NOW ALMOST EXTINCT
The Courier Journal KY May 10 1896
Millions Once Roamed the Western Plains
NOW ALMOST EXTINCT
Interesting Interview On Buffalo Hunting With Dr. Carver
Few people realize that the buffalo is almost an extinct species. There is not a single herd left, where but a few years ago thousands and sometimes even millions of the shaggy animals blackened the prairies. W. F.Carver is responsible for the death of many bison. For number of years he hunted them on the plains. In shooting them he developed in part what wonderful skill in handling fire-arms which has made him the best all-around shot in the world. To a newspaper representative he told the following story of bison, and how they were formally hunted by the Indians and by the whites:
“before the invasion of civilization the Indian relied almost entirely upon the bison for subsistence. The red man, although daring in his attempts to kill game, was yet the complete slave of the medicine man. How did he ruled them? I will tell you. When the Indians supply of buffalo meat began to give out, or the season came to lay in the winter rations, the medicine man was notified, and he ordered of buffalo dance. If the tribe was a large one, the festivities would often last for weeks, and all sorts of incantations would be indulged in. At the close of the feast the medicine man would gather all kinds of herbs, roots, leaves and grasses and retire to his tent. Exactly what his process of preparing the medicine was no white man has ever found out; but the faith in him was so strong that even the most powerful chief would not be followed by a dozen braves if the medicine man was wrong.
“From time to time the medicine man would come to the door of the tent and announce to the awaiting Chiefs what the mixture had indicated.
“Upon the final announcement that the medicine was right, the whole camp would be broken up and the tribe would start in full force upon the hunt. A few sharp-sighted old scouts would be in the van, and keep the tribe posted by writing in circles of different sizes and points of intersections. What is suitable herd was found the warriors would stop, mount their favorite hunting horses and prepare for the slaughter. The bow was made of hickory wood, about four feet long, covered with a paste made of the sinews of a bison, and stiff enough to serve as a jumping pole. Notwithstanding this strength, the Indian would bend the bow almost double before sending the arrow to the winds. It was strong with the cord which runs from the top of a bisons hump to his tail, this cord being first wrapped with small strings of sinews. The arrow was from thirty to thirty-six in length, almost the size of a lead pencil, tipped with several feathers and having that familiar flint head. From the head grooves were cut in the arrow so as to let the blood flow freely. The great war years sometimes had arrows made of bone, and in later days the white men top the Indians to use steel arrow heads.
“I once killed a bison cow in whose hip bone one of these steel arrow heads had been driven almost out of sight. This shows with what force the arrows are shot. When the Scout gave the signal to advance, the Indians divided into two squads and formed a large circle around the herd of bison. The circle was gradually contracted until the bison sighted the hunters. Then every Indian commence to whoop and howl, with the intention of starting the bison tube running in a circle. The horses were pressed as close as possible to the animals, and the arrows shot between the ribs, through the lungs.
“As the Indians hunted them the race of bison would probably have lasted forever, but about 1866 the white men turned their attention to the shaggy monsters of the plains. Large Eastern firms organized hunting parties and paid shooters $2.50 for each bison where he lay dead on the plains. I then went to Southern Nebraska and became a professional buffalo hunter. The bison consisted of two large divisions, the one living in the South and the other in the North. Their only common feeding ground was along the Republican river and its branches in Nebraska. The Indians were well aware of that fact, and hostile tribes had many a fight for that territory. It was not until 1873 that the Government put in and to this by sending the Pawnees South and the Sioux to their Northern reservations. Prior to that time, we had to do all our hunting at the risk of being scalped at any time.
“Our favorite gun was an army model of the Springfield rifle, forty-five caliber, and loaded with ninety grains of powder. The whites patterned after the Indians and hunted on horseback. Having wagons to haul our game, we did not care to “circle” then as the Indians did. When a herd was located we would mount our best horses and as quietly as possible approach the herd from the leeward side. As soon as they saw us the fund would begin. Although of a low build the bison will make a very interesting race with the horse for ten miles. We would press up on the right flank of the herd and ride so close to the animals that are guns would touch the side when fired. The most deadly shot was to fire quartering through the lungs, so that the animal would bleed to death. In this way we would follow the herd as long as our horses could stand it. On one of these runs I killed hundred and 13 bison, none of which was more than 100 yards apart. In riding back and awful site was presented to the eye. The trail was marked by dead and dying animals. An occasional big bull would have a broken back, so that he could only get up on his forelegs, and nothing could look more furious than his shaking head, with coal black eyes, glaring in a death stare from his shaggy front. We received our pay for the animals dead on the plains, and wagons followed us up quarter the animals and shipped the saddles and tallow to Eastern markets.
“About 1870 hide-hunting began. Prior to this time, little or no attention was paid to the skins; but when the demand for them created high price the meat was allowed to rot upon the plains, and the magnificent herds were wiped out, simply that extravagant taste might be satisfied. With the improvement in firearms an entirely different mode of hunting was adopted. The Springfield army gun was superseded by a Sharp fifty caliber and loaded with 110 grains of powder. The hunter used his horse only in finding a herd. This done, we would go to the leeward side so that the scent of the powder and report would not reach the animals, and find a suitable shelter about 1,000 yards distant from them. I have killed them at a distance of a mile. Hunting in this way we had to be very particular and watch the herd closely. Like a herd of cattle, the bison are always on the go, and are apt to walk out of rifle range in a short time. In moving, however, they always have a leader, and the trick was to kill anyone that started to leave the others off. By thus killing the leaders we could often shoot for an hour from behind one clump of grass. When they had moved out of range, the Skinners would come up, cut the hide in the ordinary way for skinning, tie the animals head to a stake, hitch a team of horses to the hide and pull it off.
“No one will ever know what immense numbers of bison were killed by these hide-hunters, but to my certain knowledge 3,000,000 hides were shipped from the banks of the Frenchman river in one winter. The hide-hunters by a system of fires The bison from the streams, and tell many of them perished and thousands of others were easily killed. At the close of that winter a man could go along the banks of Frenchman for fifty miles, by simply jumping from the carcasses of one bison to that of another. Considering the facts of this kind, it is not surprising that a small tame herd and few old circus animals represent the great herds which less than a quarter century ago black and miles of prairies, as the thunder cloud darkens the sky.”
The Church Weekly, London July 3, 1896
BIG ANIMALS KILLED OFF
Elephants, which are killed off in Africa at the rate of 65,000 a year, cannot long survive this wholesale butchery. The American bison has been almost exterminated; and without it the European bison and Cape buffalo. The giraffe, too, is now so rare as to be worth from L1000 to L1500 each.
Topeka, Kansas, Aug 13, 1896
HOW TO MANAGE BUFFALO WALLOWS.
Editor Kansas Farmer:- Please state, in your columns, how to treat “buffalo wallows” so that the soil will produce as good crop of green as can be grown elsewhere.W. McKay Dougan, M.D.
White Rock, Nev.
The editor of KANSAS FARMER has no experience with buffalo wallows in Nevada, but submits a few remarks as to their treatment in Kansas. Persons who saw buffaloes in their freedom on the prairies, as they existed in Kansas a quarter of a century ago, know that they were much given to wallowing, either in the dust or in the mud. Whether this was to rid themselves of lice, or for some other purpose, does not matter in this discussion. After a rain, the traveler along one of the transcontinental trails or roads would find the buffaloes rolling in the soft mud, much like a horse rolls. Away from the roads they would wallow, one after another, in the muddy depressions known, then as now, as buffalo wallows. In dry weather the bottoms of these wallows were wrought into dust instead of mud, and the wallowing was then less observed on the hard trails but was scarcely less frequent in the wallows.
The result of the wallowing in the mud was the complete puddling of the bottoms of the places frequented whenever the soil was of a nature to puddle. These puddled basins were almost water-tight, allowing but slow seepage. As the water dried up in them the moisture which raised from below brought with it the soluble alkaline salts and left them at the surface, as it, too, was evaporated. In many cases the action of the frost of winter broke up the puddled surface and allowed the moisture to pass more easily downward, but with the repetition of the wallowing the puddled condition was renewed and the alkaline salts were again brought to the surface as before. If thus came about that the soil of the buffalo wallows is of different texture and different composition from that around them. That it is less productive every farmer who has experience with wallows knows.
In seeking a remedy, it is well, if possible, to discover and remove the cause — a truism of which it is scarcely necessary to remind our correspondent, who is a medical man.
The first thing to do is, to fill up the wallows, or, if possible, to provide drainage. In some way water must be prevented from accumulating and standing in them and drying up in them.
If but few and not very large wallows are to be filled, a common slip scraper may be used, care being exercised to avoid making other water-holding depressions in obtaining soil to fill those now in existence. If much of this work is to be done the writer has found most effective a land grader made as follows: Take lumber, two pieces 2×10 inches, 16 feet long ; four pieces 2×8 inches,2 feet long; two pieces 2×8 inches, 21/2 feet long, two pieces2x8 inches 41/2 feet long. Bolt to one side of each of the sixteen-foot pieces a strip of iron or steel, say two inches wide, in such a way as to project half an inch beyond the edge. With these ironed edges down, fasten the sixteen-foot pieces in position by spiking the two-foot pieces between, making all flush at the upper edges. With four iron rods, each twenty-nine inches long , secure the 2×10’s in place, passing the rods through them near the lower edges of the cross-pieces. Bolt the two two and a half foot pieces across the top at the ends of the sixteen-foot pieces. Bolt the two four and a half foot pieces across the middle, allowing them to project one foot in front of the grader. Fasten about 300 pounds of stone or other weight on the front ends of these four and a half foot pieces. Hitch to this four horses, attaching the evener to chains or ropes extending to the top cross-pieces at the ends of the grader. When loading this grader, stand on the rear ends of the four and a half foot cross-pieces. When unloading get off. Of course the soil to be moved should be first plowed.
With such a grader buffalo wallows may be filled rapidly and easily and without much liability of making other depressions.
Such filling will usually, but possibly not always, secure the wallows. If the spots have become strongly alkaline and so puddled that the soil runs together at every rain, it sometimes happens that the amount of fresh soil required to fill the depressions is insufficient to effect a cure. In such cases some farmers in central Kansas have resorted to sand and manure as remedies, with good success. Twelve loads of sand and twenty-five loads of manure per acre will generally bring this soil into good condition. It will be well to continue to get vegetable matter into the soil each year by sowing clover or alfalfa, by plowing under green crops, cornstalks, etc. Such treatment is reputed to be effective for all alkali spots as well as for buffalo wallows.
The New York Times
New York, New York Oct 4, 1896
Few persons of sensibility can look at this picture of the pair of bisons in the Central Park collection without regret, for they are of a race that has almost died out. Probably no finer example of the bison can be found in or out of captivity than the bull now owned by this city, and which considerately presented himself a few mornings ago to be ‘taken” by the photographer of THE NEW YORK TIMES.
In the National Museum at Washington there is a fine stuffed specimen of the bison, but it is not a better example than the living one at Central Park. The bull and its mate were presented to the Park Commissioners several years ago by the late Col. Austin Corbin, as the best of the herd he had collected, with the intention to try the experiment of breeding the bison in captivity and thus prevent the utter extermination of the race. Philip Holmes, in whose care these beast have been since they were turned over to the Park Commission, says that when received they were poor and spiritless. With good care, shelter, and abundance of food they have always had good appetites, have never needed the attention of a medicine man, have constantly improved in weight, and are now in prime condition.
There are still in possession of the Corbin estate, on a range in New Hampshire, about fifty buffaloes. These were presented by Col. Corbin to the Central Park zoology collection. Arrangements have been made to transfer thirty of the animals to the care of the city, to be added to the gifts already made, and for the present the buffaloes will be confined in an inclosure at Van Cortlandt Park. Later on the twenty remaining animals will also be transferred to the city, which will then have the largest collection of bison owned by any corporation in the world.
By and by, when the plans of the New York Zoological Society meat with the approval of the Park Commissioners, the bison herd and all the other examples in the Central Park collection will be permanently placed in Bronx Park. The society is ambitious to establish the institution upon a broad basis, and to make it, with the approval and support of the public, a credible collection and an honor to the city. About all that it is now seeking to do is to get a foothold in Bronx Park, and the city has been asked to concede this privilege of occupation of a part of the park south of Pelham Bay Park Road.
When the application of the Zoological Society has been carefully considered and granted, with stipulations that will fully protect the city in its control of the Bronx Park for the chief purpose for which it was acquired, it is probable that the increased herd of bison will be provided with a fine home: one in which it will, while confined in sheltered, have abundance of liberty within the bounds of its inclosure. As the pair now in the Central Park pen, a small one, have improved since received, it is not unreasonable to expect that under still better conditions the larger herd which the Commissioners are to receive will enable visitors to see specimens of the largest American beast in their very best possible estate.
Looking at this great, shaggy, rather dull creature, the capers forth from his den into the sunlight and into the range of the camera, he becomes a pathetic object when it is remembered that he is one of a remnant of possibly not more than 1,000 buffaloes left out of the many millions that roamed over the far Western prairies less than thirty years ago. There is a record at Washington that buffaloes were seen in what is now the District of Columbia as long ago as 1612. The fact is admissible, even if the record be doubled, for since that date the bison has been found everywhere in the Union except those States lying to the westward of the Rocky Mountains. The Indians to dwelt near the coast wore robes of bison skins, and their medicine men made themselves impressive under hideous mask contrived out of heads of bisons preserved, with the horns and mane retained, as terrible to look upon as when their original wearers were alive.
The buffalo was not scarce when Daniel Boone, complaining of the crowded condition of the Virginia settlements, pushed over the mountains to find a quiet home in Kentucky. He found immense herds of buffalo in the valleys of East Tennessee, between the spurs of the Cumberland Mountains, and other men who shared his ambition to enjoy wider hunting fields kept their lodges well supplied with robes and buffalo meat for many years before the settlements crowded the bison back in search of pastures not yet visited by the hunter with a gun.
Fossils and Fossilization -“The American Naturalist” December 1896
The internecine strife of wild animals may itself result in the accidental death of numbers, as when the hunters
—the carnivora—pursue their prey and drive them into lakes or rivers or, perhaps, force them over precipices. Dr. Hayden has observed similar occurrences, and in the same place where he records this observation corroborates the interesting suggestion of Lyell as to animals meeting their death by falling through thin-ice. He says: “The wolves watch the deer, antelope and other feebler animals as they go down to the streams to drink, and all over the wide bottoms are the skeletons of these animals in a more or less perfect condition. It is not an uncommon occurrence for a band of wolves to attack an aged buffalo too old to offer a successful resistance. He must always betake himself to the river, where he is not unfrequently drowned, or is destroyed by the wolves on a sand bar or island. Annually thousands of buffaloes are drowned in attempting to cross the Missouri on the ice, as it is breaking up in the spring. Their bodies have been seen floating down the Missouri at Fort Union and Fort Clark by hundreds, and lodging on some of the islands or sand bars in the river. In the spring of 1858 several thousand bodies of buffaloes passed down the Kansas River below the mouth of Solomon’s Fork and were carried into the Missouri.”
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec 14, 1896
ANTELOPE ISLAND HERD
History of the Now Famous Buffalo Remnant
HOW THEY WERE PRESERVED.
Were Formerly the Property of Buffalo Bill Glassman, and Passed from Him to the Island Improvement Company –Thrive and Multiply in the Seclusion of Their Home in the Lake Where They Have Unlimited Freedom of Range—Surveyors of a Great Race
The herd of buffaloes to which wide public attention has been drawn by the recent tragic fate of one of its bulls, has been grazing on Antelope Island for three years. It is owned by the Island Improvement company, which is composed of John E. Dooly and White & Sons. When Buffalo Bill Glassman gave up his ambition to replenish the West with the American bison, the Improvement company took the little herd he had gathered at Lake Point and transported it to the island. The Antelope range is admirably suited to its wants, and on the nutritious grasses abounding there it has fed and fattened. Though nominally in captivity, it’s freedom is only limited by the waters that surround the island and by the stout fences built to protect the cultivated spots on the ranch from being overrun. Unlike the elk that swim away from the island, the buffaloes have made no effort to escape. Their domain is large enough to satisfy their migratory instinct. From end-to-end it is nearly thirty miles, and at its widest point it is six miles across. It has a surface buried enough to suit the most adventurous buffalo: nature has provided watering places in most convenient spots: delightful depressions abound in which the herd may wallow to its hides content, and altogether Antelope is an ideal _____ for semi-civilized bison.
The herd has grown over there until now it numbers nearly twenty. Four calves were born this year, and the interest of visitors to the island is most excited by these shy young buffaloes. The domestic affairs of the herd have undergone two upheavals during its life on Antelope. These experiences have corroborated the theory, disputed by some buffalo authorities, that one bull rules the herd and that the question of supremacy is settled from time to time on the field of honor. The head of the family does not long enjoy his championship in peace. Some young, ambitious bull challenges him to a contest, and the buffalo code requires him to accept forthwith. He always does, for his cows are looking at him and even if he could remain among them without fighting, which he could not, he would henceforth be despised. So he locks horns with his rebellious antagonist, and the fight goes on to a finish. Either the challenger is subdued, or the reigning bull is driven from the herd, and there after is an outcast. The bull and command at the time the herd was placed on the island was driven out about a year later by a fierce young gallant, who held sway but a year. The struggle in which he was defeated lasted for two days, and then he, too, became a wanderer. It was one of these deposed bulls that was killed in the desperate combat of Tuesday last. The present king of the herd is a mammoth fellow, one of the finest specimens of his kind, but he will not be allowed to remain much longer unmolested in his sovereignty. Already there are indications that the younger Bulls are growing restive under his rule, and one of them may any day rebel, and when he does a struggle will follow that will be worth encountering the perils of a voyage to the battle-ground to see. This system of rotation in office is the way the buffalo has of applying the principle of the survival of the fittest, and is held by philosophers to have been designed to ensure the vigor of the offspring.
REMNANT OF THE RACE.
The disappearance from the plains of the race of which this small bunch is one of few remnants, was caused by the greatest slaughter of wild animals the world has ever seen. It has been said by a statistical expert that “of all the quadrupeds that have lived upon the earth probably no other species has ever marshaled such in innumerable host as those of the American bison.” Before 18 70 millions upon millions of buffaloes moved over the plains from Manitoba to Mexico. In one great herd that was encountered in Kansas by one of the first trains that crossed that State, it is estimated that there were 4,000,000 of these animals, whose destruction was soon caused by the value of their hides. After the war an army of hunters spread over the feeding grounds of the buffalo and from River Bluffs and hilltops hidden sharpshooters brought down beast after beast until whole herds lay dead. So vigorous was this execution during the four years succeeding 1870, that live buffaloes had become scarce, but everywhere along the old trails skinned carcasses were rotting. In 1870 the large profits of the previous years were no longer obtainable, but the slaughter was continued, and till nearly all the producers of robes were gone. Now only a few hundred remain. Most of these are in National and city parks, or like the Dooly herd, are held by private owners. One of the largest of the herds is that of the Austin Corbin estate at Newport, N.H. Until recently there were ninety buffaloes in this preserve, but thirty of them were about a month ago given to the city of New York and placed in Van Cortlandt park. The Corbin estate consists of 28,000 acres, and in addition to the buffaloes it contains 1200 deer, 1000 elk, 500 wild boars and 150 moose.