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Frank Gray

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Prehistoric find finally on display

Courtesy of Indiana State Museum and Historic Site
Thursday night the Buesching family got to see the mastodon bones Dan Buesching dug up in Allen County in 1998.

Sometime in the very distant past a mastodon estimated to be 33 years old and standing 9 to 12 feet tall keeled over for some reason and died in a pond off what is now Cook Road.

Fast-forward 13,000 years. Dan Buesching was digging up peat in that pond, which is still there, and he hauled up that mastodon’s tooth-filled skull, leg bones, part of a pelvis, two large leg bones and other parts.

IPFW students soon joined in the excavation, and in the end it turned out Buesching’s find was one of the most complete mastodon skeletons ever found in this part of the country.

Fast-forward 14 more years from that day Buesching discovered the bones. The skeleton of the mastodon, now named Fred, is finally on display.

Thursday evening, in an event at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, the Buesching family became the first people (besides the people who mounted it) to see the now-assembled mastodon skeleton.

In the past 14 years or so the skeleton has been well traveled. For a while, the bones were on display at IPFW, laid out on some tables.

But the hopes of keeping the bones here quickly grew dim. No one had room to display the skeleton, and more important, no one had the money necessary to finance assembling the skeleton, and attempts to find donors weren’t successful.

Eventually, the bones ended up at the University of Michigan, where an expert in the old animals dated and studied the bones and made lightweight casts of the bones. And there they stayed.

One possibility for the Bueschings could have been to sell the skeleton. There are businesses online selling mastodon skeletons for half a million dollars.

Instead, in 2006, the Bueschings donated the original skeleton to the Indiana State Museum. The bones sat for several years before the museum launched a fundraising drive about a year and a half ago, asking people to sponsor individual bones.

“We built it from the toes up,” said Ron Richards, the paleontology curator for the museum.

Finding ways to mount the heaviest bones, though, was difficult and expensive. The skull alone, for example, weighs 250 pounds.

Surprisingly, it was the Buesching family that footed that bill. Not only did they spend thousands of dollars helping excavate the skeleton and then donate it to the museum, but what Richards described as a branch of the family also donated $20,000 to finance the skull’s mounting. For that, they deserved the sneak peek they got Thursday night, before anyone else got a chance to see it.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.