1894


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The Galveston Daily News Aug 6 1894

EXTERMINATION OF THE BISON

A THRILLING STORY OF AN ENCOUNTER A DOZEN YEARS AGO

……An Indian Guide’s Remarkable Coolness in the Face of the Oncoming Herd-How Hundreds of Thousands of Buffaloes Were Killed Within a Few Months-Sportsmen, Pot Hunters, and Indians Began the Work and the Railroad Finished It.
……Lieut. J.M.Partelle, in The St. Louis Globe Democrat.
Before the Northern Pacific Railroad had crossed the continent west of the Missouri River, the section of country founded by that River, the section of country bounded by that river on the east and the Rockies on the west, and stretching from the Platte in Nebraska northward to the British line, was the greatest stamping ground for buffaloes in the whole Northwest. The country was more or less hostile and those days, and the Indians, who had been the best guardians of the bison until white pot hunters came among them, soon gained the civilized idea of slaughter, and from that time the doom of this representative American game animal was positively assured.
But the greatest blow dealt the bison herds of the Northwest was the completion of the northern Pacific track west from Bismark to the Rocky Mountains. The road practically divided the herds (for a bison will never, unless forced, crossed the iron of the railroad track,) and those to the south were soon swallowed up in the general slaughter waged by Indians, pot, hide, and tongue hunters, foreign sportsmen, and others who were out to kill anything they saw on-site.
……This was during the winter of 1882-3. The buffaloes to the north were in many scattered bands, but there was one great herd of not less than 75,000 head which had, found a temporary refuge in the triangle formed by the Musselshell, Missouri, and Yellowstone rivers in Montana, and as yet they had not been “smelled out” by either red or white hunters.
But they were as surely doomed as though already killed, for the railroad iron cut them off from their southern range, and the Indians of the Canadian Northwest, as well as those of our own country, barred their retreat into the far north, and so they were hemmed in between the two with no possibility of scape in either direction.
……To illustrate, in a few words, the remarkable destruction of that section alone, it will be only necessary to say that this last great herd was completely wiped out of existence in less than four months, and before the close of the year there were but a few singles and pairs left as fugitives in the vast country where but a year or two before they could have been counted almost by the hundreds of thousands. The shipping figures from two points on the Yellowstone at the end of the session, Glendive and Miles City, show 800,000 buffalo hides sent from the former and 185,250 skins of elk, antelope, and deer from the latter place.
……It chanced, at the time mentioned, that the writer, with a small detachment of soldiers, was crossing from the Missouri River country to the Yellowstone, and we came across, almost daily, numerous bands of Gros-Ventra, Piegan, Blackfeet, and other Indians, all hurrying to the slaughter of the noble animals on the Musselshell.
……Our scout, or guide, was a Crow Indian named Two Moons, and, one day, while threading our way through bad lands painted buttes and broken coolees, a small herd of about 600 bison came rushing into view around of bluff not more than 200 yards distant, and with head down and paint-brush tails erect, they came plowing on directly toward us in the wildest sort of confusion. A genuine stampede was probably in full operation, and the soldiers, not waiting for orders, lost no time in placing a safe and reasonable distance between themselves and the threatened danger. They quickly shied off to the right, and I felt it my duty, at this “impending crisis” to keep as close to the heels of my fleeing comrades as the speed of my horse would permit.
……Two Moons, the guide, either in a spirit of bravado, or possibly under pressure of the exciting moment, set perfectly rigid on his pony, and neither animal nor writer stirred a muscle until the plunging herd was almost upon them. Then like a flash, the Indian with his Winchester forward, and the ping of the bullet could be heard as they rattled about the heads and shoulders of the leading bison. The ruse was now apparent. The steam of the lead cause the leaders to separate, for without halting or pausing in their mad rush, the herd divided as if cut with a knife, and went sweeping by like the wind, of molety on each side of the scout.
……The most remarkable thing about the whole performance was the quiet and trackable manner in which the guides pony conducted himself while all this fuss an uproar was going on about him. He neither grew excited nor rebelled, but remained as steady as a rock in his place in till his master gave him leave to move.
In a few minutes the last of the fleeing bison were well to the rear, and they soon disappeared beyond a neighboring knoll, with the speed of an express train.
……While watching them and debating whether a chase would be worth the trouble, from behind the bluff where the buffaloes had first appeared now came a second band of bison, (about 60 and all, ) with a dozen well mounted Cheyenne bucks in hot pursuit. As before, the animals came directly toward us, but our shouting send hallooings turned them aside, and they shied off to the left, entering the jaws of a rough, broken ravine, which was precisely what their red pursuers wanted. The redeemed was a sort of rift in the bad lands which practically led nowhere, but which we after word discovered narrowed and closed in in till it ended in a steep, impassable pocket, with no outlet except by the original way of entry.
……The Indians shouted to us as they rushed by, and, rather interested in the outcome-as I suspected the nature of the ravine-I left the Sergeant with the detachment, and, taking the guide with me, followed swiftly on the heels of the flying Cheyennes.
……Game and hunters soon disappeared in the twinings and intertwinings of the gorge, and, as it was an exceedingly rocky and difficult trail, we took our time and practically ‘made haste slowly.” Here again came into play the wonderful instinct and genuine “horse sense” of the cayuse plains pony. My mount was of the same breed as the one ridden by the guide, and I was really astonished to see with what ease the hardy little brutes made their way through the most inaccessible places. Either on the plains or amount bad lands they are equally at home, and whether in the broad glare of day or in the depths of night, they have never been known to lose a trail after once having found it. An American-bred horse will plunge ahead fearlessly, and not infrequently snapped a leg in some half concealed prairie dog hole: but the cayuse pony instinctively dodges such pitfalls and keeps his rider dodging them too, unless the latter is content to lose the saddle or perhaps put up with a broken neck.
……We left our ponies to take their own course, and every once in a while could see the Cheyennes far ahead darting in and out of the cafions windings, with the retreating bison still in the lead. How the red men ahead of us ever got over the ground so quickly was an unsolved mystery. When we had approached to within half a mile of them we saw the hunters pause, consult a few minutes, gesticulate wildly, and then they went on again very slowly. Reaching the point where the consultation had been held, nothing was in sight. Neither Indians nor bison were in view, and all was as still as the grave.
……But here the course began narrowing, and, besides that many huge boulders and rough cuts on every hand, the walls were steep and ragged, and covered with scrub cottonwoods and stunted growths, which completely concealed everything ahead of us.
……Narrower and narrower became the gorge, and at last we pause to listen. There was scarcely a sound in the air, but this intense stillness became suddenly broken by a series of rapid shots and wild yells, accompanied by a thundering, rumbling noise which was almost deafening. The tumult rapidly grew louder, and then, just in front of us, from out of the depths of the cafion came the buffalo herd like the wind, directly toward us. Some were bleeding, many were wounded, and others were limping badly.
……Scrambling as well as we could behind boulders and corners, we had just reached refuge in time, for the now thoroughly maddened and stampeded buffaloes, never pausing for rocks, brush, or impossible trails, came helter-skelter onward, with heads down and tails up as usual, passing us and one solid black mass toward the outlet of the gorge.
…….It never seemed possible that living brutes could travel over such rough ground with such speed, but the difficulties of the trail never seem to concern them in the least, for, as a matter of fact, the rear ones crowded the forward ones with such persistency and so rapidly that they had to move quickly or else be trampled under foot.
……After this thundercloud had passed, with feelings of great relief we went on up the cafion to see how the Indians had fared. It proved to have been of disastrous encounter for the Cheyennes, as many of them were limping and bleeding as badly as the stampeded buffaloes. A survey of their free frontier circus grounds discovered seven dead buffaloes, three wounded Indians (one of them quite seriously) and six ponies killed or maimed.
……It appears that after cornering the bison in the further most depth of the cafion the red hunters had attempted to block their passage out, and then commenced firing on them. They imprisoned brutes stood this punishment for a while, but at last, in sheer desperation and maddened by wounds, they turned on their assailants and charged their way out in true calvary style, with the loss of seven of their number. One of the seven slain bisons prove to be in ancient old bull that showed the marks and scars of eighteen wounds he had received in his long battle with humanity. This fact was discovered when he was skinned and cut up. Hump, the Cheyenne buck who led the assault, and who had dodged the sharp horns of at least a dozen of the animals, declared it was the pluckiest thing he had ever seen buffalo do.
……We assisted the wounded and dismounted Indians back to their camp, which happened to be about three miles distant from the bluff where they first came dashing into view, and after our Royal feast of toasted steaks and pleasant nights rest, next morning, bright and early, we resumed our journey toward the Yellowstone, which we reached in good season and without further incident.