EARLY DAYS IN TEXAS
J. T. Hazelwood, San Angelo, Texas
There being no railroads or other means of transportation at that time, he came by the mule team mode of conveyance. The country was sparsely settled after reaching the Texas line, and the trip was a long tedious one. The family would travel for days without meeting a human being, only coming in contact with vast herds of wild buffalo and numerous tribes of still wilder Indians. The journey occupied several months, and my father with his family eventually located in Panola county, Texas. The country being wholly an open range, and the pioneers who blazed the way into this new western civilization being extremely few and far between, the early settlers apparently did not remain very long in any one place, but moved about from location to location, seeking a better range, more ample water and greater safety from marauding Indians. Fort Worth, in Tarrant county, was the nearest trading point, and all provisions and supplies of every character and description was brought into the Western country by freighters, sometimes accompanied by United States troops, but more frequently they traveled in little bands for better protection against Indian raids.
It was in 1860 when my father moved with his family to Stephens county, near the line of Shackelford, settling on Sandy Creek, but the Indian depredations continuing, he again moved to a safer place, as he thought, over on Battle Creek. The ranges were covered with countless herds of buffalo, deer, antelope, bear and other wild game. We lived in picket houses, covered with sod and dirt, and the flooring with buffalo hides— nothing to compare with the comfortable homes which the people of this country enjoy at the present time, but, nevertheless, the conditions for that day and age were ideal, and we lived in comfort, except that we lived in continual fear of Indian raids.
I also remember that we did not regard clothes so much in those days as they are regarded now, and such a thing as ribbons and bows, and lace and silk hose, silk hats and canes for the young men, and a poodle dog with a string around his neck for the young women, would have been considered as much out of place in the early days as, perhaps, our “coon-skin” caps and “homemade” shoes, and our “deerskin britches,” our “buffalo coats” and “buffalo shirts” would appear at the present day.
Times change, customs change, fashions change, conditions change, but human nature changes but very little, and even when I compare the boys and girls of the present day, in the last analysis of their human make-up, with the girls and boys of seventy years ago, I find that they have the same warm hearts, the same happy, cheerful smile, the same creative youthful ambition, and the same desire to succeed, regardless that we are living in a day and age of automobiles, that we are free from Indian depredations and raids, that we no longer see the buffalo roam the plains, and that where the buffalo once roamed and where the Indians perpetrated their raids, beautiful homes and every modern convenience now can be found, and agricultural conditions are changed likewise with modern improvements, yet the heart and mind of the pioneers of the Western range’ still are found to permeate the posterity of these early pioneers to a very large extent.
PARENTS SETTLED IN THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS
By Joseph S. Cruze, Sr., San Antonio, Texas.
My parents, William and Isabella Cruze, came to the Republic of Texas in 1840 and located on the Brazos River in Washington County. There I was born July 27th, 1845, and when I was three months old father placed a buffalo hair pillow on the horn of his saddle, placed me thereon, mounted his horse and was ready to emigrate west with his family. He settled on Onion Creek, nine miles south of Austin, near the Colorado River, where he remained for several years, then in 1854 we moved to the central part of Hays County, where father died in 1856.
I enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862, received my discharge in 1865, and returned home to my widowed mother. On July 24th, 1865, I was married to Miss Mary Kate Cox of Hays County.
In the years 1870 and 1871 I drove cattle to Kansas over the old Chisholm Trail. I remember the killing of Pete Owens, who was with the same herd I was with. We had reached the Cross Timbers of Texas, and passed
a ranch where booze was sold. There was a row and Pete was shot and killed. He was a good friend to me, we had been soldier comrades for nearly three years, worked cattle together, and I loved him as a brother. Billie Owens, known to many of the old trail drivers, was his brother. The Owens boys were good soldiers, upright, honest and brave men.
In those days the cowmen underwent many hardships, survived many hair-breadth escapes and dangers while blazing our way through the wilderness. My comrades yet living have not forgotten what we had to endure. Everything was then tough, wild and woolly, and it was dangerous to be safe.
In September, 1866, I settled on Loneman Creek, in Hays County, near the Blanco River, and established the Cruze Ranch, which I sold to my son, S. J. Cruze, in 1917, and moved to San Antonio with my wife and two daughters, Margaret and Addie, and my grandson, Forest Harlan. I have a nice little home in Los “Angeles Heights, and would be glad to hear from any of my old friends at any time.
My address is Route 10, Box 101a, Los Angeles Heights, San “Antonio.
The Abbeville Banner
November 10 1847
Texas, -Derivation of the name.-
……The Camanches claim to be the lineal descendents of the empire of Montezuma, and the only legitimate owners of the whole Mexican country. The Chiefs say that when Cortes landed in Mexico, he found the country torn to pieces by internal factions and was enabled, by employing the disaffected chiefs, to raise a force to seize upon their capital. Those chiefs believed if they could destroy the power of Montezuma, they could easily dispatch the Spaniard, and have the control of the country in their own hands. But too late they ascertained that they had introduced a harder master, and that unconditional servitude was all they had to expect. They were required to change their ancient religion, and thousands of them were sent off to work in the mines from which they rarely ever made their escape. A great proportion of them bowed their necks to the conqueror, and became serfs and slaves to the Spaniards; but a few, the noblest and best, preferred exile to servitude, and set out on a pilgrimage to the north, in hopes to find a land where they could enjoy their ancient institutions in peace.
……They traveled for many weeks, and at last came to the great river north- the Rio Grande – where they encamped, and sent out twenty chosen men to examine the adjacent country. They crossed the great river, and ascended one of the highest peaks of the mountain, which overlooked the adjacent plain. The prairie was covered with buffalo, deer and antelopes, and they thought they had reached the happy hunting-ground, and the word “Tehas! Tehas! Tehas!” burst from every tongue. It was decided unanimously that it should go by the name apparently furnished them by the Great Spirit.
Tehas is the Camanchee name for the residence of the happy spirit in the other world, where they shall enjoy an eternal felicity, and have a plenty of deer and buffalo always at hand. By taking the sound as they pronounce it, and giving it the Spanish orthography, it gives us the word “Texas, “ which is the “happy hunting ground” or the “Elysium,“ of the Camanches. This is the true history of the name as derived from Isowacuny himself.
Who Was Isowacuny?
……Isawacony (Little Wolf) was a chief of the Penateka band of Comanches before the Comanches became centralized a nation. Before the Comanche Nation was centralized, Comanches lived in disparate bands. Though they were related and shared a culture and history, Comanche bands were autonomous and seldom worked together.
……Isawacony was one of several chiefs of the Penateka band, which lived primarily throughout what is known today as Southern Texas and Northern Mexico. He was unique among his fellow chiefs in that while other chiefs considered peace and violence equally as options in dealing with the incursion of Americans into their territory, Isawacony seemed dedicated primarily to peace. This dedication to peacemaking and never compromising on what he thought was best for the Penateka Comanches are two traits that appear to define Isawacony’s life.
……He was one of the principal negotiators in several treaties between the Republic of Texas and, later, the United States, and the Penateka band of Comanches. In 1836, Isawacony was party to an attempt to draft a treaty between the Penateka band and the Texans that would allot a swath of land and create a boundary between the two groups. While Sam Houston, who was an adopted Cherokee, was sympathetic to the Comanches’ cause, the majority of Texan settlers were unwilling to relinquish any land to tribal bands. David Gouveneur Burnet, the first president of the Republic of Texas, wrote to M.B. Menard in 1836: “It is a matter of great importance to secure the entire neutrality at least of the Indian tribes … But I must enjoin it upon you to avoid with great caution entering into any Specific treaty relating to boundaries, that may compromit the interests of actual settlers.”
……The following year, the Texas Congress appointed a commission to work with peace-seeking Comanches and improve relations between the Republic and the Comanches. However, members stipulated that “no fee simple right of soil be acknowledged.”
I found this to be a great article (below), even though a little long, it was well worth my time. It starts in the time of 1838 and continues through the late 1870’s
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Nov 23, 1878
THE DOOM OF THE BUFFALO
Wiping out the Shaggy Monsters that Roam on the Plains – The Butchery in Northern Texas – An Englishman’s Experience – Killing the Bison For His Hide – The Life of a Professional Buffalo Hunter – Three Seasons on the Plains – How the Hides are Cured – Pickling the Tongues – Fearful Fate of a Horse Thief.
[New York Sun.]
Forty years ago the trappers of the Western plains sold the pelts of beavers, otters and _____ and killed the bison only for food. Myriads of these shaggy monsters roamed the prairies. Washington Irving, in his “Tour on the Prairies,” sought a herd boundless and undulating as an ocean, all surging northward. They were two days and nights in crossing the Smokey Hill River. There was then a limited market for buffalo hides, and the herds were hunted by the Indians only. They dried the meat for winter use, and use the skins for tepees and blankets. Uncounted millions of the animals wintered in the parks of the Rocky Mountains and on the fertile plains of northern Texas. The cows calved in April and by the 1st of May the shaggy _____ were headed for the Missouri. They advanced northward with the season, browsing upon the sprouting, juicy grasses. They crossed the Missouri River and ran away up into British America. With the approach of winter they swept back into the sunny parts of the Rocky Mountains and spread themselves over the plains of Texas.
The discovery of gold in California (1848) opened a pathway to the Pacific, and this pathway opened a permanent market for buffalo hides. The settlement and rapid development of Kansas and Nebraska forced the herds back toward the mountains. Then gold was found near Pikes Peak (1859), and a _______ of emigration poured into Colorado. Beaver, otter and furred animals began to disappear, and the brawny Kansas buffalo hunters took the place of the half bred Canadian trapper. Millions were killed for their hides alone. The vast herds began to scatter. 10 years later the laying of the Pacific Railroad’s force them from the line of the Platte and Arkansas into northern Texas on the south, and Wyoming and Dakota on the north. The professional hunters followed and for years reap a rich harvest. But the rush of gold seekers to the Black Hills in the settlements along the line of the Northwestern Pacific Road are driving the northern columns into British America, and the development of northern Texas is exterminating the southern columns. Experienced hunters predict that within eight years not a buffalo will be left in Texas.
Mr. James Graham, and English man who spent four years hunting them on the plains of Texas, graphically details his experience. He came to America when a boy, determined to work his way out to the plains and become, if possible, the chief of a tribe of Indians. His experience with the savages near Fort Still changed this intention, and he went down into Texas and began to teach school. “In October, 1873,” he says, “I hunted myself in Jacksboro, Jack County, northern Texas. It is near Fort Richardson. I was out of employment, and living from hand to mouth. One day a party of Cowboys road in from the other side of the Brazos , and said buffalo were coming in from the north so sick that they were eating up the range. The country was black with them, and the boys were compelled to drive in the cattle. This news was confirmed by a herder named Browning, who drove through town with 800 cattle, cursing and swearing, and roaring at his luck generally. There were no professional buffalo hunters in the country, although the buffalo were so thick that Browning allowed he could kill from fifty to seventy-five a day. He made a contract with one McKibben, a merchant, to deliver 1000 hides within three months at $2 a piece, the value to be taken out in trade. Browning swore that he would kill them all within fifty miles of Jacksboro. He turned his cattle hands out on horseback, and sent out his wagons. There was not an expert among them. They sailed into the herd head first, using no judgment, and in less than three days had scared the buffalo so that they left the range. The net result was twenty or thirty hides. Browning returned to Jacksboro and threw up his contract in disgust. He drove his cattle out on the abandoned range and resumed the life of a herder.
One Shaw owned two ox teams that had been employed in grading the railroad from Dallas to Fort Worth. Work had given out and the teams were idle. Two men, Hawes and Frantz, also owned yolks of oxen that were eating off their heads. They clubbed in with Shaw, and arranged for a buffalo hunt. I had had considerable experience on the plains, and was employed by Shaw as a killer. Hawes in Frantz killed for themselves. Two men, named Putter and Davis also joined us. A band of Comanches were raiding the frontier, and we combined for natural protection. Three months provisions, a keg of whiskey and several hundred rounds of ammunition were thrown into the wagons. Armed with needle guns, we left Jacksboro on a bright sunny morning, and traveled due West. The country was well wooded until we reached Fort Belknap, a deserted military post. We kept a sharp lookout for the Comanches; for, just before we left Jacksboro, a man was killed and scalped across the creek from town, not 300 yards from Fort Richardson.
“After leaving the timber, we camped in an open country, fifteen miles from Fort Belknap and two miles from the Rio Brazos. That evening an old buffalo bull straggled into camp. The trouble was not in killing, but in eating him. He was so old that is hide was worthless. His flesh was as tough as shoe leather. The old fellow had been driven from the herd by the younger bulls, and was forging on his own hook. Wolves were on his track, and would soon have run him down.
“About the middle of the second day we encamped on the Millers Creek, a branch of the Rio Brazos. The grazing was good. There were no ranches within thirty miles. We saw small bunches of buffalo among the low hills. It was a good sign. Herds of deer, flocks of turkeys, and schools of fish promised and ample variety of food. Potter, Davis and myself rode out six miles toward the Brozos, and found immense herds of buffalo. We stopped at Eagle Spring, the other side of the River. This spring gushes from the riverbank, making a small gully. It is nearly level with the River. At this time the river was very low. Half the sand bars were above water. The spring got its name from a great nest built in the top of a cottonwood tree by a colony of Eagles. These birds began to tear up the carcasses of deer and buffalo before we could skin them. I finally loaded a carcass with strychnine and poisoned the whole colony.
“The water of the Brazos at this point,” said Graham, “was brackish and unpalatable. It was made so by the junction of the Salt Fork of the river, a few miles above. No matter how dry the season, the spring never failed. The banks of the river near it were trodden down, and we could see that herds of buffalo were drinking there every night. We rode out on the divide between the Wichita and the Brazos and found a thick net of buffalo paths leading toward the spring. We made a permanent camp, pitching our tent on the river sands to the left of the gully, so close that we could hear the buffalo come in at night, but not so close as to disturb them. Then we cleaned out the spring. The water bubbled up with redoubled force, and dotted the sand of the River with fresh pools. Before we found the spring we had killed from fifteen to twenty buffalo. Word was sent back to Hawes, and his Skinners were quickly at work. We tried to induce him to come over to our camp, but he allowed that rolling stones gathered no moss, and he thought the buffalo were thick enough on Millers Creek to pay him.
“We spent the first day in making pegs for stretching hides, putting up the tent, and gathering buffalo chips and driftwood for fire. The banks of the river were fringed with bushes, but aside from the lone cottonwood, there was no standing timber. We dug a fireplace in the bank, and prepared for business. Are oxen were bellied and hobbled, and turned loose on the nutritious grasses of the river bottoms. We ate broiled venison for supper. After pipes and coffee we turned in. An hour after word I heard a dashing and a splashing in the spring. A band of buffalo was pouring over the bank. I could hear their low murmur of satisfaction as they sucked up the freshwater. The bank was crumbling beneath their feet and falling to the sand. As we were camped to the leeward, the herd did not wind us. It was a cloudy night. I got up in my shirt tail, took my gun, and ran along the edge of the bank toward the spring. Dark masses of the animals were clustered on the white sands below me, drinking from the little pools of fresh water. They saw me, and scattered. Most of them scrambled up the path leading to the top of the bank, and others darted over the sands. As it was too dark to shoot with any degree of certainty. I returned to camp.
“The next morning, bright and early, we were at work. We found a herd feeding on the prairie within two miles of camp. I crawled on my hands and knees to leave word and began to pick them off. I shot several under the fore-shoulder, giving the ball a slight range forward. This is really the only infallibly vital spot. Greenhorns may riddle an old bull with bullets, and he will stand and shake his head as though bumblebees were buzzing around his ears, and never drop; but one bullet planted by a professional is worth more than a score sent from the gun of an amateur. Well, before noon we had killed twenty-seven . In the afternoon we skinned these and hauled the green hides to camp.
AMBUSHING THE HERDS
“Eagle Spring was our headquarters nearly two months. The country was ridged with sand hills covered with coarse grass affording a fair cover while crawling on the herds. Large bunches of the animals were ambushed. We hid ourselves under the banks of the river, and shot them down as they came for water. This was done so often that they became suspicious. They approached the bank, headed by an old bull, with the herd strung out behind him in Indian file. On reaching the edge of the bank, the bull looked carefully up and down the river to see if the coast was clear. If satisfied, he turned back to the file leaders, indicating that it was all right, and dashed over the bank. The file followed without hesitation. If, however, the bull’s suspicions were aroused, he gazed at the suspicious objects as though shouting his eyesight. Then he turned his head toward the herd, as though disliking the outlook. Satisfied, after another reconnaissance, that there were good grounds for alarm, he viciously whisked his tail. The herd understood the signal. There was an instant stampede. They scattered fan-like, stopping at a distance of two to three hundred yards. There they turned about, apparently to see if there was any cause for running at all, but invariably continued their retreat until miles away from the supposed danger.
“One day, “ continued Graham,” I was lying under the bank of the river when a herd of buffalo approached. Contrary to all precedent, they were led by frisky young calves, who broke over the bank without stopping to reconnoiter. Had I retained my original position; the whole bunch would have trampled over me. I lay in the long grass and saw what was coming. As I got to my feet this stream divided and swept to the right and left. Through the dust I saw an old cows head within 3 feet, and let her have it under the fore shoulder. The impetus with which she was moving was so great that she pitched dead upon the sands at the brink of the river, three rods away. A calf was the next victim. It screwed it’s tail as the bullet struck it and followed the cow to grass. I next blazed away at the ”spike” a three-year-old bull. The first shot was ineffectual. He ran up the River about 100 yards. I kept at his heels and brought him down with the second bullet. By this time the bunch was much scattered. Many animals crossed the river, and others ran down the stream and regained the bluffs below. It was after dark when the slain buffalo were skinned and the green pelts were staked to the ground.
AND INDIAN RAID
“At Eagle Springs, “ Graham said, “we took 475 hides. The killings, skinning, stretching and packing took up all our time. After the hides were sunned they were sometimes wet by rains. This gave us much trouble as to preserve them we were forced to overhaul and re-dry them. After December 20th Shaw, Welsh, Frantz and Potter loaded the wagons with dried hides and started for old Fort Belknap. The Fort was abandoned, but they meant to pile the skins in a ruined guardhouse, where was thought they would be safe and undercover. Davis and myself were left in camp with a horse and two mules.
“On the evening of the 23rd I killed a deer, taking the hide and hindquarters. The next day I saw the tracks of a wildcat around the carcass. I could see that he had enjoyed his meal. Than seen that he might return on the following evening I took cover and lay for him. Toward dusk I saw the cat snaking along the bank of the river, but, unfortunately, he discovered me at the same time and did not come within gunshot. On my return to camp I was spotted by four Indians, who were hidden by the low sand hills. At all events that night the horse and mules were unhobbled and stolen. The sands were covered with moccasin tracks. We trace them up and found where the Indians had lain behind the sand hills and watched my wildcat venture. Our tent open toward the river, and a wagon covered the entrance. This was fortunate, for had the situation been different the savages might have shot us while we lay in our blankets. We followed their trail to the Wichita, many miles away, but never recovered the stock.
THREE INFURIATED BULL’S
“A funny incident occurred a few days before the mules were stolen. I had been out among the sand hills, and had planted seven bullets in an old bull. He was a tough old fellow, but was finally brought to his knees. I thought he would surely die, and wasted no more ammunition. On returning to camp I told Davis where he lay, and he and Welsh said that they would take his hide early in the morning. That night the wolves scented the old fellow’s blood, and made an assault on him. He fought like a tiger, and would have gone under had not two other bulls come to the rescue. All night long they kept the wolves at bay. In the morning Welsh and Davis went out to look for the wounded bull. I was going up the River, but pointed near where he lay, and told them they would find him in a little hollow near the sand hills. Welsh took his needle gun and went on foot, and Davis followed, mounted on a mule, taking a swingle, or whiffletree, to drag the green hide back to camp. On nearing the hollow Welsh saw the three buffalo lying down, and said to Davis: “why, he’s wounded three instead of one, and left us to finish them.” Davis stood up in his saddle, looked at them. “I don’t think he’s hurt any of them.” he said. “Johnny, just try ‘em.’ Welsh crept toward the trio. Two of the Bulls got to their feet, and stretched themselves. They gazed at him in astonishment, and began to paw the ground and shake their heads. Welsh dropped on one knee and blazed away. He probably miss them, for infuriated by the assaults of the wolves, they raised their tails, lowered their heads, and with bloodshot eyes charged upon him. He saw them coming in after a sharp raise went into a buffalo wallow like a prairie dog. The bull then went for Davis. He had scented danger, and headed the mule towards camp. The beast however, was fat and lazy, and did not seem to take in this situation. Davis pounded him with the whiffletree until the blows resounded over the prairie, but could get no head of steam. “Shoot at ‘em, Johnny !’ he shouted. “Shoot at ‘em, but Johnny lay in the wallow, shaking with merciment, and could not shoot. Seen that there was a slim chance for reaching camp, Davis headed his mule for a mesquite tree, fancy and he could find a shelter among its thorns. The slow lope of the mule brought the maddened bulls nearer. Davis finally jumped from the saddle and ran for the tree. He went up the trunk like a squirrel, and had barely perched himself on a top limb before the bulls dashed underneath in pursuit of the mule. Like Davis, the mule took good care of himself, and reached camp and safety.”
A POISONING MATCH
A few days afterward the party returned from Fort Belknap. They were chagrined at the loss of the mules. Only two horses were left. Shaw in Davis went back to Millers Creek and camped with Hawes. Potter, Welsh, Frantz and Graham went across to the big Wichita poisoning wolves, and met with moderate success. The country was seamed with canons and dotted with cedars. Winter was at hand and the weather was becoming cold. The most interesting incident was a poisoning match between Frantz and Graham. One day each killed the buffalo. A dispute arose concerning their merits as poisoners. Frantz held that if the strychnine was placed in a certain part of the carcass it would be more effectual. Graham disagreed with him. Each agreed to Dr. a carcass in his own way, and a pile of Wolf skins was staked on the result. Graham spread a small bottle of the poison upon those parts of the carcass first eaten by wolves, and Frantz carried out his peculiar theory. Both traps were well faded. In the morning the bodies of nine gray wolves laid near Gramps trap, and thirteen were found by Frantz, and he took the pile of pelts.
On their return to the Brazos they found an immense herd of, buffalo on the divide between that river and the Wichita. To use the words of one of the party, “it seemed as though all the buffalo on the plains had emigrated to Texas.” The paths were innumerable. Every green thing had been devoured, and that there was no grazing for their oxen. They were forced to return to Millers Creek, where they joined Shaw and Davis. Hawes had taken over 300 hides, and gone into camp 5 miles further up the creek. The country was black with bison. The men hunted three weeks longer and then flour ran short and the weather became bad. They returned to Jacksboro, after nearly 4 months absence. Over 1200 buffalo, thirty-eight deer, fifty-two wolves and twenty-seven coyotes had been killed and skinned, and one wild horse captured.
THE MARKET FOR BUFFALO MEAT
Graham says that he sold 100 buffalo hides at Sherman for $140. This was his first hunt. On the following where he went up into the Cedar Mountains, about sixty miles southwest of Fort Griffin, and “killed for meat.” The meat was cured and afterwards sold in Dallas. Only the hams are taken. The rest of the carcasses is left to the wolves and ravens. The hams, when cut up and thoroughly cured, will not average more than eighty pounds apiece. In two months Graham killed and salted down hundred 113 buffalo. He hunted the beast up to the winter of 1877. Long before that the brawny Missouri and Kansas professionals had swept down into the country with their “prairie shooters.” Graham says the slaughter was terrifle. Long, of Fort Griffin, killed 3000 in one winter, and big Jim White, of Kansas, 800 in a month. Jim is said to have killed thirty-one buffalo in thirty-two consecutive shots. All these beast were killed for their hides. The flesh, horns and hoofs were wasted. Thousands of tons of meat as good as beef rotted on the prairies while hundreds of persons were starving in Eastern cities. “Enough was wasted,” said Graham, “to have made the siege of Paris as long as the siege of Troy.”
THE HIDE HUNTER
Some of the buffalo hunters own many teams and pay their hunters by the month, or allow them a percentage of the profits. The killer commands the highest price, the Skinners and the camp followers ranging next in pay. The killer rides ahead on the pony, with rifle across the pommel of his saddle. His belt is filled with cartridges, which he allows no one to load but himself. The Skinners follow in a wagon. When the herd is sighted, the killer rides as near as possible, taking advantage of the wind in any inequalities of ground. After tying his pony to a mesquite bush, he drops upon his knees and begins to crawl upon the herd. Once within rifle shot, he lies facedown word, and places two rest-sticks , something like and X on the ground. Over the sticks he sights his game. After the first shot the herd generally run at least a hundred yards. Then they turned about and watch the struggles of the dying buffalo. If the killer keeps cover, the herd may come back and paw around the dead body, as cattle do when they smell blood. The killer always tries to shoot the animals likely to lead the herd away. This is what is termed “holding the herd.” It requires great experience. When the leaders fall, the herd, seeing their bodies on the ground, frequently lie down among them, and stay there until stampeded.
The killers work completed, he signals for the wagons to come up, and the Skinners draw their knives. Two ropes attached to the axles, trail behind the wagon. Each terminates in a loop. The loops are placed over a fore and hind leg, the team is started, and the dead animal turned on its back. It is held in this position by scotching the wagon. The Skinners roll up their sleeves and go to work. The hide is peeled from the belly by a man on each side. Each Skinner carries two knives, one for skinning and the other for ripping. The knives are frequently sharpened. A grindstone is usually carried in the wagon. After the hide is removed it is thrown into the wagon, and the Skinners move on from carcass to carcass, until the “whole stand,” as it is called, is skinned.
HOW THE HIDES ARE CURED
When taken to camp the pelts are laid in rows in a place known as “the hide yard.” They are spread out flesh side up, and holes are cut near the edges within acts or Tomahawk. If not pressed for time a knife may be used. One of the party that goes around with an arm full of pegs, and distributes them on the hides. He averages about 16 pegs to the hide. The skins are next stretched in the pegs driven into the ground. The hides remained there until they become as hard as flint. They are then taken up and sunned. After a day or two they are cramped or folded, flesh side in, like the leaves of a book. Next they are piled readily for market. Hides are taken in summer are sprinkled with poison to keep the bugs out of them. Thousands of hides are spoiled by the rains. Frequently the wolves get at them and tear them to pieces. Some hunters kill the animals all the year round and even slaughtering the cows with calf. Others condemned this practice, and will not associate with those who follow it. There are many professional terms. A ‘cripple” is a buffalo that has been wounded and is after word discovered and killed .A ‘spike” is a young bull. The best hides are tanned and reserved for robes. Others are made into leather. The coarser ones are turned into harness, being too porous for shoes.
THE MEAT HUNTERS
Those who hunt the bison for his meat are a class by themselves. A hole like a grave is dug in the ground and a hide placed there in with the fur toward the earth. The rim of the hide is staked to the edge of the grave, and makes a leather vat. The hams, are cut into three chunks and thrown into the vat. They are sprinkled with salt and seasoned with saltpeter. The vat is then covered within a stiff hide and the meat thus protected from the sun. Tongues are pickled in a similar way. After the meat is thoroughly soaked it is taken out of the vat and cut into smooth pieces. These pieces are strung on bear grass and hung in a rude smokehouse covered with hides. The meat can not be smoked too much. It cures according to the weather. Sometimes it is in the smokehouse two months before it is marketable. It finds a ready sale in the frontier towns, and is frequently sold as far South as New Orleans. It is very palatable.
“Half the fun in killing buffalo,” said Graham, “is in observing their curious actions. I have stuck up a hat and seen a whole herd gather around it, and stare at it for hours. If one animal gets bogged, a half-dozen others are pretty sure to fall into the trap. Anything will stampede them. The stupidity is most remarkable . As stupid as a buffalo” is a common expression among herders. The little calves are more suspicious than their parents. Bulls have shorter tales than cows. There’d tales are bad fly brushes, for they could not hit a fly in a week.”
When the fleshy side of the green hide is exposed to the sun, the skin becomes as hard as iron. Four years ago a party of Texas cow-boys caught a horse thief on the border of the Indian territory. As there was no tree handy on which to hang him, they sewed him up in a green buffalo hide and left it on the plains, under the burning sun. A year after word the hide was found. The skeleton rattled within it as to dried peas in a pod. It was cut open within acts, and the remains of the unfortunate for speed were identified by the clothes.
SIXTY YEARS IN TEXAS
By William J. Bennett of Pearsall, Texas
My father moved to Texas in 1848 from Randolph County, Missouri, and settled on the Trinity River about five miles from Fort Worth, which was at that time an Indian Reservation with Lieutenant Worth in command of the post. There was only one store there then. The Indians often came to my father’s house and were friendly to the few white settlers there. Game was plentiful, deer, turkey, buffalo and prairie chickens, as well as the fiercer animals. We lived near Fort Worth four or five years, until father sold out to a man named Parker, and we moved above Fort Worth some twenty miles to Newark. After remaining there a few years we then moved down to Frio County in the fall of 1858 and located on the Leona River, where we found a fine country, with wild game and fish galore. We brought with us about four hundred head of cattle, which were allowed to roam at will over the excellent range, there being no fences to keep them confined to the immediate vicinity of our ranch. But they did not get far away from us for some time, or until other ranchers began to locate around us, when the cattle began to mix with other cattle and then began to stray off, some drifting as far as the Rio Grande or the coast. Soon the settlers began to organize cow hunts and work the cattle. I have been on cow hunts when there were as many as one hundred men working together from different counties. Stockmen of today do not know anything about the hard work and the strenuous times we encountered in those days. Sometimes we would be out for weeks at a time, starting every morning at daylight, and probably not getting in before dark, tired and hungry, and having to do without dinner all day. Our fare consisted of cornbread, black coffee and plenty of good beef.
Wilmington, North Carolina Oct. 23, 1850
Resources of Texas
Texas embraces so vast a scope of country possessing so great a variety of soil and climate, and so diversified by hill and dale, high woods and level plains, that every taste can be suited and every description of agricultural labor be successfully prosecuted. The capacity of Texas as a sugar and cotton growing region, has been briefly noticed in our former articles. We now beg leave to call attention to that particular section of the state lying north of the cotton district proper. This section is neither small nor unfruitful, but has as yet been little disturbed, except by marauding Indians, who gallop over the prairies in search of the buffalo, occasionally scalping a party of hunters or Santa Fe traders, who are too weak for defense, and sometimes making an excursion into the “settlements” for the purpose of stealing horses and scalps.
A few hardy pioneers, fond of adventure, and inpatient of the restraints of civilized society, have sought scenes and events congenial to their rough natures and rude tastes, by penetrating far into the frontiers, where the wolf’s howl and the panther’s scream are their favorite music, the elk’s haunch their delicacies, the buffalo skin their bed, and the savage red-skin their companion.
But little has been done toward testing the capabilities of the country for agricultural purposes above were caught has been successfully grown, but enough is known to settle its character as a fine grain-growing country. There is a portion of the cotton region where small grain has been experimented on with the most encouraging success. All of what are denominated the Red River counties, all the country from that to the upper Trinity, extending 200 miles on that stream above and below the three forks, reaching beyond the Cross Timbers, is a scope of country of surprising fertility, and pronounced by that best judges superior to Missouri as a wheat country. Between the Red river and upper Trinity, there is a larger body of rich land, without any admixture of poor, then can probably be found elsewhere on the continent of America. This description of country extends to most of the Trinity, taking in the Navissoto, Brazos, Colorado, and sources of Guadalupe, with occasional interruptions, to our Western boundary. Some of the tributaries of the Colorado are represented as surprisingly beautiful and rich; in the Valley of the San Saba, grows luxuriantly, wheat, rye, barley, and oats, in natures form, planted by the same hand that planted the tree of life and the first garden, watched over by no eye but that which surveys the universe, and harvested only by the bison and the wild deer. The spontaneous productions of a soil is considered unmistakable proof of its adaptation to those productions — better limitations could not be given; it is the voice of nature untaught by the husbandman’s art, speaking through her own acts, making indigenous that which is peculiarly suited to particular localities. If we regard the syndication, then Texas, we must conclude, is preeminently adapted to the growth of small grain, since rye and other descriptions of grain grow in rich luxuriance over a territory as large as some of the European kingdoms, or states of the America Union. –Texas paper.
The Evening Post
New York, New York Sep. 27, 1850
THE TEXAS BOUNDARY BILL.
We, and St. Louis, are glad to have the Texas question settled, even at that extravagant cost of ten millions. It is, in fact, a gratuity, not so much to quit title as to quiet agitation. Though nominally to go to Texas and to buy off her claims of sovereignty, it is really, in its ultimate purpose, to buy the treasonable platform upon which southern, buffalo hunting, Cuba-pirating fanatics, were endeavoring to rally their forces, and exchange their multifarious uniforms for a coat of white color. A clash of arms between Texas and the United States would have been music in the ears of this company; and opinion here will not rebel, though dissatisfied to a very considerable extent with the boundaries of New Mexico. We are wary of this congressional debate; and not a few of us would be glad to see New Mexico, at once into the Union of the States, with a free Constitution, and so have done with this eternal struggle between the propagandist of slavery and the natural and inevitable bent of our national spirit. Let alone is our doctrine: neither extension, nor restriction; except the last, at the will of the states having the power.
1860s-80s: Railroad divides bison into northern and southern herds.
1866 Charles Goodnight, captured 6 ranging bison calves and tried to start a captive herd on his Elk Creek Ranch, Throckmorton County, Texas. The bison were sold shortly after, unbeknownst of Mr. Goodnight. 1886-1867 Charles was not married and he was driving cattle up north with Loving.)
1866 July 6th, Brooklyn, New York
A St Paul paper publishes some facts which indicate that the cattle disease is raging among the buffalo on the Northwestern prairies, numbers of these animals having been found dead, with no marks to account for the cause of death. Many cattle also have been attacked, and died at Pembina, with what is supposed to be disease identical with that now spreading through Europe.
1870 An estimated two million bison were killed this year on the southern plains. Germany had developed a process to tan bison hides into fine leather.
1870’s It became obvious that owning bison was profitable. More and more people were capturing free ranging bison to establish private herds.
GOT “WILD AND WOOLLY” ON THE CHISHOLM TRAIL
By J. N. Byler of Dallas, Texas
In 1867 Butler, Baylor & Rose drove a herd to Abilene, Kansas, as did also Pucket & Rogers.
In 1868 the drives were pretty heavy, but further west, crossing Red River at Gainesville. In 1869 and 1870 they were heavier still, most of the herds crossing at Red River Station, passing east of old Fort Sill and west of the Indian and negro settlements, over which route water and grass were plentiful. This was known as the old Chisholm Trail. When we reached Kansas we usually found plenty of buffalo. When these animals were disturbed they would begin to travel northward. That is where the expression “wild and woolly” originated. When the boys reached “Abilene or some other Kansas town, they were usually long-haired and needing a barber’s attention, as there were no barbers on the trail. Upon being asked how they got there, they would sing out : “Come the Chisholm trail with the buffalo wild and woolly.”
RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD TRAIL DAYS
By B. A. Borroum of Del Rio, Texas
My first experience on the trail was in the year 1870. About the first of “April of that year I started from Monroe Choate’s Ranch in Karnes County with a herd of cattle belonging to Choate & Bennett. E. B. Rutledge was the boss and part owner. Among the hands were Jesse McCarty, Drew Lamb, George Blackburn, John Strait, and one or two others whose names I have forgotten. Going north all the time, we crossed the Guadalupe at Gonzales, the Colorado at Austin, the Brazos at Old Fort Graham, the Trinity at Fort Worth, Red River at Red
River Station, the Washita at Dr. Stearn’s, the Red Fork near Turkey Creek Stage Stand in Kaw Reservation, the Salt Fork at Cow Creek Station, the Arkansas at Wichita, the Smoky at Abilene, Kansas, which was our destination, and where we arrived about July first.
Like many others, when I had work for the time being I did not think I would ever make another trip up the trail, but also like many others, when the next drive came I was ” ‘rarin” to go. In the spring of 1871 I again went up with a herd belonging to Choate & Bennett, with Jack Scroggin as boss and part owner. The hands on this trip were W. M. Choate, John Paschal, Monroe Stewart, Joe Copeland, John Ferrier, myself and John Sumner, the cook. We started from Rock Creek, Atascosa County, about the first of “April and traveled the same trail after coming into it at Gonzales through to Abilene. We went into the Chisholm Trail about three miles below Red River Station, and just as soon as we crossed Red River all our stock seemed to go wild, especially our horses, although we did not come into contact with any buffalo until we reached a point between the Red Fork and the Salt Fork of the “Arkansas River. Several herds lost heavily at that time by cattle and horses getting into the buffalo drifts, which were at that season drifting northward. These animals were in countless numbers; in fact, the whole face of the earth seemed to be literally covered with them, all going in the same direction. The drovers were compelled to send men on ahead to keep them from stampeding their herds. On a plain about halfway between the Red Fork and the Salt Fork we had to stop our herds until the buffalo passed. Buffalo, horses, elk, deer, antelope, wolves, and some cattle were all mixed together, and it took several hours for them to pass, with our assistance, so that we could proceed on our journey. I think there were more buffalo in that herd than I ever saw of any living thing, unless it was an army of grasshoppers in Kansas in July, 1874. Just after we crossed the Red Fork I went on ahead of the herd to the Trinity Creek Stage Stand, a distance of about six miles, and at this place I found the present president of the Old Trail Drivers’ “Association, George W. Saunders, surrounded by a big bunch of Kaw Indians. George was mounted on a little gray bob-tailed pony, his saddle had no horn, and one stirrup leather was made of rawhide and the other was a grass hopple. He was trying his best to trade those Indians out of a buffalo gun, as he was in the buffalo range. And he made the deal. I never saw him again until after we reached Kansas, when the drovers made up an outfit to bring their horses back to Texas. George and I were in this outfit and we came back the trail we had gone up, except we crossed Red River at Gainesville instead of at Red River Station.
TRAIL DRIVING TO KANSAS AND ELSEWHERE
By W. F. Cude of San Antonio, Texas
In the year 1861 war broke out between the States and it lasted four years, and during all this time there was no market, so the country was beginning to be overrun with cattle so much that thousands died. Some people went out with a wagon and an ax and killed and skinned them for their hides, which sold for one dollar apiece, though there was not much killing of animals for the hides except where the animal was down on the lift or in a bog hole. This was in 1869 and 1870.
Up until 1872 there was not over 150 miles of railroad in the state ; that was from Galveston to Houston, and a short line from Houston to Brazoria, twenty-five miles in length, and one road from Harrisburg to Alleyton, three miles east of Columbus.
There were but few settlements on the way after we passed Dallas, and when we reached the settlements in Kansas we were all joyful again. We passed through many prairie dog towns and over rattlesnake dens, and lost only one horse from rattlesnake bite. Many kinds of wild animals were to be seen along the way, such as antelope, elk and buffalo, and we killed one buffalo calf and brought it into camp, though I did not like the meat as well as that of our cattle.
The country was one vast stretch of rich land, no timber except on creeks or rivers, and when we came in sight of timber we knew there would be water. In some instances we had to haul our wood to cook with, but generally we would have to gather buffalo chips (dry dung) for that purpose.
MEMORIES OF THE OLD COW TRAIL
By C. H. Rust of San Angelo, Texas
As one of the old cowpunchers that enjoyed the life on the Chisholm cow trail that led from Texas to Kansas between 1867 and 1885, the object, as you will readily see, is to keep alive the memories of those early pioneer days. My own interest in these matters is no more than that of any other old-time cowboy who enjoyed the life of those days, but I would like to see in my own day and time some record left to perpetuate the memories of the life of the old cowboy on the trails and the men that followed them.
What happened on these old trails betweeen 1867 and 1885 is history, but at this present time there is no mile- post or stone to mark their location.
I wish to call your attention to the information I can give of those days, the conditions that led up to them, the effect they had on the men who experienced them and on the development of the great Southwest.
I was born in the old red hills of Georgia in 1850. My father and mother emigrated to Texas in 1854. In 1863 my father pushed far out, almost to the danger line, to where the Caddo Peaks and Santa Anna Mountains stand as silent sentinels overlooking the valley of the Colorado River and the great Concho country to the west, far out where countless thousands of buffalo roamed at will, where deer, antelope and wild turkey seemed to have taken possession of the whole country. This wonderful panorama loomed up to me, as a boy, as the idle and happy hunting ground that I had long dreamed of, with the silvery watered streams, like narrow ribbons, winding their way toward the Gulf of Mexico.
I am so tempted that I cannot refrain from quoting from Chapter 1, The Quirt and the Spur, by Edgar Rye, it fits so well in the time and condition : “Far out beyond the confines of civilization ; far out where daring men took possession of the hunting ground of the Indians and killed herds of buffalo to make a small profit in pelts, leaving the carcass to putrefy and the bones to bleach on the prairies. Far out where cattlemen disputed over the possession of mavericks and the branding iron was the only evidence of ownership. Far out where a cool head backed the deadly six-shooter and the man behind the gun, with a steady aim and a quick trigger, won out in the game where life was staked upon the issue. Far out where the distant landscape melted into the blue horizon and a beautiful mirage was painted on the skyline.
THE EXPERIENCE OF AN OLD TRAIL DRIVER
By Richard (Dick) Withers of Boyes, Montana – 1869
I was raised on my father’s ranch eight miles north of Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas, and made my first trip up the trail in 1869.
Before we reached the Arkansas River I killed a buffalo cow and roped her calf. Intending to take the calf with me, I necked it to a yearling, but it was so wild and stubborn it fought until it died.
I am living at Boyes, Montana, now about one hundred miles from where I delivered those cattle on the Belle Fourche River below the old ranch. I went from Lodge Pole down the canyon to the Belle Fourche River, and within a week had the cattle branded and delivered. That was in September, and as some of the boys wanted to wash up before starting back to Ogallala, several of our outfit went buffalo hunting and we killed all the buffalo we wanted. Those were the last buffalo I have seen.
GRAZED ON MANY RANGES
In 1870 I made my first trip up the trail for Peck & Evans. We left Gonzales about the first of March and got along fine until we reached Fort Worth. There we had four inches of snow and very cold weather. Went to Gainesville, crossed Red River and went out by Fort Arbuckle, on to Wichita and Abilene, Kansas. We saw a great many buffalo and lots of Indians, but had no trouble with them. We delivered our herd and went home.
In the fall of 1870 I joined the Texas Rangers at Gonzales, and was mustered in at San Antonio. Went to Montague county and fought Indians that winter and also the following spring and summer. Had some close calls but came out without a scratch.
My husband, Mr. W. F. Burks, and I lived on a ranch at Banquette, Nueces County, during the days that Texas cattle could be marketed only by driving them over the old Kansas Trail.
When cold weather came the market was still low and Mr. Burks decided to winter his cattle, with others he had bought, on Smoky River.
Mr. Burks wanted me to stay in town at Ellsmore, but after being there a few days, and witnessing another fire in which a hotel and several residences were burned, I preferred camp.
A man who lived some distance from camp was paid to feed the horses through the winter, but soon after we heard that he was starving them. A boy was sent to get them and as he was returning, the first severe snowstorm of the season overtook him at nightfall and he had to take refuge for himself and horses in a wayside stable. Next morning he was awakened by a commotion among the horses, and found the owner of the stable trying to punch out the horses’ eyes with a pitchfork. Such was the hatred felt for strangers in this region.
Nine horses were lost in this snowstorm. Many of the young cattle lost their horns from the cold. Blocks of ice had to be chopped out of the streams in order that the cattle could drink.
The first taste of early winter in Kansas decided Mr. Burks to sell his cattle and leave for Sunny Texas as soon as possible, and he met with no discouragement of his plans from me, for never had I endured such cold.
So in December we left Kansas, dressed as if we were Esquimaux, and carrying a bucket of frozen buffalo tongues as a souvenir for my friends in Texas. Our homeward journey was made by rail to New Orleans via St. Louis, and by water from New Orleans to Corpus Christi via Galveston and Indianola.
I arrived home in much better health than when I left it nine months before.
By M. L. Bolding, of Bartlett, Texas
I was born in Mississippi and there I spent my childhood and early manhood, coming to Texas in 1867 and settling in Williamson county.
My first experience on the trail was in the year 1871, which was followed by another trip in 1872, and concerning the latter I shall relate I was a member of the crew of W. T. Avery of Hutto, Texas, and after rounding up two thousand steers and with all the necessary paraphernalia consisting of chuck wagon, extra saddle horses and other things, we left Brushy Creek for Kansas on April 15, 1872. We crossed Little River west of Temple, Texas, which at that time was a prairie; the Brazos at Waco, which was then a small town ; the Trinity at Forth Worth, which consisted of a blacksmith shop, and Red River west of Sherman, which was at that time a large country town. Upon entering the Indian Nation, now the state of Oklahoma, we encountered Indians, buffaloes and wild horses. We followed a trail known as the main western trail and, due to heavy rains and the cattle stampeding, together with trouble with the Indians, we experienced many hardships.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE COW TRAIL
By F. M. Polk of Luling, Texas
My first experience on the cow trail was in 1872. I went with Joe Tennison and Warnell Polk, my father. We traveled the trail known as “the Old Chisholm Trail.” We left for Lockhart, Texas, on the first of April and went by way of Fort Worth. Fort Worth was a new town then and, of course, we had to stop over and see the sights. After leaving Fort Worth we made good time until we reached Red River, which we crossed at Red River Station. The river was swollen by the heavy spring rains and we were forced to swim our cattle through very deep and swift water. We lost a few, but felt lucky in getting off light.
We were a care-free bunch, had lots of fun and also lots of hard work. It was the spring of the year and the woods were very beautiful. We would pitch our tents at night, get our work all done, and after supper would light our pipes and sit or lounge around the campfire and listen to the other men spin their hair-raising yarns, of their earlier trips. We would then make our beds, using our saddles for pillows, stretch our tired limbs and soon be sound asleep and know nothing else until morning, unless something happened to disturb the cattle, when we would bound up and be ready for action.
I recall one stampede especially on this trip. We had camped on the south side of the North Canadian River one stormy night and after retiring we heard a big noise and we were up and out to the cattle in a very few minutes. We soon realized that we had our hands full, for the cattle had scattered everywhere and it required two days to get them back together again. As we went through the country, it kept us busy looking out for Indians and buffalo. One man was always sent ahead to keep the buffaloes out of the herd and scout for Indians, for they were very savage at this time and we never knew when they would attack us. We landed in Wichita, Kansas, some time near the middle of July without serious mishaps or the loss of very many cattle.
Now in Taylor Texas April 18th, just received 300 steers.
: “Cattle driving is just about the easiest job I know of,” but, alas, peace never lasted long on the cattle trail. I don’t remember just where we struck the Western Chisholm Trail, but as we neared Little River we had a terrible storm and rain. The cattle became frightened and pulled off a big show. It took us three days to get them all together again, and when we reached the river we had to swim the cattle. They were restless and unruly and it took us two days to get them all across. We had a fellow by the name of Rufe Fuller taking care of the horses, and in crossing the river he drowned the horse he was riding and one of the bunch he was driving. We made pontoons and fastened them to our wagons to float them across. We made good time after that until we reached Pease River, but here we had a big stampede and had to lay over two days to gather up our cattle. The country was lined with antelope and prairie dogs and we found great sport killing them.
We crossed the Red River into the Indian Territory at Doan’s Store, and here we struck the Indians by the thousands. We kept our eyes open and managed to keep peace by giving them a beef every day. They would come to us fifty and one hundred at a time. Some would ride with us all day and they always asked for a cow, which they called “Wahaw,” Wahaw,” and, of course, we acted like we were glad to give it to them, but we were not very badly frightened. We all had our guns and knew how to use them if we got in a tight. As we went through this part of the country we had great sport roping buffalo and elk. You could look across the prairie and .see hundreds of them in droves.
ATCHISON DAILY PATRIOT
Atchison, Kansas Feb 3, 1872
A proposition has been made to the government, by the Kansas Pacific railroad, looking to the utilization of the buffaloes, which now roam in vast herds upon our western plains. This plan is simply to reserve large tracts of ground for the purpose of breeding and it rearing the animals, which are to be “corralled” in Texas. The uses of the buffalo to civilization are twofold. In the first place, if not too old, the buffalo serves more very good eating — in fact, in the way of a stake he cannot be surpassed, unless, indeed, an epicure should prefer the “haunch.” Then again, his shaggy covering, reduced to a “robe,” becomes very valuable. On the whole, the buffalo or bison, unlike most undomesticated animals, is useful to man in various ways, and the idea of thus utilizing it strikes us as being a good one. Certainly lovers of good eating would be glad to be able to order of their butcher buffalo meat for breakfast or dinner as they now do in the matter of more familiar but less juicy animals.
1873 On the southern plains, slaughter reached its peak. One railroad shipped nearly three million pounds of bones. Hides sold for $1.25 each, tongues brought 25 cents a piece – most of the bison was left to rot. A railway engineer said it was possible to walk A100 miles along the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way by stepping from one bison carcass to another.
Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior, under President Grant, wrote in his 1873 report, AI would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in the effect upon the Indians. I would regard it rather as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.
EXCITING EXPERIENCES ON THE FRONTIER
AND ON THE TRAIL
By C. W. Ackermann of San Antonio
1873 March 4th
Our next stop was on Bluff Creek, on the line of Kansas. There one of our men, Joe Menges, roped a buffalo calf which we carried with us to Wichita and sold it to “Buffalo Joe,” who was running a beer garden for the amusement of the trail men.
We camped on the river called Ninnesquaw for three months in order to fatten our cattle for the market. Then my father came to Kansas by train and sold them.
On the seventh of September we began our return trip, bringing with us forty-five head of saddle ponies. It took us twenty-seven days to make the return trip to San Antonio. Only five of us made the return trip, Hartmann, Eisenhauer, Markwardt, Smith, and myself.
On my journey I saw many buffalo, but killed only one great big one. I also killed seven antelopes.
One morning while I was eating breakfast one of the boys came running up and said, “Chris, come on quick, buffalo ran in the herd and they have stampeded.” I jumped on my horse and went with him. The first thing I saw was one of the boys, Philip Prinz, galloping after some buffaloes trying to rope one. When he spied me he came and asked me for my horse. I would not give it to him and told him to let the buffalo alone if he didn’t want to get killed. He got a little sore at me, but we rode on back to camp together.
I think we were the. youngest bunch of trailmen on the “Trail” that year. The oldest man, “Ad. Markwardt, our cook, was only twenty-five years old, and the rest were between eighteen and twenty-two years. Those that rode the “Trail” with me were Alf. Hartmann, Steve Wooler, Joe Menges, Phil Prinz, Louis Eisenhauer, Ad Markwardt, Henry Smith, a negro, and my brother, Fred.
In August of that year I started out with two saddle horses and one pack horse. I went in a northwestern direction, then turned toward the Concho country. I went as far as the New Mexico boundary line, then started back home.
The country I traveled through was very wild. There were just a few small settlements scattered here and there and the people even seemed uncivilizd.
I saw antelope and buffalo by the thousands. It was that year the government was trying to kill out the buffalo. I passed many mule teams loaded with buffalo hides. Even though the country was wild I found some excellent locations for a ranch, especially in the Concho country.
Buffalo Hunt, 1874
This series of photos depicts a buffalo hunt in Taylor County in 1874. Buffalo in Texas were first described by Cabeza de Vaca. Texas was home to four main herds, and at the height of their population, their trails could be several miles wide. What became known as the “great slaughter” took place in the 1870s, and by 1878 the buffalo in Texas was all but exterminated.
Taylor County Buffalo Hunt, 1874. From William J. Oliphant’s stereographic series “Life on the Frontier.” Photography by George Robertson. Modern prints made circa 1926. Prints and Photographs Collection.
1874: Comanche defeat opens bison range for hide hunting.
This year marked the seeming end of the great southern herd. Auctions in Fort Worth, Texas were moving 200,000 hides every day or two. One railroad shipped nearly 7 million pounds of buffalo bones.
Congress advanced their efforts to save the bison. Both the House and Senate passed a bill that protected female bison and did away with wanton destruction. However, President Grant refused to sign the bill.
Around this time, William and Charles Alloway of Manitoba, Canada, with the aid of a milk cow, captured three bison calves to start their own herd.
1874-80: Bison decimated in Texas and Oklahoma.
1870s-80s: Cattle increase greatly on Great Plains. Drought in northern Plains.
1871-75: Southern Herd: c. 4 million bison killed to ship 1.4 million hides from Dodge City, Kansas.
1875 Few bison remained in Texas when the state legislature moved to protect the bison. However, General Phil Sheridan appeared before the assembly and suggested that every hunter be given a medal with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged Indian on the other. He added that once the animals were exterminated, the Indians would be controlled and civilization could advance.
……At Fort Concho, soldiers had to build stone buffalo walls around the fort to keep the bison off the parade grounds and away from the buildings. In the 1870’s many officers at Fort Concho and their families recorded in their journals and letters participating in the buffalo hunts in the area. Several hunters were given contracts to provide bison meat to the fort or for other functions. During the height of the buffalo hunting era, railway shipping yards were full of hides. Stacks were often 15″ high and barley had enough room between the stacks for a man to walk. Bison lured man to this area to hunt the majestic beast. It is hard to fathom how many bison were in the Concho Valley and how many were killed and no one knows the exact numbers. By 1885 the last bison disappeared from the Concho Valley. In a story in the San Angelo Standard Times , W.J.D. Carr reported a few stray bison near Spring Creek . Twenty years earlier estimates of over 5 million bison roamed the plains and by 1880 only a few pockets of a few small herds were reported in Texas. The symbol of the plains had been hunted nearly to extinction.
sources: Alice Grierson letter dated Feb 261876
“W.J.D.Carr of Spring Creek Reports Buffalo on Stilson Ranch,” San Angelo Standard Times, Aug 8 1885
“Buffalo Herd sighted on Texas Canadian River, Last on Continent,” San Angelo Standard Times May 26 1888
……What was known as the “great slaughter” took place in the early 1870s, and by 1878 the so-called southern herd was practically exterminated. There have been several attempts to protect the buffalo. In 1875 the Texas legislature considered a measure to protect the animals from wholesale slaughter, but Gen. Philip H. Sheridan protested the bill, contending that peace with the Indians could be maintained only if their food supply was eliminated; the bill failed to pass. Preservation of a few animals was due to the efforts of such men as Charles Goodnight and Charles J. (Buffalo) Jones, who preserved small herds on their ranches
1876 The estimated three to four million bison of the southern plains were now dead. The Northern Pacific Railroad, anxious to advance, ignored tribal treaties and sent in a survey party. Native Americans killed some of the men, and General George Custer was sent to investigate, making history with the Battle at Little Big Horn.
SOLD CATTLE IN NATCHEZ FOR $4.50 A HEAD
- E. Scheske, Gonzales, Texas
- I believe the cattle business to be the greatest enterprise the world has ever seen, even greater than the manufacture of automobiles is today, considering the time and the conditions. In the early days the cattle business was not only the greatest thing to Texans and to the people of the South, but people from everywhere flocked to Kansas to see the vast herds that came from Texas, and the herds that were on the plains there, as well as the buffalo that were so numerous in the early seventies, and which men killed by thousands for their hides from which to make leather and robes.
HABITS AND CUSTOMS OF EARLY TEXANS
I was born in Amite County, Mississippi, March 24, 1849. Came overland with my parents to Texas in the spring of 1853.
My experiences on the trail were many and varied, some perilous and some humorous. I remember one exciting time in particular, when I was taking a herd for Millett & Irvin from the Panhandle ranch to Old Fort Fetterman in the Rocky Mountains. The Sioux Indians made a raid on us, got off with most of our horses and all of our provisions. We had nothing to eat except buffalo and antelope meat until we reached North Platte City, a distance of two hundred miles.
ASSOCIATED WITH FRANK JAMES
Sam H. Nunneley, San Antonio, Texas
I was born in Hickman county, Middle Tennessee, April 3, 1851, and in 1869 I started to Texas. I arrived at Memphis on a train, then the terminus of all roads going west. There I took the steamer, Bismarck, down the Mississippi to the mouth of Red River, and up Red River, to Soda and Caddo Lakes to Jefferson, Texas. I had lots of sport shooting alligators on the trip. From Jefferson I traveled in a freight wagon drawn by eight yoke of oxen to Bowie county. The next year I saddled my horse and pulled out for West Texas, landing at McKinney, Collin county, where I met Townsend Megeath, and we traveled together, slept together and that winter we stayed with Sam Hilderbran, which was an assumed name I learned in after years. Mr. Megeath turned out to be Frank James. Both were good, unassuming gentlemen in every way. It was from this county I made my first trip over the trail with Sneed, Clonch and Gatling. I made one trip with horses to Mississippi and after selling them I went down into Flor-ida, where I remained all winter, then went to New Orleans and Shreveport, and on to San Antonio, and then out to Uvalde, where I went to work helping drive over the trail for Hughes, Nunn, Hood and Birchfield. We had fourteen thousand cattle cut into four herds, and we drove them to Wichita, Kansas. This was in 1875. After all were sold I came back to Texas on the train to Seguin, and there took the stage to San Antonio, and stayed all night at the well-known Menger Hotel. Next morning. I purchased a saddle for $40 and a horse for $16 and rode to Uvalde, There I fell in with a bunch of fellows, eleven in all, and we started horseback to Silver City, New Mexico, a distance of 900 miles. We went there to live but nobody lived there outside of government forts except wild Indians, so we started back to Texas, coming to Fort Stanton, down the Pecos River to Horsehead Crossing, then across the plains ninety-five miles without water to the head waters of the Concho River. There I killed my last buffalo. I spent two weeks with a buffalo hunter there who had killed that season upwards of 5,000 buffaloes for their hides and tongues. He sold the hides to Fort Worth people at six bits to a dollar each.
From Johnson county I drove 125 horses to Arkansas for a Mr. Sparks. I bought beef cattle in the Indian Territory from the Indians for four years, and drove them to the Hot Springs market, then bought cattle in Arkansas to drive to Kansas, but sold them to the chief of the Choctaw Nation, after which I went back to Arkansas and engaged in the mercantile business for awhile. I was in the “run” in Oklahoma, and helped to make a state out of the Territory of Oklahoma. I now live in San Antonio.
The Galveston Daily News
Galveston, Texas Mar 11 1876
The Gazette weilds a free lance, and goes for the Hon. John H. Reagan in this wise:
The Hon. John H. Reagan had sat still for two mortal hours. It became irksome to him, for he regards Congress as an institution created for his special benefit, and a piece in which to air his oratorical powers, which are of the loudest calibre. He has been popping up like a legislative jack in the box more or less all the session, but had it been known that he was lying in ambush for a speech, the moment he rose he would have stampeded the house. But he was burning Ford distinction. Like the boy who stood upon the burning dock when all but he had fled. He was longing to extinguish himself. Casablanca was nothing to him and heroism. The grand opportunity arrived, a bill was introduced for the protection of the buffalo. Reagan’s grand for portions rise, his noble boson swells with thoughts of the mighty bison. He catches the eye of the speaker, or rather lassoes him into recognition with his hoarsert bass. His “Mr. Speaker” startles the astonished Kerr like a low murmur of a herd of real buffalo on there’d native prairies, and Reagan, better known under the newspaper sobriquet of the “Texas steor steak,” then comes a torrent of mighty eloquence. He lashes the air with his hands and buffaloes swing their mighty tales when infuriated by the unfeeling hunter. He pleads for the poor buffalo. He weeps for him; and this strong, this massive brained, determined looking man from the Lone Star State all alone, too, of all the representatives of that state, stands up, praise that cruel man may no longer extirpate the buffalo.
The Galveston Daily News May 6 1876
The Austin Weekly Statesman
Nov 2 1876
Hides Steady; dry selected 17c; lightly salted 141/2c ; stack salted 12 1/2c ; wet salted 8 1/2c ; butchers green 7c.
November 8, 1876
Fort Worth Daily Democrat
“Freighters are wanted to transport buffalo hides to Fort worth.”
The Galveston Daily News Nov 9 1876
A large train of wagons loaded with buffalo hides passed through town the other day.
The Galveston Daily News Nov 18 1876
Burroughs returned home from the West, where they have been hunting buffalo. They killed 400 and wounded several more. We notice wagons on our streets every week from the counties west of us, loaded with pecans, hides and cotton, etc.,
1877 A few remaining free roaming bison were discovered in Texas and were killed.
A law was passed in Canada that forbade the use of pounds (corrals), wanton destruction, killing of buffalo under 2 years of age, and the killing of cows during a closed season.
Lt. Col. Samuel Bedson of Stoney Mountain, Manitoba (Canada) purchased bison from the Alloway herd, the McKay herd and from some Native Americans.
The Milan Exchange, February 21 1877
Science and Industry.
Fort Worth received 120,000 buffalo hides last year.
MADE FIRST TRIP IN 1877
By B. D. Sherrill, Rocksprings, Texas
In 1877 I went up the trail with Dave Combs, who was then driving for Ellison & Sherrill. We left the coast country with 3,000 big steers and stags and delivered to Millett & Ervin in the Indian Territory. This was my first trip as a cow-puncher, and when we reached Red River a lot of Indians came and stayed with us all day. To me, a beardless boy, those Indians in the war paint was a wonderful sight. After delivering the cattle I went on to Wolf Creek, near Camp Supply, remained there two months and picked up sore-footed cattle and carried them to Ellison & Sherrill’s Ranch on North Fork of Red River near old Fort Elliott. That was the finest country I ever saw, and it was full of Indians, buffalo, antelope, deer, turkey and prairie chickens by the thousands. I remained in that region several years and finally drifted back to Staples on the San Marcos River.
The Atlanta Constitution Jan 25 1878 Texas Buffalo Hunt
CATCHING ANTELOPE AND BUFFALO ON THE TRAIL
By A. Huffmeyer of San Antonio, Texas -March 1878
(Waiting to cross the Red River after a bad storm, which lightning and Rustlers took about 100 cattle)
On the other side of ‘the river we found the bottoms full of ripe wild plums and enjoyed quite a treat.
When we took the trail again we could see the Wichita Mountains in the distance, about seventy-five miles away. We knew the trail passed along the foot of those mountains, but on account of water the trail made a big curve to the right, which made it a longer drive, so in order to save time, Mr. Johnson decided to try to go straight through on a bee-line to the foot of the Wichitas, and thus save several days. It proved to be a bad venture, for we traveled without water for two days, not a drop for the cattle to drink or with which to quench our thirst. We had to keep traveling, and by noon the third day our herd was strung out for fully two miles, with the big steers in the lead going like race horses, and the old dogies bringing up the rear. I happened to be on the point and about noon I saw the leaders throw up their heads and start to run. Mr. Johnson said, “They They smell water,” and, sure enough, after crossing a ridge we found a little stream of clear sweet water. We camped right there that day and all of the next to allow our stock to rest. The country was open and was covered with the finest grass I ever saw. We reached the Wichita Mountains and got back on the old trail. While traveling along we permitted our herd to scatter and graze, and as we were proceeding slowly we discovered a brown bunch of something on a ridge about a mile away. It turned out to be a herd of buffalo, which were the first I had ever seen. We decided to go forth and kill some of the animals and, accordingly, several of us mounted fresh horses and put out to go around them and head them toward our herd so the other boys could get a chance to kill some of them. But when within two hundred yards of the buffalo they saw us coming and struck a bee-line for the north pole. We yelled and fired at them without result, they kept on traveling. I gave out of ammunition and was determined not to go back empty-handed, so I took down my lariat and selected a young bull about two years old, and soon had him lassoed, but found out that I was not fooling with a two-year-old cow brute. I think I let that bull run over my rope a dozen times and threw him each time, but he would be up in an instant, and I just could not hold him. I called Shelby to my assistance, and the two of us finally managed to get him down and cut his throat. Shelby went back to. the herd while I remained and skinned the buffalo and had him ready to load into the wagon when it came along.
Fort Wayne Daily Gazette May 3 1878 Buffalo to Sitting Bull
The Atlanta Constitution May 8 1878 Sitting Bulls Niece
Brenham Weekly Banner June 7 1878
The Fort Worth Standard says the trade in buffalo hides is falling off. The price of hides is so much reduced that it does not pay to haul them from the range and hunters are now killing buffalo for their meat, leaving hides on the plains to rot.
Texas has a role in this story. The Comanche, the Apache, and the Kiowa roamed vast parts of this state. Fort Griffin in Albany, an early military outpost built to protect settlers from the Indians, became a clearing house in the late 1870s for buffalo hides and meat. Hide hunters brought wagon loads of hides through Weatherford to ship east to markets. From the 1860s to the early 1880s hide hunters virtually exterminated the buffalo population in the United States and Canada. Charles and Molly Goodnight notably saved the remnants of a buffalo herd which became the source for new managed herds on private lands and protected refuges in the 20th century.
1879 Charles Goodnight started a herd. Indians and whites alike were killing off the migratory herds and he conceived the idea of saving some for preservation and future propagation. So he caught a few young ones, which were the beginning of the herd, he is now (1906) willing to place in a national preserve. The story goes, Mary Ann found out they had been killing calves that were left behind by their mothers, because the calves could not climb some of the canyon walls.
When Mrs. Goodnight realized the inevitable wiping out of the buffalo she urged her husband to endeavor to preserve them. He set aside at her request 600 acres from his great ranch of 60,000 acres for buffalo park. In a letter telling of his start as a buffalo raiser, Mr. Goodnight said:“In the spring of 1879- to be exact, May 15th- at my wife’s request, started out to look for some young buffalo. At last I found a few younger ones in Palo Duro canyon, and ‘roped’ them from horseback. The month following W.W. Dyer, my wife’s brother, caught two young females. From this start we have now a herd of forty-five purebred buffaloes. In 1884 I began to cross them with Polled Angus and Galloway cattle, and have a herd of sixty of these cross-breeds. This year we have been fortunate in getting fifteen buffalo calves.
“The buffalo breeds slowly in captivity. It seems incomprehensible that they should have grown into such an enormous herds as there were when I came to this country, and which, in fact, covered all the western plains.”
1883 By mid-year nearly all the bison in the United States were gone. The Dakota Territorial Legislature enacted a law to protect bison; it was not enforced. In Oklahoma, the McCoy brothers and J.W. Summers caught a pair of bison calves, 2 of very few left on the southern plains.
The Emporia Ledger
June 13 1878
HUNTING WOLVES IN TEXAS
Gradual Extermination of the Prairie Wolf – Traps Baited with Strychnine –
It’s Habits – Running Down an old Buffalo Bull
(From the N.Y. Sun )
Forty years ago, when Raxton camped on the plains, in Washington Irving made his tour on the prairies, wolves were as plentiful as rabbits and considered more worthless. The trapper took nothing but beavers, killing only enough buffalo to keep him in meat. As the beaver disappeared, bison were shot for their hides, and the peltries of the wolves became valuable. They brought as much in market as a buffalo hide, and as they were smaller and lighter were packed from place to place with greater ease. The building of the Pacific Railroad drove the buffalo from the line of the Platte and Arkansas into Texas. Their range extended along the well watered streams in the northern and northwestern parts of the great State. The wolves followed the buffalo, and committed depredations upon the folds and herds of the cattle kings. But within the last ten years the trappers have cleaned them out, and the occupation of the professional wolf hunters is gone.
Mr. James Graham, and old Texan hunter and trapper, is now stopping at the Sturtevant House in this city. He gives some interesting particulars of life on the buffalo range. The professional wolf hunters, he says, gave up the business three years ago. Their great hunting grounds were watered by the Red River, the big Wichita, Brazos, Colorado, Concho, and Pecos. The highest grade of hides, technically termed “Southern fur,” brought $1.75 apiece. Skins taken north of the Arkansas were more valuable, because the fur was finer and thicker. The wolf pelts were classed as follows:
No.1 Fine Fur
No.2 Coarser Fur
No.3 Hair and Fur
No.4 More Hair than Fur
The price varied from $1.25 up, according to the quality. The animals were killed between 1 November in the middle of February. After that their coats became thinner and they began to shed their hair, so that the skins were worthless. Further North the season last much longer. The coyotes were hunted with the big gray wolf, but their hides, being much smaller, brought only $.75.
One Bell of Fort Griffin is credited with killing more wolves than anyone man on the plains of the Arkansas. In one season he poisoned over 500. From three to four good hunters used to club together in hunt this season through. They started out with a wagon well loaded with flour, bacon, sugar, salt, and coffee. An extra pony or two came handy to ride around, keep the baits in order, and bring in the hides. The trappers carried plenty of ammunition, and when using breech loading rifles, filled their own shells. As the Comanche were trouble- some, the rifles were loaded in the horses strictly guarded. At night they were hobbled in the brush near the camp, so that they could not go astray. If the “sign” was good, camp wish easily made in a secluded spot near a running stream, tributary to one of the large rivers. As the wolves followed the buffalo, and the buffalo cropped the juicy grass along the streams, the “sign” was always good in a wild and well watered section of country. By the “sign” -the tracks and half eaten dead buffalo – the trappers estimated the number of wolves, and prepared their baits. Buffalo, antelope, or deer, were killed in an open place, and strychnine placed in those portions of the carcass first torn by the wolves. But the trappers, as a rule, did not plant the poisoned before sunset, for the wolves of the air, the innumerable ravens that shadow the plains and feed upon dead animals, displaced the baits if the traps were set before they went to roost. The ground near the carcass was sometimes sprinkled with dead ravens. Small flocks staggered around the dead bulls under the influence of the poison, and gyrated through the air like tumbler pigeons.
The colder the weather, the more wolves. A nipping, frosty air seem to sharpen their appetites, and give them a keen scent. While Graham was on the Brazos, five winners ago, eight bison were killed on the side of the hill, and their bodies skinned and poisoned. During the night the wind veered to the north, and the weather became intensely cold. A storm of sleet made the campfire hiss, and the howls of the wolves ring above the ravine in which the hunters slept. With the first break of daylight they visited their baits, fearful that the ravens might tear the fur of the dead wolves and damage the hides. Within three hours they found the bodies of 56 large gray wolves frozen so hard that they dragged them into the ravine and thought them out. All agreed that if the night had been mild the animals would have kept undercover.
A wolf begins to feel the effect of the poison within ten minutes. He stops eating. His ears and eyebrows twitched, and his limbs are cramped. Frequently he whirls around like a dancing dervish, sweeping the ground with his tail and throwing up the dirt with his fore paws. His comrades cocked their heads to one side and watch his spasms with curious eyes, but resumed their feast when the victim stiffens or starts for the scrub. Few of the poisoned animals died at the side of the poisoned buffalo. Old hunters assert that the strychnine produces a burning thirst, and the wolf makes for the nearest water. This keeps the band of trappers busy all morning. While two of them skin the wolves nearest the baits, the other mounts a Mustang and scours the chaparral and banks of the river in a further search for bodies. The ravens assist him, filling the air with wild cries, and fluttering over the gasping animals in the brush. Many of the wolves are not dead when discovered. They are scattered about in all stages of paralysis, and are put out of their misery by the hunter. Occasionally a dying wolf is found stretched on the sands of the river lapping the water, but he does not rush into the stream, and his body is never found floating upon its surface. Even in death he seems to have a horror for wedding his feet.
The only adepths at skinning are the professional hunters. The body is turned upon its back and work begins at the forequarters. The trapper grips a leg between his knees, opens up the hide to the brisket, and rips down to the tail. The tail is the most valuable part of the wolf. If injured, it spoils the beauty of the robe. It is therefore taken off with the greatest care. The skinner than plants his foot firmly upon the neck, and by main strength peals the hide up to the head. Here more care is required. The ears and nose are torn away with the skin, so that spread upon the prairie it presents a perfect picture. The hide is then folded flesh side in, thrown across the back of a pony and borne to camp. The fur is then turned to the grass and the skin stretched by pegs driven into the ground. It dries according to the weather. No salt is used. If the atmosphere is dry it is taken up within three days, and turned over and sunned until ready for market.
While the trapper is thus picking up the skins of the big gray wolf he does not neglect the coyote. This is much smaller than his gray brother. The latter is nearly as large as a Newfoundland dog; the former about twice the size of cat. The coyote fancies a campfire, and sits on hillocks with insight of its blaze barking for hours. The gray wolf bays the moon like a dog. Grand says he has seen them sitting on the highest rocks gazing at it’s bright orb with their heads thrown back uttering unearthly howls. This wolf scorns the coyote. When the large wolves drag down an old buffalo bull the coyotes huddled in the vicinity, licking their chops and barking, as though begging a share of the prey. Should they venture too near the big fellows utter ominous growls and the coyotes slink away, tails between their legs and heads turned over their shoulders. The coyote quickly determines the status of the hunter. If he finds him killing wolves he keeps a respectful distance; but if he is only hunting bear, antelope or buffalo, the little fellow becomes quite social. While a bear hunter was butchering game coyotes patiently watched his operations, and the gray wolf loped hungrily on an outer circle. The trapper through a piece of meat to the small fellows, who ran off and were waylaid by the big wolf. They dropped the meat and returned, but seem to learn nothing by experience, for they fed the robber as long as the hunter chucked them the meat.
Many coyotes pick up their supplies in the prairie-dog colonies. If one is lurking in the streets and sees a dog away from his hole, he steals upon him with the utmost secrecy, striving to cut off his retreat. As an old dog, however, is rarely caught napping. Some of the fraternity are sure to espy the wolf, and a warning bark since the dog into his hole with the tantalizing shake of the tail. The coyote despondently peers into the hole, rakes away the dirt with a paw, and sniffs at the lost meal. He gets his eye on another dog, and crawls toward the hole like a cat upon a mouse. The warning bark is again heard, and a second meal disappears. Infuriated by his disappointment, the wolf frequently turns upon the little sentry, and for a few seconds makes the sand fly from the entrance of his readiness. Worn out by his futile efforts, he flattens himself upon the sand behind the hole, and, motionless as a statue, watches it for hours. If the dog pops out his head he is gone. The wolf springs upon him, and jaws come together like a snap of the trap, and the helpless little canine is turned into a succulent supper. One Metley, a well-known buffalo hunter, was riding across a dog town some years ago when he saw what he supposed to be a dead coyote stretched out at one of the holes. He dismounted and lifted it by the tail, intending to take the body to camp and skin it. The coyote made a snap at his leg, wriggled from his grasp, and sped over the prairie more surprised than the trapper. He was in a sound sleep when caught. But the coyotes greatest harvest is in the spring of the year, when they fat themselves at the expense of inexperienced young dogs caught wandering from home. Whole families enjoying the cool evening breeze on the mounds above their burrows are taken unawares, and the tender young snapped up before their parents can force them under the ground.
The Indians say that the wolf has no home. He follows the buffalo, and is ever skirmishing on the edge of the herd. Indefatigable in the chase, he pursues his prey for days without sleep. He catches his naps in the sunlight, and does the bulk of his work at night. Like the Indian, whom he resembles in many characteristics, he never declines an invitation to dinner. A great glutton, he stuffs himself till his paunch is distended like a bladder, and in this condition is often run down and lassoed by the cow-boys on ordinary ponies. Some of the Southern tribes of Indians never slay a wolf. They have a superstition that when they die there spirits roamed the prairies in the guise of wolves.” Who says a wolf may slay his brother.” Is an Indian proverb.
Cruel and voracious, the gray wolf is an arrant coward. While on the Brazos in 1873, and camped above what is called “The Round Timbers,” Graham killed five buffalo for bait. He charge three with strychnine, and in the morning and found five dead wolves. Three great Eagles were perched upon the head and shoulders of an un-poisoned carcass, and two large gray wolves were tearing the hams. The eagles regarded the wolves with an evil eye. At intervals the most powerful bird strode over the carcass with outstretched wings and open beak. In an instant the wolves cringed to the ground, and slunk away with their heads over their shoulders like whipped curs. With the hair of their necks on end they furtively watched the lordly bird until he returned to his comrades. Then, with averted eyes, they sneaked back to the feast, and crunched and gnawed until there rapacity again excited the ire of the feathered nobleman at the head of the table.
A striking peculiarity of the Wolf is his habit of running with his head over his shoulders. Suddenly frightened, he rushes off like the wind, with his face turned back to the foe and his tail between his legs. “He ran like a scared wolf,” is a Texan’s estimate of the speed of a coward. No dog but thoroughbred grayhound can overtake him. It seems almost impossible for a wolf to look any thing in the face. He will hardly meet the stare of a grasshopper. Graham declares that when wolves have been paralyzed by strychnine he has held them by the ears, turned their faces around, and tried to force them to look into his eyes. Not for a second was he successful. They would look over his shoulders or turn their eyes in any direction, and even entirely close them before they would meet his gaze. A story is told of a Texas farmer who caught a coyote cub, and stared into its eyes until the cub died.
The report of a gun, and old times, never failed to put every wolf within hearing on the alert. He immediately began to look for dead buffalo, and generally managed to secure his share of the booty. In the spring, when the calves grand with the herds, and the droves were resting at noon, the big gray wolves organized for an attack. Woe betided the calf on the outskirts of the drove. The ferocious beast would cut it out in a rush, after stampeding the herd. If the calf was nearly full-grown they would ham-string it with their teeth, but if young and tender would terror out the throat before the dam could come to its defense. Frequently a lone wolf routed out an old bull, driven from the herd by younger and more active bulls. He caught him by the nose, and hung on until shaken off. The attack was kept up until the bull started on a run. The wolf kept in the rear until the old patriarch showed signs of fatigue, when he resumed the attack in front. The buffalo was not allowed to lag. If he fell into a walk he was again seized by the nose. When nearly exhausted the howls of the wolf drew other wolves from their lairs, and between them the old veteran was ham-strung and rendered helpless, and finally torn in pieces by the pack.
Gray is the common color of the wolves in Texas. Occasionally white ones are killed. Graham says that he killed eight in one winter with skins as white as the driven snow. The black Wolf is very scarce, and mostly found in the timber. His fur brings the highest price; but, during six years of trapping, Graham declares that he never saw one, and heard of not more than two or three shot on the Clear Fork of the Trinity by a party of Rangers.
SOUTHWEST PLAINS BISON
San Angelo State Park Herd Manager: Bill Guffey
Park Superintendent: Kurt Kemp
The Trail Driver of Texas
WITH HERDS TO COLORADO AND NEW MEXICO
By G. W. Scott of Uvalde, Texas
In 1881 I went with a herd to White Lake, New Mexico, for James Dalrymple, starting from the Leona Ranch. Most of the boys in this outfit were from the Frio Canyon, and I recall the names of Sam Everts, George Leakey, Tobe Edwards, James Crutchfield, Os Brown, Allison Davis and Tip Davis. We drove 2,178 two-year- old steers this trip, crossing the Nueces River at Eagle Pass crossing. We headed north toward Devil’s River, which we crossed above Paint Cave. At this time the range was dry and water scarce, and many of our cattle gave out and had to be left on the trail. We reached the Pecos River, at the mouth of Live Oak, where we rested for a few days. We were in the Seven D range at this time, and Taylor Stevenson was foreman of the Seven D Ranch, and he brought his outfit and helped us work up the Pecos from the mouth of Live Oak to Horse Head Crossing, where we left the thinnest of our cattle and proceeded on our journey. Our next point was Mid-land, where we found plenty of fine grass and water. After leaving Midland we again found a dry range with no grass. When we reached the Colorado River that stream was very low. Here I saw my first buffalo, but it was a tame animal and was branded a long S on each side. Ed Hagerman of Kimble County was ahead of us with a herd of the Half Circle L C cattle. After a great deal of hard luck and trouble we reached Yellow Horse Draw about ten miles from Lubbock, where we encountered a heavy hailstorm. We had lost a great many of our cattle on the trip, and the sudden change chilled a number of others to death as well as five saddle horses. We left camp at this point with only 1,072 head. We reached White Lake, New Mexico, on June 21, and delivered to Mr. Handy. Here we found Ham Bee and his outfit and accompanied them back to Midland, where we took the train for Uvalde.
I am adding Corwin F Doan to this list, even though his story is not mainly about buffalo. I am adding him for Texas history and the Natives, along with the fact, he is my cousin and I own this site. 🙂 I am also kin to Charles Goodnight by marriage.
REMINISCENCES OF THE OLD TRAILS
- Corwin F. Doan of Doan’s
My first introduction to the Old Chisholm Trail was in 1874 when in company with Robert E. Doan, a cousin, and both of us from Wilmington, Ohio, we set out for Ft. Sill, Indian Territory, from Wichita, Kansas. We made this little jaunt by stage coach of 250 miles over the famous trail in good time.
In 1875, very sick, I returned to my home in Ohio from Fort Sill, but the lure of the West urged me to try my luck again and October 10, 1878, found me back in the wilds and ever since I have lived at Doan’s, the trail crossing on Red River known far and wide by the old trail drivers as the jumping off place into the great unknown the last of civilization until they hit the Kansas line.
While sojourning in the Indian Territory in 1874 and 1875 with Tim Pete, Dave Lours and J. Doan, I engaged in trading with the Indians and buying hides at a little store on Cache Creek, two miles from Fort Sill. Our life at this place was a constant thrill on account of Indians. During the month of July, 1874, the Indians killed thirteen hay cutters and wood choppers. Well do I remember, one day after a hay cutter had been killed, a tenderfoot from the East with an eye to local color decided to explore the little meadow where the man had been killed expecting to collect a few arrows so that he might be able to tell the loved ones at home of his daring. But the Indians discovered the sightseer and with yells and his collection of arrows whistling about his ears, chased him back to the stockade. Terror lent wings to his feet and he managed to reach safety but departed the next day for the East, having lost all taste for the danger of the West.
January 8, 1875, found me caught in a blizzard and I narrowly escaped freezing to death at the time. Indians around Fort Sill demanding buckskin, as their supply had run low, I was sent by the firm on horseback to the Shawnee tribe to buy a supply. This was my second trip. Soon after my departure the blizzard set in and I was warned by the mail carrier, the only man I met on the trip, to turn back or I would be frozen. But the thoughts of the buckskin at $4.00 per pound caused me to press on. I managed to reach Conover ranch badly frozen, I was taken from my horse and given first-aid treatment. I was so cold that ice had frozen in my mouth. The mail carrier, who had advised me to turn back, never reached the fort, and his frozen body was found some days after the storm.
For two weeks I remained in this home before I found strength to continue the journey. I was held up another week by the cold near Paul’s Valley, but I got the buckskin, sending it back by express-mail carrier and returned on horseback.
Indians during this time were held in concentration camps near the fort, both Comanches and Kiowas, and beeves were issued twice a week. A man by name of Conover and myself did the killing and about seventy five or eighty head were killed at one time. The hides were bought from the Indians and shipped to St. Louis.
After the bi-weekly killings, the Indians would feast and sing all night long and eat up their rations and nearly starve until the next issue day came.
It was at this time that I met Quanah, chief of the Comanches, who was not head chief at that time, and Satanta, chief of the Kiowas. I was warned during that time by Satanta that the Indians liked me and they wanted me to leave the country because they intended to kill every white man in the nation. I rather think that the friendly warning was given me because I often gave crackers and candy to the hungry squaws and papooses and of course Satanta’s family received their share.
Satanta escaped soon after that and near where El Reno now stands, at the head of his warriors, captured a wagon train and burned men to their wagon wheels. He was captured again and taken to the penitentiary where he committe suicide by opening a vein in his arm.
After moving to Doan’s of course I saw a great deal of Quanah, who at that time had become head chief. He told me that he had often been invited to return to his white relations near Weatherford but he had refused. “Corwin,” he said, “as far as you see here I am chief and the people look up to me, down at Weatherford I would be a poor half breed Indian.” Perhaps he was right.
Big Bow, another Kiowa chief, often followed by his warriors, rode up to the little store on Cache Creek one day and arrogantly asked, would we hand over the goods or should they take them? We told them we would hand over the goods as he designated them. Later when Big Bow and I became good friends, he said, “Us Indians are big fools, not smart like white men. ‘Cause you handed over the goods that day, but Washington (Uncle Sam) took it out of our pay.” It was quite true for as soon as the wards of the government had departed, the bill was turned into their guardian, Uncle Sam.
We had but one bad scare from the Indians at Doan’s, and that date April, 1879, is indelibly fixed on my memory.
The Indians came close enough to the house to be recognized by the women and they ran our horses off. I was up in the woods hunting at that time and reached home at dusk to find three terror stricken women, a baby and a dog for me to defend. All the other men had gone to Denison for supplies and our nearest neighbor was fifty miles away ; so thinking discretion the better part of valor, we retreated to a little grove about half a mile from our picket house and spent the night, expecting every moment to have a “hair-raising” experience. The Indians proved to be a band of Kiowas returning from near where Quanah now stands where they killed and scalped a man by name of Earle. Three days later the soldiers came through on the trail of the Indians expecting to find our, home in ashes and the family exterminated. The Indians had returned to the reservation. The Kiowas told me afterward quite coolly that they would have attacked us that night but believed us to be heavily garrisoned with buffalo hunters —a lucky thing for us. This was the last raid through the country. The Indians
after that became very friendly with us and told me to go ahead and build a big store, that we would not be molested. They had decided this in council.
The spring and summer of 1879, I saw the first herds come up the trail, though the movement had started two years before. My uncle, J. Doan, who had been with me the two years in Fort Sill, had established this post at Doan’s, April, 1878, and we had arrived, that is, myself, wife and baby and the Judge’s daughters, that fall. So we had come too late to see the herds of 1878. One hundred thousand cattle passed over the trail by the little store in 1879. In 1881, the trail reached the peak of production and three hundred and one thousand were driven by to the Kansas shipping point.
In 1882 on account of the drouth, the cattle found slim picking on their northern trek and if it had not been for the “butter weed” many would have starved to death as grass was all dead that year. Names of John Lytle, Noah Ellis, Ab and John Blocker, Harrold and Ikard, Worsham, the Belchers, Ligon and Clark, Wiley Blair, the Eddlemans and others come into my memory as I write this, owners and bosses of the mighty herds of decades ago. One man, Dubose, with whom we would go a piece, like school kids, up the trail, complained plain- tively that he never in all those summers had a mess of roasting ears, of which he was very fond, as the corn would be about knee high when he left Corpus Christi and as he came slowly up the trail he would watch the fields in their various stages but by the time he left Doan’s and civilization it was still too early for even a cob.
Captain John Lytle spent as high as a month at a time in Doan’s preparing for his onward march. Accompanied by his secretary he would fit out his men and everything would be shipshape when he crossed the Red River. He was a great man and his visits were enjoyed.
Wichita Falls failing to provide suitable branding pens for the accommodation of the trail drivers, pens were provided at Doan’s. Furnaces and corrals were built and here Charley Word and others fitted with cartridges, Winchesters by the case, sow bosom and flour, and even to Stetson hats, etc. This store did a thriving business and thought nothing of selling bacon and flour in car-load lots, though getting our supplies from Denison, Sherman, Gainesville, and later, Wichita Falls.
The postoffice was established here in 1879 and I was the first postmaster. It was at this office all mail for the trail herds was directed as, like canned goods and other commodities, this was the last chance. One night while a crowd sat around the little adobe store someone struck up a lively air on a French harp and the door opened and in sailed a hat followed closely by a big black fellow who commenced to dance. He was one of Ab Blocker’s men who had been sent up for the mail, giving first notice of the herd’s arrival. Many a sweetheart down the trail received her letter bearing the postmark of Doan’s and many a cowboy asked self-consciously if there was any mail for him while his face turned a beet red when a dainty missive was handed him.
The old trail played a part in the establishment of the Doan’s picnic. For in 1884 when grass had risen and the cowmen had gone up the trail or out to the spring roundups ; the women of course were playing the role of “the girl I left behind me,” so a picnic of five women and one lone man was inaugurated. I have never missed a picnic from that day. Now the crowd is swelled to thousands, the dinner is a sumptuous affair and every two or three years the state and county candidates for offices plead with the people to give them the other fellow’s job or one or more chance as the case may be.
The first house at Doan’s was made of pickets with a dirt roof and floor of the same material. The first winter we had no door but a buffalo robe did service against the northers. The store which had consisted mainly of ammunition and a few groceries occupied one end and the family lived in the other. A huge fireplace around which Indians, buffalo hunters and the family sat, proved very comforting. The warmest seat was reserved for the one who held the baby and this proved to be a very much coveted job. Furniture made with an ax and a saw adorned the humble dwelling.
Later the store and dwelling were divorced. An adobe store which gave way to a frame building was built. Two log cabins for the families were erected. In 1881 our present home was built, the year the county was organized. This dwelling I still occupy. Governors, English Lords, bankers, lawyers, tramps and people from every walk in life have found sanctuary within its walls. And if these walls could speak many a tale of border warfare would echo from its gray shadows.
Here, my old adobe house and I sit beside the old trail and dream away the days thinking of the stirring ,scenes enacted when it seemed an endless procession of horses and cattle passed, followed by men of grim visage but of cheerful mien, who sang the “Dying Cowboy” and “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” and other cheerful tunes as they bedded the cattle or when in a lighter mood danced with the belles of Doan’s or took it straight over the bar of the old Cow Boy saloon.
1885 C.J. Jones purchased a few bison from Charles Goodnight, along with capturing 13 bison from southern Texas, starting his own private herd.
One of the last lots of bison robes sold in Texas for $10 per robe.
Late 1800s: Establishment of private captive herds. Herds owned by James McKay, Charles Alloway, Charles Goodnight, Walking Coyote, Frederick Dupree, and Charles J. Jones are source of most surviving bison. (check out Who Saved The Bison )
When the Goodnight-Adair partnership dissolved in 1887, Goodnight took the 140,000 acre Quitaque ranch and 20,000 cattle for his interest.
The following year, to ease the financial strain, he sold a half-interest in the ranch to L. R. Moore of Kansas City and continued using the Lazy F brand.
By 1890, with the influx of farmers into the area, Goodnight and Moore began experiencing occasional problems: mavericking of Lazy F stock, set grass fires, and vandalism of ranch fences. That year Goodnight disposed of his remaining half-interest to Moore in order to pursue his silver-mining venture in Mexico. Albert Dyer filed on Section 70 in Block B-3 I&GN Survey as a homestead but he spent most of his time in Mrs Goodnights home. He possessed a large library. He wore a neat beard and looked more like a country doctor than a frontiersman. He was always well dressed and very neat.
When Mr & Mrs Goodnight were not around he entertained the visitors and always was very careful to caution them that when they were in the buffalo park not to dismount or leave their rig if the buffalo or elk were near. In 1890 he traded his land to Goodnight for a pair of young buffalo and attempted to tame them but with little success.
1897/1898 Buffalo Jones showed up to buy a couple calves to train to a sled for exhibition
Goodnight established his own ranch near the JA.
The timely formation of Goodnight’s herd and the formation of four other private herds, along with government protection of a wild herd at Yellowstone National Park, saved the species from extinction. Those few herds provided the founding stock that produced nearly all plains bison in existence today.
Goodnight donated or sold bison to several early bison conservation efforts, such as those at Yellowstone, the National Bison Range and Canada’s national parks. He sold animals to numerous other parks, private individuals and zoos, including “Buffalo Bill” Cody and the New York Zoological Park, which was instrumental in establishing the first U.S. bison preserves.
Most U.S. herds have been mixed and moved, but Goodnight’s has stayed on its original range.
1902: Bison restoration begins in Yellowstone National Park with sources from Colonel Goodnight in Texas and the Pablo-Allard ranch in western Montana. There were 700 bison in private herds. The Yellowstone herd was estimated at 23 animals.
Fort Wayne Sentinel July 15 1902
The Topeka Sate Journal May 14 1903
Destroyed Buffalo Hides
Fort Worth, Tex. May 14- The testimony is a strange case is being taken at Lawton Oklahoma. It is a suit for $20,000 damages for 7,000 buffalo hides destroyed by the chief of the Comanche Indians, Quanah Parker’s band, in the early part of 1877. The testimony is being taken before the federal court of claims.
W.S. Glenn, who bought the claim, is an old buffalo hunter, residing now at Palestine, Tex. The fight took place near Yellow House canyon, 270 miles from Fort Griffin, Tex. It was a hard fight. The buffalo hunters were on the mountains and were shot down. Capt. Lee of a negro troop was ordered placed near there to assist the hunters, but the train arrived too late to be of any service.
A herd of “cattalo”, a breed of animals resulting from crossing the American buffalo with cattle, an experiment conducted by Colonel Goodnight on the plains of Texas. Goodnight Ranch, Texas, 1908
Photo from the Erwin E Smith collection at the Amon Carter Museum
1921 West Texas A & M The buffalo was selected as mascot and on May 25 1921 after a spirited campus contest.
On November 16 1921, a pair of buffalo yearlings were purchased and placed in a corral on the campus. The mascots were named Charles and Mary Ann in honor of their former owners. Col. and Mrs Charles Goodnight.
1923 the Goodnight ranch was sold to J.I. Straley, an oilman from Wichita Falls. Straley was in partnership with his sisters husband. They were losing the ranch and decided to hold a bison hunt, in the hopes of saving the land.
Goodnight died in 1929, and he wanted the state to take over his ranch and bison herd.
Goodnight lost everything in a bad business deal. He sold his ranch a few years before he died and the buyer said he could stay and live out his days on the ranch.He bought a home in Az to stay during the winter months. Charles Goodnight died in Az at his winter home, with his new wife (Corrine) by his side.
When Col. Charles Goodnight died in Tucson, Arizona, on December 12, 1929, at the age of 93 years, it not only marked the passing of one of the most interesting figures of the Old West but it also seemed likely to spell the doom of the largest herd of buffalo in the United States more than 200 in number but only a pitiful remnant of the millions which had once roamed the Great Plains. for the famous Goodnight herd of buffalo in Texas had passed into other hands and there were sensational rumors afloat that the new owners (Straley)were planning “a big-game hunt” where Eastern sportsmen ( upon payment of a big fee) would be allowed to enjoy the thrills of an old-time buffalo chase.
In 1931 Joseph I Straley sold the ranch. Information received here was that the sale was made on a $50,000 mortgage, and that the Great Southern Life Insurance Company was the biggest mortgage holder. Efforts of Panhandle people to raise funds to purchase the 11,000 acre range to be turned over to the Texas game commission as a preserve so far have failed. They had the assurance of the game commission that the buffalo herd would be bought and preserved if a suitable range was provided. A movement to save the buffaloes received nationwide attention last August when Staley announced that he would stage a hot in November, inviting Eastern hunters to come to the range and shoot the buffaloes in their native haunts he sought, in this manner to dispose of the herd and probably save his ranch.
Corsicana Daily Sun reports 242 head Jan 8 1932
Immediately a storm of protest against the destruction of the Goodnight buffalo herd arose among Texans in the legislature passed a bill authorizing the state game and Fish commission to purchase the buffalo, provided a suitable place for keeping them could be obtained. but no appropriations was forthcoming for the project and it was not until a syndicate, headed by A. C. Nicholson of Dallas, was formed to take over the buffalo and a part of the Goodnight estate and to finance the project of maintaining herd in tact that it’s preservation was assured.
No finer monument could be erected to the memory of Col. Charles Goodnight, “the father of the Texas Panhandle, “and his wife, Mary Dyer Goodnight, then that preservation of this rearguard of the “thundering herds” of the long ago.
In 1936 a stone marker was placed in the yard by the state of Texas stating: first ranch in the Texas Panhandle established in 1876 by Charles Goodnight 1836-1829 Noted Scout,Indian Fighter, Trailblazer and Rancher
1938 Mrs Mattie Hedgecoke bought the Goodnight Ranch. later that same year Pleasant Ranch (s of Claude in Palo Duro Canyon) was bought from Montie Richie of the JA Ranch. included in this was the land known as Jackson Jog. Another section, the Johnson place, was also added, bringing the total to 54,000 acres.
Most of the buffalo were sold off by the Great Southern Life Insurance Company, at a large sale held at Higgins, Texas before the Hedgecoke land purchase.
The ranch is operated as part of the Mattie Hedgecoke properties under the direction of James Andrew Hedgecoke of Amarillo.
1939 Erath Co, Texas by Steve Casey partnered with Erath County Genealogical Society- Texas History http://texashistory.unt.edu/
Photograph of buffalo behind a fence at Double Heart Ranch in Sweetwater, Texas. April 1944
The fence’s height is that of the soldier’s.
In 1949 buffalo were found in several city zoos in Texas and on a few ranches in Armstrong and Nolan counties. In the late twentieth century various ranches throughout Texas continued to maintain buffalo herds; the animal had rebounded from near-extinction from the Midwest to the Southwest and West.
1949 Lambshead Ranch – Matthews Family. by Wallace, Sally Brittingham
Photograph of the Goodnight Ranch Home in Goodnight, Texas. June 26 1958
1960 Photographer Unknown
Photograph of a buffalo on Blackburn Ranch.
Hardin-Simmons University Library
Abilene Library Consortium
Photograph of John Lane sitting on a horse next to five buffalo in a corral. Written on the back of the photo, “Uncle John Lane. 76 years young, a straight-shootin’ old pioneer of far West Texas.” –
Cattle Raisers Museum
Photograph of John Lane and Cap Yates standing near a dead buffalo in a corral. Written on the back of the photo,”Cap Yates and Uncle John Lane after Uncle John had punished the Bad Buffalo.”
Cattle Raisers Museum
In the summer of 1962,renovation was done to the old Goodnight home. Care was taken both in planning and execution to keep the work done in character with the original house as Goodnight built that.Mrs. Nona Hedgecoke Mills served ably as chairman of the family committee for this project.
1965, the state also put up a highway marker in honor of Goodnight directly north of the house in sight of the highway.
Written on the back of the photo, “Boog Burnett practicing on a tame one.”
Cattle Raisers Museum
WORKING ON THIS TIME FRAME
In 1998, the JA gave the state the last remaining wild herd of buffalo within Texas.
(Rumor is the herd wondered off the Goodnight ranch, onto the JA. The two ranches are close together and is possible)
The herd in Caprock Canyons was actually donated by JA Ranch and there is no documentation demonstrating that this was the herd preserved by the Goodnights.
In 2005…”the site was donated to the museum by Amarillo businessman Brent Caviness and a partner. The museum raised about $1 million from area foundations and private donors to fund the project”.
“BUFFALO,” Handbook of Texas Online accessed July 18, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
August of 2011 in the Amarillo Globe-News
Back in the fall of 2013, I was contacted by Ryan about his find. It was pretty cool to stay in touch and keep up with his results, I must say, I was probably almost as excited as he was. Here we are 2 years later. Way to go Ryan!!!
Bison skeleton in Burnet County up to 700 years old
More than two years ago, Ryan Murray uncovered some ancient-looking bones on the banks of Rocky Creek at his parents’ ranch in northeastern Burnet County. Experts at a paleontology open house at the University of Texas told him they were bison bones.
Murray, his father, his brother and David Calame, an archaeological enthusiast from South Texas, ended up excavating the bison’s vertebrae, ribs, two front legs and skull with many of the teeth and one horn still intact in 2014.
But Murray still didn’t know how old the bones were. He got his answer late this summer.
The bones were from a bison that lived in Texas sometime between 1308 and 1424 A.D., said Raymond Mauldin, the assistant director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio. That places the animal into an archaeological time frame called the Toyah Interval, when bison were probably pretty common in Texas, he said.
What isn’t common is the substantial amount of the animal’s skeleton that Murray found, because hunters and gatherers during that time period usually cut their kill up and crushed the bone for marrow, Maudlin said.
“We generally just see a few bones, so this one — from my perspective — is in uncommonly good condition and seems to represent a good portion of the animal,” he said.
Mauldin said that Calame had given him several pieces of the bison’s bones to test for age. Scientists extracted collagen from one of the bones and sent it to a lab in Seattle for radiocarbon dating, he said.
Animals absorb carbon into their bones after eating plants that contain it. A certain form of carbon is unstable and deteriorates over time, so scientists can measure what’s left in the collagen to estimate the age, Maudlin said.
Murray, an office administrator for Austin Gastroenterology, said finding out the bison was several hundred years old was thrilling. “It made me feel like it was worthwhile to spend all that time digging it out and being able to study it now,” he said.
He is still stabilizing the skull of the bison he found — a 7-year-old female — with a special type of glue and sculpting clay used by paleontologists. The rest of the skeleton is wrapped up and packaged in storage, he said.
He said he will loan the skeleton for display, but he ultimately wants it back.
“I intend to keep and have it in my family forever,” Murray said.