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1886 Bison History

St. Joseph Herald, Michigan, Sept 11, 1886

Narrow Escape from Death by a Stampeded Herd

A Barricade of Dead Bodies Divides and Stems a Living Torrent –

The Story Told by a Lieutenant of the Army
……In the summer of 1879, while stationed at one of the frontier forts in the Yellowstone valley, Spotted Eagle’s band of hostile’s, a fragment of Sitting Bull’s great camp, were brought in as prisoners of war. Orders were received to send them to Standing Rock Agency, and it failed to my lot to escort them across the country. My detachment numbered thirty men, mounted on Cayuse ponies and well armed and equipped. The next morning, with our prisoners under guard, we struck out boldly across the country in the direction of Standing Rock. It took us sixteen days to make the journey, which was full of interesting incidents and adventures, for the country was a wild and, so to speak unexplored region as yet, with hostile Sioux and Cheyennes scattered all through it. The plains of Montana were pretty full of buffalo at the time I write, and it is of an adventure with them I am going to speak.
……About the third day out we were in the midst of thousands of bison, and as it was no fun to kill them with a rifle or two still hunt, by reason of numbers, I proposed to have the rare sport of hunting a few with the revolver and from horseback. Next morning I was up before break of day, and telling my orderly to accompany me we started ahead of the command to hunt our game, each with a brace of Colt’s ‘forty-five” revolvers and two hundred rounds of ammunition a piece strapped across our persons.
……My pony was the most beautiful little fellow imaginable. His color was jet black, and so glossy that it seemed to possess the power of reflection. Every point was perfectly developed, with legs sleek and slim, beautifully arched neck, on which was ahead that bore a look of conscious superiority over the common herd. This animal had been the property of Rain-in-the-Face, this Sioux Indian who claims to be the slayer of General Custer. He was a perfect buffalo pony, trained to hunt them bow-and-arrow style, never leaving the side of a bull until the latter tumbled in his tracks. As I wanted to adopt similar tactics, substituting the revolver for the bow and arrow, he was the very best pony I could have selected for the purpose. My orderly was well mounted, also, but upon no such animal as I possessed.
……We came inside of one heard as day was breaking and immediately gave chase. The bison fled before us, we carrying after them like mad, but in the few minutes the herd scattered and so we selected a certain bunch which we followed up. I had gotten pretty close upon my quarry, when whisk- out of sight they went, and in a moment I had followed them. They had gone over a bank into a creek so suddenly that, not observing it, I followed close upon their heels; and there we were, buffaloes, pony and myself, uninjured, but floundering and swimming about in deep water. By the time I got to the opposite bank and secured my pony the buffaloes were gone out of sight, scampering across the prairie to join the main herd, and my orderly stood on the bluff behind where we had just tumbled from, laughing at my predicament. He had luckily checked himself and steed just in time to save both from following us.
……In half an hour matters were straightened out and we rode to the top of the neighboring knoll to get a view of the surroundings. Our original herd was dim in the distance, a cloud of dust on the horizon telling where they were going at full speed. While regretfully watching them my orderly suddenly exclaimed:
“Look Lieutenant, here times another heard across the country and making straight for us.”
……Casting my eyes in the direction indicated, sure enough another tremendous herd was pointing in the direction of our knoll and coming directly at us like a thunder-cloud. No use to fly, for there was no place to fly to. One solid black mass was sweeping toward us like a whirlwind, and it became necessary for us to do something, and do it quickly, too, or have the life trampled out of us in a few minutes.
……”Dismount!” I cried; “sling the bridle over your arm, and when I get the word fire as rapidly as you can.”
……We both dismounted and, drawing are four revolvers, opened fire on the solid phalanx at long range. The great drove of animals were plunging wildly forward, with their heads down, almost sweeping the ground, and consequently did not see us. Our hope was to attract their attention, and by so doing to frightened them and endeavor to throw them out of their course. Had they seen us in the first place they would probably have halted or turned their course to one side. As it happened, they kept madly on until our bullets began to sting them, when the leaders looked up and, seeing this strange site in front of them, actually paused or attempted to do so; but it was at their peril, for therefore most were immediately trampled beneath the feet of the rushing, crushing multitude behind. The pile of bodies was our salvation, for it served as an impediment to those in the rear, and to gather with our rapid fire sort of stampeded the whole outfit. The pile became higher and higher as buffalo after buffalo came rolling on to the heap, and this blockade actually caused the tremendous mass to split and divide, a moiety going each side of it. The center had been checked, but the wings were still sweeping by railroad speed. We hurried down to the pile of carcasses as being our safest point and stood there watching the sea of animals raging and tearing by like the billows of an angry sea. 100 yards or so further on the wings came together again, and there we were, in the midst of that living mass, safe and free from harm.
……It was this strange, remarkable sight -one which I never expect to see on earth again. My head turned dizzy with so much motion all about me, but both myself and the orderly had sense enough to blaze away incessantly directly in front of us, which had the effect to throw dust successive leaders in still more confusion, and no doubt was the means of saving us from being trampled to death. After this tremendous herd of bison, going at about twelve miles an hour, had passed, which consumed some forty minutes of time, we found ourselves among the scattered tail end of the herd. Here is our chance. Quickly singling out an animal I was soon dashing alongside of him and pumping cold lead into his bosom from my revolver. My pony, well trained to such sport, never left his side until the poor brute staggered in his tracks. When he rolled over on the prairie in the last throes of death I singled out another big fellow and was soon pouring leaden pills into his shaggy hide also. I had dropped an even dozen before my little Cayuse or I became winded. Then I looked around for my orderly, but he was nowhere to be seen. One old bull took no less than twenty cartridges before he yielded up the ghost, which compelled me to reload both revolvers from horseback while going at a tearing pace. The buffalo dies very hard. Even though mortally wounded, and individual unacquainted with its nature, though never so good a marksman, is much surprise not to see him fall at once. One would suppose that a shot about the head or central part of the body would prove fatal, but such is not the case. To kill a bison the ball must either divide his spine or enter his body behind the shoulder a few inches above the brisket, this being the only point through which the heart or lungs can be reached. Even with a forty-five ball through the most vital part, I have known a bull to run for half a mile before falling, although shot to the death.
……I observed a curious thing in connection with that day’s hunt, and something which I believe is not generally known. I saw antelope mixed promiscuously with the bison herd. Until that time it had always been my opinion that antelope, of all animals, “__ nature,” herded by themselves, but here was a case where they were scattered all through the bison, and the inconsiderable numbers, too. All plainsman will agree that antelope are the most difficult of game animals to bag, for the simple reason that it is a hard matter to get within range of them. Most of my antelope have been dropped at five hundred and six hundred yards, and nonetheless than three hundred yards.
On this day I found I could approach antelope within pistol shot with the greatest ease. Riding up close to one he would make a huge jumps, and then turn around and gaze at me and astonishment, seemingly bewildered and puzzled. To see how close it was possible for me to approach I rode up to within fifty yards of the fine buck and gradually reduce the distance to twenty-five yards, all the while on horseback. There he stood gazing at me and making a jump now and then, but never going more than a step or two in any direction. I pointed my revolver at his heart, pulled the trigger, when, making one bound and a few whirls, he spun around for a minute and then fell dead on the prairie.
……But it was late in the afternoon and time to think of looking up the detachment. Again I anxiously scanned the horizon to catch a glimpse of my orderly, but he was nowhere to be seen. I rode back over my trail and till sunset in hopes of finding some trace of him; but I saw no sign or indication of his presence, and so regretfully had to give up the search for a time. Taking my landmarks I struck out for camp, which I reached about 9 o’clock that night. The orderlies pony had already come into camp ahead of me, which left the conclusion that the poor fellow had been unhorsed, or perhaps had received some injury; and possibly he might at that very moment be lying on the prairie awaiting assistance from us. I immediately started the whole command out in search of him, with others to scour our back trail even as far back as our last camping place. I myself went along with one party.
About midnight we heard a single shot fired far ahead in the darkness, and listening intently, had about come to the conclusion that it was a mistake, when again faintly in the distance the shot was repeated. There could be no mistake now, for the signal was repeated at regular intervals of ten minutes, which led us to the spot, where we found the poor fellow trudging along, tired and worn down with fatigue, but in good spirits and entirely unharmed. His horse had gotten away from him somehow and left him alone and afoot on the prairie. He immediately struck across the country in a direction that must carry him across the main trail, which he did really discover before the darkness set in. He had been following it ever since and firing his revolver as described until found by us. All the relief parties came up in an hour or so, having been attracted to the spot by the signal shots, which had served to bring as to the same place. Mounting the orderly on his horse brought along especially for the purpose, we once more turned in the direction of camp, which we reached just as the sun was coming up over the eastern hills.
Philadelphia Times