drove up
from Southern California just for this occasion. Also, to Maymie
Kimes, for donating the tusk, estimated to be worth over
$5,000.00, to the Site, and to The John Muir Inn, which is
becoming the gathering spot for overnight Muir enthusiasts.
Muir wrote "evening brings all home." During the last 24 years of
his life (1890-1914) John Muir lived, loved, worked and wrote
right here on the grounds of The John Muir National Historic
Site. This was his home. And now, appropriately, it will be the
home of any such artifacts and books that the Kimes have
collected over a 50 year period.
If you would like to make a donation to The Library Collection or
the Capital Campaign in general please contact Don Harness at our
new phone number in the Adobe 229-3857.
Story Two: Tusk Found on Strentzel Ranch
By David Blackburn
Following the recent donation of the tusk that Jill wrote about
in the previous article, we came upon an interesting piece of
information here in our files. There is a copy of an article from
the Martinez Gazette in the history files of John Muir NHS, dated
January 28th, 1888, which provides another perspective concerning
either this or another tusk. This article, refers to a mastodon
tusk recovered on the fruit ranch. The article raised a question:
is the piece of tusk recently donated from Walter Muir from
Alaska or our own backyard? Regardless where it came from the
Muir's and Strentzel's ere eyewitness to an interesting event:
"A little further down the road lives a man whose name has long
been associated with the scientific development of California,
and indeed of the Pacific Coast, for his work has taken him as
far north as Alaska. It is there he discovered the glacier which
has been named after him--the Muir Glacier. After passing years
midst the ice and snow of the Sierra, he has come down to the
haunts of men and has developed into a highly successful
fruit-raiser, who grows the best kind of fruits, gets the best
prices and ships his crops East. Brains again! I can tell you of
another crop that is growing on his place. You never could guess
what it is--mastodons. One day his wife and a lady friend were
wandering along the bed of a creek which separates his place from
an adjoining farm. The banks are high are precipitous, and as
they passed a certain point, they saw projecting from the black
adobe mold a curved, yellowish object like the root of some tree.
On touching it they found it crumbled easily. Thoroughly
mystified, they broke off a piece and carried to the house where
Mrs. Muir's father pronounced it to be ivory. Subsequent
investigation disclosed the fact that there were two enormous
ivory stucks [sic] buried in the earth, and the supposition is
that the body of the mastodon lies behind in perfect condition.
But the side of the creek where it lies belongs to a man who does
not appreciate the value of a real mastodon, and so the matter
rests in status quo for the present.
Is this the piece that was donated to the historic site? If not,
where is the sample the ladies took from the creek bed? Did John
Muir or Dr. Strentzel return to the site and remove the remaining
tusks? Where did the ladies make their discovery? We can confirm
that there was piece of tusk in the Muir house. Helen made this
reference in a description of the Scribble Den. Recorded in 1957,
Helen stated "In any remaining space in corners of the room there
were various curios--African spears, piece of elephants tusk
[sic], petrified wood, etc." Indeed, Helen makes reference to a
piece of tusk in the Scribble Den, but is it from Alaska or the
"lovely Arcadia" of the Alhambra Valley?
Exerpted from The View From John Muir's Window, June 2000,
Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association.