Article ID: CBB008066555

C. W. Beehler's Collection of Vertebrate Fossils: A Lost Legacy (2016)


The Kimmswick ‘bone bed’, a late Wisconsin paleontological locality in Jefferson County, Missouri, south of St. Louis, has been known since the early nineteenth century. The site gained international recognition in 1843 when a German immigrant and enterprising entrepreneur, Albert Koch, sold a composite skeleton of an American mastodon to the British Museum, parts of which came from Kimmswick. A half-century later a mechanic, inventor, and fossil hunter named Charles W. Beehler spent several months each year between 1897–1904 exhuming a massive collection of vertebrate fossils, representing several taxa, but one dominated by American mastodon (Mammut americanum). In addition, Beehler discovered human artifacts that he deemed were associated with the extinct fauna, thus adding Beehler to a growing number of proponents of what was termed the ‘American Paleolithic’. In retrospect he may have indeed uncovered evidence for an association between humans and extinct fauna, but the relationship went unrecognized by leading scientists of the time. Beehler constructed a wooden frame building on the site to house his collection, which he referred to as a museum. This was in preparation for visitors who would flock to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, known officially as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Featuring his active excavation and mastodon-dominated bone collection, Beehler created an attraction that enticed fair goers—as well as the curious—to schedule trips to Kimmswick. Following the World's Fair Beehler returned to St. Louis, but the disposition of his collection remained a mystery. There is no evidence that any significant number of specimens made their way into institutional hands where they were preserved. Beehler attracted national and international attention through his work at Kimmswick, but his reluctance to share or donate his collection to a reputable institution left him with a legacy of notoriety, and led to the loss of this important collection of vertebrate fossils.

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Authors & Contributors
Biagioli, Mario
Ritvo, Harriet
Beckert, Sven
Tamborini, Marco
Howell, Alan C.
Dingus, Lowell
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
Journal of Literature and Science
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Social Studies of Science
University of California Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Harvard University
Florida State University
Wallstein Verlag
Columbia University Press
Natural history
Earth sciences
Doyle, Arthur Conan
Lomax, James
Brown, Barnum
Heilmann, Gerhard
Anning, Mary
Marsh, Othniel Charles
United States
Great Britain
Missouri (U.S.)
Wyoming (U.S.)
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
21st century
20th century, late
University of Wyoming
Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin

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