- Historic Sites
Unearthing The Mastodon
Peale’s Greatest Triumph
August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
”… I did not at first give the least hint of my Intention to purchase, & liberty was readily granted me to make my drawings. After examining them I soon determined what part I would take drawings of. Viewing the magnitude of them, a thought instantly struck me, that it would have a better effect to make drawings of the exact size, although they should be ever so slight, and having near a quire of paper in my Trunk, I began to paste a number of sheets together proport[ion]ed to the size wanted, and to sketch with coal an out line, measuring the distances for correctness, and afterwards to line them in with India Ink with a long brush & shade them in a rough manner. Having prepaired and just begun the work, I was asked to dinner. While at Table the eldest son demanded of me whether I should not like to buy them. I candidly replyed that I should provided the price was not too high, and in my turn demanded what they would take for them. I could get no answer to my question, but still they insisted to know what I would offer. My mind had been made up on that score purty nearly. Therefore I answered that I would be candid with them, and would at once, bid, give as much as I could afford & in a few words, and if the offer that I made was not accepted, I should content myself with only having slight drawings of them. Thus promising it as my ultimatum, I offered 200 Drs. for those now collected and 100 Drs. at some other period when I should be able to bear the expence of getting up the remainder, which should be wholly free of expence to them, and what aid I should want of the family I would pay for, besides the 300 Drs. They answered that it was too little, would I not give more. I firmly answered in a negative. I reasoned a little on the cost of obtaining the residue—and that if any body thought of making money traveling about the country to show them, the costs of Taverns would often exceed the profits—although money might be made at one place at others only expence would be incur[r]ed, that in short it was a kind of life very prejudicial to the morals of those who attempted to get a maintenance by such means &c. &c. I could get no answer by which I could then know the issue—and I went again to my drawing. In the evening when I was about to return to the Doctrs. they invited me to stay the night. I excused myself by saying that I had promised to return—that I wished them to consider & consult together, that I would be obliged to them for an answer in the morning, as if they choose to accept my offer, it would superceed my wishes to finish the drawings. The next morning I came to my work & brought with [me] 2 quires of paper in order to have a sufficiency—but I found that the old gentleman had gone into the field to his work, which made me suppose he had determined not to accept my offer, & I set to work again, but I had not been long at it when Mr. Masten came in. When I asked him if I was to continue my drawings, he replyed he believed not—my heart jumped with joy.”
Observing this reaction, boot was demanded, and it was agreed that the bargain should include a double-barreled gun like Peale’s for the eldest son, and gowns from New York for the daughters. The bones were then packed in hogsheads and crates for shipment to town, where the transaction would be completed.
Back in New York, Peale had his first taste of an excitement that soon would become a national furor. He had wanted to do some business with his patent bath and fireplace, but found that the huge thighbone he had with him, too large for any container, his drawings, and the news of what would soon be revealed in the mounting of the skeleton had created an excitement that left no room for other topics. He wrote Jefferson an account of it on June 29, but his diary tells more:
“The Vice President of the United States [Aaron Burr], and a considerable number of Ladies and Gentlemen came to see the Bones. The news of them must have blew like wild fire, for upwards [of] 80 persons came to see them that evening. It was a pleasing circumstance to me, that every body seemed rejoiced that the bones had fallen into my hands. It seemed to be a general sentiment that with me they would be preserved, and saved to this Country.
“One Person only uttered a contrary sentiment. Doctr. Hosack invited me to dinner with him the next day. I excepted his invitation, and his first salutation was, he was sory that I had got the bones. I asked him wherefore, and he said they ought not to have let them go out of the State. Then I replied, give me sufficient encouragement and I would bring them & the Museum also to New York. I was a citizen of the world and would go to that place which would give most incouragement to my favorite Science.
“But Doctr. do you know any man that would put these bones together if they had them, but myself? He replied he did not. Then surely you ought to be glad that I possess them.”