McKenna Process Company
Plant formerly located in Joliet, Illinois - ca. 1920.
Autobiographical Data
The Minooka Mastodons - 1911-1912 ... and 1919
by George Langford, Sr.

In the year 1910 I purchased my first automobile.  A trip into the country was an adventure often ending in a catastrophe, for roads were bad and every one of the numerous parts of a motor car was susceptible to one kind of disorder or another.  If any part failed, that was generally the end of further progress.  But, inasmuch as I could go about as I pleased as long as it did run, a conveyance of this sort offered temptation too strong to resist.  I had heard of a man somewhere near Minooka, Illinois, who had some prehistoric animals.  Nobody seemed to know anything about them, but my curiosity was aroused and so, one morning, I cranked up the car and sallied forth to have a look.  But I had not much hope of finding anything of particular interest.
I drove west from Joliet into Kendall County, where roads of soft, black dirt made the traveling difficult.  I did not know just where I was going, and that made it all the harder.  I went too far north and had to come south and, having gone too far west, I turned and drove east until I reached a tiny hamlet called Whitewillow.  That was my first objective.  A certain farmer lived in that region, and the next task was to find him.  This, I finally accomplished after considerable manouvering; I reached the farm of one John Bamford.
Mrs. Bamford answered my knock on the door of the house.  Her husband had gone away for two weeks.  Yes, he had some prehistoric animals cluttering up the place.  They were in the cellar.  This was said most ungraciously, and I made a mental note of it.  Mrs. Bamford procured a lighted candle.  "That cellar was a hard place to get into," so she said, "and it might hold a whole Winter's supply of wood if it were not chucked full of bones."
It was not really a cellar, for there were no stairs leading down to it.  We had to go outdoors to find the entrance.  This was about two-and-a-half-feet square.  I crawled in on my hand and knees.  Once in, I could not stand erect because the cellar or space beneath the floor of the house was less than five feet deep.  What I saw recalled the ancient Catacombs of Rome, but in this case the skulls and bones of human beings were [replaced by] something else.  Bones were everywhere, piled up like cordwood; the cellar was packed with them from floor to ceiling.  I had felt much like a dog crawling into a kennel, and now I could imagine the place as a dog's idea of Heaven, a paradise filled with great big bones.
With my first shock of surprise over with, I took stock of my surroundings under the flickering candlelight.  I felt some of the bones; they were soft, not mineralized, and crumbled to my touch.  Some of the bones were as big around as my body at their ends.  Others were smaller.  More than one animal was represented, but all were of one kind.  I was in the midst of a herd of elephants - what was left of them.  But they were not circus elephants; the many jaws and teeth showed that.  They ranged in all sizes, from a yearling calf to a full-grown adult.  The circus-elephant tooth has a flat surface with slightly raised enamel ridges suitable for grinding hard, tough substances, such as oats and hay.  But these teeth were pig-like, with protruding cones and valleys between.  As far as I could tell in the dim light, every bone and tooth in that cellar were once parts of mastodon elephants.  Parts of them had been found before in this region, but never so many in one place.  Mastodon elephants were plentiful in Illinois when the glaciers had finished transporting their loads of ice and gravel, dumping them in northern Illinois.  The melted ice had formed into many ponds and lakes, and this was well suited for mastodon development.  But in time, the ponds an lakes shrunk or dried up entirely, and that did not suit the mastodons at all.  They died off and finally became extinct.  They were among the last of our prehistoric animals to disappear, so recently that some of them were doubtless seen by the first Indians that settled in America.
I crawled out of the cellar.  Those mastodon bones had long been neglected and would be done for pretty soon if they were not properly cared for.  I said so to Mrs. Bamford, and she agreed with me.  She further admitted that she was sick and tired of having them around, cluttering up the place.  But her husband, John Bamford, was stubborn.  He would not give up those bones.  But he would have to do more than think about it, because they would be moving away before long.  Bamford had gone to Minnesota to make arrangements for settling on a farm there.
All of these things favored the proposals which I then made.  I could not and did not want to buy Bamford's elephants, but I could relieve him of a lot of trouble and maybe find a buyer for the bones.  I would take them to my office in Joliet, put them in good order, and they would still be his to do with as he liked.  After considerable reflection, Mrs. Bamford favored the idea, but with one reservation.  Her husband would be pretty mad when he returned and found the bones gone.  "But I suppose he will get over that if he finds that they still belong to him and you do as you promise."
With that part of my job over with, I plunged into the next and bigger one.  Getting those bones safely to Joliet, over 16 or more miles of bad roads, was no simple task.  My car, loaded to its limit, would not hold one-tenth of them.  They were soft, and it would not take much jolting to shake them to pieces.  I was alone; I had no packing material; all of the work had to be done by myself.  But I felt that I had to manage somehow and get all of those bones back to my office before John Bamford returned.
Nearby was a field of daisy-like wild flowers with stems nearly three feet long.  These were to provide my packing material.  Then I crawled in and out of that cellar, bringing out bones until I had enough of them for a load.  Mrs. Bamford loaned me a sickle, and I went after my packing material.  Before long I denuded a large area of its daisies until I had enough.  I wound them around the bones, poked them into crevices.  My car had no top, and so I gradually built up my load until it towered high above the driver's seat.  I filled the space beside it with bones.  My first load consisted mostly of jaws, teeth and tusks.  Mrs. Bamford loaned me a rope which helped greatly to tie everything down securely.  She laughed when I drove off.  It all looked funny to her, but I did not feel that way.  I had put my spare tire and all tools where I could get at them, and there was nothing more to do but go ahead and hope for the best.
The going was tough, and much of my driving was done in low gear.  But nothing worse happened. Lady Luck was with me.  I got through the black dirt to gravel roads and breathed easier.  I thought that trip would never end, but I finally reached the western boundary of Joliet, along Jefferson Street.  As I drove slowly into town, passers-by stopped and looked.  Their number increased as I proceeded.  Small boys began to gather, shouting and attracting attention.  As I entered the busy down-town section, people gathered all around me, pointing to my load of bones and shouting questions.  Near the Court House, I stopped at Chicago Street to let traffic go by, and the crowd  piled up in front of me.  I could not proceed.  A police officer dashed up, and then, more of the same kind.  I explained to them as best I could that I had a load of elephant bones and was taking them to my office on the eastern side of town.  So the officers cleared a way for me and I went on, with boys still following and many people stopping to wonder what it was all about.  I suppose that I should have cherished a feeling of pomp and pride as the central figure in an elephant parade down one of Joliet's main streets but, feeling tired and annoyed, I could not see things that way.  I reached my office and unloaded the bones, which I took to the garret-like second floor.  That was all I could do for one day, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever do it again.
But next morning, things looked different.  Nate Hurd, my assistant in our small steel works, had a car just like mine, and he was more than willing to help me get those where I wanted.  So that made two of us with two cars.  We took plenty of rope and packing material along with us.  Nate was a good sport, ready for anything in the way of fun or trouble, and that meant a lot to me.  We got our loads back to Joliet without any mishap, and then we did it again and again until all were safely stowed away in our office.  We had no flat tires, no breakdowns, and no storms to bog us down until the job was done.
And then, as I expected would happen soon, there came a visitor, John Bamford.  There was blood in his eye at first, but this soon disappeared when I took him upstairs to see his elephants in their new quarters.  They looked pretty good, and as his ownership of them remained unquestioned, he was quite willing to forgive and forget my high-handed methods.  Before he left, we sat down, and I jotted down everything he had to say about the bones; just where and how he found them; and many other bits of information.  It was in 1903, and Bamford was then living on another farm from the one he was now occupying on the western side of the road leading south to Minooka in Kendall County.  His old house was close by the eastern side of the road, from which a little side road ran east to his house, passing close by a surface well equipped with a hand pump.  It supplied water for Bamford's cattle.  But the supply was running low, so he decided to widen and deepen the well and thus secure more water.
Apparently the well was clogged with tree stumps or something, but the first ones he got out turned out to be gigantic bones.  Bamford informed his neighbors, and the news soon got around.  People came to wonder and help dig up the bones, bigger than anything they had ever seen.  Bamford had visions of wealth.  He would organize a prehistoric animal circus and tour the country.  So he and his friends dug up all they could find, and the work was done, none too gently.  Finally all were removed, the excitement died away, and Bamford was left alone to ponder over his pile of bones.  Nobody wanted to buy them.   He moved to another farm across the road and took the bones with him.  Rain and cold did them no good, and so he piled them in his cellar, where I found them.
In answer to my question as to whether or not he had found remains of animals other than mastodons, he replied that there were a few; some deer-horns and skulls, probably of cattle that had been trapped in the soft ground around the well.  Everything he had found was put into the loft of his barn and kept there for a time.  A few days after Bamford's visit, I drove over to the place to have a look.
The farm was occupied by a man named Kittelson.  He allowed me to look about and take notes.  With his permission I climbed up into the loft of the barn and examine it.  Bones had once occupied  a part of the loft.  I found a number of mastodon vertebrae and ribs and, among them, some smaller bones.  Kittelson did not want them and said that I might take them them away if I chose.  This I was glad to do.  There were antlers of our common deer and elk and one that appeared to have belonged to a moose.  There were also several skulls and jaws of what looked like cattle, and a foot-bone which resembled that of a deer.  But when I got these bones home where I could look them over at my leisure, they shaped up a bit differently.
The presumed moose antler once belonged to a deer-moose (Cervalcese) a species now extinct.  The skulls and jaws resembling cattle turned out to be those of Bison which we call, "buffalo."  The small foot-bone was that of some unknown species of Musk-sheep.  All of these things were near the top of the mass of mastodon bones which began about five feet below the ground surface and continued eight feet down into the gravel.  There were no complete mastodon skeletons, merely parts of nine or more animals of all ages and sizes, washed into a pocket when the site was covered by an extensive body of water.
For about a year all of my spare time was given to mending and hardening the bones stored in my office, until most of them were restored to fairly good condition.  The tusks had suffered most from neglect, but one of a pair which I mended was about the best mastodon tusk I have ever seen.  It was nearly nine feet long and, with such wide, sweeping curves that one would think it belonged to a mammoth, which was another kind of prehistoric elephant.
As for John Bamford, he came to see me a second time, several weeks after his first visit.  He was moving to Minnesota soon and could not take his elephants with him,  He thought they were in safe hands and would be made good use of.  I gave him a sum of money, as much as I could afford, and that made the parting easier.  That is how I acquired a small herd of American Mastodon Elephants.
I retained possession of Bamford's Mastodon Elephant bones from 1912 to 1919.  That was a long time, and the wonder is that my wife stood for it.  Most of the collection was up in my office storeroom but there were more than enough in my house on the third floor, mostly the jaws and teeth.
In 1912, George, Sr. made an inventory of the bones and their dimensions [located here] - George, III.
Meanwhile my collection of fossils was otherwise increasing.  Among them were two mosasaur skulls from the Niobrara (Upper Cretaceous) Chalk of Kansas.  The bones reached me, buried in large stone slabs, but I carved them out, mended them, and restored the two skulls as open mounts.  This was a long hard job.
I also acquired a lower jaw and tooth and the tooth of another lower jaw of a so-called "Columbian Mammoth Elephant" from Sternberg's "Elephant Bed" near Ottawa, Kansas.  I restored the missing jaw in plaster and made one mount of the lower jaws with teeth.  I was also doing considerable fossil-hunting, and the stuff was piling up fast.
Several institutions offered to relieve me of my elephant bones if I would donate them.  Richard S. Lull of Yale thought that my 8 foot, 10 inch tusk would look fine on his "Otis Mastodon" that was shy on tusks.  A few of the Joliet residents suggested that my elephants be kept at home, and I was agreeable to that.  However, nobody offered to help carry out the idea.  The World War came on and I became a member of the Township High School Board.  The Superintendent, J. Stanley Brown, offered to assist in establishing a museum, and part of the old Elwood residence on the southern side of Jefferson Street was ear-marked for that purpose.  One of the teachers, Duncan, with some knowledge of geology, was given the summer job of resurrecting remnants of High School fossil collections from coal bins and other places with the idea of classifying them for exhibition.  In this I agreed to help by identifying the various specimens.  Eventually my Minooka elephants and other fossils would be added when we found room for them.  This was before the extensive additions were made to the High School, and many outlying buildings were rented and used to accommodate the overflow of pupils.
But the whole thing blew up.  Duncan decided to vamoose on a vacation, and Brown decided that every square inch of floor space available must be used for study only.  That ended the museum idea.
The Armistice came in 1918, late in the Fall.  Scientists perked up and began to look around.  One day, Elmer Riggs came down from the Field Museum to look over what he called, "his charges."  It was Riggs who went down to the Bamford farm many years before and endeavored to dissuade Bamford and his friends from digging up the Mastodon Elephants recently discovered there.  Bamford had big ideas as to the value of his find, and Riggs went away in a huff.  Then I butted in, salvaged what remained, and here they were all safe and sound.  Riggs was delighted to see them again.  I would restore them to the Field Museum where they belonged, of course.
I had spent quite a lot of time and money on the collection and, being short on funds, I was looking for a paying customer.  In the Spring of 1919 I was invited to call upon Mr. Frederick A.V. Skiff, Managing Director of the Field Museum.  It was soon discovered that I had spent nearly $500 on the collection, and I wanted to be reimbursed at least that much.  But Mr. Skiff refused to consider such a huge sum, and after much haggling, it was whittled down to $300.  I finally agreed to this, and it was soon arranged that the transaction would be completed in writing.  I stipulated that, inasmuch as the sum agreed was considerably less than what I had actually spent in cash upon the collection, the latter was to be considered as a gift to the Field Museum, the $300 being designated, not as a purchase price, but in part as an expense account and not as payment for my services.  Mr Skiff agreed to this.
But Riggs, while at my house, had seen my two Mosasaur skulls and Mammoth Elephant jaws.  He wanted them.  Mr. Skiff wanted them too - included in the original deal with no extra charge.  This was stretching things, and I raged inwardly.  However, I needed the money, those elephants were taking up a lot of room, and I finally consented.  Riggs spent the good part of a week as my guest, packing up the collection.  It took a freight car to take it all in to the Field Museum.
I did not get up to the Field Museum until several months later.  At the entrance of the Fossil Hall were quite a lot of my specimens variously labelled.  One large printed sign caught my eye: "Gift of Chauncey Kief and George Langford."  I foundered over this.  Chauncey Kief ? What had he to do with it ? And then I recalled a remark made by Mr. Skiff that the Field Museum had no funds available, and he would have to find the $300 somewhere else.  Evidently, he got it from Chauncey Kief.

Since posting the above essay written by George Langford, Sr., I have found in his papers the manuscript of a book, "The Story of the Elephant," obviously laboriously typed and hand-corrected by the one-armed author.  I doubt that George, Sr., finished this manuscript, but it clearly served as the background for several other tasks: (1) Learning about the Minooka Mastodons, whose remains he was saving from oblivion; (2) Two children's novels: "Pic the Weapon Maker" (with the Introduction written by Henry Fairfield Osborn, President of the American Musum of Natural History) and "Kutnar Son of Pic," both published by Boni and Liveright, New York, in 1920 and 1921, respectively; (3) A serial, published in 1922 in Volume 23 of The American Boy magazine, entitled "The Mammoth Man," a condensed version of "Pic the Weapon Maker."(4) A more ambitious children's novel, "Stories of ther First American Animals," also published by Boni and Liveright, New York, in 1923. and (5) "Senrac The Lion Man," published by Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York, in 1954.  I also inherited from my grandfather the book, "Men of the Old Stone Age," written and autographed to George, Sr. by Henry Fairfield Osborne with the date, December, 1918, its year of publication by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
George Langford, III, ed. May 22, 2010