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The Courier Journal KY May 10 1896

Millions Once Roamed the Western Plains


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.”