111            Musk Ox

                            OVIBOS MOSCHATUS.--GMEL.

                                   [Musk Ox]

                               PLATE CXI.--MALES.

     O. Fuscescente-niger, cornibus basi approximatis planis, latissimis,
deorsum flexis, ad malas appressis apice extrorsum sursumque recurvis; mas
magnitudine vaccae biennis.

     Adult male, size of a small two year old cow; horns, united on the summit
of the head, flat, broad, bent down against the cheeks, with the points turned
up.  Colour, brownish-black.


     LE BOEUF MUSQUE.  M. Jeremie, Voyage au Nord, t. iii. p. 314.
     LE BOEUF MUSQUE.  Charlevoix, Nouv. France, tom. v. p. 194.
     MUSK-OX.  Drage, Voyage, vol. ii. p. 260.
     MUSK-OX.  Dobbs, Hudson's Bay, pp. 19, 25.
     MUSK-OX.  Ellis, Voyage, p. 232.
     MUSK-OX.  Pennant, Quadr., vol. i. p. 31.
     MUSK-OX.  Pennant, Arctic Zoology, vol. i. p. 9.
     MUSK-OX.  Hearne's Journey, p. 137.
     MUSK-OX.  Parry's First Voyage, p. 257, plate.
     MUSK-OX.  Parry's Second Voyage, pp. 497, 503, 512 (specimen in
       British Museum).
     BOS MOSCHATUS.  Gmel. Syst.
     BOS MOSCHATUS.  Capt. Sabine (Parry's First Voyage, Supplement, p. 189).
     BOS MOSCHATUS.  Mr. Sabine, Franklin's Journey, p. 668.
     BOS MOSCHATUS.  Richardson, Parry's Second Voyage, Appendix, p. 331.
     OVIBOS MOSCHATUS.  Richardson, Fauna Boreali Americana, p. 275.
     ADGIDDAH-YAWSEH (LITTLE BISON).  Chipewyans and Copper Indians.
     OONINGMAK.  Esquimaux.
     OVIBOS MOSCHATUS.  Harlan, Fauna, p. 264.
     BOS MOSCHATUS--The MUSK-OX.  Godman, Nat. Hist. vol. iii. p. 29.


     Horns, very broad at base, covering the brow and crown of the head,
touching each other for their entire basal breadth from the occipital to the
frontal region:  as the horns rise from their flatly-convex bases they become
round and tapering, like those of a common cow, and curve downwards between the
eye and the ear to a little below the eye, where they turn upwards and outwards
(in a segment of a circle), to a little above the angle of the eye, ending with
tolerably sharp points.  The horns for half their length are rough, with small
longitudinal splinters of unequal length, beyond which they are smooth and
rather glossy, like those of a common bull.
     Head, large and broad; nose, very obtuse; nostrils, oblong openings
inclining towards each other downwards from above; their inner margins naked;
united at their base.  There is no other vestige of a muzzle; the whole of the
nose, and the lips, covered with a short coat of hairs; there is no furrow on
the upper lip.
     The head, neck, and shoulders are covered with long bushy hair, and there
is a quantity of long straight hair on the margins of the mouth and the sides of
the lower jaw.
     Eyes, moderately large, and the hair immediately around them shorter than
on other parts of the cheeks; ears, short, and scarcely visible through the
surrounding long hair, which is more or less waved or crimped, and forms a sort
of ruff back of the neck; legs, short and thick, clothed with short hair unmixed
with wool; hoofs, flat, small in proportion to the size of the animal, and
resembling those of the reindeer.  The cow differs from the bull in having
smaller horns (the bases of which, instead of touching each other, are separated
by a hairy space), and in the hair on the throat and chest being shorter.  The
female is considerably smaller than the male.


     The general colour of the hair of the body is brown; on the neck and
between the shoulders it is of a grizzled hue, being dull light-brown, fading on
the tips into brownish-white; on the centre of the back it presents a soiled
whitish colour, forming a mark which is aptly termed by Captain PARRY the
saddle.  The hips are dark-brown, and the sides, thighs, and belly, nearly
black; the short soft hairs on the nose and lips are whitish, with a tinge of
reddish-brown; legs, brownish-white; tips of horns, and hoofs, black; tail, dark


                                                      Feet.      Inches.

     Length from nose to root of tail, about   .  .  .  5           6


     For our description and account of the habits of this very peculiar animal
we have resorted to other authors, never having, ourselves had an opportunity of
seeing it alive, and in fact knowing it only from the specimen in the British
Museum, from which our figures were drawn, and which is the only one hitherto
sent to Europe, so difficult is it to procure the animal and convey the skin,
with the skull, leg bones, &c., in a tolerable state of preservation, from the
barren lands of the northern portions of British America, where it is found, and
where an almost perpetual winter and consequent scarcity of food make it very
difficult to prevent the Indians, or white hunters either, from eating (we
should say devouring) everything that can by any possibility serve to fill their
empty stomachs--even skins, hoofs, and the most refuse parts of any animal they
     To give a better idea of the effects of hunger on man, at times, in these
wild and desert countries, we will relate a case that happened to Dr. RICHARDSON
while upon an expedition.  One of his men, a half-breed and a bad fellow, it was
discovered, had killed a companion with whom he had been sent upon a short
journey in the woods for intelligence, and had eaten a considerable portion of
his miserable victim.
     Dr. RICHARDSON, watching this monster from hour to hour, perceived that he
was evidently preparing and awaiting an opportunity to kill him, possibly
dreading the punishment he deserved for his horrible crime, and perhaps thinking
the doctor's body would supply him with food till he could reach the settlements
and escape:--anticipating his purpose, the doctor very properly shot him.
     Sir JOHN relates an instance in which all his efforts to obtain a skin of
the black-tailed deer were baffled by the appetites of his hunters, who ate up
one they killed, hide and all.  Even on the fertile prairies of more southern
portions of our continent, starvation sometimes stares the hunter in the face.
At one time a fine specimen of the mule deer (Cervus macrotis), shot for us on
the prairies far up the Missouri river, was eaten by our men, who concealed the
fact of their having killed the animal until some days afterwards.
     Sir GEORGE SIMPSON, of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company, most kindly promised
some years ago that he would if possible procure us a skin of the Musk-Ox, which
he thought could be got within two years--taking one season to send the order
for it to his men and another to get it and send the skin to England.  We have
not yet received this promised skin, and therefore feel sure that the hunters
failed to obtain or to preserve one, for during the time that has elapsed we
have received from the Hudson's Bay Company, through the kindness of Sir GEORGE,
an Arctic fox, preserved in the flesh in rum, and a beautiful skin of the
silver-gray fox, which were written for by Sir GEORGE at our request in 1845, at
the same time that gentleman wrote for the skin of the Musk-Ox.  We give an
extract from Sir GEORGE's letter to us:  "With reference to your application for
skins of the Musk-Ox, I forwarded instructions on the subject to a gentleman
stationed at the Hudson's Bay Company's post of Churchill, on Hudson's Bay, but
the distance and difficulties of communication are so great that he will not
receive my letter until next summer; and he cannot possibly procure the
specimens you require before next winter, nor can these be received in England
before the month of October, 1847, and it is doubtful that they will be received
even then, as those animals are scarce, and so extremely timid that a year might
be lost before obtaining one."
     Sir GEORGE SIMPSON was pleased to close this letter with a highly
complimentary expression of the pleasure it would afford him to assist us in the
completion of our work; and among the difficulties and worrying accompaniments
of such a publication as ours, it has been an unmixed gratification to have with
us the sympathies and assistance of gentlemen like Sir GEORGE and many others,
and of so powerful a corporation as the Hudson's Bay Fur Company.
     Dr. RICHARDSON in a note explains a mistake made by PENNANT, who appears to
have confounded the habitat of the Musk-Ox with that of the bison and states
that our animal is found on the lands of the Cris or Cristinaux and Assinibouls,
which are plains extending from the Red river of Lake Winnipeg to the
Saskatchewan, on which tracts the buffalo is frequently found, but not the
     The accounts of old writers, having reference to an animal found in New
Mexico, which PENNANT refers to the Musk-Ox, may be based upon the existence of
the Rocky Mountain sheep in that country, which having been imperfectly
described, has led some authors to think the Musk-Ox was an inhabitant of so
southern a locality.
     "The country frequented by the Musk-Ox is mostly rocky, and destitute of 
wood except on the banks of the larger rivers, which are generally more or less 
thickly clothed with spruce trees.  Their food is similar to that of the 
caribou-grass at one season and lichens at another; and the contents of their 
paunch are eaten by the natives with the same relish that they devour the 
'nerrooks' of the reindeer.  The droppings of the Musk-Ox take the form of round 
pellets, differing from those of the caribou only in their greater size.
     "When this animal is fat, its flesh is well tasted, and resembles that of
the caribou, but has a coarser grain.  The flesh of the bulls is highly
flavoured, and both bulls and cows, when lean, smell strongly of musk, their
flesh at the same time being very dark and tough, and certainly far inferior to
that of any other ruminating animal existing in North America.
     "The carcass of a Musk-Ox weighs, exclusive of the offal, about three
hundred weight, or nearly three times as much as a barren ground caribou, and
twice as much as one of the woodland caribou.
     "Notwithstanding the shortness of the legs of the Musk-Ox, it runs fast,
and climbs hills or rocks with great ease.  One, pursued on the banks of the
Coppermine, scaled a lofty sand cliff, having so great an acclivity that we were
obliged to crawl on hands and knees to follow it.  Its foot-marks are very
similar to those of the caribou, but are rather longer and narrower.  These oxen
assemble in herds of from twenty to thirty, rut about the end of August and
beginning of September, and bring forth one calf about the latter end of May or
beginning of June.
     "HEARNE, from the circumstance of few bulls being seen, supposed that they
kill each other in their contests for the cows.  If the hunters keep themselves
concealed when they fire upon a herd of Musk-Oxen, the poor animals mistake the
noise for thunder, and, forming themselves into a group, crowd nearer and nearer
together as their companions fall around them; but should they discover their
enemies by sight or by their sense of smell, which is very acute, the whole herd
seek for safety by instant flight.  The bulls, however, are very irascible, and
particularly when wounded will often attack the hunter and endanger his life,
unless he possess both activity and presence of mind.  The Esquimaux, who are
well accustomed to the pursuit of this animal, sometimes turn its irritable
disposition to good account; for an expert hunter having provoked a bull to
attack him, wheels round it more quickly than it can turn, and by repeated stabs
in the belly puts an end to its life.  The wool of the Musk-Ox resembles that of
the bison, but is perhaps finer, and would no doubt be highly useful in the arts
if it could be procured in sufficient quantity."--Richardson, F. B. A., p. 277.
     "The Musk-Oxen killed on Melville Island during Parry's visit, were very
fat, and their flesh, especially the heart, although highly scented with musk,
was considered very good food.  When cut up it had all the appearance of beef
for the market.  HEARNE says that the flesh of the Musk-Ox does not at all
resemble that of the bison, but is more like that of the moose, and the fat is
of a clear white, tinged with light azure.  The young cows and calves furnish a
very palatable beef, but that of the old bulls is so intolerably musky as to be
excessively disagreeable."--Godman, vol. iii. p. 35.
     According to PARRY, this animal weighs about seven hundred pounds.  The
head and hide weigh about one hundred and thirty pounds.  "The horns are
employed for various purposes by the Indians and Esquimaux, especially for
making cups and spoons.  From the long hair growing on the neck and chest the
Esquimaux make their musquito wigs, to defend their faces from those troublesome
insects.  The hide makes good soles for shoes and is much used for that purpose
by the Indians."

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The Musk-Ox resorts to the barren lands of America lying to the north of
the 60th parallel of north latitude.  HEARNE mentions that he once saw the
tracks of one in the neighbourhood of Fort Churchill, lat. 59 degrees; and in
his first journey to the north he saw many in the latitude of 61 degrees.  At
present, according, to what is said, they do not reach the shores of Hudson's
Bay; farther to the westward they are rarely seen in any number, lower than lat.
67 degrees.  RICHARDSON states that he had not heard of their being seen on the
banks of Mackenzie's river to the southward of Great Bear lake.  They range over
the islands which lie to the north of the American continent as far as Melville
Island, in latitude 75 degrees, but they do not extend to Greenland, Lapland, or
Spitzbergen.  There is an extensive tract of barren country skirting the banks
of the Mackenzie river, northwest of the Rocky Mountains, which also is
inhabited by the Musk-Ox; it is not known in New Caledonia, on the banks of the
Columbia, nor in any portion of the Rocky Mountains; nor does it cross over to
the Asiatic shore:  consequently it does not exist in any part of northern Asia
or Siberia.
     Captain PARRY noticed its appearance on Melville Island in the month of
May; it must therefore be regarded as an animal the native home of which is
within the Arctic Circle, the dwelling-place of the Esquimaux.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     The Musk-Ox is remarkable amongst the animals of America, for never having
had more than one specific appellation, whilst other species of much less
interest have been honoured with a long list of synonymes.  JEREMIE appears to
have given the first notice of it:  he brought some of the wool to France, and
had stockings made of it which were said to have been more beautiful than silk.
The English voyagers of an early period gave some information respecting it, but
PENNANT has the merit of being the first who systematically arranged and
described it, from the skin of a specimen sent to England by HEARNE, the
celebrated traveller.  From its want of a naked muzzle and some other
peculiarities, M. BLAINVILLE placed it in a genus intermediate (as its name
denotes) between the sheep and the ox.