Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ancient Red Bull (Aurochs) Bones Found at Buzzard Point: Tale No. 6

By David Rusk

Revised November 26, 2021
First published by Black and Red United, October 16, 2016

Preface:This is the sixth in a series of Tales from Buzzard Point that explores the rich traditions and myths surrounding the legendary DC United soccer team and its fabled history at Buzzard Point. The Tales from Buzzard Point are historical fiction and parody.

Author's Note: Being an avid reader of The Evening Star, a newspaper in Washington, DC, I recently came across two interesting articles several hundred years apart. One is a discovery of a massive skeleton at Buzzard Point in 2016. The second one is a historical article published in 1794 about the death of a prize bull at the same site. Here are the accounts that I was able to uncover through my research.

Massive Bones Discovered at Buzzard Point

The Evening Star
April 10, 2016

(Washington, DC). Construction workers dug up at least a dozen massive bones yesterday at the site of Buzzard Point, D.C. United’s new soccer stadium. “We could see immediately that they were much too large to be human bones,” explained Chris Barnes, foreman for DB and Son Infrastructure, “so we didn’t call in the Metropolitan Police Department. Instead, we trucked the bones over to the museum.

Early Construction of New DC United Stadium at Buzzard Point, 2016
(Image: Doug Barnes)

DB and Son Infrastructure is a PEPCO subcontractor for excavating trenches for re-laying new power cables in the easement under D.C. United’s future home.

My Follow-Up after Reading this Article, 2016

I tried to find follow-up news articles but The Evening Star‘s few remaining journalistic resources were concentrated on the presidential primary season so I set about finding out what happened to the bones myself.

Through Dr. Pedrog Radosavljevic, the chief paleontologist at the Rothenberg Museum, I confirmed that the bones had been received by that department and were currently being studied carefully.

Dr. Radosavljevic suggested that I schedule a face-to-face interview with him at the end of the following week when their paleontological team would know more about the strange bones. Despite my intense curiosity, the delayed appointment also suited me fine. As many Screaming Eagles members and Black and Red United readers know, my deafness makes face-to-face meetings far preferable to telephone conversations.)

My first question when we met: “How is your last name pronounced?”

“Just call me ‘Preki’,” he responded.

My second question was, “How old are the bones?”

“Using amino acid dating, we estimate that the bones are 220 years old, plus or minus

five years,” Preki informed me.

“Oh, I’m disappointed. I’d hoped that the bones were much older – many millennia older,” I responded.

“No, no. The relative youth of these bones is what has everyone around here all excited,” Preki said. “Our people are convinced that these massive bones come from the bos primigenius bojanus – that is, a male aurochs.”

“An aurochs?”

“The aurochs were wild cattle that ranged through much of Eurasia and North Africa. They are the ancestors of all modern domestic cattle,” Preki explained. “What has us so excited is that the last known aurochs died in the Polish royal game preserve in the Jaktorow Forest … in 1627! To think that there was a live bull aurochs on Buzzard Point around just two centuries ago is astonishing!”

Paleothic Cave Painting of Aurochs
(Image: Wikipedia Commons)

I was impressed. “What did an aurochs look like?”

“The bulls were much bigger than the cows. They were massive brutes – tawny reddish-brown in color, perhaps up to six feet at the shoulders, weighing up to 3,300 pounds, a powerful neck and head with enormous horns each over 30 inches. You would not want to meet a bull aurochs on a dark and stormy night,” Preki joked.

“I’d love to find out the story of the Aurochs of Buzzard Point.”

“So would we,” Preki cautioned, “but first we have to establish beyond any scientific doubt that these bones are truly those of an aurochs here in America just two centuries ago. We are at least a year from publishing our findings in Historical Biology, the scholarly journal of paleobiology. Please let us know of anything you find out.”

So I did what any modern (and somewhat lazy) researcher does, I turned to Google.

An early return was what Julius Caesar had to say about aurochs in the Gallic War (Chapter 6.28:)

They are a little below the elephant in size, and of appearance, color, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied.

Through the internet I found that no newspaper was published in the City of Washington (which hardly existed) until the National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser began in mid-1800 (created to support the election of Thomas Jefferson as president). Nor was there a newspaper in Georgetown, which had been made part of the federal district by the Residency Act of 1790.

On a hunch I searched through on-line files of the Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette (also a part of the federal district until 1846). In the February 29, 1795 edition I found a brief note that James Greenleaf, the primary land speculator in the City of Washington. He had petitioned the city commissioners to change the name of Buzzard Point to Greenleaf Point “because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of his prize bull from Jersey in the spring of the year previous.”

With this clue I finally found the explanation for what happened to the Aurochs of Buzzard Point.

Prize Bull Killed at Buzzard Point

Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette
February 29, 1795

(Washington). Our correspondent has confirmed that the extraordinary bull imported by land owner James Greenleaf from Jersey to produce a new, improved breed of cattle in Buzzard Point was killed yesterday in improbable circumstances.

According to an eyewitness, the giant bull had been rubbing himself against a tall pine tree in which a pair of bald eagles had been nesting. The shrieks of the eagles seemed only to embolden the beast, which began to butt the tree vigorously, apparently to shake the eagles’ nest out of the tree. To drive the bull away from their nest and young, the eagles began to swoop down on the bull, striking at its neck and massive head with their talons. At first, the vicious beast swung its head from side to side, trying to impale the eagles with its long horns.

Finally, the maddened beast retreated and, pursued by the male eagle, was running furiously westward across Greenleaf’s Buzzard Point farm until, perhaps blinded by blood streaming from its curly forelock, it ran headlong into the brick wall around the Washington Arsenal. The bull staggered around blindly until, about fifty yards from the wall, it dropped stone dead.

Eagle Attacks Red Bull at Buzzard Point
(Image: Shutterstock/Fotosearch Modified by Doug Barnes)

Advised of this melancholy loss, when Greenleaf reached the site, he found the massive beast’s carcass already stripped clean by a flock of turkey buzzards, eponymous denizens of Buzzard Point. The death of the prize bull was a total loss for Greenleaf, who had paid a rumored $50,000 for what was alleged to be “one of a kind.”

This latest loss adds to rumors of severe financial strain experienced by the partnership of Greenleaf and Robert Morris, primary financier of the late war of independence and current United States Senator from Pennsylvania.

By the agreement with the district commissioners of last December 24 (which superseded the agreement solely with Greenleaf of last September 23), the partnership purchased 6,000 lots, including 648.5 lots in Buzzard Point. The purchase price of all lots was $66.50 each, a significant discount from the going price of $200 to $300 per lot.

The agreement with the district commissioners required no down payment; required only annual payments of one-sixth of the total purchase price (the first of which is due May 1 inst.); and did not impose any interest. The partnership is also required to make monthly loans of $2,660 per commissioner for the purpose of constructing federal buildings.

With these transactions, Greenleaf, Morris and any “silent partners” now control about half the federal government’s salable land in the City of Washington.

However, this correspondent has heard that lot sales have been very slow. Greenleaf proposed to use his Buzzard Point land as a cattle breeding farm, hoping to combine it along with mortgages on lots as collateral for a loan of 3 million guilders ($12 million) from Dutch bankers.

With the death of the prize bull there is increased doubt that Greenleaf and Morris can meet their financial obligations to the District commissioners.


Afterword: Thus, the mystery of the demise of the Aurochs of Buzzard Point – the biggest red bull from Jersey that will ever visit Buzzard Point – has been solved.


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