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OUT OF THE VAULT: Shifting sands reveal giant mastodon near Hermiston

Published on July 15, 2017 3:00AM

A mammoth tusk and what is either an upper or lower jaw of a mastodon are studied by Bob Buchanan, Frank Swayze and Frank Swaggart, all of Hermiston, in this July 7, 1954 East Oregonian photo.

A mammoth tusk and what is either an upper or lower jaw of a mastodon are studied by Bob Buchanan, Frank Swayze and Frank Swaggart, all of Hermiston, in this July 7, 1954 East Oregonian photo.

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Frank Swaggart, a rancher in the Westland district near Hermiston, unearthed what University of Oregon scientists said was the largest mastodon find in Oregon when shifting sands revealed whitened and fossilized tusks and bones on July 6, 1954.

Swaggart immediately called local amateur paleontologists Bob Buchanan, an insurance salesman; Frank Swayze, a retired banker; Kelly Tiller, a van operator; Walter Hamm, a retired druggist; and Frank Adams, an Arlington businessman, to investigate the find. The ancient creature partially uncovered in Swaggart’s initial diggings indicated a prehistoric pachyderm of massive proportions. One of the tusks measured nearly 8 feet in length, and a bone thought to be a femur, the upper leg bone, measured more than 3 feet long. The men left the find in place and called in scientists from the University of Oregon in Eugene to perform a proper investigation of the site, located about two miles north of the Umatilla ordnance depot.

A research trip to the Hermiston library revealed the creature likely grazed the site, a former lake, during the mid-Pliocene era about 5 million years ago. Once Dr. J. Arnold Shotwell, curator of U of O’s museum of natural history, and his assistant Huntley Alvey arrived at the scene on July 22, they verified the mastodon was one of the late-era two-tusk types (mastodons with four tusks also existed during the early Pliocene), and the largest specimen found to date in Oregon. They carefully made plaster casts of the beast’s skull and tusk and employed the help of West End volunteers to remove the remains for study and display in Eugene. Dr. Shotwell and Alvey also unearthed the remains of rhinoceros, camel, ground sloth and three-toed horse, also dating to the mid-Pliocene, near the mastodon find.

At the close of the official dig, the public was invited to visit the area, and encouraged to report any further significant finds.



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