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1886 Bison History

Buffalo Bill Wild West show c1886 Photo by Sarony~LOC

1886 Buffalo Bill Wild West show Photo by Sarony


Two years ago (would be 1886) the United States government foresaw that the buffalo was about to be annihilated, and sent a special commission to secure and preserve for its museum specimens of the race. The intention was at first to capture alive a family of bison and keep them in the National park of the Yellowstone, but there were difficulties in the way. At last, it was decided to preserve specimens by the taxidermist’s art, and five superb samples are now at the Smithsonian Institute, formed in a wild group that gives some idea of the animal on its native plain.


The Index
Hermitage, Missouri Jan 14, 1886

After the Buffalo.

Both Indians and bison, or American buffalo, are so rapidly passing away that it may be of interest to describe the way in which the inhabitants of our upland plains provisions themselves for the year. The Red River half-breeds and the white hunters hunt the buffalo chiefly for the hides, and the cargoes of pelts that each year float down the Missouri are only a partial measurement of the destruction. The Government, too, as a means of warfare frequently orders its calvary to destroy all the buffalo in the district occupied by a hostile tribe; and in a single day 700 animals have been left on the ground, the service not permitting even a pelt or a tongue to be taken.

Very different in its intention and aspect is the hunt by an Indian tribe, when the approach of winter is driving the bison toward the south, and the hardships of the coming season make every pound of meat valuable to the hunter.

At the time of the hunt I am about to describe, I was with “Pretty Blackbird’s” band of Ipsarraqua —  or “Crow” Indians (who live in the region of the Upper Missouri), and we were encamped along the creeks tributary to the Musselshell. The banks were fringed with willows and alders, and the meadow was green with their fresh-springing buffalo grass. Tepees and wikiups (lodges) dotted both sides of the stream, grouped in picturesque clusters or standing and solitary independence. The herd of ponies grazed in the bottom land and on the hillsides. Here and there one was picketed ready for use. The children were playing, the women were working, some plaiting lariats, some sewing beaded robes. The tall brown cones of the tepees, with the blue column of smoke rising from the nest of poles sticking out of the top, and the little beehive shaped wikiups, made from boughs covered with skins, composed a savage village, beautiful in its straggling picturesqueness, it’s thronging life, and so airy in its effect that you could not but feel that on the slightest whim it would vanish like a mirage. Those most dejected and wretched of all Indian villagers, the wolfish dogs, where snapping and snarling or skulking or sleeping or, in their queer harness, were dragging kettles of water from the creek. And yet with all this varied life and the daily occupations there was a certain air of rest that pervaded the little valley. It was in contrast to the sudden bustle and hurrying to and fro, when a picket came riding leisurely in to announce a large herd of buffalo in sight.In The Midst Of The Herd

The boys and men caught up their horses. The women made ready the knives and lariats, and got the pack animals. The men were soon ready, most of them armed with rifles, some with bows back with sinew and capable of driving an arrow clear through a horse.

The Indian horses are rated as “five-cow,” “ten-cow horse.” This means that the horse has speed and bottom to overtake a herd under ordinary circumstances and place his master alongside of twenty cows, to be dispatch in succession. A twenty-cow horse is beyond price with the Crows and Sioux. Like the Arab mares, they are, as a rule, not to be bought.

The band of hunters, stripped of everything almost save ammunition pouch, or quiver, set off at once to gain that windward of the herd; and later on the women and boys leading spare horses and pack animals under the guidance of a few men, took a diagonal that would bring them near the probable line of chase. I was mounted on a very good “American horse” about twice the size of “Pretty Blackbird’s” sinewy ‘twenty-cow” steed.

It had been raining the day before, and the prairie, only sparsely covered with tufts of grass, was very slippery. The old picket-guard bulls of the herd sighted or scented us when we were about half a mile away. Of course we were not grouped, but had spread out to endeavor to enfold them. Instantly away they went, tails up, their great, lumbering, clumsy gallop covering ground very rapidly, and with their huge cloven hoofs taking good hold of the slippery surface. And away went we, the horses with ears and eyes set running like antelope. It was a beautiful sight to see the naked Indians and naked ponies, flying across the country in a long, straggling line converging toward the black, billowy mass of objects far ahead. Up hill and down, over one rolling land wave after another, slipping, once or twice a horse falling, but usually keeping their feet with wonderful agility and steadily gaining on the bison. Pretty Blackbird was in the lead, his horse cleaving the air like a swallow; his hair streamed in the wind, his muscular bronze body poised gracefully as a part of his steed, his right hand, holding his Winchester rifle, thrown easily into the hollow of the left arm. My horse managed to keep reasonably near Blackbird’s, and about five of us struck the herd first, Blackbird splitting it as a wedge and charging almost to its head before firing. His object was to separate it into portions. Aided by the foremost pursuers, the herd was scattered. We, Blackbird and I, were at the front among the swift-footed cows, and he was selecting his animals and banging right and left, holding his Winchester as one would hold a revolver. He hit with almost unerring accuracy just behind the fore shoulder or through the back ( a forward and downward ranging shot) I found great difficulty in keeping my horse near the animals, and fired shot after shot without much effect, while Blackbird and the others were laying out the huge beast for the winter provisioning and rapid succession.

So we went; away, away, the herd scattered into groups, some calves being lassoed or shot with arrows by the hunters behind us. My horse was flagging. His wind was gone, the with whip and spur I endeavored to keep pace with Blackbird.

It was no use, his little beauty was running as fresh almost as at the start and a clump of buffalo were almost within his reach. They and Blackbird drew steadily away from me when suddenly they swerved and charged headlong down a long slope. I took the shortest line toward them but was far behind when crack, crack began Blackbird’s rifle. He was again up with them and in a few rapid shots had marked his trail with his trophies, when suddenly the leaders went out of sight, and like the pouring of a cataract the herd disappeared over the edge of a coulee or deep gully. Blackbird apparently made no attempt to check his horse; probably in the slippery mud it would have been worse than useless. At any rate he simply gathered his horsehair bridle, straightened himself– it was the work of an instant — and over he went after the buffalo. We heard his rifle, so knew he must be safe; and, hurrying forward saw the bison scrambling up the opposite side of the ravine, which was about twenty feet deep, and Blackbird’s horse was plunging to dry land, while knee-deep in the mud the chief was blazing away at the buffalo laboriously climbing the opposite bank.

My part of the hunt was over for that day; the whole pleasure and excitement lay in the terrific and dangerous ride. I had not the feeling of want which prompted Blackbird to shoot the last fleeing creature after he had strewn three or four miles of trail with trophies.

With a careless laugh and a good-natured nod, Blackbird signed to me that this was the end, and we rode back, meeting the crowd of women and children. He told them where his trophies lay. Others had been as successful as he, and soon the whole prairie was alive with little parties rapidly securing and caring for the abundant relay of winter meats. Plenty reigned in the camp of Pretty Blackbird.—Wide Awake.




Yorkville Enquirer
York, South Carolina Feb 11, 1886

NEARLY EXTERMINATED,-The hunters who formally went from the East to hunt buffalo must in future find some other means of diversion. The bison can no longer be found in large herds. A New Yorker who has recently returned from the West writes;

There are, to my positive knowledge, not more than 700 bison or buffalo left on the American continent. About 180 are in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, and the remainder in the Pan-handle of Texas. These are all that are left by the hide hunters. Since my return home I have heard that twenty head of bison were killed in Yellowstone Park by a party of English tourist. If this is true, the slaughters should be severely punished. The government should certainly do everything to protect the few survivors.

The elk is also being exterminated. Where there were hundreds only a few years ago, there is now not one. The opening of railroads into the elk and black-tailed deer countries has enabled the hide hunters to become rich. Cattle ranches are springing up everywhere, and the wild game is rapidly being driven off its old feeding grounds. It is a peculiarity of both the elk and the blacktailed deer to forsake any district, no matter how wild it may be, where they have discovered the presence of cattle.


The Daily Dispatch
Montgomery, Alabama 02 Mar 1886
South Bend Tribune

Not So Bad. After All. The lamentations that appear to often in print about the disappearance of the immense herds of bison from the western prairies and plains seem to ignore the fact that those regions are now occupied by millions of domestic sheep, swine, and horned cattle, far outnumbering the largest possible estimate of the former bison herds, as well as vastly exceeding them in commercial value.


The Las Vegas Gazette
Las Vegas, New Mexico 02 Mar 1886

Two loads of antelopes, both hides and meat, were brought in Friday night by D. Carter from the Stated plains of Texas. There was one buffalo robe among the skins, and this solitary representative was all that they saw of the great herds of bison which once roamed oyer these western plains.


The Morning Call
Paterson, New Jersey 04 Mar 1886

Hunt Up the Old Bison Skin
 Young lady, if there be an old buffalo robe lying anywhere about the stable., one of the genuine old-fashioned curly bison skins, used before these days of luxury, do not allow the coachman to give it away as good for nothing, but guard it tenderly, and from it you may have a fashionable bonnet next winter. London has gone as far as sheep-skin, buffalo seems to be the next step. Boston Transcript.


Great Falls Tribune
Great Falls, Montana 06 Mar 1886

The “oldest inhabitant” has popped up again. He says that in the history of Montana from away back no such fine weather has been experienced as that of the past winter. He predicted that this would be an open winter, of course, and he is jubilant on account of his prediction coming true. He has the years of hard winters in the territory at his Anger’s ends, and can tell you the range of the thermometer for any winter since-well, since the bison galloped over the spot where the oldest town in the territory now stands. 


Lawrence Daily Journal
Lawrence, Kansas 07 Mar 1886

Monday morning we will place on sale a hue of double-width all wool bison cloths, in tan, beige, bronze, golden brown, grey and coaching colors at the ruinously low price of 45 cents. These cloths were bought to sell at 5c, but we will offer the lot of forty pieces at 45c. Be sure and ask to see them. Geo. Innes.


The Times-Democrat
New Orleans, Louisiana June 14, 1886

There will be no more buffalo hunts on the Western plains, for the buffalo is so nearly extinct that in less than half a dozen years none will be known except in museums. It is now estimated that not over 1000 head of the bison species are in existence in this country, and this last remnant will shortly go the way of the rest.

One of the cattlemen in the Texas Panhandle, seeing that the buffalo will soon be a curiosity, has concluded to keep a herd of them on his range, for the purpose of perpetuating their breed and selling them to circus men and other curiosity seekers. He will also try the effect of crossing them with the Polled Angus breed of cattle, hoping to infuse vigor and strength into the latter.

However that the, we may bid the American bison a last farewell. His career has been glorious but short since brought in conflict with the energetic American. Once this country teemed with buffalo, and they were numerous even east of the Mississippi. Louisiana was a favorite haunt of theirs, and Bienville, while exploring the Mississippi, some twenty years before the building of New Orleans, called attention to the large number of buffalo he saw upon its banks in the neighborhood of Baton Rouge. The buffalo left its name behind in Louisiana in the Ouachitas, but the animal itself has been so long extinct that it is quite forgotten that it ever existed here.

For the past few decades the bison flourished on the far Western plains in countless millions. A reckless slaughter was carried on and they were butchered by thousands simply for sport, killed by hunters or their tongues and hides, and the carcasses left to rot upon the plains. No animal, however numerous, could stand such a slaughter. Under it the bison, the largest and most important animal of this country, has disappeared before that American energy and recklessness which has rid America of nearly all its native birds, and is as rapidly destroying all its trees.


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 herd 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 herd 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 thundercloud. 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 our 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 frighten 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 sight 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 onto 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 plainsmen 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 jump, 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



The Observer
London, Greater London, England  Oct 10, 1886


No modern animal has died out of its own accord. Those which have perished owe their doom to man, and not to the persecution of any more powerful brute. It was agreed of seamen which led to the extermination of the great auk and the dodo. The Rhytina, or huge sea cow, of Bering Strait, perished from a similar cause within a few years of its discovery, while the Phillip Island parrot, the last of which known to have been alive was kept in a cage in London about the year 1851, has entirely disappeared, owing to the ease with which it could be captured. But the most extraordinary instance of how man by a discriminating slaughter can hunt an animal from the face of the earth is afforded by the fate which is be falling the buffalo of America. Only a few years ago the great shaggy bison covered the Western plains in countless herds, just as in the earlier part of the last century it stretched to the Alleghany Mountains and crowded the salt marshes of Kentucky. Travelers still alive described the scene at the fords of the prairie rivers when the wild ox was migrating from one pasture ground to another. The tens of thousands blackened the ground as far as the eye could see, while the eager brutes trampled on each other in their furious progress. Trains of emigrant wagons had to wait until they passed, and so far from there being any difficulty in killing as many as were required, the trouble was to avoid being trampled to death by the rushing herds. Even after the Pacific Railroad had penetrated their grazing grounds the buffaloes were scarcely diminished in numbers, nor did the acquisition of firearms by the Indians very materially decrease their prey so enormous were the numbers. But very soon the hunters had another tale to tell. Passengers across the American continent ceased to shoot the bison out of the carriage windows, and the telegraph poles, which for a time were in danger from the unsophisticated oxen using them for the purposes of counter-irritation, were no longer disturbed. The buffalo hunter gave place to the buffalo skinner, who slaughtered the beast for the sake of their hides alone. For a year or two the game went on bravely. Every Eastern bound train carried thousands of hides, while the prairie far and near was fetid with the putrefying carcasses of the slaughtered bison. Again and again the Government was invoked, but in vain, until now the sightseer may cross and recross the continent without catching a glimpse of a single buffalo. Their numbers are estimated, every little herd is known, and it is not believed that there are 500 in existence. Only recently an agent of the National Museum, after searching for several weeks, obtained only three specimens. The end must therefore be near. The Canadian Government is protecting buffaloes, so far as the preservation of a few in an enclosure can accomplish this, and in the Yellowstone National Park the little herd there is forbidden to be molested. Yet outside the limits of this reservation, the slaughterers lie in wait, and knowing the price that a hide or a stuffed head commands, use every effort to drive the Government animals outside the sanctuary which has been decreed them.


Newton Daily Republican
Newton, Kansas, Oct 11, 1886 

A Wyoming Hunter Brings Down an Almost White Buffalo Bull.

(Lander (Wy. T.) Special.)

Jack Gaylor, a well-known hunter and trapper of the Wind mountains, has slain a white buffalo bull, or one so gray that it can very easily be called white.

Jack bagged his phenomenal game about two weeks ago while on an elk hunt in the recesses of wind mountains. By the merest accident he stumbled upon a small but deep basin, one of the most it hidden of haunts. In this he found the gray or white buffalo. When the hunter came to examine his prize he found that it bore all of the marks of very old age. The horns, once so powerful and massive, were worn down to the skull, and presented the appearance of bald, smooth spots on the head rather than the natural projections. The teeth were few and fragmentary and were almost even with the jawbones. Though living in the midst of the richest and most succulent grasses and herbs the patriarch boar and gray was very poor in flesh. The appearance of the basin indicated beyond doubt that the bull had in that one spot seen many a summer’s sun and many a winters storm. In the course of nature his race was about run, and the snows of the coming winter would have covered his age-worn carcass.

Many here think the trusty rifle of “Hunter Jack” has slain the famous white buffalo of Shoshone and Arapahoe Indian tradition, and that tradition has thus been proved a fact. Others, or skeptical, think that the color of the slain bull is due entirely to his great age. This, however, is met by the very plausible suggestion that if the bull was gray in the dullness of his age he must have been pure white in the freshness of his youth. The lovers of the marvelous are in a decided majority, and a white buffalo has at last been slain.


Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester, New York Oct 25, 1886

Three Killed Last Week From a Herd of Twenty nine—Another Herd of Twenty-seven Still Exist.

Denver Tribune-Republican.

One week ago W. T. Cornwall and J. M. Swem, the latter an old and practiced hunter, left Denver for Lost Park, in Park county, for a week’s hunting in the mountains. On Tuesday the two men surprised a splendid bison cow, which they lost no time in killing. Both hunters were much elated over this feat, as it is well known that the race for bison is almost extinct in the United States.

Twenty-five long, weary miles were traversed, when at length the footsore hunters were rewarded by a sight that made their hearts found for joy. In the very heart of the mountain fastness, on a huge shelving rock, stood a noble animal, apparently gazing upon the beauties of the rugged landscape. This magnificent creature was a gigantic bull, the leader of the herd. They advanced cautiously upon the bison, and had soon shot him dead. The mail bison measured fifteen feet three inches from tip to tip, and weighed nearly 1,500 pounds.

A fine yearling, weighing 600 pounds, was also surprised and killed by the hunters at the same point. Having now dispatched a whole family, the hunters felt very justly satisfied with their work. Mr. Swem says that he never did so much hard hunting and all his life. He says they work out the trail of twenty-five miles in five hours, “as hard a five hours’ work, “to use his expression, “as he ever did.” The hunt was attended with perils of various kinds, not the least among which was that of being lost overnight through having got into the wrong gulch.

Lost Park is so hard of access that the few bison still in the state find that locality a place of comparative safety. Outside of the remainder of this herd, twenty-six in number, Mr. Swem says there are seven bison of this variety still existing in the United States, and twenty of another. The herd of seven, according to Mr. Swem is located on Rabbit Ear Range, between Middle and South Parks. The other small herd is said to be under government protection in the Yellowstone Park. The range and Lost Park, where the bison were killed, is 24 by 75 miles in length, and has an elevation of nearly 12,500 feet. Messrs. Cornwall and Swem went over the range with the bare running gears of a wagon. They got on to an old mill trail, and dodged through the trees to the top. The hunters came back with their faces almost blistered from the effects of the reflection of the sun on the snow. They were welcomed in Denver with great floors of trumpets by the hunting fraternity. The animals have been placed in the hands of a taxidermist.


The Palmyra Spectator
Palmyra, Missouri Dec 3, 1886

Wholesale Butchery

I remember a few years ago (the winter of 1880 and ‘81, now I recall the exact date,) accompanying a military expedition across the northern plains and mountains, in pursuit of the great Indian general, Sitting Bull. Before we were well into the hostile country we passed and I counted no less than twelve separate parties of sportsmen (mostly English) camped on the buffalo range, and all busily engaged in their deadly work of slaughtering bison. Take one party, for example, which will be a fair sample of all the rest. This particular outfit numbered seven Britishers, two Americans, and one half-breed guide, and they had been out from Glendive about two weeks. They were well mounted on Cayuse ponies, with Sharp’s forty-five calibre rifles, and at that time about thirty miles north of Yellowstone river in the very midst of ten thousand buffalo. We struck their trail long before we reached their camp, which was very easily followed by the number of buffalo carcasses lining the route. The first day their party had killed twelve , the next day nineteen, the third day thirty-six, and the fourth day 114, and still the fun was going on.

Twenty-four hours later our command encountered another band of sportsmen (majority English gentleman), who were also doing their level best to exterminate the noble animals, but they were a little nearer the hostile country, and consequently deeper into the buffalo herds, and therefore had more animals to hunt than their neighbors in the rear. The day before we crossed the divide and plunged direct into Sitting Bull’s dominions we camp upon the last band of hunters, or at least the band which had ventured further from civilization, who were surrounded by more buffalo than I ever believed were in existence. I saw one herd alone that must have numbered 15,000 or 20,000, besides hundreds of small herds numbering from 50 to 500, dotting the plains and scattered through the River bottoms. I found them up in the mountains where a pony could hardly climb. Now, this last party of hunters were out strictly for business and not pleasure. They were killing bison for their tongues alone, not even taking the skins. They had a small pack train with them of about thirty mules, and were pretty nearly ready to start back to civilization, having secured a full load of tongues, or as many as their animals could carry. Such has been the wanton destruction of our game in the northwest during the past years that to-day there is scarcely a single bison left in the vast region that was once the home of millions. With the wonderful bands of elk that used to throng the mountains and valleys of Montana and Idaho it is the same old story. All gone, or nearly so, and not a saving law by national or territorial governments to protect them.

Plenty Cones, a chief of the Crow Indian tribe, and camped a few miles from this fort at this time, is just about returning from a rather successful hunting trip in the Big Horn mountains, during which time his bucks captured 40 elk, 137 deer, and 11 mountain lions or panthers. I asked old Plenty Cones how that game were get in on, but the old chief only shook his head and declared all wild game were getting scarce. His party, however, had had a successful hunt, as the elk meat and deer meat would keep hunger from the doors of his forty-seven lodges during the coming winter, and, besides, the bounty paid on lion skins would bring in considerable cash. As a dollar is as big as a cart wheel to an Indian, the $8 for each panthers scalp, which they demand and silver dollars, was worth more than all their supplies secured on the trip. During the season of 1884, which was the last great slaughter year, there were no less than 1,000 hunters, professional and pleasure seeking, scattered along the line of the Northern Pacific railroad in Montana and Idaho. These insatiable Nimrods succeeded in clearing the country of buffalo, but their efforts were only partially successful regarding elk, deer and antelope.

Last year three buffalo bulls were gathered in by the cowboys on the Tongue river roundup in Montana, and the boys thought they were in for lots of fun; but the big fellows looked so long some and broken spirited and out of place that the good-natured cow punchers hadn’t the heart to kill them, so the three forlorn animals were turned adrift on the prairie to shift for themselves. As it happened, last winter was a severe one in Montana, a season of blizzards and snowstorms and intense cold. While the domestic herds pulled through the cold in good shape and with little damage, could one believe that those poor old buffalo brutes actually froze to death? Some cowboys who were riding the ranges the following spring, looking up their cattle, found all three of the Bulls doubled up in a ravine on Upper Powder river, frozen stiff. It was a sad and lamentable ending of a great race.

Except a few scattered bands of antelope on the plains north of the Missouri river, and the small number of black and white tail deer in the timber along the river bottoms, what little of the large game we have left in the northwest is congregated in the Yellowstone Park. Of course there are more or less elk, mountain sheep and deer in the mountains (Bog Horn and Rocky ranges), but they are a mere handful to what the country could boast of ten years ago. The laws of the national park forbid hunting of game within its confines, and it does indeed appear as if our big-game were cognizant of the fact, for nearly all the remaining species seen to have sought refuge there.—[Fort Keogh Cor. Cleveland Leader.