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1890 Bison History         

Photo by J. Grabill

1890 Sturgis Dakota Terr.


The Daily Republican, Pa. March 13 1890

Buffalo Jones.

We have not only a Buffalo Bill but also a Buffalo Jones. The latter gentleman is Mr. C. J. Jones, and he gets his name from being an enthusiastic reader of the American bison, commonly called the buffalo.

Senator Plumb has introduced into Congress a bill granting to Mr. Jones for a term of years a strip of the neutral ground known as No Man’s Land, south of the Kansas border. The land would be used by Mr. Jones for rearing bison. He has now on his Western land a herd of eighty, which he would remove to No Man’s Land if the lease were granted to him. Jones is the only bison breeder in the world. He has made many attempts to cross the wild animal with the domestic cow. After repeated failures he succeeded in obtaining a cross between the bison and breeds of short horn and Galloway cattle. He showed the senate committee some robes made of hides of the crossed animal. They are like the ordinary buffalo robe, but possessing a luster and varied color.

Buffalo Jones says there are now only 1,100 bisons left in America, and of these nearly 400 are in Manitoba and 500 are in captivity. The only native wild herd in the United States is that in Yellowstone park, 200 in number.






……R.C. Auld in Baily’s Magazine: With the disappearance of the buffalo as a wild demon of the prairies, much of the romance and charm of the West has gone. For centuries this noble beast had been regarded as the representative of the chief characteristics of the great country within which he had been developed. By the principles of the survival of the fittest, he had become what he was, and against all his natural foes he was able to maintain his ground. The two richly endowed paleface came in, however, to sweep him rudely from the scene. No part of the haunts which had been known him so long remained sacred to an intruder before whose blind, insatiable attacks succumbed the noblest beast of chase which the whole American Continent possessed. Even his name (which is all that remains of him in a territory wherein he was so long supreme) cannot now be said to be really his. If the classification of the men of science is to be respected. “bison” he should be called. But “buffalo” was the term applied to him by the hunters and traders who first became aware of his existence; and with this appellation his memory will be associated through all time.
……The horrible record of his destruction is still to be read upon the prairies of the West in the bleaching skeletons which they were once thickly strewed. But even these sad monuments are being removed, for they are being collected (huddled together promiscuously with other bones) and sent by the car-load to be carried East, and made the basis of artificial fertilizers. It is estimated that in one winter 100,000 head of buffaloes were slaughtered along the line of the Union and Kansas Pacific railroad. This wholesale destruction is, now that it is too late, universally deplored. And the story remains as terrible evidence of human cruelty and shortsighted folly, when under the influence of insatiable greed.
……But the object of this paper is not to sound the dirge of a vanished race; it is rather to proclaim a new destiny which seems to be in store for this peerless species. Out of its ashes it seems probable that the buffalo may arise into a position hardly less unique than that which its ancestors held so long. By the help of its destroyer it may run career such as, only a year or two ago, none of its friends and admirers (and it has always had both) could ever have dreamed of as possible.
There are now, as has been said, practically no buffalo to be found in a wild state. Occasionally one reads accounts of a small herd having been seen in some out-of-the-way localities; but those reports are invariably found to be erroneous, much to the regret of the investigator. There are few buffalo preserved in a semi-feral condition in Yellowstone National Park; and most of the zoological Gardens all over the world still contain a specimen or two. It is curious that the Red Indians never seem to have been able to domesticate this animal; and for many years it was supposed that it would resist every effort in that direction. But in fact it is now known that the buffalo is really most amendable to the domesticating will of the white man; and the subjugation of this species is man’s latest encroachment into the domain of nature. And, however incredible it may seem, the buffalo becomes as gentle and as appreciative of man’s protective care as do any of the races bovine. In fact, from the accounts we have of them in this connection, they appear to be more domesticable than what are called the white cattle of Britain, or their European representatives preserved by the Czar of Russia, the aurochs of the Lithuanian forest, the bos priscus of science. It is with this aspect of the subject, i.e., the results which may follow from the removal of the buffalo from a state of freedom to the condition of ordinary cattle, that this article will practically deal.
……There are two men whose names have become identified with the endeavor to resuscitate an interest in the buffalo; its name having, indeed been added to theirs as a familiaring sobriquet. Everyone has heard of ”Buffalo Bill,” but comparatively few of the general public have heard of “Buffalo Jones.” Yet whereas the former may be looked upon more as the representative of the destroyers of the bison, the latter must, and will, be regarded as its vertibable preserver. Buffalo Bill may be regarded as carrying on the traditions of the grand period of romance and chivalry connected with the American chase. Buffalo Jones should be held in mind as having been the man to initiate the enterprise of introducing the wild Prairie monarch to the practical uses of civilization. Buffalo Bill regarded the shaggy animals as only their pray for his rifle, and (in the days of their countless hordes) as the objects of sport of the highest possible kind: one calling for skill, precision, and endurance in those who engaged in it, and affording the necessary excitement: in fact, he looked upon the buffalo as affording material in these degenerate times for of latter-day Roman holiday: and sought to amuse the descendents of our ancient barbarian forefathers by introducing them to the bullfight of the prairie. This was, in those days, and those not very remote either, the state of the buffalo, but a different career has been open for him by Buffalo Jones. His aim on the animals behalf is to make it that producer in the highest possible perfection of a coveted article of winter dress for the fairest companions of the sterner sex- and for them also-in those regions where most Arctic or Siberian severity prevails for a large proportion of the year. Buffalo Bill (with the halo of Western romance about him) has brought the country aristocracy to his feet. But with all that had a reputation, he must, we think, be filled with remorse at the utter impossibility of entertaining again, in his own Western’ dominion, his distinguished guest from that world across the sea with even one grand buffalo hunt. He formally had the distinction of providing this with almost regal profuseness for the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia; and should it again be necessary to provide battalions bearing the inspiring Stars and Stripes with supplies of strong meat, the heads of the government commissariat will bitterly lament the wholesale destruction of those once innumerable prairie herds. “The full-blooded Texan” they might then inquire after; but it would be only, alas! to find that purest of all American domesticated cattle to have been also exterminated- bred out and refined down- by the infusion of the dreaded and too gentling blood of the Durham, the Aberdeen, or the Herford.
……Mr. N. T. Hornaday, of the U.S. National Museum, mentions the Stony Mountain herd of buffalo, lately belonging to Major Bedson of Winnipeg. He does not mention the Garden City Kansas herd of Col. Jones, not so well known, that which is now the only heard of the kind in the world, or Col. Jones, “Buffalo Jones,” has just become possessed of the entire herd of Major Bedson. It will also be seen that individual interest, in this case, is a head of Government, and that there is every prospect assured of the preservation, in the future, of the interesting subject of our inquiry.
……The combined Garden City herd, as stated, is now the only heard of buffalo in the world. Col. Jones says: “here they may be besides n’ few isolated buffalo in a wild state; but if there be they are in the mountains, and are exceedingly hard to find.” He was for several years engaged in hunting all the buffalo he knew or could hear of, and what are now left, it may be presumed, were not worth his while to attempt to capture. We must pass by this collecting period, and deal with the results of the enterprise.
At present there are in the herd hundred 27 full-blooded buffalo, about one half bulls and one half cows. Besides these there are 23 crossbred, ranging one half, three forths, seven-eights, and fifteen-sixteenths. They are now being raised for breeding purposes. One remarkable fact is that Col. Jones has succeeded in domesticating these wild animals, so that they can be handled as easily as ordinary cattle. They are also as easy to pasture as cattle; anything that cattle will live on wealth that buffalo or their crosses; and they will keep that on provendor on which cattle would starve to death. They can be kept under fence, although during the summer season the bulls are sometimes a little unruly, and need the fences to be rather stronger than usual; at other times they are about the same as cattle.
……The crosses appeared to succeed equally in all respects to the full blood. No care is required even in the severe climate of the prairies of Manitoba, where they had been thoroughly tested by Major Bedson. Doing so well there, there ought to be no obstacle to their succeeding and more southern or western regions. The Galloway and Polled Aberdeen make the best cross. The halfbreeds from these have prime meat, and produce excellent robes- as choice as the sealskin, and are the exact color. It is believed that these half-bred hides will sell as well for ladies’ coats as the genuine sealskin. Col. Jones has named these crosses the “Seal Buffalo.” He hastweive head, and would not be tempted to part with them under $5000 each for the best ones.
……The hump almost disappears in half breeds; but it shows more prominently as the crosses get near to the pureblood. The shaggy neck and shoulders are not recognized in half and three-quarter breds. The fur is evenly spread all over: it is very thick and extraordinary improvement on the full-blooded buffalo robe.
……It is exceedingly interesting to note that the crosses take the instinct of the buffalo. They always stand and face the storms-even the severest blizzards, when the thermometer ranges at 60° below zero. They are very clannish, and never separate, except that the old bulls leave the herd when whipped out by the younger ones.
……A market for buffalo and cross-bred robes undoubtedly is to be expected in all parts of the world, whenever the thermometer reaches zero. The fur-bearing animals are almost if not entirely gone. The Hudson Bay Fur company, are disbanding their forces, because there are no more furs to buy; and furs are of as much value as pure gold. Certainly the robe of the “Seal Buffalo” is destined to take a very high place in the fur emporiums of the world. It has all the iridescent qualities of the real sealskin, and is as fine and soft, though longer in the fur, and some are striped like a tiger. All hail! thrice hale! to this new and truly American industry.


Northern Montana Bison. Photo by L. A. Huffman, 1880

Northern Montana Bison. Photo by L. A. Huffman, 1880


Manitoba Free Press Dec 20 1890

The Bisons Habits

Four Distinct Kinds of Buffalo Once Roamed the Plains

Curious Facts About Their Migrations Stampedes and Fights

The Domestic Economic Purposes to Which They Were Put.

……Last May Mr. Charles Mair, of Prince Albert, read before the Royal Society of Canada a paper on “The American Bison-It’s Habits, Methods of Capture, and Economic Use in the Northwest with Reference to its Threatened Extinction and Possible Preservation.” This article has never been published, but will shortly make its appearance in the transactions of the Royal Society, it’s length precludes its publication as a newspaper article, but the following excerpts from it will be interesting:-
……Men who were old twenty years ago, and whose memory ran back to days when the vast region west of the Mississippi was howling wilderness, had primitive knowledge not possessed by latter-day hunters. In those days the great buffalo herds roamed almost unmolested. The Indians of course lived upon them, but, with Savage conservatism, severely punished anyone who wantonly butchered them. Left thus to follow their own instincts, not driven from place to place by merciless persecution, nor intermingling so as to bland all the indiscriminate hordes, their herds possessed a distinctive character, and seem to have their roughly defined boundaries, like the Indians themselves. Even down to recent years the difference between the animals in size and general appearance-in a word in what may be called breed-was recognizable, and of course led to special nomenclature in the various Indian tongues. The southern or “Missouri cattle, “as they were called by the plain hunters, varied in some degree from those of the ……Saskatchewan. They were long-backed and heavy, the full-grown cow often dressing to five hundred pounds and over of clean meat. They were frequently seen north of the Missouri, and were readily identified by the practiced eye of the plain hunter, not only by their muddy coats but by differences in form. The northern animal, called by the Crees Pusquswoo-moostoos, or “the prairie beast,“ was shorter in the back and was noted for its hardy constitution and fleetness. A third animal was known upon the plains as Amiskoo-eepe moostoos,viz: “the Beaver River” buffalo, for reason I have never heard positively explained. There are two Beaver rivers in the Northwest-one which joined the Assiniboins near Fort Eileen, and the other which falls into Lake Isles a la Crosse. The winter habitat of this variety of the buffalo in the last century may have been on one or other of those streams, and so have given a distinctive name to a remarkable breed. It was

……compared with ordinary prairie bison, and had a closely curled coat, and short, sharp horns which were small at the root and curiously turned up and then backwards, not unlike a rams, but quite unlike the bend of the horns of the ordinary bison. These animals were probably numerous at one time, but because rare, and were noted as the latest to go north in the fall. The thick-wood buffalo again-the Sakawoomoostoos of the Crees- differs strikingly from all the others, though some writers seems to think it the offspring of anima’s detached by accident from the great herds. If so it’s progenitors must have been isolated from their fellows at the remote period. The thick-wood buffalo is said to be much larger than the Prairie animal, to have longer and straighter horns, and shaggier and darker coat, though I did not balance for these particulars, having never seen either the living animal or its robe. It’s range is now continued to one or two affiants of the Upper Mackenzie, but sixty years ago it was found at Shoul Lake, east of Lake Manitoon, and within recent times it roamed the forest north of the North Saskatchewan.
……The annual migration of the plain buffalo was at one time an interesting feature of his life and movement, and one upon which the welfare of whole communities largely depended. The buffalo hunt was the mainstay of the Red River settlement, and of many other remote and isolated communities, both in the United States and our own territories, down to the era of railway extension and development. To such the movements were of the last importance, and a failure the source of dismay and suffering. But the great migration in bygone years seldom failed, and was of such a character that few tribes or outpost of civilization, from New Mexico to Peace River, were long suffers for want of food. The great Texan, Missouri and Saskatchewan herds, when undisturbed, had their migratory range within tolerably well-known limits until remorseless pursuit and destruction con founded all habitudes and instincts in one general fear and indiscriminate flight. The direction of migration was not favorably up and down the continent, though this was the popular belief. I have heard Hallett and Gaddy and other noted half-breed leaders of the plain hunt in times past , speak of Red River bands whose migration was from east to west, and visa versa. There were small bands, too, which seemed to roam in all directions, and many solitary bulls driven off from the main herds, were scattered here and there, which could scarcely said to migrate at all. But the migration of

……was undoubtedly from North to South in the spring and conversely in summer and fall. It was possible in the latter season to check the animals for a time in their northward march. Their senses were very keen, and at that time there dread of man seemed to overpower their migratory instincts. Hence the Indians took great pains in the fall to conceal themselves, if they did not wish their onward march to be interrupted.. But in spring nothing could stop the southward progress of the herd. By night as well as day it swept on word in living torrents which no obstacles could turn from their paths. In crossing the two Saskatchewan’s precipitous banks were often the scenes of frightful destruction, the rear hordes pushing the vanguard over with irresistible force. Myriads perished by falling through the rotten ice, and one old traveler mentions having counted 8000 animals mired at single ford. The spring migration began as soon as all set in. The bulls and cows into lines, the cows taking the lead, and all went south, invariably following the old paths, multitudes of which are worn deep into the prairie soil by centuries of use. It was at this season and in the fall _at these paths which interest strangers so much were formed. No one now-a-days takes the plains to trace out these paths or any distance, but if one were to do so one would find that they are astonishingly direct routes from point to point. As a matter of fact they were often made to use of by the early adventures. La Salle and his nephew, Moranget, followed them in the fatal wilds of Louisiana in 1687, and many a wanderer has since been led by them to water and to safety in the bewildering deserts of the south and west. When once fairly out on the broad plains the buffaloes scattered, the cows keeping to themselves, and all fed like domestic cattle. Early in July rutting season began and them a terrific sense of roaring took running took place;

……often of the most deadly character. The young bulls came off victorious, and often ended the contest by burying their horns to the roots and their elder antagonist, though sometimes both combatants perished. Of course the noise caused by such tumult and concourse of huge animals, often numbering tens of thousands, was stupendous, and, incredible as the statement may seem, by putting the ear to badger hole, could be distinctly heard at a distance of thirty miles. If one will endeavor to pronounce the monosyllable him.m.m.m with closed lips and without break, one will have a good idea of the continuous sound of the great buffalo herd conveyed by the earth as through telephone wire. After the fighting ended intercourse began, and invariably took place in the act of running: proceeded, however, by a fact in natural history so singular that weren’t there not ample testimony to his truths, I should hesitate to set it down. The young and victorious bulls selected the old cows, whilst the young cows became the property of the old bulls.
……On the broad plains, when feeding and desiring to drink, the whole band, as it seized by a common impulse, would gallop off in loose order, and seek water at the same time. When not grazing favorite occupation of the animals was wallowing, a curious summer custom (for the bison did not wallow in winter) in which from its frequency, seem to have something of the nature of a sport, as well as a sanitary purpose. There are many great prairies on the Saskatchewan where these follows literally touch each other in all directions. Thousands of animals engaged in exercise at the same time, and seen at a distance, the dust raised by their writhing looked like pillars of smoke arising from innumerable fires. These wallows are sometimes confounded by new comers with the tetes des femmes, as they are called, or rough depressions and hummocks caused by fire penetrating and interlacing in the sod. Another kind of depression has been of still greater puzzle, not only to the chance traveler, but to the geologist. I referred to those circular hollows wrought deeply in the prairies, each of which has solitary boulder generally in its centre. Those excavatious were undoubtedly the work of the bison, and in fact might be called it’s “tool-chest.” Up to its fourth year the animal did not frequent them, but after that age it began to polish and sharpen its horns, and use the big boulders.

……the soil constantly scraped by this shuffling of countless hoofs around the stones, was caught up and swept off by the wind, and thus in time these great depressions were formed in the prairie which without a knowledge of one of the most curious habits of the bison would be a standing mystery.
……As summer advanced the Saskatchewan herds moved north, and as winter came on left the prairie. The cows seem to be the hardiest, and often fed in the open until intense cold set in, when they, too, sought the shelter of the woods. It is generally supposed that in winter they scraped away the snow with their hoofs to get at the grass, like the Indian pony; but this was not the case. If the snow was crusted, or hard packed, they use their fore feet to break it down, and then with their noses cleared away the snow. When loose it was invariably shall hold aside in this manner; and hence the animals head, up to the eyes, was often quite shorn of hair before spring. Domestic cattle have the same habit, and strayed animals have been known to winner in deep snow region of the North Saskatchewan, and turn up in excellent order in the spring. Hardened by a strain of buffalo blood I believe they would easily carry themselves over the winter in that luxuriant grass country.
……Like wild creatures generally, the bison was free from deformities. I have often been told, however, that androgynous animals were not infrequently killed in the chase, and assertion which is stoutly maintained by old plain hunters who profess to have seen them. Others think the so-called hermaphrodites were simply animals which when calves have been emasculated by wolves, or as was sometimes the case, by hunters and rude sport. These beast, whatever they were, grew to an enormous size, and were called by the English and French half-breeds. “The Burdash,” a name which is probably Norman- French, for it is not Indian. If I am not mistaken the word Bredache in the patois of the French-Canadian peasant designates an animal of both genders. It screen name was Aya-quayu, meaning “of neither sex.” Such an animal, with its colossal frame, its vast front, and spreading horns was a striking object in a great herd, and, when killed in season, yielded what was known as the ‘beaver robe.” This rope was greatly prized for its immense size and glossy, alik-like coat, and sold, twenty years ago, for ten times the price of the best robe of commerce.
……Reference was made at the beginning of this article to the abundance of buffalo within recent times. According to the Hon. H. H. Sibley, of Minnesota, the last animals ever seen east of the Mississippi were killed by the Sioux at Trampe a l’Eau, in upper Wisconsin, in 1832. For many years afterwards they were still very numerous on the great western and northwestern plains. In 1868 the late James McKay, the well-known Red River half-breed trader and hunter, told me that some ten years before he had traveled with ponies for twenty days through continuous herd, and on all sides, as far as he could see, the prairies were black with animals. It was not in fact until the construction of the first Pacific railway bed as serious inroad was made upon their numbers. Indeed, as Dr. Carver very truly says, “as the Indians hunted them the race would probably have lasted forever.” But the building of that railway and the subsequent extensions of the Northern Pacific line, bringing the knoll of the buffalo. Immense numbers, it is true,

……in the great plain hunt of the Red River half-breeds; assist in which was organized early this century, and continued in full force down to about 1869, after which he began to languish. Many of the hunters formed small settlements in the interior, and instead of returning to Red River, sold their robes, etc., to traders on the spot. In its palmy days the plain hunt annually attracted nearly half of the populations of Red River. Fully four thousand men, including men, women, and children, and of thousand carts, went off in early summer to the plains, and when the great herds were reached, and the “runs” took place, as many as two thousand animals were often killed in a single day. No doubt this involved great waste; but food and leather were the objects of the plain hunters, as well as robes, and, hence, their destruction bore but a small proportion to the immense slaughter in recent years, by the American pot-and-hide hunters. These men, in order to gratify the cravings of wealthy citizens for tongues and humps, were formed into large parties, with lavish outfits supplied by eastern firms, and being within easy reach of the great herds _ rail the work of extermination speedily began. In due time the pot-hunting gave way to hide hunting, which was found to be more profitable, and then the have ache became truly stupendous. The hunters weapons were of the best, and their method so systematic, that the very skinning was done by horse-power. The dead bison was fastened to a stake in the necessary incisions made, after which span of horses was hitched to the hide, and off it came. The hides were shipped to the nearest railway point in wagons and that carcasses were left to rot upon the ground. In this way is estimated that in three years nearly six million animals were destroyed, “But no one, “says Doctor Carver (who is responsible for the foregoing statements), ”will ever know what immense numbers were killed by these hide hunters.”
……“At the close, “he says “of one winter a man could go along the banks of Frenchman River for about 33 miles by simply jumping from one carcass to another. Considering the facts of this kind it is not surprising that some small tame herds and a few old circus animals represent the great herds which less than a quarter of a century ago black and miles of Prairie as the thunder cloud darkens the sky.”
……Great nerve and readiness were frequently called for on the part of the buffalo hunter, and serious accidents often occurred in the chase. I have listened to many camp-fire stories in the Northwest more sensational than the following; yet the two or three which I give, though not very startling, are authentic, and the incidence may be taken as typical of situations which called for coolness and resource. In 1847 Atchamaganis, or “The Trader,” left port Carlton for the Sandy Knolls to procure meat. He came to buffalo, and after our run drove an arrow into a huge bull. In the act of stooping to draw it out of the animal suddenly turned, and the Traders horse swerved, and through him clean upon the bulls head, were probably he would

……but for the lucky chance of one of its horns passing under his belt. This prevented tossing, and their “The Trader” hung, whilst the terrified bull made off at full speed. The situation was enough to shatter ordinary nerves, but “The Trader” took things cooly, and gathered himself together in such a way as to get of purchase, severed his connection with the horn either by the breaking or the loosening of the belt, and so fell to the ground, whilst the bull, too frightened to reflect on things, sped on, and left “The Trader” unhurt. Pruden, another hunter, after a sharp run, got his horse in line with, but slightly to the rear, of a swift buffalo cow, which stumbled whilst he was in the act of drawing the bow, and fell directly across his path. Without an instances hesitation he urged his horse to the leap, and, springing clean over the prostrate cow, turned and transfixed her with an arrow. Owing to the peculiar band of the buffaloes horns it was unable to toss a man who lay flat on the ground, and many hunters have saved their lives by a knowledge of this fact, and by a setting upon their knowledge on the instant. Massam, in Indian, was thrown in front of a bull by his horse stumbling in a badger hole. In this fall he was caught by the bull and tossed twice, and severely ript in the leg. The third time the bull missed him, whereupon he fell to the ground, and lay still, though suffering dreadful agony. It was not the bisons custom to trample his foe. It would get astride of him, and nose him, and pop-up the earth upon him, with his forefeet; all of which this particular bull did to Massam, and then, having exhausted its rage, left him. Gardspui, another practiced hunter, some twelve years ago was thrown in the snow, and endured for hours the baffled rage of a bull until some fellow-hunters came up and relieved him. These occurrences show what men could do in emergencies; but, of course, the buffalo had also it’s triumphs, and frequently made our way with its pursuer. A bull was once killed which had I human pelvis stuck fast on one of its horns- a strange laurel won in some solitary struggle. The bison, when disturbed, does not rise with its lumbering slowness of the domestic ox, but has the faculty of springing on all fours at once. These is also, sometimes, something very like shamming in its conduct, when brought to ground by a shot and apparently dead. In this condition it has been known to live perfectly still until the Hunter came close up to it, and then spring upon him, and impale him in an instant.
……Very dangerous at times were certain sulky old bulls, which having been driven off from their herd, nourished, like some human beings, a hatred of everything living. Genereux, and old Hudson’s Bay man, in passing with a dog-train betwixt two thickets of timber, was suddenly pounced upon by one of these morose animals, which tossed dogs, sled and all into the air, and made a wreck of the outfit. Another, maddened by the persecution of some Indian dogs, charged a large train of carts numbering scores which was on its way from Battle River to Fort Carlton loaded with pemmican and dried meat. That infuriated brute rushed among the oxen and ponies, smashed collars and shafts and injured almost every cart before the astonished freighters could collect their senses, and shoot it.
……But the buffaloes never were so dangerous to man as their pursuers ever have been to each other. The history of the Northwest plain Indians down to the time of the transfer of the territories was simply a history of raids and reprisals begot of the chase. This does not closely concerned my subject, but it may be fittingly recorded here that the last

……in the territories took place between the Blackfeet in the Crees, twenty years ago, on the plains southwest of Batoche, on the South of Saskatchewan. The lives lost in the fight were few, but those lives lost in consequence of it were many, and the struggle might almost be called the Saskatchewan bison’s avenger. The dancing over all Blackfoot scalp taken in that fight, and which was infected with the virus of small-pox, spread that fatal disease all over the North Saskatchewan and decimated the Cree race.
As the bison has practically passed away, so the economic uses to which it was put by the natives and early immigrants in the Northwest have passed away with it. Most writers have made a note of one or other of these economics and doubtless all of them have been described. But it is none the less in place to bring them together in a paper like this, since they are closely related to my main subject. As of food the flesh of the buffalo was inferior to domestic beef in nutritive qualities; but at less satiating it was much more digestible. The time, pomp, back fat and morrow bones were the choicest parts of the animal. The tongues, taken in winter and cured in spring, were beyond all comparison delicious; much more delicate indeed, then the domestic or even the reindeer tongue, and not so cloying. To cure them they were steeped in cold, then tepid water. Six quarts of common salt, with some saltpetre added, were robbed by hand into hundred fresh tongues, after which they were put into a vessel, weighted down with stones, and allow to soak in the brine, thus formed, for 15 days. They were then taken out and strung up in pairs upon poles in the ordinary lodge or cabin, and when dry, smoked were fit for use or export. For the latter purpose they were generally cured at the Hudson’s Bay company’s post, and as many as four thousand were thus treated add Carlton in a single year. The boss or hump, a curious protuberance upon the shoulders of the buffalo, had a separate set of ribs, inosculating with the spine, and consisted of AlterNet layers of exquisitely tender fat and lean meat. It was the most highly prized part of the animal, and in one of the average size weighted about thirty lbs. The “back fat,” which was rich, but less delicate, lay immediately beneath the hide, and ran along and over the backbone. It was about two inches thick, but thinned towards the rump, and weighed about fifteen pounds in an animal in good condition. Back-fat was very abundant in the buffalo, but it is not found to any extent in the domestic ox. Marrow-fat was the plain Indians butter, and surpassed it in richness if not in flavor. It was prepared by breaking all the bones and boiling them in water till all their oil was extracted. This was skimmed off, hosted again and clarified, and then poured into buffalo bladders, where it hardened into rich and golden mass which looked exactly like well-made butter. Dried meat was a

……and was made from thighs and shoulders sliced circularly into large sheets, and dried on stages over slow fires, or in warm clear weather, in the sun. It was then made up into bales and would not spoil unless exposed to the rain. Though a highly nourishing food it never seem to satiate. In traveling it was actually munched between meals through sheer habit, akin to the gum chewing of the Americans. A story is told of our French half-breed guide who astonished a stranger his performances in this way, and who, being asked by his amazed companion why he never ceased eating dried meat, replied: “Ah, Monsieur …………….. (it is for pastime)
From the dried meat and tallow of the buffalo the famous pemmican was made, at once the most palatable and sustaining of foods. Pemmican was the device of the plains Indians, and has been made by them from the time immemorial. It is first mentioned in the narrative of Coronado’s New Mexican expeditions of 1541, and the last bag of it was probably eaten on the banks of the Saskatchewan in 1882. I mean, of course, the buffalo pemmican, for it has been made occasionally since by the half-breeds from domestic beef. A sack or ”toreau” of pemmican, as it was called, consisted of nearly equal quantities of tallow and dried meat, the latter being pounded on bull hides with stone hammers, ax heads or flails. From the siftings of the dried meat the “One pemmican” was made in which marrow fat was used instead of tallow and the ‘berry pemmican,” the most highly valued of all, consisted of be used to and a due proportion of saskatoon berries, or of choke cherries, if the other could not be had. The single toreau weighed about 100 lbs., a double sack being over twice that weight. If making it the pounded meat and fat were constantly stirred in the bull hide trough killed they “set,” and that mixtures were then run into bags made of buffalo hide, sewed with sinew, with the hair side out, and pounded down with a mallet till they were full and compact. The ends were then sewed up, and a sack of this food, when properly made and stored in a dry place, would keep for years. Its value as compared with fresh meat was in the ratio of four to one, eight pounds of the latter being that customary daily ration, which was all eaten, whilst two pounds of pemmican were sufficient.
……The buffalo robe of commerce was probably looked upon by the outer world as the animals final cause; but in the Northwest the robe was of secondary importance. The leather, the raw hide and sinew were of the highest value to all classes of people, and were such conveniences that even now they are greatly missed by all who have been accustomed to their use. The robe was not so much a necessity as the source of the plain Indian’s or the plain hunter’s luxuries – his trinkets, his finery, his sugar, tobacco and ROM -through the latter was generally By the post trader to extort provisions from him, when they happened to be scarce.
……The buffalo coat was in the best condition in mid-winter. In spring the hair lost its beautiful gloss, and became loose. The preparation of robes for export and of buffalo leather prepared like the moose skin, for home use, was the Indian woman’s most labor us work; and when one thinks of the enormous quantity of both which came from their hands one is last and wonder at

……In making the robe the hide was first fleshed with a peculiar bone, notched like a comb, and then stretched on a frame to dry, after which it was wetted and again reduced with the scraper to the proper thickness. At this stage it was frequently split down the back, though this reduced the value of the robe and then thoroughly dried over the lodge fires. It was now greased and allowed to hang for several days, when it was again wetted on the flesh side until quite soft, after which the brain and liver of the buffalo, mixed in a paste, were vigorously rubbed into the hide, which was again dried. The final process was the most labor us of all. A stout pole was planted in the lodge and accord of sinew twisted like a bow-string attached to its top and bottom, yet loosely, so as to admit the hide, fold after fold of which was then, for a long period, hauled back and forth against the rough string until the whole inner pelt was thoroughly softened. When this process was completed the hide became a marketable robe. A fluffy or wool-like surface was given to the pelt afterwards, by rubbing it with the boss-bone or rough stone: and such robes, prepared by the Indians for their own use, were frequently adorned with pictures painted in bright colors, and not without spirit.
……The leather, though sometimes exported, was generally reserved for home use, and contributed largely to domestic comfort. Out of it the plain Indian made his moccasins and other articles of clothing, his saddles, and above all his portable and comfortable lodge, for comfortable it was in winter, with its lining and carpeting of soft buffalo robes, and it’s bright fire, round which the legends of the tribe were handed down to the youngsters in the long winter nights. Indeed the buffalo skin lodge was in general use 20 years ago even in the settlements, and it was often preferred in summer to the house. The same style of lodge is still in use in the Northwest; but it is now made of calico instead of leather. On the plains the buffalo dung, called “buffalo chips” by the hunters, furnished, in summer, the Indian and the plain-hunter’s fuel, and it’s sinews. Which lay immediately under the back-fat, along the spine from the sirloin for word, supplied tough and durable thread and glue. The last, but not the least, important product of the buffalo was shaganappi, or as it was often called “Northwest Iron.” The word in common use is a corruption of the Cree compound pesaganappi (“shred in circle”), and the common sort was simply a long strip cut concentrically from the hide of an old bull. But the twisted lines, which were used for bridle lines, tethers, etc. were taken from the rump of the animal, where the hide was uniform in thickness. These Hues, like the others, were cut from the hide in continuous concentric rings, which were afterwards greased and exposed to the sun, pounded to suppleness with a mallet, or better still, chewed, and then braided. They were exceedingly strong and durable. Shaganappi was in fact, until recently, and invaluable and omnipresent article in the Northwest. It was much stronger and more durable than the cordage made from domestic hide, and was largely employed in making cart and double harness for cattle. For lashing there was nothing equal to it. First wetted and then wrapped around of broken wheel, or shaft, it contracted in drying, to a grip as firm as iron; and indeed, as has been said, this is the name it often went by.
……Such were the principal benefits which the buffalo conferred upon the Indians, half-breeds and old settlers of the Northwest, and which covered most of their primary needs. It seems but yesterday when they were in the full enjoyment of them; and it is not surprising, therefore, that a generation ‘to the manner born” should look back with regret to the past and he many aside at thought of its primitive happiness and abundance. So strong in this feeling that I verily believe if to-day such a miracle could happen as the sudden appearance of an immense herd between the two Saskatchewan’s the reaper would be left in the swath, and ripened grain would cry in vain for harvesters.
……In conclusion Mr. Mair urges the government to save these animals from extinction. He points out the successful nature of the crossing experiments with domestic cattle made by private parties and sees in this a means of new usefulness of the animal. He advocates the setting apart of a special national Park in the foothills of the Rockies for the breeding of the animals.
Stories of the hunts on the plains, facts as to the habits of the animal are growing fainter as the old hunters follow the bison into the darkness of the past. While there is yet time, Mr. Mair thinks, an effort should be made to collect from these sources all the information possible; and has requested the assistance of the press. The Free Press will be glad to publish anything of interest dealing with the bison.




San Francisco Chronicle May 25 1890
Extinction of the American Buffalo
The Wild Ox Now and When He Herded on a Thousand Hills

Written for the Chronicle
……The American buffalo has at last a chance for existence. Extermination was so closely threatening him that, had no protective measure been adopted, he would in a few years have been as extinct as the dodo or the great English bustard. The protective measure alluded to are those found in a bill favorably reported by the House Public Lands Committee, in which $30,000 are appropriated for the purpose of fitting up a reservation for the propagation of Mr. B. Americanus. The reservation consists of a part of No Man’s Land and the for small islands of Stansbury, Dolph, Gunnison and Carrington, in the Great Salt Lake, these proportions of the public domain being set aside and removed from sale for twenty years. In the report accompanying the bill it is stated that in 1871 there was in existence a single herd of buffalo membrane 4,000,000, but that by wanton and cruel treatment the animal had been almost exterminated, so that now there are scarcely 200 in the country. These 200 are to be gathered together in various districts of the reservation, and the attempt there made not only to propagate them, but also to cross them with domestic cattle.
……National attention being thus called to this animal, once such a feature of the American landscape and of the descriptive writer, a good reason is offered for considering some of its more entertaining features. It should be premised at the outset that the American buffalo does not exist and never did exist. The term is an altogether erroneous one, the buffalo being really the bison, and the bison being as different from the buffalo as the buffalo is from the full-blooded Jersey cow. Still the error is so commonly made and so generally glossed over that it would be the mistake of a pedant to try to set the matter straight. Of the true buffalo there are but two species, that of India and that of South Africa, both being animals of extreme fierceness and strength. The Indian or jungle buffalo is a match for the Bengal tiger, while the Cape buffalo will attack anything-reference, of course, been made in both cases to the wild variety.
……Of the bison there are also two species the European and American. The European bison is the largest existing quadruped of that continent, measuring about ten feet long, exclusive of the tail, and standing nearly six feet high. It was formally as abundant in Europe as its brother was in America, but – again like the American species- it has been almost exterminated. It is now only found in one of the forest of Lithuania, where it is preserved by the Emperor of Russia, but notwithstanding the Czar’s protection, it is gradually dying out. Many years ago the Lithuanian bisons numbered over thousand, but by the year 1872 they had diminished to 528, and in 1880 scarcely numbered 250. In the mammoth days the European bison ranged from the Caucasus to England, even in Caesar’s day the aurochs, or ure-ox, as it was called, abounded in the forest of Germany, Belgium, Gaul and Switzerland.


1890 Bison History American Bison Aurochs


……Like its European relative, the American bison comes from a very old family and used to roam the American plains in company with the mammoth. At that time, too, he was a beast of gigantic proportions, a fossil skull and horn core found in 1803 in Kentucky indicating a spread of horns of nearly twelve feet. The range of the bison and those dim ages must have included the whole of the North American continent, fossil remains having been found from the Yukon river, Alaska to the Pilaratons canyon, California, on the Pacific slope: from Luzerne county, Pa., to the Brunswick Canal, Georgia on the Atlantic, and from Jo Daviess’ county Ill., to San Felipe Tex., In the middle regions.

……The early Spanish and French writers also gave it in an extremely extensive area, but by the middle of the last century its range was as follows: East of the Mississippi the northward extension was limited by the great lakes in the Eastern by the Alleghenies in a general way, though herds wandered through these mountains into the Carolinas. Immense herds also inhabited the valleys of West Virginia and adjacent parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. To the southward it was unknown south of the Tennessee river. It ranged over parts of Arkansas and Texas and across the Rio Grande into Mexico, northward over portions of New Mexico, and thence northwest through the great Salt Lake basin, probably to the Sierra Nevada and the Blue mountains of Oregon. In the central districts it ranged over the headwaters of the Mississippi, east nearly to Lake Michigan, then still east over Northern Indiana and a long Lake Erie into Western Pennsylvania. By the beginning of the present century the range had contracted on every side, the restriction being especially noticeable from the eastward, the animal having retreated entirely west of the Mississippi, excepting in small portions of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Southward it did not pass the Rio Grande, while the Rocky mountain backbone formed its western limit. By 1825 while there had been little change in the northwestern mountainous portions of the United States, the contraction was marked to the east, south and southwest. The line eastward ran through Minnesota, Middle Iowa, and Western Missouri and Arkansas into Texas, then entirely north of the Rio Grande, through a part of New Mexico, more of Colorado, a small part of Utah and much of Idaho.
……By 1850 the shrinkage had been steady, and at approximately the same rate entirely around the range. At that date the range presented a irregularly oval figure extending from little south of Great Slave lake (Canada) into Texas, embracing the whole of the Missouri region above Omaha, and the great plains at large, within eastern boundary through Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Indian Territory and into Texas, and a western one among the mountains of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, and on the plains between New Mexico and Indian Territory.
……In the ensuing twenty-five years the restriction was enormous, at least one half, if not more, of the whole area occupied in 1850 been abandoned, but with a slight gain of territory in Texas and adjoining parts of New Mexico. By 1875 the herds had been cut into two bands by the railroad, with only a few stragglers left isolated in the mountains of Colorado. The southern or “Texas” herd was practically limited to the northward of the railroad, occupying only a small portion of Nebraska, more of Kansas and Colorado, Eastern New Mexico, and large areas in Indian Territory in Texas. The Northern or “Yellowstone” herd occupied uppermost Missouri, the Yellowstone and Milk River region (or nearly all of Montana) and southward to Wyoming.


SFC herd of buffalo xing the missouri river



……In 1876 the limitations of the southern herd was practically Western Kansas, part of the Indian Territory and Northwestern Texas, an area altogether only about equal to that of Kansas. Of the northern herd limitation was the principal source of the Yellowstone. Of the isolated Colorado herd there were a few animals living in the mountains dividing North from Middle Park, variously estimated at from a few dozen to several hundred.
……Writing in May, 1887, Prof. Thomas Donaldson says: “The buffalo, may now be said to be practically extinct in the United States. Here and there in two or three isolated spots in Montana, Colorado and Idaho occasionally a dozen may be seen. The hunter, merciless sportsman, Indian and civilization have all contributed to this result. Recently it was stated that in enterprising ranch man in the vicinity of Fort Peck, Mont., had a herd of seventy-five carefully guarded, and from which that exhibitions and zoological Gardens may expect to supply in the future. Several bands are said to be at present roaming in the northwestern part of the Dominion of Canada. The occasional small bands seen in Idaho and Montana are probably wanderers from these. In May, 1886, the Smithsonian Institution dispatch W. T. Hornaday with a small expedition to Idaho and Montana to secure, if possible, a few specimens of the buffalo for the National Museum.”
……This expedition was thus noticed in Science for June, 1886: “The National Museum sent its chief taxidermist, William T. Hornaday, on a hunting tour through the far West for the purpose of obtaining specimens of the buffalo before the animal becomes extinct in this country. Mr. Hornaday took with him as an assistant A. H. Forney, and attaché of the museum. The party reached Miles City, Mont., May 12th. Some Crow Indians are said to have killed four buffalo on the Musselshell river about six weeks ago. It is firmly believed by many good authorities that there are not now more than from 50 to 100 buffaloes in the whole of Montana, outside the National Park, where there are probably from 200 to 300 head. Hunters lie in wait outside the limits of the National Park, waiting for these animals to cross the line, when they lose no time in dispatching them as soon as possible. A stampede may occur at any time, which may result in all the buffaloes now in the park leaving and if such were the case, very few, if any, would escape.
……“Mr. Hornaday and his party were received by the commanding officer at Fort Keogh and furnished with the six mule team, a driver and escort. The plan or route is to cross the Yellowstone at Miles City, preceding up Sunday creek and Hunter’s creek to its source; thence across to Big Dry river, following it down to the Big Bend; thence across and westward up Big Timber creek, and eventually across to the Musselshell river, which it is proposed to explore almost its whole length. There is said to be a small herd of from eight to twelve buffaloes in southwestern Dakota. Skins of buffalo heads are now valued by taxidermist in Dakota at $50 each. Mr. Hornaday’s expedition resulted in three skeletons of bull buffaloes and some skulls. He found traces of about twenty buffaloes in all of Montana, in these Indians were following closely. Zoological Garden at Philadelphia contains a number of live buffalo, good specimens, which furnish study for artists and naturalist. Within twenty years the buffalo was considered almost inexhaustible. The trade in buffalo robes within five years was more than 100,000 per year, which represented an annual slaughter of that number of animals. Last year it did not exceed 5000, and this year -1886- Western robe dealers are getting there are supplies from the reserve stock in the Eastern market. The Indian and white man combined will have extinguished in a decade the bison.”
According to the great Indian authority George Catlin it is the white man who has been principally responsible for the extinction of the buffalo, while the Indian was occasionally wasteful in his hunting, the buffalo was too valuable an animal for him to devote indiscriminate slaughter.
……“There are, by a fair calculation, “ he writes in 1833, “more than 300,000 Indians who are now subsisted on the flesh of the buffalo, are by those animals supplied with all the luxuries of life which they desire, as they know of none others. The great variety of uses to which they convert the body and other parts of that animal are almost incredible the person has not actually dwelt among these people and closely studied their modes and customs. Every part of their flesh is converted into food, in one shape or another, and on it they entirely subsist. The robes of the animal are worn by the Indians instead of blankets; their skins, when tanned, are used as coverings for their lodges and for their bed; undressed, they are used for constructing canoes, for saddles, for bridles, Parrets, lassoes and thongs. The forms are shaped into ladles and spoons, the brains are used for dressing skins, their bones are used for saddle-trees, for war clubs and scrapers for graining the robes, and others are broken up for marrow-fat which is contained in them. Their sinews are used for strings and backs to their bows, for thread to string their beads and sew their dresses. The feet of the animals are boiled, with their hoofs, for the glue they contain, fastening their arrow-points and many other uses. The hair from the head and shoulders, which is long, is twisted and braided into halters and the tail is used for fly- brush. In this wise do these people convert and use the various parts of this useful animal.”


SFC Indian buffalo surrounded


……It was the demand for buffalo robes by the whites, and the knowledge that these robes could be exchanged whiskey, which, according to Mr. Catlin, led the Indians to kill off the poor creatures by the thousands and tens of thousands, flay them and leave their reddened bodies to the dogs, wolves and buzzards. The same authority states that in his time, from 1830 to 1850, the supply of buffalo robes reached the astounding figures of from 150,000 to 200,000 annually, the greater part of which were taken from animals killed expressly for the robe at a season when the meat was not cured, and for each of which skins the Indians received a pint of whiskey.
Though now but rarely seen, the appearance of the buffalo is so well-known by description and picture that it is hardly worth while to devote any space to that branch of the subject. Still the following notes of Mr. Catlin, who was a close observer of the American bison, will be read with interest; “Their color,” he writes, “is a dark brown, but changing very much as this season varies from warm to cold, their hair or fur, from its great length in the winter and spring and exposure to the weather, turning quite light, and almost to a jet black when the winter coat is shed off and a new growth is shooting out.
……“The buffalo bull often grows to the enormous weight of 2000 pounds, and shakes along and shaggy black mane that balls and great profusion and confusion over his head and shoulders, and often times falling down quite to the ground. The horns are short, but very large, and have but one turned, i.e., they are of simple arch, without the least approach to a spiral form, like those of the common ox, or of the goat species.
……” The female is much smaller than the male, and always distinguishable by the peculiar shape of the horns, which are much smaller and more crooked, turning their points more in toward the center of the forehead.
……“One of the most remarkable characteristics of the buffalo is the peculiar formation and expression of the eye, the ball of which is very large and white and the iris jet black. The lids of the eyes seem always to be strained quite open, and the ball rolling forward and down, so that a considerable part of the iris is hidden behind the lower lid, while the pure white of the eyeball glares over it in an arch in the shape of a moon at the end of its first quarter. Though ordinarily disposed to run rather than to fight, the buffalo bull is one of the most formidable and frightful looking animals in the world when excited to resistance.”



The Chatham Record, NC. Dec 4 1890

Salt Licks.

……Such names as those of Licking River, Big Licks, and the like, in some of the Central States, mark what more curious phenomena to the first settlers of the country west of the Alleghanies. They were places to which the larger game, such as deer and bison, used to resort for a supply of salt. This springs at these points were briny, and the soil about them became like a cake of salt. This the animals used to lick, just as our domestic cattle will lick the ground were salt has been sprinkled. It was from this circumstance that so many places in Ohio and Kentucky got the name of “licks.”
These were favorite hunting places with the Indians and the white settlers. The habits of the animals and their time in visiting the licks were well-known. To lie in wait for herds of deer or bison on their way to the springs was an easy way of securing game. The wholesale slaughter soon frightened those that escaped so that they abandon the springs and the region as well.
……It is said that the bison tracks lead direct to these salt springs from a distance of 150 to 200 miles. They were followed year after year, by generation after generation of the bison, until they were worn so deep and plain as to be traced long after the country was settled.
……The practice of the animals was to drink of the salt waters, to bathe in them, to lick the soil and impregnated with salt and to roll in the mud. It was a medical treatment for disease to which these animals were subject in the fresh pastures of prairie and marsh. After some days of salting the bison returned in good health and spirits, well covered over with a coat of drying, cracking mud.
The “licks” had been the resort of animals from a time earlier than that of deer and bison. In the mud and mire of the springs have been found the remains of mammoth animals belonging to an earlier age of the world than ours. The Big Bone Lick took its name from the gigantic bones found buried in its mud.