Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 26 May 1796

To Archibald Stuart

Monticello May 26. 96.

Dear Sir

Two or three days before the reciept of your favor of the 20th. I had recieved a letter from Mr. John Stuart of Greenbriar, accompanied with a leg bone and two joints of the toe of the animal mentioned in your letter. They are of a species not yet known most certainly, and the animal must have been as preeminent over the lion, as the big buffalo was over the elephant. The bones are too extraordinary in themselves, and too victorious an evidence against the pretended degeneracy of animal nature in our continent, not to excite the strongest desire to push the enquiry after all other remains of the same animal which any industry can recover for us. I will take the liberty therefore of hoping a continuance of your efforts through Mr. Cavendish or any other channel to procure what of the bones you can, and what information of them may be obtained. In hopes of further materials to make the first communication of the discovery as complete and exact as we can, I shall delay the preparing and forwarding the account of it for some time: and shall be happy to learn from you as soon as you can judge yourself whether any thing further may be expected. I am with great esteem Dear Sir Your affectionate friend & servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (ViHi); addressed: “Archibald Stuart esq. Staunton”; stamped; endorsed by Stuart. PrC (DLC); endorsed by TJ in ink on verso.

Letter from Mr. John Stuart: John Stuart to TJ, 11 Apr. 1796.

Drawing on oral traditions related to him by American Indians, TJ used the term Big Buffalo to refer to North American mammoths and mastodons, the fossil remains of which were not yet fully understood by scientists (Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science [New York, 1990], 96–7; Notes, ed. Peden, 43–4).

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