May 25, 2012
Thomas Jefferson thought there were woolly mammoths on theGreat Plains. He really did. Jefferson was no dummy. He succeeded Ben Franklin as president of the American Philosophical Society, an organization to which the leading lights in American science all belonged.
When he was president, Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to undertake their great Corps of Discovery. Its a thrilling story, the nineteenth century equivalent of Americas race to the Moon. Historian Stephen Ambroses bestselling book, Undaunted Courage retells the story that once entranced all Americans.
The reason Mr. Jefferson thought Lewis & Clark might encounter woolly mammoths on theGreat Plainsis simple: he believed in Creation. And to his most logical mind, it did not make sense for the Creator to make something as wonderful as a woolly mammoth only to let it become extinct. We might say God doesnt make any junk.
Mr. Jeffersons theology, however, failed to take into account the catastrophic consequences of the Fall. His dearest friend, James Madison, fully appreciated Mans fallen nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary, Madison wrote in Federalist 51. I like to say that whenever Mr. Jefferson would lean forward too far, like MSNBC, Madison would be there to pull him back by his coattails.
Back to the mammoths. So, Lewis & Clark were the ones to report back that there was no Northwest Passage to the Orient on this continent. Map makers and explorers in the Age of Jefferson thought there might be an all-water passage that would open up Asia for commerce and friendship. They sent back to Washington crates of bones and fossils and they stuffed and mounted some of the large animals they saw on the Great Plains. Buffalo, or American bison, were a sensation. But no mammoths.
An all-water passage would be found much later, in 1957. The Coast Guard icebreaker, Storis plowed a pathway between the seas and lead a small flotilla from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Storis saw polar bears, seals and walruses, whales, and porpoises, but still no woolly mammoths.
Maybe the reason Lewis & Clark missed the woolly mammoths is they followed the Missouri River and turned left too soon. They entirely missed Minnesota. You gotta watch out for those premature left turns.
So, in 1973-74, I decided to do my own search for woolly mammoths in Minnesota. I trekked all over the state, raising funds for the Democratic Farmer-Labor party. I knew those big cities and small towns very well. Twin Cities, Rochester, Mankato, Moorhead, Thief River Falls, Detroit Lakes, and all the towns on the famed Iron Range—Virginia, Eveleth, Hibbing. Grand Marais sounds so romantic. Thats French for Big Swamp. In Bemidji, I saw a mammoth statue of Paul Bunyan, but no woolly mammoths.
In Duluth, in the middle of the night, I thought it was an earthquake when I heard booming and cracking. It was just the ice on Lake Superior breaking up on June first.
This would be the perfect place to find end my quest. Even if my prehistoric pachyderms were petrified in the ice, it would still be a great discovery. Some years back, the Soviets had actually uncovered mammoths in the Siberian ice. They claimed you could eat the meat. If you ever tried Bolshevik burgers, Im sure mammoth meat would be a welcome change. Now, the Russians are saying they have mammoths in Siberia. Im skeptical. Trust but verify.
Last week, I returned to Minnesota. I was there to promote FRCs support for the North Star States marriage referendum. I was honored to go to Stillwater, Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Cloud and New Hope. Just being in Minnesota gives me new hope.
All the buzz, of course, was about President Obama and his coming out for same-sex couplings to be recognized as marriages. He finally dropped the other shoe, said all the liberal blogs. It seemed to me it was more like a centipede dropping the last shoe, but whatever.
Mr. Obama claimed he had evolved on the issue. Newsweek even hailed him as the first gay president. Talk about evolving. Then, it hit me. Thats why I couldnt find my woolly mammoths in Minnesota. Like the president, they had all evolved.