Texas Bison History

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ATCHISON DAILY PATRIOT
Atchison, Kansas Feb 3, 1872

THE BUFFALO

 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

Upon reaching the Canadian River we found that so high we could not cross for two days.C W Ackerman of San Antonio

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 uncivilized.

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.

 

Battle of Adobe Walls -1874 Between Buffalo Hunters and Indians:

The Kansas buffalo hunters invaded the Texas Panhandle and the Llano Estacado in force in the spring of 1874; in five months it is said they slew a hundred thousand bison.

The deserted Adobe Walls, a station established by Spanish friars, French Canadian hunters or General Howe’s soldiers, was selected as the rendezvous for these hunters, who came from Dodge City, one hundred and seventy-five miles away.  Three ‘ business houses’ and a blacksmith shop gave token of approaching civilization, and about them congregated all the adventurous spirits of the Southwest, far from the protection of any military post, and probably unknown to the slow- moving authorities who wore the badge of red tape.

The threats of an approaching raid might have been heard among the exasperated Indians, who saw their means of subsistence being absolutely destroyed. Quanah, the son of a Texas girl named Parker (captive from her childhood among the Comanches, who in after years preferred her Indian family to her white kinsfolk, whom she revisited) , and the then war chief of the Comanches, lost his most intimate friend and companion in some altercation with the Buffalo hunters, and soon after this occurrence the old Medicine Man of the tribe was announcing “good medicine” that would enable the Braves to slay the white man at Adobe walls as they slumbered. By the last of June the Indians were ready to begin the campaign in which Nelson A. Miles won a star and Quanah Parker began that supremacy among the Comanches which he still retains.

As they galloped leisurely across the grassy bottoms of the Canadian an hour or so before sunrise, on that memorable June day, the Indians formed a gorgeous and spectacular cavalcade. They rode nine-hundred strong, that picked men of the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapahoe nations, the finest horsemen on earth, the best Calvary that ever went to battle. Yellow with ochre, red with vermillion, stained with every horrible decorative device in the hideous art catalog of the plains, their ponies shone with all the colors of the red skin rainbow. (whole story)

 

 

Buffalo Hunt in Taylor County, 1874

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.

https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/indian/showdown/page1.html

 

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.

 

The Road to Spindletop: Economic Change in Texas, 1875–1901
By John Stricklin Spratt

The opening skirmishes of the buffalo slaughter rank as a third major episode of the mid-seventies. The Santa Fe , Oregon, and California trails and the transcontinental railroads separated the bison into two massive herds- northern and southern. The southern herd, whose range extended deep into Texas, made first contact with the army of killers bent on extermination. For decades Indians had steadily increased the size of their annual kill of buffalo – not for the meat, but for the hides which were fashioned into buffalo robes for trading. Left to their own devices, the Indians would eventually have destroyed the herds without the intervention of the white killer.

Once the buffalo slaughter started it became apparent that extermination of the herd was imminent, the bills designed to protect the bison were introduced in the Texas legislature. While the state lawmakers had one of these measures under consideration a joint session of the two houses was addressed by General Sheridan, who spoke in opposition to the bill. Sheridan bluntly told the legislators that instead of concerning themselves with legislation protecting the buffalo they should give the hunters a unanimous vote of thanks and provide funds for awarding bronze medals to each of them, the medals to be struck with a dead buffalo on one side and a despondent Indian on the other.
He continued:

”These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. And it is a well known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle.” G.S.

 

1875 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 barely 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.

 

Takes place in 1873-4
Roanoke Beacon

Plymouth, North Carolina, Nov 20, 1891
HE FOUGHT COMANCHES

LAWRENCE CHRISTOPHER CHRISS. BUFFALO HUNTER
Opinion of Comanches and Adventures With Them – Skinning an Indian

(extract)

Lawrence Christopher Chriss, an old-time buffalo hunter of west Texas, now living in El Paso, says a correspondent of the New York Sun, is as full of good stories as a fig is full of seeds.

Chriss had been known, in years gone by, to slay with his trusty rifle not less than 1,734 buffalo in one month, and while he regrets the extermination of the American bison, he is proud of this fact. He asserts that the buffalo hunters did more to make the settlement of this part of the country possibly than any other men. “So  long as the buffalo were here,” says he, “the Comanches could not be driven out of the country.”

“Buffalo hunting in the old days was pretty exciting sport,” said Lawrence Christopher Chriss to-day, “but it couldn’t hold a candle to Comanche hunting. The Comanches were the most cruel, bloodthirsty demons that ever escaped from hell and settled on the green earth. I remember on one occasion in the winter of ’73-4, that 10 Comanches ran across to a camp of buffalo hunters and found there a young boy who had been left while the hunters were out tending to business. The Indians destroyed everything in the camp and killed the boy. There was a quantity of jerked buffalo meat hanging on the mesquite trees around the camp. The Indians cut the boy up and hung his flesh in strips with the buffalo meat to dry. This was Wild Horse Springs, about 20 miles north of where Midland now is. I was one of the party of hunters, and when we got back to camp and saw what had been done to the boy we started out in a hurry to run down the Indians. We caught them 40 miles from there and killed seven of them. One of those we killed had the boys scalp and one of his ears strung on a string around his neck. The father of the boy, who was one of the party, was so enraged that he emptied his six shooter into the body of the dead Indian. That did not satisfy either him or the rest of us, and someone proposed that we should skin the Indian and keep his hide to remember him by. We were expert skinners, and it didn’t take long to remove that red devils hide with the buffalo knife. I did most of the skinning myself, and I found that on the inner portion of his thighs, where they had pressed against the horse, the skin was at least an inch thick. He was so fat that it reminded me of skinning a hog. We stretch the skin out and let it dry in the sun, and afterwards took it to Dallas. A man who was running a hotel and barroom there was so tickled at the idea of having skinned a Comanche that he offered me free board and lodging and all the drinks I wanted if I would give him the skin. I did so and he put it up behind  his bar, and for a month or more after that he had a tremendous rush of business.”

 

 

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

By L. B. Anderson, Seguin, TexasL.B. Anderson

I was born in Amite County, Mississippi, March 24, 1849. Came overland with my parents to Texas in the spring of 1853.

(1870 ish)

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

Sam H. Nunneley

 

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 Florida, 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 steer 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 Galveston Daily News May 6 1876

 

The Austin Weekly Statesman
Nov 2 1876

Domestic Markets

Hides Steady; dry selected 17c; lightly salted 14 1/2c ; 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

Jack County

A large train of wagons loaded with buffalo hides passed through town the other day.

The Galveston Daily News Nov 18 1876

Erath County

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.

The Weekly Democratic Statesman Austin Tx Apr 05 1877

The Weekly Democratic Statesman Austin Tx Apr 05 1877

The Pulaski Citizen Tenn Apr 19, 1877, The Pulaski Citizen Tenn Apr 19 1877 white buffalo killed in Ft Concho

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.

Marshall County Republican
Nov 08 1877 Plymouth Indiana

White Buffalo

The Atlanta Constitution Jan 25 1878 Texas Buffalo Hunt

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 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

Fort Wayne Daily Gazette May 3 1878 Buffalo to Sitting Bull

 

The Atlanta Constitution May 8 1878 Sitting Bulls Niece

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.

Read more:

 

The Emporia Ledger
Emporia, Kansas
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 troublesome, 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 winters 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.

 

 

The Courier Journal Louisville KY Aug 8 1878 Bison Mixed With CattleThe Courier Journal Louisville KY Aug 8 1878 Bison Mixed With Cattle.jpg

 

“Buffalo Hunters’ Camp”
“Through Texas”
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 59  No. 353, October 1879
Original vintage wood engraving, 1879

Buffalo Hunters Camp 1879 Through Texas

 

 

San Angelo Tx 1880

SOUTHWEST PLAINS BISON

San Angelo State Park Herd Manager: Bill Guffey

 

 

 

San Angelo 1880

 

 

 

 

 

Park Superintendent: Kurt Kemp
Thank you!