The Boston Weekly Globe. May 26 1885
THE BUFFALO EXTINCT
Millions of Them Killed in Seven Years
Hide Hunters and Sportsmen Have Wiped Them Out at Last
Not Even Their Bones to be Left Upon the Plains
……1885 Miles City, Mon., April 24 Less than nine years ago this spot was covered with the tepees and lodges of Sitting Bull’s warriors, then at war with the United States. In those days this region was the very heart of the buffalo country. I remember accompanying the military expedition of 1877 up the Yellowstone river to the mouth of the Tongue river, and encountering on the journey more buffalo than it would be possible intelligently to describe on paper. Figures carry but little idea of the vast number of animals, and were I to say that one herd we passed through, traveling for three days without being out of sight of bison during daylight, numbered far up into the hundred thousands., it would perhaps be falling short of the real number of buffaloes that actually composed that mighty mass.
……When we had passed through this herd at the close of the third day, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the scouts reported another tremendous herd in the distance, coming directly toward us at full speed. Quickly our party sought the protection of the neighboring buttes, while a few of us climbed a rocky eminence on the open prairie, and awaited with interest the approach of the rushing mass. On they came, helter-skelter, pell mell, and when the leaders reached the mound or hillock upon which we were perched the great herd divided into two parts, and swept by us like the wind, half on either side. We gazed in wonder and awe at the sea of black, shaggy life rolling like billows at our feet. Far as the eye could see was an ocean of buffaloes, surging and swaying like the waves, while the awful rumbling sound and shaking of the earth made our heads a little dizzy. All that afternoon the animals kept up their flight, and it was not until the sun sank behind the tall mountains that their numbers began to lessen, and left us free to escape from our temporary prison.
……The herd which we traveled through for three days was not in motion, but was encountered in small scattered bands and lined every foot of the road we traveled. Nevertheless it was one single herd, as it was continuous, though broken. But the last herd, which was moving at high speed, was packed so thick that I believe it contained fully as many animals as the first herd. They flew by us for five hours on a dead run, and the horizon of our sight was bounded by nothing but
……The Dark Black Hides
of the noble animals themselves .
In 1877 the plains and prairies of Montana were the home of the buffalo. As long as the Indians remained hostile and at war with the whites, just so long was the salvation of the buffalo assured. When the Indians were captured and corralled upon reservations it left the bison to the mercy of white pot hunters and deadly repeating rifles, and the two together have done the business for them.
……In 1815 the buffalo ranges extended as far east as Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa: in short, the Mississippi river marked the eastern boundary of their grazing grounds. On the west the main Rocky mountain ridge was the limit of their pastures, and between these two natural boundaries the buffalo roamed over the vast plains of the West, migrating with the seasons north and south, from the shores of the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico. They were at the mercy of various Indian tribes, but the Indians were merciful. From this one animal the red men drew the main necessaries of life. The hides furnished clothing, beds and lodge coverings. The horns were used as ornaments, and also furnished various kitchen utensils. The flesh was their staple food, and their sinews became arrow cords. The Indians used the animal, but did not abuse it. The herds on those days south of the present international boundary line, strictly in the United States, must have contained not less than 5,000,000 animals, in what is now Manitoba, Assiniboine, Alberta and Saskatchewan there must have been fully 5,000,000 more, as the Hudson Bay trappers who came South to trade with the Snake, Shoshone and Mandan Indians always reported vast herds of bison in the neighborhood of Great Slave and Great Bear lakes.
……The buffaloes were alright until about seven years ago, when the Indians were conquered, which opened up the country and let the hide hunters in. It took about seven years, beginning with 1870, to exterminate the buffalo along the line of the Union Pacific railroad, which in the good old times could have been seen blackening the Platte river bottom for miles. These pour silly beast were so easily killed, and from their abundance, offered so rich a reward to the hide hunter, that every idle fellow in that part of the country could make good wages by butchering them. The Union Pacific railroad split the herds in half, and the left a moiety to the north and a moiety to the south. Those in Texas were soon used up by sportsmen and professional hunters: but the great northern herd fled to Wyoming and Montana, were Sitting Bull and his followers took charge of and protected them until Uncle Sam’s soldiers began chasing him around the country as well as the bison. From 1875 to 1880
……Fully 1,000,000 of These Brutes
were killed by soldiers and other white men. I heard of one enterprising pot-hunter on the Yellowstone who actually had a gatling gun to help the slaughter along. He employed no less than thirty skinners to tear the hides from the poor animals as soon as they dropped, and each skinner receives $1 for every hide he brought in at night. The skinned carcasses, as well as numberless un-skinned, were left to rot where they fell. In short, the manipulator of the artillery kept ahead of his employees and provided them with more than they could attend to.
In those days the hide hunters began to pay attention to other brutes besides bison. In 1880 the number of buffalo bagged on the Yellowstone aggregated about 100,000. On the Missouri river and its tributaries the same number were secured, making about 200,000 in all. Sixty thousand antelope and deer skins were secured the same year on the Yellowstone and 107,000 on the Missouri. In 1881 the Yellowstone country yielded about 140,000 buffalo robes and 73,000 antelope and deer skins. The Missouri river districts sent nearly 100,000 buffalo robes to market during the season of 1881, besides seventy odd thousand antelope and deer skins. From January to December, 1882 about 80,000 buffaloes were killed near Miles City and Glendive in eastern Montana. The whole territory yielded somewhere in the neighborhood of 185,000 robes. The number of antelope, deer and elk slaughtered that year is not accurately known, but as it was a great year for professional as well as unprofessional sportsmen, the actual number of game animals that either but the dust of the prairie or yielded up their lives among the mountains must be something awful to calculate. In Idaho and Montana that season there were not less than 5000 hunters scattered along the line of the Northern Pacific.
……In 1883 there was a marked falling off in the supply of robes and skins. Nevertheless, 100,000 buffalo robes were shipped from Glendive alone, and as many more from other points along the railroad. These, however. were part of the previous seasons slaughter. In 1884 there was no crop at all to speak of, an in 1885 there can be none, as there are no living bison on the Northwest to furnish any more robes. In a word, the buffalo is extinct. There may, however, be a slight exception to this , as there are a few in the northern wilds of the
……Yellowstone National Park
a kind of mountain buffalo, where the government protects them from annihilation by stringent game laws and a corps of gamekeepers. There is still another small herd of these brutes in northwestern Montana, in the valley of Milk river, where J.G.Baker, the great cattle king of that section, has them safely corralled and carefully guarded by his cowboys. It is purely a speculative scheme on that gentleman’s part, however, as the poor brutes are kept securely penned, and will be finally slaughtered when there is a corner in robes.
……A traffic in their bones has sprang up, which will, in a year or two, clean up the great buffalo cemeteries of the West, leaving not one remnant of a great race of animals in the country that was once their home. At nearly every station on the railroad last year could be seen piled up for shipment the chaotic anatomy of countless thousands of buffaloes. Cattlemen were paid $2 and $3 a wagon load for them. Cowboys with little else to do, and even lazy Indians with an eye to the almighty dollar, went into the scavenger business and collected buffalo bones for lucre. For months , car load after car load, to the number of thousands, passed eastward to Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois, where they were turned to account as fertilizers. Even the skulls and bones that surveyors have stood up as sighting points have been picked up and carried off, such in the demand for them. Delivered at the factories the frames are worth $25 a ton, the freight charges ranging from $8 to $10 per ton. Horns alone bring $40 a ton, and umbrellas and fans. From a portion of the head glue is obtained, ad the neck bones and shoulder blades are worked up into the popular buffalo horn buttons. A great many of our buffalo bones, horns and hoofs are annually shipped to England, and after being turned over once ot twice by the cutlery factories of Sheffield, come back to us in the shape of fine knife handles and other articles of finished cutlery. England also imports great quantities of beef shanks for the manufacture of fertilizers. There is no use of enacting any saving laws for their protection in our country now, as there are non to protect. The harvest of skins has ended. The American bison is an extinct animal.