Murray's People: A collection of essays about fthe fascinating people who settled and developed the Pacific Northwest

Northwest Room & Special Collections

Murray C. Morgan
Henry Tukeman:
Mammoth's Roar was Heard All The Way to the Smithsonian

Essay Index
Northwest Room Home
Print-Friendly version

Copyright, 1960, Murray Morgan
All Rights Reserved
This information may not be reprinted in any manner without the written permission of the author.

Henry Tukeman:
Mammoth's Roar was Heard All The Way to the Smithsonian

spacerRummaging around the attic looking for something else I recently came across a file I began keeping years ago on Alaska improbabilities. Among the accounts of talking whales, lost emerald mines, backward-flowing rivers and mountainleveling beavers was the story told by a Klondiker who signed himself Harry Tukeman. It was printed in McClure's magazine in October of 1899 and, unlike the other improbables, it had consequences.
spacerTukeman told of encountering mammoths, living mammoths, on the Porcupine River near the Alaska/Yukon border.
spacerWhile wintering at Fort Yukon in 1890, he said, he passed the time by reading aloud to an Indian friend named Joe. One of the stories concerned elephants. When he showed Joe a picture of an elephant the Indian became excited. He said he had seen such an animal, up there, pointing north and east.
spacerJoe said he had been hunting on the upper Porcupine River when he came to a cave filled with bones of big animals. The cave opened onto a valley, and in the valley were fresh tracks, "footprints longer than a rifle." Joe followed the tracks to a lake, and in the lake stood a creature of size and shape he had never seen, or heard of around the campfire.
spacer"He is throwing water over himself with his long nose, and his two front teeth stand out before his head for ten gunlengths, turned up and shining like a swan's wing in the sunlight. Alongside him, this cabin would be like a two-week boar cub beside its mother."
spacerTukeman said Joe wouldn't guide him to the cave but told a younger tribesman named Paul how to get to the mammoth stomping grounds. They found the cave, found the valley, and, sure enough, found a mammoth. But how does one bag a mammoth?
spacerTukeman theorized that most mammoths had disappeared during a period of intense volcanic activity. If so, the descendants of the survivors would hate fires.
spacerSo he and Paul built a shooting platform in a tree. Then they built a smudgy fire below the tree. Sure enough, the mammoth came to stamp it out. All the time the mammoth was stomping, they were shooting. Killed him, too.
spacerIt took weeks to skin the monster and cut out its enormous tusks. After measuring the internal organs, they left the valley with the trophy skin and tusks. Somehow they managed to descend the Porcupine to the Yukon, the Yukon to the Bering, and from there they made it to Seattle.
spacerTukeman wrote that his plan was to turn the specimen over to the British Museum, but a shy American millionaire bought it, had the skin stuffed and presented it, anonymously, to the Smithsonian. He wanted no credit for his charity and pledged Tukeman to remain silent until after his death. He had died in 1898 leaving Tukeman free to tell the story.
spacerMammoth stories were always worth repeating. This one appeared in McClure's, a publication largely devoted to serious stuff. The mammoth yarn was sandwiched between an essay by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt of New York on the career of Admiral George Dewey and a report from Paris on the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for alleged treason.
spacerNot only did Tukeman's mammoth whopper stimulate arguments in saloons from Tacoma to Dawson City, it drew swarms of visitors to the Smithsonian. They wanted to see the creature that in one account had become "big as a governor's house, with tusks as long as the moral law, and a tail resembling the mainmast on a clipper ship." Told that the Smithsonian had no such exhibit, that no mammoths had existed for thousands of years, they were indignant with the Smithsonian.
spacerFinally, the Smithsonian's paleontology expert, Charles Schuchert called a press conference. He and a representative from McClure's explained that Henry Tukeman was really an American short story writer named H.T. Hann. McClure's editors had thought the fantasy was so apparent that there had been no need to identify it as fiction. The mammoth tale was not intended as a hoax, just "an interesting story without foundation in fact."
spacerIt has been some time since we had a Sasquatch sighting.

Return to the top of this page

Murray's People
A collection of essays

Tacoma Public Library
Northwest Room & Special Collections