Buffalo Hunting in Montana, 1882 Courtesy of the Hanyes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helena MT.
The Benton Weekly Record
April 13, 1882
THE WILD GAME QUESTION
……The Forest and Stream has recently disseminated among the newspapers of the country of circular filled with the statistics of the wholesale slaughtering of buffalo, deer antelope and elk – notably in Wyoming and Montana – four their pelts alone. The circular also mournfully points out the prospect of a speedy extermination of the game – little and big of the country – a less efficient steps are forth with taken to check the promiscuous killing of it both for sport and profit. Certainly such a prospect is to be regretted: – but after all only of sentimental way. In all the states and Territories of the Union the statutes make ample provisions for the protection of game – big and little – yet in hardly any of them do those protective laws serve any other purpose than to cumber the books enclosing them. All game laws are contrary as well to the conditions of their country as to the ideas of the American people. Any rigid enforcement of them is visionary and impractical, and, moreover, would never be tolerated in any section of the country. Legislatures pass them generally to humor harmless would-be sportsmen – the class of men who write for and subscribe to such papers as the Forest and Stream – and verbose, foolish philanthropist of New York City Bergh order. There is little thought or intention of there being kept when they are enacted.
……To enforce them properly would invariably require an additional taxation, which so purely sentimental an end could by no means justify, such laws even if moderate and abstractly wise would soon come to be regarded by the people pretty much in the same jealous light as the selfish game statutes protecting nobleman’s parks and moors in Scotland and England, have been viewed by the masses of those countries. Would it not been be running directly counter to expediency and popular sentiment for either government or sportsmen’s societies to attempt the surveillance necessary for the observance of any such laws?
Wild game, also, naturally gives place to domestic animal life as unoccupied regions are settled up and made to minister to the wants of civilization. No sentiment or sentimental legislation can alter this law of nature, which especially applies to the democratic land tenure system of the United States. What we have said above is general, but when that practical operation of game laws is considered with reference to vast, sparsely settled sections like Montana and Wyoming, – in wild portions of which it is often difficult, nay almost impossible to protect human life, and the rights of private property – then their feasibility is even more questionable and visionary.
……To check the buffalo and pelt hunters in these Territories and their promiscuous slaughters would demand almost all the military resources of the War Department, and even then it would be impossible to disabuse the mind of a frontiersman, above all other citizens, that all the game within reach of his rifle did not belong to him, to do with as he pleased. But as bearing upon its game protective remedies the Forest and Stream circular also contains the text of the bill now with the committee on Territories of the House of Representatives, introduced by Mr. Post, of Wyoming, which is preposterously absurd, whether treated sentimentally or practically, if viewed seriously and with reference to its becoming a law, to be enforced by the general government, instead of being styled as it is “ A bill for the protection of wild game in the Territories of the United States, “ it should be called “A bill for encouraging infringements of United States laws in the Territories, “ A portion of it reads as follows:
……“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that it shall be unlawful for any person or persons to kill or destroy any elk, deer, antelope, buffalo, mountain sheep, or bison in any of the Territories of the United States, at any time for any purpose or under any pretext whatsoever, except for food, and then only when necessary for humans subsistence, being governed in amount and quantity by the reasonable necessities of the person or persons killing the same: Provided that nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit the killing of such quantity as may be needed for domestic market supply, for purposes of human subsistence only.
……Sec.2 That it shall be unlawful for any person or persons to have in his or their possession for the purpose of transportation out of any of the Territories of the United States, or from one of said Territories into another, any of the animals mentioned in this act, either dead or alive, or the skins or pelts of any such animals; and if any such animals, or the skins or pelts thereof, be found in the possession of any transportation steamboat, or railway company, or of any person or persons for purposes of transportation, whether the same be in transit or otherwise, it shall be the duty of the United States Marshal to seize said property and arrest the owner thereof if he can be found, and upon judgment being rendered against the owner thereof said property shall be forthwith destroyed.
……“Sec.3. That it shall be unlawful for any person to deal in, or to buy or sell, or have in his possession for the purpose of sale, trade, or barter, any of the animals mentioned and described in this act, or the skins or pelts thereof.”
Either great pressure must have been brought to bear on Post by the pseudo philanthropist and sentimentalist, and he introduced this measure only with reference to its lying dead in the statute book if passed – or else he is the singularly guileless delegate not to know that at the present time, in these big-game Territories, numberless infractions of the most important United States laws have to be put up with because Congress provides national government officials with appropriations only large enough to enable them to peculate bare their living expenses. Most of the people of Montana, we believe, rejoice in the disappearance of big-game, for so long as buffalo, antelope, etc. range about, the Indians will have excuses for vagabondizing, petty thieving and cattle killing.