The screaming shocked me. A huge, high, squalling, screaming blast. It came from up ahead, but our vision was obscured by a grove of trees. As the three of us rode past the trees though, I saw what had caused the noise. Two mastodon bulls were facing off, both equally large, heavy, strong, and ready, apparently, for a fight. Not with us – with each other. Mating season. The rut. They were only about ten feet apart. The one with his back to us was lashing his tail. The trunk of the other was waving in the air. Both were shaking their heads from side to side. Beyond them, in the near distance, several cows stood placidly.
Again the screaming blast. And they closed with one another fast and hard. They slammed into one another, piston legs driving, slashing and stabbing with their tusks, pushing with their heads. A cloud of dust arose around them from the impact. The fight was swift and savage. Neither backed down for several seconds. Then they separated, and again smashed into each other. They twisted sideways, each seeking some purchase, some advantage. And again they separated, and again smashed together. This time, though one slipped the guard of the other, and his tusk drove into the shoulder of the other. The injured bull screamed and backed off. But again they charged. And again. And again. Only the injured shoulder started to tell on the one bull. He slipped sideways a little. The other bull was relentless. He kept pushing forward, slamming his trunk against the other’s, twisting his tusks furiously, trying to find another opening. And again, he slipped the guard of the other. This time, though, his tusk drove deep into the chest of the injured bull. With that, the injured bull had had enough. He backed away, and started to turn, to flee. But the victor would not stop. He slammed forward again, into the side of the other bull. Both tusks drove into the bull’s side, and he staggered, but did not fall. When the victor backed out, the injured bull moved off at the fastest walk he could. The victor lumbered after him for twenty yards or so, and then finally relented. He stood for a moment, breathing heavily, then raised his trunk and bugled another loud cry. The injured bull walked past the females and disappeared in the woods beyond them.
Fossil evidence shows that mastodons fought, but seeing this battle – so shockingly raw, and sudden, and real- was a far cry from fossil ribs showing healed fractures.
That’s me, on the horse there. This is what I saw, twelve thousand years ago, in my ride across country, from where St. Louis now stands, to Arizona.