The Nebraska State Journal
Lincoln, Nebraska Feb 21, 1932
Last Nebraska Buffalo Hunter relates Narrow Escapes of Early Bison Hunts
BY JOHN H. KEARNES.
IN RELATION to contemporaneous history, Nebraska is so youthful that it seems incredible that the army of professional buffalo hunters, who once followed the thundering herds across her plains in a war of extermination against the shaggy beasts, should now be reduced to practically the last man.
But after tireless investigation and searching correspondence during the past few years, John W. Cranmer, 81, of Auburn, is forced to that conclusion, and also to the realization that he is that last man.
For John W. Cranmer hunted bison on a commercial scale in the early seventies and” the scene of his activities was in Harlan county, Nebraska, from 1871 to 1875. From time immemorial, that section had been the favorite grazing ground of the bison. Its lush, nourishing grasses, clear flowing streams, and the shelter afforded by the valleys between its numerous rolling hills attracted and held great herds of the animals.
So fixed were their habitation there, and so large were their numbers, that it lured the Arapahoes, from the far west, the Kiowas and Comanches from the far south, and the ferocious Sioux of the north, who battled fiercely with the native Pawnees for possession of this most desirable hunting ground and jointly they made a common cause against the white men who penetrated the country for the purpose of killing game with the result that it was truly sanguinary ground.
In the early seventies, because of the building of the Union Pacific railroad to the north, and the Kansas Pacific to the south, tremendous herds of buffalo were penned in and Isolated on the great range lying along the Republican valley. There they grazed the year around.
North and south of this district buffalo hunters were active in their war of decimation of the herds but those in the Republican valley were molested only by the Indians who killed them for food and (ie necessities that their hides and tallow afforded. White men who intruded, individually, or in groups were ruthlessly slaughtered until they yielded sovereignty to the red men,
Massacre Starts Reprisal
This state of affairs continued until the summer of 1869, when a party of government surveyors, headed by a civil engineer named Buck, were attacked and killed by marauding Sioux. General Carr, noted Indian fighter, was then in command at Fort McPherson and had already made several successful campaigns against the murderous Sioux who had- invaded the Republican valley. As reprisal for the Buck party massacre, he organized a punitive expedition, assisted by Col. W. F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill,” and Major Frank North, with his band of Pawnee Indian scouts
After a fatiguing scouting expedition the Sioux were finally located in camp on the Platte river, July 11, 1869, surprised and the braves nearly annihilated, while hundreds of their squaws, children and ponies were captured. This expedition practically put an end to attacks upon whites by Indians in the Republican valley although the latter made sporadic murderous forays into the territory for several years afterward.
“It was the establishment of the townsite of Republican City by D. John McPherson of Brownville, that drew me to, Harlan county and made a buffalo hunter out of me,” said Mr. Cranmer, at his comfortable home in Auburn, while in a reminiscent mood. “I was engaged to haul lumber from Brownville to Republican City, a distance of over 200 miles, to nut up the first frame building a store there.
Takes Bride to Homestead.
“It became the nucleus of the town and was surrounded by a stockade for protection from hostile-Indians. I liked the country and homesteaded a quarter section of land about a mile and a half north of the townsite. I built a rude shack on it, and there took my bride. Our prairie home was 12 by 14 in dimensions, and the roof was so low that I could reach the rafters with my upstretched hands. We had a front and back door and a half window for light and ventilation.
“Money was scarce in that section at the time. Buffalo hides and wolf pelts were legal tender the former at $1 and the latter at $3 apiece. To get money we had to hunt, for there were no crops to bring us in any cash.
“I joined one party of buffalo hunters as killer and skinner. Our best shot was Samuel Skeel, a hunchback, who was a dead shot and could kill thirty to fifty buffalo a day. We had to work bunches of buffalo by his “set,” and he would shoot a number of them, move to another “set,” while we skinned the carcasses of his victims, pegged the green hides out to dry, to prevent their being “blown” by flies. At that time, the air was so dray that in an hour the fleshy sides of the hides would be glazed over like they had been varnished and were ready to be put in a wagon for transportation to market.
“One of our hunts was very unique and exciting. It was for live buffalo calves. Alexander Starry, of Brownville, had ambitions to start a buffalo farm and raise the animals in captivity and domesticate them. He brought in an outfit consisting of several wagons fitted with racks in which to transport the captured calves to Nemaha county, and also several fresh domestic cows to act as wet nurses for the foster baby bisons on the way back to the Missouri river.
Old Cows Attack.
“Starry was an expert rider. He had equipped himself with a long pole to which a large iron hoop had been securely fastened. We would cut out from the herd a buffalo cow with a calf and he would ride hell-bent for election, snare the calf in the hoop and we would have to run in and dismount, tied the calf’s legs and let It lie on the ground.
“Of course the old cow would go crazy mad. – She would charge at us and we had many hairbreadth escapes from being trampled and gored. Several of our horses were gored. But her rage was only short-lived and she would return to her calf, nuzzle it, in an effort to get it on its feet. After a while it would seep through her thick skull that the calf was helpless and she would then graze away to the main herd, utterly indifferent to the fate of her progeny. Then the calf could be safely lifted into the calf pen on the wagon.
“Mr. Starry succeeded in capturing a number of the animals and transporting them to his Nemaha county farm, where they were placed in a large pasture with tame cattle. But his venture was not as successful as he had figured it would be for there was mixed breeding and in course of time the buffalo strain was absorbed in that of the domestic cattle. For many years, however, in the valley of the Nemaha could be seen cows and bulls that had pronounced humps while their horns and colors; red, white, black or roan were typical of the tame species.
“Even though the expedition of General Carr against the Sioux had its salutary effect on the hostile Indians, we never felt quite secure from attack. We were constantly on the alert for Sioux. Small bands did attack and burn buffalo hunter camps and one time we returned to our own to find tents and wagons burning and see the hostile band of Indians disappearing over a distant hill.
Endangered By Fog
“During the winter hunting our great dread was of the sudden and dense fogs that would envelop the whole region and cause us to lose our way in the hills. We could not get our location from the sun, nor were there landmarks to give us a sense of direction and many of the hunters, thus lost, either perished or suffered extreme hardships.
“On one of our hunts, we came across a camping party of distinguished Omaha men. It was guided by “Buffalo Bill,” and they had as guest of honor Albert Bierstadt, great painter of western scenes and an artist who had an international reputation. He was out to get native color and atmosphere” for future work and they were seeing to it that he had all the color and atmosphere that was available.
“Bierstadt had a reputation in our section that he had won in an episode on a previous visit in 1863. According to current tradition, on his return from California, where he had painted his famous canvas, ‘The Great Trees of California,’ (painted 1876) he had stopped at the Oak Grove ranch, a mile west of Superior (NE), hoping to make a sketch thereof a wounded buffalo.
“To satisfy him, a huge buffalo bull was cut out from the herd. A camp table and seat had been rigged up for him, and on these, he placed his sketching material and prepared to sketch. Then the buffalo bull was shot and wounded, but it did not seem to mind, and stood, stupidly gazing; at the expectant artist who wanted action.
“Shoot him again. He’s not acting ferocious enough.’ yelled Bierstadt to the rifleman. The latter shot again, this time inflicting a painful wound which caused the buffalo to snort great gobs of blood. It also awakened the animal, and thinking that Bierstadt, sitting in front of him, had caused his pain he gave a fierce snort and with the speed of a cyclone and in terrific rage shot toward the artist.
He Wanted Action And Got It.
“The anger-aroused bull hit the frail table, scattering it and the drawing materials in every direction, charging at the artist with all the vigor and fury of its incensed nature. Bierstadt was frightened out of his wits and was making the sprinting record of his adventurous life. The bull overtook him and was snorting gouts of blood from its nostrils on the garments of the fleeing artist when a rifleman fired and the well-directed shot caused the bull to drop in its tracks, just in time to save the affrighted artist from a horrible death.
“When Bierstadt had gained sufficient breath he remarked: ‘He was ferocious enough that time. No more buffalo for me.
But in the hunting party managed by Buffalo Bill, he regained his nerve and made another sketch of a wounded buffalo which he painted on canvass. It was so realistic that it was copied as illustration of the American bison in geographies, school readers and histories for the enlightenment of the youth of that generation.
As I have stated before, our shack was located on the plateau north of Republican City. Pawnee Indians had established a permanent camp in the bend on the opposite bank of the river from Republican City. All trails, north, east and west, passed by our cabin. In the fall of 1873, the Pawnees, braves, squaws, and pappooses, went on the grand hunt. They were picturesquely mounted, garbed and painted and I shall never forget the barbaric splendor of their parade as they passed our door.
Hunters Become Hunted.
“With characteristic bravado they boasted they were going to hunt their hated enemy, the Sioux, but, as it happened, the Sioux hunted them. The Pawnees went over into Hitchcock county, and eleven miles west of where Culbertson is now located, they established camp. They were spied by Sioux, who, massing their ponies on a distant hillside deceived the Pawnees into believing the bunch of horses were buffalo, and with a wild, glad whoop, they set out on the hunt. When they had put some distance between them and the camp, one band of the Sioux swooped down on it, killing old men, squaws, and pappooses without discrimination, scalping and mangling the bodies of their victims which soon strewed the ground.
“The advancing Pawnees heard the clamor of war whoops, the screams of the tortured wounded, and the yelping of dogs back in their camp and they started back in its defense, closely pursued by another band of Sioux. There was a fierce battle in which the Pawnees were defeated and robbed of their ponies.
“A few days afterward members of the vanquished band, humbled to the dust, began to pass by our cabin, singly, by twos and finally in groups. They were several days in passing and any of them were wounded and half starved. At our place they would leave the trail and come up to the cabin, to peer into the half window. It took all the fortitude of Mrs. Cranmer, then a young bride, to keep from screaming when the painted faces of the savages pressed against the glass. But they did not molest her. Among the last of the fleeing Indians was a squaw, who dropped exhausted at the door. She was taken to the barn, where a bed was made for her, and given food and nursed back into strength. Finally, she was taken to the permanent Indian camp in a wagon, but she gave no expression of gratitude for this kindly treatment.
McPherson Gives Jobs
“Their crushing defeat was a hard blow to the Pawnees, who returned foodless and bereft of robes and ponies to their camp. But relief was in sight, Charles McPherson, who kept the store, had accumulated several thousand green buffalo and wolf pelts. He wanted, them tanned. He negotiated with the braves and they finally piloted their squaws to the hide warehouse and in stolid dignity pointed to the bundles of hides, directing the squaws to shoulder them, and take them to the camp for tanning.
“In the meantime, the buffalo hunters had brought in plenty of meat, which was given to the Indians and the old squaws ‘Jerked’ it for winter supplies. They would cut the raw meat into thin strips,’ parboil the strips in a huge kettle, and then dip the strips in salty brine and hang them up on rawhide lines to dry.
“Meantime the camp was transformed into a hive of industry so far as the squaws were concerned. They tanned the green hides and the process was an interesting one. The skins were stretched taut on the ground, fleshy side up, and the squaws, with steel blades fastened to the thigh bones of elk forming a tool that looked like a small garden hoe, would strip all the fleshy and muscular part of the hide off. This took about two days of patient and arduous work.
“After this, the hides would be dressed with a preparation of soap. tallow and salt rolled up and left to cure for a few days. An old squaw told me that before soap and salt were available they used buffalo brains for a dressing, and procured far better results.
Soften Hides by Rubbing
“In a few days the hide was again unrolled, stretched on a frame resembling a quilting frame, fleshy side up and all the dressing was scraped away. This was done with a steel blade resembling a chopping knife without a handle. The tough tissue of the hide was scored and roughened after which the hide was worked up and down over a tightly stretched rawhide rope, fastened to trees, until it was as son and pliable as cloth.
“Winter buffalo hunting was accompanied by great hardships. Sudden blizzards would catch the hunters on exposed ground, far from camp or other habitation. The resourceful men would wrap themselves in the hides of the fresh killed buffalo, He down on the lee side of a wagon or a hill, and let the snow drift over them, being perfectly comfortable until the blizzard passed. Samuel Skeels and a number of other hunters saved their lives in this manner during a memorable storm in November 1872 when scores of less experienced hunters and settlers were caught and perished in the great storm.
“During the rigor of winter hunting, we also used to cut square strips of green buffalo hide and convert them into moccasins. These we fit’ ted over our boots and tied them with rawhide thongs high up on our legs. They were clumsy, but warm, and comfort rather than appearance was what we were after.
“It is hard for folk of this generation to realize the severity of the blizzards we had in those days. The land was treeless and there was nothing to break the force of the fierce winds that swept over the plains. The atmosphere, too, was dry, and the snow was as fine as flour and very dry.
Recalls 1872 Blizzard
“I well remember well the blizzard that occurred Easter Sunday. April 1, 1872. A neighbor and wife had called on us to spend the day. The morning was one or the most delightful one could experience, sunny and balmy, but by 3 o’clock the temperature had risen so that it was uncomfortably warm indoors and we all went out to enjoy our conversation in the shady side of the house.
‘About 4 o’clock a sudden darkness fell. In the west, we could see a wall of leaping flames as fire swept over the prairie. High winds came up and it seemed in a moment that the air was filled with smoke, ashes, and dust; The wall of the flame came leaping in our direction with the speed of an express train. Almost in an instant rain began to fall, followed quickly by a sleet storm. We implored our neighbors not to venture to return to their home but to remain with us in safety. Lamps were lighted and the roar of the storm continued. At six, the blizzard was upon us. The sultry heat, the ash, and dust clouded wind, the rain and sleet had given way to a gale of powdery, dry snow, and the temperature had dropped to below zero.
Almost every moment for three days and nights the howling gale and swirling snow continued, venturing out, one could not see an object three feet ahead of him. But on the second day there was a slight lull and increase in visibility and we men went out to find how our livestock was faring. We found cow embedded in a drift, we lifted her out and tied her to the sheltered side of the barn. We found a heifer under a mound of snow and took her into the house where we built a temporary stall for her.
Dig Chickens Out of Ice
“Here and there we could see small hummocks from which the ice-encased heads of chickens were sticking. We would knock off the ice, dig them out of their snow igloos and take them to the house for shelter. During the duration of the storm, our tiny shack sheltered six human beings, two dogs, the heifer, and a dozen chickens. Food and fuel, however, were plentiful and we all got along about as comfortably as the inhabitants of Noah’s ark.
“Our barn was a dugout with a log superstructure extending about six feet above the ground and roofed over with coarse prairie grass and dirt. We had six head of horses in the stalls. During the progress of the blizzard, the fine snow had drifted into the cracks of the logs but the horses trampled and packed the snow under their hoofs as fast as it drifted in. On the morning of the fourth day, we found the floor was raised so that the backs of the beasts were jammed up against the roof without the merest fraction of an inch to spare. We literally had to mine the packed snow from under, their hoofs to release them from their packed condition and get them out of doors.
“Not by the widest stretch of Imagination could the buffalo hunters of those days be considered Beau Brummels. We wore our hair and beards long and unkempt. We dressed in the roughest manner and we all looked tough characters. It was the latter fact that one day won me an undeserved reputation for possessing a cool nerve under fire.
Recalls “Wild” Kearney
“Our nearest railroad point was Kearney. We hauled cured buffalo hides and tallow there for shipment and brought back loads of supplies. Kearney was the usual frontier town, wild and wooly, not so much in the character of its citizenship, as it was in the atmosphere of the cowboys. This was in the summer of 1874, when the herders were out-raging the farmers by permitting range stock to trample the cultivated fields, and when they would ride into Kearney and terrify the citizens by shooting up the town in broad daylight.
“I was standing on the veranda of the O’Kane ranch, across the tracks, and some little distance from town. It was a lazy kind of day and I leaned against the post ruminating over matters of no particular moment when suddenly I was startled by the arrival of a band of about twenty cowboys headed by the notorious Bill Bland. They all began yelling and shooting the place up. Bland aiming his six-gun in my direction and blazing away. I felt like a target but was so paralyzed with fear that I could not budge an inch or bat an eye.
“Bland dismounted and advanced toward me with hand outstretched in greeting. He looked at me admiringly and said: ‘Put ‘er there, shake pard. You stood fire without being skeered. You’re a thoroughbred. I was speechless and quaking inside, and apparently as stoical as a wooden Indian. He grasped my nerveless hand, shook it, and then mounted and rode away followed by his gang. All the time I was literally scared stiff, but, thank Heaven, I seemed nonchalant.
Buffalo Hunts Passed In 1874
“Buffalo hunting, on a commercial scale in the Republican valley petered out in the winter of 1874, although stray animals were killed there as late as 1876. During its progress, thousands of monster wolves, grey, gaunt creatures, known as ‘buffalo wolves’ swarmed all over the hunting grounds. Wolfskin coats were then collegiate, as much so as the coonskin is now at Harvard. Yale, Princeton, and our own Nebraska university. The pelts brought $3 apiece and were eagerly sought for.
“Their skins were prime during the height of winter and it was then that we went out to shoot, trap or poison them. In the latter method, we would roast a buffalo ham, tie it at the end of a lariat and trail it on the ground in wide rings, then trail from the starting point to the center of the ring, where we would drop balls of buffalo tallow loaded with strychnine. The next day we would ride the ring and find the carcasses of the monster wolves. Very few of them would get as far as the outer rim of the ring before they dropped dead, the poison was so efficacious and deadly.
“After the great hunt, the’ skeletons of the buffalo laid, bleaching on the prairies until the advance of the railroads provided facilities. Then the wagons of the bone hunters dotted the country and the skeletons were picked up, transported to the railroad station where they were piled sometimes fifty feet high and four or’ five blocks long. They were shipped back to the fertilizer and bone button factories of the east.
Hears From Fouts.
“After my return to Nemaha county, I kept in touch with many of my old hunting partners for years by personal contact and correspondence. But they have all dropped off until I am the only one left. The last word I received from any of them was from Monroe P. Fouts, Pauline, Okla., who once lived in Harlan county. He wrote: I left the northern herd in 1874 and hunted the southern herd from the Arkansas river south through Indian territory into the Texas panhandle until they dwindled to small bunches and then gave it up.
“Summing up my own participation in the killing off of the great herd I have no regret in my work of slaughter. Buffalo stood in the way of the opening up of a fertile territory to livestock grazing and floriculture consequently the development of the state. They could not be domesticated and they furnished food, shelter, clothing, and weapons for the Indians who harried and slaughtered the pioneer settlers. With the passing of the buffalo, the warlike spirit of the savage red man was tamed and illimitable areas of fertile lands were opened up for the use of peace. It was a task that the pioneers had to do for the benefit of civilized posterity and I am glad I had a part in it.
” But, as I once before remarked, there was a practical side to it, too, buffalo hides were legal tender, and yesterday, as it is today, legal tender is what makes the mare go.”
1 A sketch of a buffalo hunt In Harlan county In 1872.
2 The Cranmer homestead in Harlan county In 1872. It was past this door that Pawnee Indians went to battle with the, Sioux. During the great blizzard of 1872, the little cabin sheltered six human beings, one heifer, two dogs and twelve chickens.
3 Mr.and Mrs. J. W. Cranmer, Mr. Cranmer helped to establish the townsite of Republican City and was one of the first homesteaders in Harlan county in 1871. He married in 1872 and Mrs. Cranmer was one of the first woman residents of Harlan county. Mr. Cranmer was a professional buffalo hunter from 1871 to 1875 in the valley of the Republican river.
4 A sketch of the permanent Pawnee Indian camp in the bend of the Republican valley opposite Republican City in the early seventies. The sketches of the Cranmer home, the Buffalo hunt and the Pawnee village were made by Albert Bierstad, noted painter of western scenes in the “sixties and seventies.” He was on a Hunting trip with “Buffalo Bill” Cod and several prominent Omaha citizens when he made these sketches Harlan county.
BUFFALO HUNTING Revived in America
by Orin Arnold
WELL, sir, eight of the fellows out in Arizona this spring got a chance to do something that a million or so other outdoorsmen would give their fortunes for. Fact is, a few of the unlucky ones offered small fortunes for the chance.
Each of the eight was allowed to oil up his rifle and shoot a real buffalo-biggest game in America!
And it wasn’t just a tame slaughter, either, because the big animals had to be hunted down in the wild and rugged House Rock Valley country, with all the thrills that attended the sport when Bill Cody and the Indians sought bison for blankets and food.
Not quite all the thrills; the only thing lacking was the danger of being scalped. The “buffs,” you’ll remember, were highly prized by the red men and jealously guarded by them. In the good old days, if eight white men had shot buffaloes in House Rock Valley, the local Apache or Navajo camps likely would have been blessed with eight white captives for torture and death. This year the majesty of the State of Arizona, in the person of William O. Joyner, State Game Warden, stood by and supervised the hunt; but still, as one of the hunters said it, “a body could use his magination right peart like out here.”
ARIZONA owns a fine herd of bison, and they run wild in the House Rock country, which is located near the Grand Canyon and is about the most picturesque area in Western America. The herd this year had grown to ninety-four animals, and that was too many, the State said. So a public hunt was arranged.
Now, just anybody couldn’t rush up and start shooting. If that had been permitted, the whole ninety-four would have been run to death before night “a feller could just picture them old woolly cows staggerin’ along with their tongues hanging out and their sides a-heavln’, with a bunch of school kids after ’em.” That’s about what it would have amounted to, for it takes a good shot in the right spot to bring down a buffalo.
So the game warden arranged to pick eight hunters. On a certain date the names of all men and women who had paid their 1932 hunting licenses were placed in a box and curly-headed little Bernice and Ethel Fountain, daughters of a local farmer, drew out the eight names, one by one.
Bob Franklin, of Glendale, was the first one. The drawing was done on the State Capitol grounds, in Phoenix, nearly a quarter mile from the Governor’s office, but when his name was called Bob let out a whoop like a Kentucky rebel. They say that venerable Governor Hunt, who is now ending his seventh term in office, opened his window and peered out to see if a political riot had started against him!
Next, the name of C. Gunter, from Globe, was called; then came George Ruiz, Eddie Forney, of Peoria; Harry Rich, of Tucson; A. A. Guild, L. C. McIntyre and F. H. Mayberry, all of Phoenix. Four newspapermen acted as judges to see that the drawing was fair.
THOSE eight men were more important in Arizona for a few days than was the entire State Legislature, then in special session. They had plenty to write back home about; they had a chance to join in a sport that has been peculiar to Western America and that has just about passed out of the picture for all time.
Unfortunate persons who did not win a chance wanted to buy one. Rumors had it that some of the eight were offered as high as $10,000 for their winning tickets, but if any tickets were sold it was done on the quiet.
With only eight men scheduled to hunt buffaloes, sporting-goods stores found it good business to display high-powered rifles of every kind, and all the masculine hangouts about Phoenix were cluttered with knots of men yarning about hunting, remembering “the time when I” did so and so. In theory, those eight unfortunate bison were killed a million or so the game actually led his gang into House Valley.
But when the hunting party did start,’ old Mother Nature decided that she was going to join the gang! And she did. She evidently recollected how she used to snort and blow when the forty-niners teamed westward and stopped to hunt, so she started blowing for these 1933 tenderfoot city fellows who essayed to take up the old-time sport. She pelted snow at the party all night, and next day she took to puffing it in their faces. Then she stood on top of the mercury in the thermometer and stomped it down to zero. “Now, let’s see how much he-man stuff Arizona’s got left!” the old gal evidently reasoned.
Bill Joyner and his eight accepted the challenge. The first day they bagged two mountainous’ buffalo bulls, staggering through knee-deep snow to do it. Next day they felled six more, which made the quota. You can picture Mother Nature going back home satisfied that Western men are not a race of softies yet.
THREE days later some of the leading grocery stores in Phoenix astonished their customers by displaying a big sign like this:
BUFFALO MEAT FOR SALE
Sunburned and fuzzy-faced old prospectors, men who recollected when bison were not protected by the State, rode into town that week-end and stared at the sign in amazement. One of them stopped his two pack burros in a back , alley and walked into the store. “Hev yew got real-fer-sartln buff meat?” he demanded, frankly skeptical,
“Yessir, the real goods! How much, please?” a natty clerk answered him. The old man glared at him. His eyes narrowed.
“Son, yew’re a dang liar, ez I see it! I kin still lick fellers yer size, three at a time ef I hev to! I’m glttln’ purty hot about this here; now you make good on that claim, right quick!”
But the grocery clerk, age 18 and a saxophone player at nights, had the trump card for once. The old fellow mumbled his astonishment and went away, wondering, probably, if he had reached that age when a man’s brains begin to slump on him.
Each of the eight hunters was allowed to keep 100 pounds of the meat from the bull he killed and to keep the head of the animal. By this time, surely, eight living rooms about the State have suddenly been glorified by the hanging of bulky, ugly, glassy-eyed, shaggy mounted bison heads. No; it matters not that the housewife’s ideas of esthetic harmony”‘ are offended; her whole scheme of interior decoration likely is despoiled, but, “great goodness, woman, this is a real buffalo head, killed by me, myself!” In such moments of trial, delicate and dainty woman must be patient.
TAXIDERMISTS mounted the heads In lifelike fashion on big wooden plaques and made good jobs of them. The world can move on into the television stage, the era of glass office buildings and interplanetary communication or what not, but the children and grandchildren of these eight hunters can always show proof that their family springs from pioneer stock; that at-least-one ancestor shot wild buffalo on the Western plains.
Most of the hunters took their 100 pounds of precious meat (It retailed in the groceries as high as 80 cents per pound) and distributed it among close friends. One or two gave barbecue parties on the sunny winter desert; some packed samples of the meat in iced cartons and shipped it to relatives at distant points.
Buffalo meat is good, but is hardly a delicacy as the modern world of fancy cooking knows the term. It is thoroughly substantial, often to the point of being downright tough. Side by side, good store-bought beef is much more appetizing and tender, which is why the American ranching industry centered on cows rather than on buffaloes, but bison roast has that invaluable tang of wildness present in venison, wild duck, quail, and virtually all other wild meats. But, on top of that, it has a tremendous, incomparable flavor of sentiment and romance which tickles the mental palate of every true outdoorsman. One of the eight hunters wrapped a piece of the cooked meat the size of a half dollar and mailed it to his 10-year-old nephew In New Jersey, with this message In the letter: “Buddy, I want you to eat this, so you can always tell yourself and your children that you once ate a piece of real buffalo meat. You may never have the opportunity to do so again.”
Some of the hunters cared little for the meat, but, like the’ fishermen who rarely eat fish, enjoyed only the sport of getting the animal. The tales those eight tell already are getting more interesting, by the way, and within five years the narratives should comprise distinct contributions to American fiction.
A friend and I, were out in the snow when we saw our first one,” one of the hunters tells. “It was a big bull, standing not fifty yards from us, and I guess he discovered us about the same time” we” saw him.
“‘Shoot, quick!’ my pal said, for it was my hunt that day.”
‘Not me!’ I answered. And I wouldn’t have, either, for a wounded buffalo, I’ve heard, is as bad as a wounded bear. A bullfight in Mexico is a knitting party alongside a fight with a mad buff bull.
“We stood there and shook at the knees for a spell. Then, all of a sudden, the buffalo started working toward us! Now, gentlemen, if you don’t think, a shaggy-necked buffalo bull in a snowstorm don’t look as big as Piles Peak, you are wrong!”
“I’m not going into details about what I and my buddy did, but it was next day before I got my game.”
QUERIED about this extraordinary episode, one of the State employees from there said the buffalo bull in question doubtless was old Geronimo, the pet of the herd, who would have been thoroughly satisfied if the nervous hunters had given him a lump of sugar or a lick of salt.
House Rock Valley, the home of Arizona’s herd of buffaloes, gets its name from a peculiar rock formation which dominates the landscape and which is known to every person who ever has visited the region. The strange formation is, indeed, a castle from some fantastic fairy tale, at first glance.
The next impression is that the gigantic house-like rock must be the remains of some prehistoric race of builders, who had thus molded a fortress bigger than many a mountain. Actually, the place is just another freak of nature, albeit a most interesting and spectacular one. It was standing there exactly as it is today when the old boys in Egypt got to thinking it might be a good idea to build some pyramids. It is useless except to look at now, but less than a century ago all sorts of gods and spirits lived in and around it, so the Indians tell.
The buffaloes that live around the House Rock were sold to the State by “Uncle Jimmy” Owens, who lives there, too. In Arizona, that’s enough introduction to “Uncle Jimmy,” for he is part and parcel of the State’s history and will be prominent in its legends for all time. He is an old fellow with a shaggy gray head, a mustache, a grin, a straight-shooting rifle, and a kindly heart. He figured to get rich off the buffaloes once, and maybe he did, but he lost interest in private bison ranching and sold out.
“Uncle Jimmy’s” herd, now Arizona’s, was an outgrowth of the once famous buffalo herd on the Goodnight Ranch, in West Texas. More than fifty years ago a Texas cowgirl found three orphaned buffalo calves and raised them on a bottle. From that nucleus grew perhaps the world’s greatest privately owned buffalo herd. The animals, numbering in the thousands, roamed the Goodnight Ranch, which “took in several counties.”
But the grandeur of the ranch waned and with it the buffalo herd so that last winter a group of philanthropic Dallas businessmen had to step in and save the remnants of the herd from going to the meat markets. The herd had dwindled to 299 animals and had been mortgaged for $7000. The Dallas men purchased them from the City National Bank, of Wichita Falls, Tex., and assured the public that Goodnight bison should forever live on the Llano Estacado or in the Panhandle. It is a matter of deep sentiment with all true Texans.
NEWS of Arizona’s buffalo hunt this year gave rise to a dispute over the ownership of one particular animal in House Rock Valley.
Among the huge beasts, there is a “pinto,” or painted animal one with colorings other than the natural brownish-black. It is a conspicuous member of the herd and worth considerably more than average because of its oddity.
A. Fields, of Ophir, Utah, says that Pinto belongs to him and wrote W. O. Joyner, Arizona
game warden, to that effect. Said Mr. Fields: “I paid a good price for him several, years ago with the intention of taking him away, but have been unable to do so., I would like the State of Arizona to purchase him if it wants to. If not, I am intending to dispose of him or take him away in the near future.”
The matter was “tabled” by the game warden for future consideration. But it seemed likely that possession would be maybe all ten points of the law and that old Pinto could loll forever in the lush grasses of House Rock Valley.
Arizona did not have quite a full monopoly on the Nation’s buffalo killing this year. Wyoming saw 100 animals killed in Yellowstone Park, but there the business was just an official slaughter by authorized Federal marksmen and was not a hunt at all.
The Atlanta Constitution
Atlanta Georgia May 8, 1932
Survivors of the Massacre
By John A. Menaugh
SCATTERED here and there in national and state parks, upon private ranches, and within zoological gardens are a few straggling herds of American bisons, or buffaloes, as they are better known. The total of individual animals in these groups can be numbered in hundreds. They are all that is left: they are the remnant of the millions of buffaloes which roamed the western plains of North America two generations ago.
Once at the very verge of extermination, the species now presents an excellent chance of being preserved. Special care is being taken of the remaining herds of buffaloes, scientific feeding and breeding are carried on to save the creatures from extinction, and it is possible that a thousand years from now our own descendants may be able to gaze upon the descendants of those shaggy bovine giants that dotted the plains when Kansas was the frontier.
The buffalo is a noble beast. The ponderous bull, with his huge forequarters, his thick mane, his stout curving horns, and his bearded face, actually is regal in appearance. He is the most imposing of all the wild creatures of North America. His great shaggy hump stands much higher than the withers of a big horse. The average weight of a mature bull is about 1,800 pounds, but individual specimens have been known to reach a ton in weight, and the record, according to scientific authority, is 2,220 pounds Though the buffalo is not as tall as the moose, it exceeds that animal greatly in bulk.
The bison, or buffalo, represents a group of the ox tribe, distinguished from the other species by a greater breadth and convexity of forehead, superior length of limb, and longer spinal processes of the dorsal vertebrae, which, with the powerful muscles attached for the support of the massive head, form a protuberance or hump in the shoulders. The animal has fourteen pairs of ribs, whereas the common ox has only thirteen. Both the adult male and the adult female have manes, though that of the male is much thicker and heavier. The adult animals are blackish brown in color on the forequarters, shading off to a lighter brown on the hindquarters. The bison calves usually are much lighter in color than the full-grown animals and resemble very much the calves of domestic cattle. The hindquarters of the buffalo are weak and small in comparison to the forequarters.
In the herd there usually is one great old bull which is the leader, though all of the full-grown bulls assume the duties of protecting the herd. When there is an alarm the cows and calves group themselves in the center of the herd, while the bulls form about the weaker animals in compact lines for the purpose of defense. In the presence of man, however, the entire herd usually takes to flight.
When white men first penetrated the wilds of North America they found the American bison in great numbers Though there is a species of bison in Europe, the explorers generally referred to the animal of this country as the buffalo. Droves of buffaloes were found in the thickly wooded regions of what are now New York and Pennsylvania, and beside the salt licks were countless thousands of skeletons of the creatures. The buffalo even was observed as far south as Florida. While the buffalo generally is looked upon as an animal of the plains, there is plenty of evidence that it roamed through the entire eastern portion of the United States, its trails being common within the forested regions. According to old accounts of hunters who knew both the animal of the forests and his cousin of the plains, the woodland buffalo was slightly larger than the plains type.
Early hunters preyed upon the buffalo, slaying it for its meat and its hide. Gradually, as the settlers moved westward, the buffaloes were killed out or retreated before the dangers of the deadly rifle. When the home seekers and trappers reached the prairies of Illinois there still were great herds ranging over those wide expanses. By 1830 it is said the buffalo virtually had been extirpated east of the Mississippi.
The real massacre of the buffalo, the killing off of the animal by millions, took place on the plains west of the Mississippi. Though the Indians had been killing the animal for food and skins for centuries, its natural increase had stayed abreast of the slaughter. The white man was ruthless. After the raids of the early trappers had reduced the beaver almost to the vanishing point, the hide of the buffalo became the basis for barter. A trader would allow an Indian a pint of frontier whiskey for a buffalo hide a pint of raw alcohol and water mixed. Inhabitants of all of the early frontier towns depended almost wholly on the buffalo for food.
When the first railroads were constructed across the plains the armies of workmen were fed on buffalo meat. Meat hunters were employed by cross-country caravans, by the people of the towns, and by the railroads. The buffalo was shot down by the thousands and millions. Only a choice bit of the meat from the hump of the animal, its hindquarters, and its tongue were saved for human food, the remainder being left to the wolves which followed the buffalo herds in huge numbers.
Buffalo hunters became quite expert in the slaying of the beasts, individuals often shooting down more than a hundred each on every day of the hunt. The old Sharp rifle, a heavy caliber weapon, was the favorite gun of the white hunter, who either shot the animals from a blind or slew them as he rode beside them on his horse. Horses became almost as expert as men in the hunting, some being trained to gallop beside the fleeing animals until they were dropped one by one by the hunter’s bullets.
The Indians killed the buffaloes with their bows and arrows. They rode beside the terror-stricken animals and discharged their arrows into the beast’ bodies at a range of less than ten feet. If the arrow did not kill instantly, the Indian would ride close to the buffalo, grasp the part of the arrow still protruding, and push the missile farther into the vitals of the animal.
The Story of the countless Shaggy herds Which Once Roamed the Plains
Rapidly the buffalo disappeared before such wholesale slaughter staged by the professional hunters. When the demand for buffalo meat declined, the hide hunters became active and pushed their relentless war upon the remaining herds. Buffalo hides were in demand for carriage robes, and there was hardly an owner of a buggy or of a sleigh in the entire country fifty years ago who did not possess one or more of the hairy robes. Even the wolfers, those men who followed and poisoned the wolves of the plains in order to obtain their hides to sell to the fur buyers, slew the buffalo for use as bait. One buffalo carcass impregnated with poison often was fatal to as many as thirty wolves.
On the vast ranges of the buffalo, which stretched from the Rio Grande at the south to the Great Bear lake at the north, the almost complete passing of the herds was, swift and deadly. By the early eighties, the massacre came to an end, with virtually every one of the wild buffaloes exterminated. Here and there some farseeing man had preserved a herd. One old plainsman, known as ” Buffalo ” Jones, even experimented with the crossing of the buffalo with domestic cattle. The hybrid offspring he called catalo. Today the thin herds of buffaloes, protected within parks or owned by private ranchers, are what is left of the countless millions that roamed the west seemingly only yesterday. They are the survivors of one of the worst massacres of history.
The Vancouver Sun
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Sep 10 1932
Introducing American Bison in the flesh to Far East-Huge Native Born Deer Gores Travel-Worn Beast to Death
A friendly argument with a rather well-known zoologist a man whom I’ve known and admired for many years resulted in as unusual an experiment as I’ve ever conducted in my long career as an animal collector. In one of those far-far-into-the-night debates, I kept insisting that the American bison or buffalo could live and thrive in the tropical climate of southern Asia, while my friend kept telling me I was all wrong.
AN EXPERIMENT There is only one way to settle an argument such as this, and that is to go ahead and conduct an experiment. Which is what I did. I was due to leave soon for Asia on An extensive collecting trip. If I could secure them I planned to take a pair of American buffalo with me. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, whence I was sailing, has a fine collection of these historic animals. Through the courtesy of Herbert Fleischhacker, generous patron of the local zoo, and John McLaren, Superintendent of Parks, I was able to secure two healthy examples of their species and ideally suited to my experiment. My plan was to present one of the animals to my friend, the Sultan of Johore and to place the second in the Rangoon Zoo.
I supervised the uncrating of the bison and its installation in a shaded paddock where it could seek shelter when the sun was too blistering. The idea was to give the animal a chance to get used to the new climate by degrees.
A record of the arrival of this American buffalo is to be found in the Rangoon Gazette for March 6th, 1926, which said in part:
A valuable addition to the animals at the Rangoon Zoo has arrived from America in the shape of a young American bison, about a year and a half old, and a splendid specimen of its class. The bison, the first of its species ever seen in Asia, was secured through the well-known American animal collector, Frank Buck, in exchange for an elephant. It arrived by boat via Singapore and was taken to the Zoo where yesterday it was the center of attention.
A small fee to see the bison was charged by the zoo, and the animal earned its hay for a year in no time. My work in Rangoon was over, I returned to Singapore. The Sultan was back in Johore, so I got him on the telephone and told him I had a present for him, I didn’t say what it was. merely making a date to call on him the next day with it.
GORED TO DEATH The Sultan was delighted when he found I had brought him an American sladang. He turned it loose in his deer park where he had a small herd of sambar, the biggest of Asiatic deer.
The Sultan’s bison hadn’t stood the long voyage as well as the Rangoon specimen. He was weak when we turned him loose, walking with difficulty and seeming stiff all over after his long stay in the crate.
I suggested to the Sultan that the bison be fenced off until he got his land legs. The sambar deer is a formidable animal and I knew that the newcomer would be at a serious disadvantage if his Asiatic associates decided to be unfriendly.
“No,” said the Sultan, “history tells me that your American sladang is a very strong animal. Sambar deer will not worry him.”
The Sultan, who is right about animals more frequently than many trained zoologists, happened to be wrong in this case. The bison was found the next day in a corner of the park, gored to death. A servant who witnessed the battle If it can be called that told in a few words what had happened. The bison, worn out from his long Journey, was lying down when one of the deer a big stag with great antlers charged at him. Before the sluggish bison could get to his feet the stag’s horns had pierced his belly.
The Independent Record
Helena Montana Nov 30, 1932
MISSOULA BUTCHER PREPARES BUFFALO FEAST FOR INDIANS
Missoula, Nov. 29. Fifty bison and 50 elk, from the bison reserve herd at Moiese, are to be slaughtered on the reserve and the meat will be distributed to the Indians of the Flathead, Crow and Blackfeet reservations. Some mule deer also will be disposed of in the same manner.
Henry J. (Buffalo Hank) Helgeson, Missoula butcher, will leave city today for the bison range start the slaughter of the animals in preparation for delivery to Indian agencies.
Helgeson said that the animals are now being rounded up and that about 25 bison and some elk will be killed at this time and rest from time to time. The animals to be slaughtered are being removed to reduce the herds to a size which the feed conditions on range will handle.
Mr. Helgeson said he believes he holds a world’s record in the number of bison and elk killed. He has slaughtered 700 bison and 200 elk on the bison reserve and in Yellowstone park when officials were cutting down the herds to fit the range conditions.