From the Museum Archives: The mammoth that made the museum
Sheer luck. There’s no other way to describe Seighardt Klaus’ mammoth discovery back in 1961.
Living 5 miles north of Craig, Seighardt was digging a well when his drill bit suddenly brought up a couple of pieces of ivory from 15 feet below. Klaus and his wife had no doubt they had something special and began to spread the word, but the local community was skeptical.
The Klauses contacted Dr. Untermann, a paleontologist with the museum in Vernal, Utah, to tell him of their discovery. He made a visit almost immediately. Soon after Untermann’s arrival, enough dirt was removed to see part of a mammoth skull with tusks measuring 10 inches in diameter.
The local community went from skeptical to downright jubilant about having such an amazing find in their backyard. However, the Klauses had already given their word to Dr. Untermann that the museum in Vernal could keep the specimen; there wasn’t much anybody could do about it. Utah was digging it up, and Utah was where it was headed.
Petitions, meetings and even communication with the governor of Colorado were quickly initiated in an effort to keep Utah from obtaining the local artifact. The thought of Northwest Colorado shipping one of their prize treasures was unthinkable, but at the end of the day, there wasn’t a place in Craig to display such an artifact anyway.
As soon as the tusks crossed the Utah state line on the back of a truck, it was determined that such a travesty could never be allowed to happen again. Louise Miller, a prominent local public servant, began lengthy correspondence with Dr. Untermann to determine what was involved in creating Craig’s own museum. Even though Untermann’s museum “stole” the mammoth from the people of Northwest Colorado, it was Untermann who freely gave guidance to Louise regarding the long, arduous process of starting a museum from scratch.
When Moffat County expanded their courthouse in 1964, extra space was included and Louise recognized an opportunity. Along with a group of dedicated volunteers, Louise quickly formalized a museum charter to be funded by the Moffat County government. After acquiring the space in the courthouse, four years were then spent forming relationships and slowly acquiring important artifacts. In 1968, the Moffat County Museum officially opened its doors to the public. It eventually outgrew the courthouse and moved to the old State Armory in 1991 where it was renamed the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Louise Miller recognized the significant history contained in Northwest Colorado and envisioned a regional museum that would help uncover and tell its fascinating stories. Through the dedication, passion and tedious work of not just Louise, but our amazing staff and volunteers throughout the years, the museum has grown into a nationally acclaimed institution visited by thousands of people worldwide every year.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. This article originally appeared as a “Museum Monday” post on the museum’s Facebook page. To see the Custer Colt and learn more of its story, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.
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