Buffalo Chips- what are they used for?
In these snippets of articles, you will find how popular the buffalo chips were and how very important they were to the development of the west. Some go on a little further than a snippet, it was just too interesting and I had to keep going. It told how they struggled, eating dogs, pulling wagons up cliffs with ropes, eating raw meat, leaving their belongings behind, and burning their wooden items for heat and cooking. [“ buffalo chips , ” or bois de vache , French ] Today several states hold a “buffalo-chip tossing contest. (Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Indiana) Looks like a good time!
**The military and scouts used them to mark the trails for the others to follow.
**Importance on bison dung and insects.
About the artist, Wes Olson; Wes Olson’s thirty-five years of working intimately with bison―and featuring Johane Janelle’s stunning photography―The Ecological Buffalo is a story that takes the reader on a journey to understand the myriad connections this keystone species has with the Great Plains.
This was an easy book to read and made it all very understandable for anyone! Thoroughly enjoyed it.
“buffalo chips,” which formed a valuable and highly-prized fuel;
It was used by some tribes as a ceremonial incense.
Sometimes Natives used pulverized buffalo chips in a baby’s diaper for an absorbent material. More common: Moss, Buffalo Wool, Cattail down, Cotton from Cottonwood Tree
The earliest explorers in America found the Indians wearing skins prepared with Buffalo dung, oil and clay.
1882 –Buffalo Hunting -Sometimes, when the Indians are not in sufficient numbers to make a “surround” of buffalo, they collect buffalo chips, and build the in little piles, so as to represent men. These piles are placed in two rows, gradually converging towards each other, and leading to one of the afore-mentioned bluffs. Between these two rows they drive the buffaloes, that, mistaking the piles of their own “chips” for Indians, are guided onwards to the edge of the precipice, when the hunters make their noisy rush, and force them over.
I have read in several sources that the smoke from the burning chips acts a repellent for insects.
Forest and Stream 1875
History of the American Bison 1877
Among the products of the buffalo, mention of “buffalo chips,” or bois de vache, as the French voyageurs term it, should not be omitted. This material, as most persons doubtless well know, is simply the dried excrement of the buffalo, which the traveler on the treeless plains find a very serviceable substitute for wood. As Dr. Elliott Coues has recently remarked, in an interesting and very humorously written article on this subject,
”As an agent in the progress of civilization, the spirit of which is expressed in the remark that westward the course of Empire takes its way, the buffalo chip arises to the plane of the steam-engine and the electric telegraph, and acquires all the dignity which is supposed to enshroud questions of national importance or matters of political economy. I am not sure, indeed, that it is not entitled to still higher rank, for it is certain, at any rate, that we move in some parts of the West without either steam or electricity (mules replacing both), where it would be as impossible to live without buffalo chips as to exist without flour, coffee, and tobacco.”
In the narrative of military reconnaissances and other Government explorations of the Plains, as well as those of private explorers and travelers, the first meeting with buffalo-chips is chronicled as something intimately affecting the welfare of the party, as it not only generally gives promise of soon meeting with herds of the animals themselves, but insures fuel for the camp-fire and for culinary purposes in regions where other sources of fuel are either precarious or entirely wanting. In the history of travel across the great interior plains, from those of Texas to those of the Saskatchewan, no other element, not even water, figures more prominently. Its absence in the treeless districts necessitates the transportation of wood as an indispensable part of the camp stores, while its presence not only renders this needless, but insures all those ordinary comforts of camp-life that the conveniences of the camp-fire always bring. Hence its importance as a civilizing agent cannot well be overrated. The misery experienced when, during rainy seasons, it is temporarily too wet to burn, – the deprivation of the “cup that cheers but not inebriates,” and of all means of cooking, – gives one a most vividly realizing sense of what his condition might be, for days and weeks, were it not for this invaluable resource.
How long the chip will endure the vicissitudes of the weather under the dry atmosphere of the Plains it is impossible to say, but it’s decomposition is slow, as it will remain in serviceable condition for years. After an exposure of six months it burns quite readily, but is not at its best as an article of fuel till it has had the same suns and frost of a year. It burns in much the same manner as peat, and though making but little flame yields a very intense heat. Strips of buffalo fat thrown on at intervals during the evening add a bright blaze, furnishing the explorer with ample light by which to write up his notes of the day’s work, and enlivening the camp with all the cheer afforded by the pinion and the pitch-pine camp-fires of the mountains or other wooded districts. Especially grateful does this “buffalo chip” fire thus become in the long cold evenings of the hunters winter camp on the plains.
Another use to which buffalo chips are sometimes put is that of marking trails, and even surveyors lines and points, it temporarily serving the office of stones and steaks and places where timber and stones are not to be obtained, as in the case over so large a part of the Great Plains.
→This was published in several places although I don’t know who the original author was, but they say that in the 1850’s kids tossed them like fris-bees. I think I found the source: “How I Survived the Oregon Trail : The Journal of Jesse Adams” by Laura Wilson, its classified as Fictional Children’s Book.
In this photograph, pioneer Ada McColl of Kearny County collects buffalo chips. In areas of western Kansas where trees were scarce, these chips were a convenient (and plentiful) source of fuel. This is an abridged version of an original photograph including Ada’s brother Burt. (Yes, that is a boy in that dress) The photograph was taken by Polly McColl, Ada’s mother. For more information on this photograph.
See: Reflections (Summer 2008)
Special thank to Kansas Memories for preserving and sharing this image and finding out the “rest of the story”
Danville, Vermont Feb 4 1833
As they were grazing round in search of Buffalo, they spied, within gun-shot, one of these dogs, and numerous pack of which is always attacked, as live stock, to an Indian encampment: and instantly, if every shot told, half a dozen bullets passed through his body. In hungry haste he was flayed and broiled; and my young adventurer assures me, that next to buffalo steak done on buffalo dung, the whole science of gastronomy can offer nothing comparable to the spare rib of an Indian dog, cooked exactly in the same style.
Vermont Republican and American Journal
Windham Sept 6 1833
There is little or no timber except on streams and high mountains, and often not on these. We were consequently often obliged to use Buffalo dung as a substitute for fuel.
The Times Picayune
New Orleans, Oct 11 1840
We laughed, sung and jested until midnight, when, leaving the cows hump to boil over the fire, we raised an extensive cloud of smoke from burning ‘buffalo chips’ to keep off the musquitos, and couched ourselves for the night.
The Times Picayune
June 17 1841
Various clefts and channels across the prairie, mostly dry, and known as Coon and Turkey Creeks, now appear at intervals of two, three and five miles. If necessitated to encamp here, by storm, hunger, or the approach of night, water may be found in these hollows, but wood is not to be expected. Should rain water-soak the ‘buffalo chips,” such a thing as a camp-fire is impossible.
The Greensboro Patriot
Greensboro, North Carolina Nov 23 1841
Nothing here is to be had but Buffalo dung to cook the food that is used, but of this the whole prairies are covered, and it is an excellent substitute.
Columbus, Mississippi Aug 16 1842
We gathered a few buffalo-chips- excellent fuel when dry and universally used for cooking purposes by all travelers upon the lone prairies – but in the present instance they had been dampened by the heavy night showers and it was with the greatest difficulty that we could ignite them at all. We made out, however, to warm our meat a little, I will not say that it was cooked and voraciously did I swallow several pounds of the tough and unsavory food; yet poor as it was, at the time I thought is the most delicious meal I had ever made.
The Charleston Mercury
Charleston, South Carolina Aug 5 1843
We shall reach the Big Blue to-morrow, and hope to find buffalo the next day. The fire at which I am sitting (for the weather is like December in N. Orleans) is made of the famous “buffalo chips” which of course can leave no doubt of our being somewhere upon the confines of the immense territory tenanted by buffalo.
Springfield, Missouri Sept 13 1845
We are now 572 miles from Kaw river, we left Kaw village on the 15th of May, and arrived here on the 27th of June. We have traveled through a barren waste, and have seen no timber on the highlands from there to here, save a few pines at a distance – though we have had fuel for cooking every night, for when we had no timber we used buffalo chips as a substitute.
Year of the Decision 1846 – The duty of the soldier was to collect Buffalo chips during the last hour of marching. This was another strangeness and some thought the fires stank abominably but others found that they gave a welcome tang to the salt pork and corned beef. So many things were strange: jackrabbits, antelopes, and especially the Buffalo, the great legend now gaped at by these rural youths, who tried to hunt it and sometimes succeeded. The country was unimaginable, plains on a scale they had not dreamed of diminishing one to a dot that seem to travel on the bottom of a bowl, the vast heave of the swells that seemed like the swells of the ocean they had read about, many miles long.
State Indiana Sentinel
Indianapolis, Indiana Aug 20 1846
Letter from a female Emigrant to California
Near the Junction of the North and South Platte, June 16, 1848
My old friend – We are now on the Platte, 200 miles from Fort Laramie. Our journey so far has been pleasant. The roads have been good, and food plentiful. The water for a part of the way has been indifferent; but at no time have our cattle suffered for it. Wood is now very scarce, but “buffalo chips” are excellent – they kindle quick and retain neat surprisingly. We have this evening buffalo steaks broiled upon them that had the same flavor they would have had on hickory coals.
Brooklyn Evening Star
Brooklyn, New York Sep 12 1846
The country through which we have traveled from Independence has been almost unbroken plain and prairie, with the exception of the margin of the streams we have crossed, consequently we are put mightily to our shifts for fuel to cook with, and are now relying chiefly on buffalo chips, a resource that we hope will not fail us.
Palmyra Weekly Whig
Palmyra Missouri Nov 12 1846
You will perhaps ask how we cooked; and if you wish to know, the process was with what prairie men call “Buffalo-Chips, “ which are sometimes quite abundant, at other times very scarce, which is the case to-day. I suppose every particle is picked up within half mile of the camp; and it is becoming so scarce, that if we do not come to wood soon, we will have to eat raw meat, and do without coffee; which, however, will be no great hardship, if we have enough of it.
New York Daily Herald
New York, New York Jan 4 1847
There who undertake this trip should select well made cattle, as they stand it much the best; and don’t be alarmed if you have to burn buffalo chips to cook by, for it makes a good fire.
Alton Weekly Telegraph
Alton Illinois Aug 11 1848
When we lack wood, we appeal to wild sage and buffalo chips for fuel. We have had abundance of fresh meat for 500 miles, such as Buffalo, Antelope, Elk and some other kinds of smaller class. We are now in fine spirits, and going forward, expecting to place our feet upon the sod of Oregon in three days more. We shall then have traveled about twelve hundred miles, and expect to travel about one thousand miles further to the sea-coast.
|On August 14, 1848, Congress created the Oregon Territory, an area that includes what is today Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and western Montana. The Oregon Territory quickly became a popular place for various groups of immigrants and settlers. (americanslibrary.com)|
Fall River Monitor
Fall River Massachusetts Feb 3 1849
The Delights of an Overland Journey to California
To California Men
Permit me to caution your over-zeal in going after gold. Remember, and take warning before you engage in and enterprise beyond your age, and strength, and means.
A long, dreary road, of upward of 2000 miles before you, without houses, without meat or flour, and in many places without wood, water or grass. You that start across the plains, I the time you reach Santa Fe, N.M. -a distance of not less than 12,000 miles from St. Louis – will find your ambition and courage fall; and yet through Santa Fe is a paradise to way you will see afterward. By the time you have been 50 days out, which will be the time you will be in going there, (or kill all your oxen and mules) you will wish yourselves back again at your work in St. Louis -mark my words. You must cook your own meals, which will be fun and sport for a few days, where wood, water and grass are plenty, but after you get 100 miles beyond Council Grove you will hunt in vain for wood, and often for water and grass.
Instead of wood, get your blanket and two of you go out, take a circle of one mile, and pick up all the buffalo chips (manure) you can find, which will be scarce, make your fires and cook by the blaze. While two are hunting for fuel, some will have to go for water, others picket out your mules or watch your oxen, others attend to the cooking, some attend to fixing your tent. -Be sure and cook enough at night to do the next day, leaving nothing to do in the morning but boil your coffee, harness up and be off.
Twenty miles is a good day’s travel. Two men will use a barrel of flour before getting to Santa Fe, and 200 pounds good bacon, about 30 pounds coffee, and if you drink whiskey (a very necessary article, I the way,) two men cannot miss using 10 gallons. You can travel on foot better than be troubled with the horse, for you certainly can keep up with an ox wagon, and in a few days become used to it, which will harden you for the labor, when called to use the pick, crowbar, stayed or shovel.
You want a good ax, hatchet, pic-kax, crowbar, spade and shovel; and auger, inch chisel or two. You will want tin or pewter plates, tin cups, a good night for two, spoon or two, coffee boiler, tea-kettle, frying pan, spider, bake oven and canteen; a little salt, pepper, saleratus, mustard, red pepper, plenty of pickles, and a good supply of vinegar; molasses taste quite sweet on the plains get plenty of matches, both Lucifer and wax; get two large blankets as your bedding; a cap is better than a hat, It matters not about the sun, you’ll get used to it; your hat is blown by the wind into a “cocked hat” and then the sun has all advantages; wear shoes instead of boots for walking (unless you are afraid of snakes, of which you will see plenty of the biggest kind of rattlesnakes)
You can kill dogs enough for fresh meat as you arrive in their cities and towns; they always sit at the doors of their houses, and are always either shot or caught. They are very palatable and in eating them; at first, one is apt to get too easily down at meal (especially at supper time) which causes considerable noise in the lower regions, about the time one wants to sleep, but cannot for the constant barking of dogs. To prevent this, take along some No. 6; a few drops to put all to rest again.
A good file would be useful when you arrive in the Buffalo Range, for you can’t help killing an old bull, and, while the boys are skinning, you can be filing your teeth, to be ready to enter on duty. As wild meat is of a running breed, and you of a tame one, you needn’t be surprised to find yourself running the day after eating it. In case your run is more than you are used to, take a few drops of no. 6, and all is quiet. Be careful not to chase the wolves on foot – they are many, and are a sort of hyena; when they turn upon you they destroy both soul and body, and then run off with the bones. Some of them are old, with no beards like Aaron’s, that hang down to the ground – his only went to the skirt of his garments.
The wind blows all the time on the plains, and very hard; so much so as to cause you to complain; but you will get used to it after three or four months’ blowing, and can’t well live without it, for smothering (down in the hollows.) You can see a great way ahead; in some places a week march in advance-mounds and the like. You will be apt to have rain and water plenty if you start early, and, consequently, get your jackets and blanket wet through, day and night; then comes the trying time with the buffalo chips. They will neither burn nor blaze so make up your mind to eat a raw dog, or any other raw meat, without coffee or warm stuff (except No. 6)
If the weather continues rainy, so that you become tired of eating raw dogs or buffalo bull, just turned up one of your wagons, and cooking up under it to last several days, and pack your load on your mules, or oxen, or your own back. Don’t back out; gold is ahead, and you are in – “go it boots” “live or die” – “a faint of heart never won fair lady.”
If you get sick on the road, or your wagons burned up, don’t give out as long as you can toddle along, and when you can not proceed any farther, just lay down and rest, then up and travel by the moon till you overtake your companions. Then, if so be you lay several days, and Indians may come along and examine your head; if bald, he will respect your age and not scalp you, but hand you to his squaws for plaything. If you have a good head of hair, he will only cut a little piece out, just about the crown, as a token of remembrance, which will either cure you or make the wolves come to prayers.
You may have to swim some creeks, as Uncle Sam has not bridged the road yet, and there are a great many creeks. You will be very apt to past ten or twelve of these a day, so that before your clothes get dry from one, you will be in another. This frequent cold hath cause cold chills on a fellow without any heat, and often death; when a little hole is dug, three or four feet deep, and the dead fellow rolled in clothes and all -the dirt thrown over him; the wolves hold a council over his cold home, and soon tear him up and have a feast. It will be all the same thousand years hence.
The Psalm tunes these wolves keep up for days and nights is quite interesting to a tired, sleeping traveler; but their scratching and whispering in your ears soon becomes familiar, especially at the fellow gets one of his toes bit so hard as to make him cry out. Yet great care should be taken not to give false alarms in the night, or the stock become frightened and run off for miles, causing delays in marching.
To guard against attacks from Indians, every tent should be pitched, mules picketed, before sundown, sentinels detailed and placed out, as the Western Indians always appear just at sundown or sunrise, or a little before. Great care should be taken, and all arms should be in complete readiness for use at a moment’s warning, and every man should stand his ground, as he will be sure to be taken, scalped, and murdered if he shows running or cowardice. Too much cannot be said to men to be cautious not to give any of the savage tribes cause of complaint, for a little insult becomes a great matter, and it will end in a battle or loss of property and life sooner or later. Almost every Indian quarrel has arisen from some little overt set on the part of the whites. Parties can pass and repass, time and again, so that they behave themselves and do not get any stray chaps of Indian animosity among them. If there be any such, they will have to be given up, or a fight is sure to follow, so summary is Indian justice.
In traveling to California by land, parties of Indians will frequently be seen, more or less every week, and it is hard to tell whether they are hostile or friendly, so cunning and artful are they in false appearance. Therefore, be cautious.
Prudence would dictate the formation of companies. Select a Captain, one whom you feel willingly to obey, and traveled together in compact bodies -as separation would be dangerous in the extreme to all.
After traveling ten days, a rest of two days to give your animals time to graze, the men to wash their shirts, clean up their arms, and repair all damages to wagons etc. is recommended.
Any position would be of great benefit with a suitable supply of medicines and surgical instruments, who ought to be paid liberally out of the company, and a sufficient sum should be advanced in order to procure good and sufficient medicine for all.
Paper, pens and ink, with wafers-you will need to take enough of these along, and a supply of blank memorandum books -they are of great value. Almanacs will be found useful.
You can buy every article of provisions necessary, as cheap at Independence, Westport, Weston, St. Joseph, and other towns contiguous to the starting point as at St. Louis, and save transportation there.
All men that attempt to go to California with the exception of realizing anything, must be of good strong constitutions, able-bodied, inured to hardships, acquainted with fasting, capable of suffering fatigue, and not expect to have others do the hard work, and he looked on; for every man works for himself, and he that can do the most, holds on the longest, is up late and early, and continues add it, will receive the benefit.
But you young fellows that never worked a day in your lives on the road, in the fields or woods, in the wet, heat and cold, depend on it, in your case is gloomy. Your bones will lie, to bleach Mother Earth, with the beast that roam Lords of the soil. The march itself, will take the morrow out of your bones, and your name go down to future ages as a foolhardy chap, grasping after those things not within your reach.
You young men who have good employments, are expected at home and be loved by all who know you, and are unacquainted with hard labor, drop the idle phantom and stay where you are, nor move a peg. You mechanics, who have families, and are well employed, keep at your work and be contented. Old gray-headed men have no business in these tramps. Stay-at-home; you have more gold in your houses then you will have if you go to California and back, unless some one gives it to you.
I can tell you it is an easy matter to talk and tell big tales. Aladdin’s lamp would not suit some fellows, and make them stay behind. Go they will, and continue so until there’s no go in them. Like the Rolling Stone, they gather no moss. “It is not all gold that glitters;” it is not all men that are born lucky. The lucky planet was not out at your birth-rather the unlucky. You might as well say because Jake drew 50,000 in the lottery, you can do the same. This is nonsense. Stay-at-home; don’t be catching at straws; you are well enough off, if you only think so. Keep moving along the even tenor of your way, steady and straightforward, and you will be happy; but if you had all the gold in California, you would think there was more some where else, and not be satisfied until you had beat your brains out against a gold wall, then die and avaricious fool-kill yourself for gold, and make everybody around you unhappy and miserable-and lost and forgotten – lost his soul and gained nothing, so it is, and will be with thousands.
Before I would lay out on the cold ground among the wolves, Indians, snakes and lizards, half starved for something to eat, famished for water three or four months, and dig, dig in the dirt and mud day after day, 3000 miles from home, three or four months more, for a few glittering sands, away from domestic happiness, friends and earthly comforts, with their competence for life; before I would quit father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, children and friends, and travel 2000 miles over a dreary desert earth, among wild beast and more than Savage Indians, to get a handful of gold, suffer sickness, fevers, disease and all the evils this life is heir to, I would turn into a white dog and hire somebody to kill me. Fool! (goes on)
The Camden Weekly Journal
Camden, South Carolina Apr 11 1849
In the meantime, the little band, not conscious of impending danger, appeared to be in the happiest mood, cook their frugal supper over of fire of “buffalo chips.” Amidst jokes, laughter, and scraps of forest song, and indulge the while in the brightest anticipations as to the “promised lands” before them.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania May 15 1849
I have not learned about the facility of procuring would, but it is not so important as water and grass-that is, if those emigrating are properly provided with pilot bread and dried meats, as we are; also with chafing dishes and spirits of wine. We are the entirely independent of wood and buffalo chips-particularly when it rains-and we can make our coffee under the tent or in the wagon.
Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express
July 18 1849
We hear that for many days journey above this there is no wood, and buffalo chips will be our only resource; we have however taken the precaution to supply ourselves with quite a stock of light firewood, split up from the boxes with which the immigrants have strewn the prairies in order to lighten their loads, and we hope that by mingling this with the “Bois de Nache” we shall get along tolerably well.
Milwaukee Daily Sentinel
Milwaukee, Wisconsin Jun 26 1849
There is scarcely any timber and frequently, we use buffalo chips for fuel. Buffalo have been plenty for the last four weeks. There is no excitement equal to the buffalo chase. We have seen many antelopes, but they are shy and none have been killed by our company. Curiosities are plenty. This Fort (Laramie) is a trading post, built of sun burnt brick. I send my letter to the states by a party of Mormons, paying them $.20 postage. My next letter, I hope, will be dated from California.
Weekly Arkansas Gazette
Little Rock, Arkansas Jul 26 1849
From the best information we struck the Santa Fe Rd. some 25 miles east of the little Arkansas. On route we saw some deer, many antelopes, but no Buffalo, but from many indications we know there are multitudes of them in this region at certain seasons. We had thought of containing our route and course, and strike the Oregon Road at the forks of the Platte, but find the grass will not justify it, consequently we go directly to Bent’s Fort, and dance take the nearest and best route for El Dorado. The company are in fine spirits and in good health-not one sick at this time. Nothing else could be expected of men who cook their Buffalo chips snuff the pure bland breezes of the boundless plains, and braced up with a “lively hope” that all the wildest dreams e’er wove in fancy’s loom of ”ingots of gold and bags of dollars.” Will be realized beyond the conlilleras.
The Sandusky Register
Sandusky, Ohio Aug 11, 1849
We have just met a train from Santa Fe, and have halted by the roadside, to advise you of our whereabouts, and to assure the friends of those composing our party, that we are all well. We are getting along slowly, and have passed over since we left the Arkansas River, the most miserable, desolate country my eyes ever behold. We have great difficulty in finding grass and water for our mules, and, until last night, have been compelled to use Buffalo chips for fuel. Where we now are, and where we expect to remain until to-morrow, there is not sufficient grass or water for our cattle. From the Arkansas to this point, until yesterday, we have seen neither tree, or Bush, or a drop of running water. The entire country, thus far from the river, is entirely worthless. I would not take a deed of gift for it. We have rather gloomy prospects ahead, especially from Santa Fe. How we shall get along remains to be seen I hope to be able to write at length from Santa Fe, and to give full accounts from my journal.
How long the time seems, and we do long for letters from friends, or even a whisper, from the dear ones left behind, but that cannot be. I am writing in the wind, and find it impossible to write much. It will no doubt be gratifying to the numerous friends of those in our party to learn that the whole party is in good health.
The Burlington Hawk-Eye
Burlington, Iowa Aug 23 1849
We generally travel about eight hours in a day, and after get some supper, provided we can find any fuel. But this use of Buffalo chips for 200 miles at a stretch, is not exactly to be coveted in a wet time. But we still have got along very well, and have had something to encourage us every day.
Oshkosh, Wisconsin Aug 31 1849
”But how do you get along?” Well, we burned Buffalo chips when it is dry weather. We pick up flood would in the shape of water soaked pine roots and bark. A very little of this is to be found now.
Mineral Point, Wisconsin Oct 12 1849
From the Rocky Mountains
Buffalo are very plenty, but they say after leaving the South Pass we shall not see any. We have generally about all the Buffalo meat we want, although we scarce ever hunt them, but just killed one occasionally as he comes in sight of the camp. It is very sweet, juicy meat. I have had only one Buffalo hunt, and then I lost my horse, just as I had got insight of the Buffalo. I had not recovered from the hurt that I received at the Loup Fork of the Platte when I lost him, and it is of but little use to hunt them on foot.
There is a great lack of timber, and very often for long distances, are only dependents for fuel is in using “Buffalo chips,” wild sage, and willows. Buffalo chips make a very good fuel when dry. We sometimes also have a chance to burn up the ruins of a wagon or wagon bed, ox’s, trunks, cakes, and barrels. In fact sometimes for miles it is a complete lumberyard. Almost everyone who started with a large wagon bed, have cut off a piece of it. Sometimes we find new wagons, with the bed, hoops and altogether, deserted by someone that has left it and packed. A great many are so eager to get through that they have thrown away their wagons, provisions, and a great many valuable things, and taken barely enough on their mules to carry them through. Any one that has a poor wagon can easily exchange it for a good one. One of our company made an exchange a few days ago. But they all appeared to be very heavy-too heavy for the trip. You could hardly believe what a wreck and waste of property there is made on the road. We have got so used to it now, that it ceases to be a wonder. We met a Mormon a few days ago, that had come from the Salt Lake, on purpose to pick up things and bury them. We have seen several lots of good bacon thrown away, and at Fort Laramie, some of the immigrants burnt up several hundred pounds and about 600 pounds of sugar, because they could not get more than $.10 a pound for. They also burnt up a keg of rifle powder. The amount of lead thrown away is pride prodigious and great quantities of powder. The number of stoves of all kinds and sizes that there are thrown away is truly astonishing. They are scattered all along the road. We have not thrown ours away yet. It is very light, and we sometimes find it handy, when the evening is cold. We have had but very little warm weather. The days are cool, and the nights cold; ice formed on a bucket of water a few nights ago. I suppose that I cannot say positively yet what kind of the team is best for the trip, but I have seen enough to give a pretty I think that with an ordinary emigration, oxen would perhaps thrive. All the trouble there would be with them, would be there getting foot-sore. There is a very dangerous country to pass through with cattle, on account of there being so many alkali springs and lakes. The water and grass in such places are dangerous to cattle. There are vast numbers of dead carcasses scattered along the road. I suppose that for a great while the number would average no less than twenty-five for each days to drive of fifteen miles. If the weather had been hot and sultry, we should have had to leave the road, and travel at a distance from it. We saw in one place eight oxen, all dead in the same place. A man had driven his team of four yoke down into an alkali pond to drink, and after drinking, they all died together. I have seen acres of ground covered over with saleratus. We got some from a lake, in chunks as large as a man’s fist, and used it in baking bread. It is very good sailor saleratus. Anyone bringing oxen, should bring along plenty of sole leather, for shoes for them when they get lame. I think it is better than iron shoes. When they get tender footed, we put moccasins on them, made of Buffalo hide. We have seen a few dead mules, and horses, but nothing to be compared to the number of dead oxen. We have seen a great many mules though, that were worn out and left behind, and a good many more that ought to be left. I believe mules would stand the trip very well, if they would take the same care of them that we do of our oxen, and not load them too heavy. The trouble is they load too heavy, and they get poor and disheartened. And when they pack them they have them rubbed all to pieces with the straps and drive them long days, without sufficient feed. When a mule gets discouraged, he is good for nothing. Horses I should not think of taking, unless they were of the right kind. They must be French ponies, that can live on brush, or even sharing’s, if it becomes necessary.( goes on about teams and wagons)
The Louisville Daily Courier
Louisville, Kentucky Oct 18 1849
It rained so hard that we could not look or go out of the tent without getting a good ducking -so I made the most of a hard bargain and remained in bed. This was near Chimney Rock, and the only fuel for two hundred miles is Buffalo Chips. They burn well when dry, but the “devil” himself couldn’t faze them one wet.
Knoxville, Tennessee Oct 27 1849
As we expect to meet a train to-morrow, I will close this to send by someone of the party. We have commenced using the Buffalo chips, and find them to answer a very good purpose.
London, Greater London, England Nov 30 1849
Sir, I crossed the frontier line of the United States, 22 miles west of independence, state of Missouri, on 15 April last, with the company of 25 men in five wagons, to traverse the vast plains, mountains, rivers, and deserts of this great continent, and succeeded in reaching my destination in safety on 26 July, only occupying 102 days in compassing of 2200 miles, over a country where for the most part the only route that has ever existed is the trail of the Indian or the past of the elk and buffalo. Frequently shaping our course by the sun, and sending scouts ahead to ascertain the practicability for wagons, ferrying rivers in our wagon beds, and both hauling them up and letting them down over mountain steeps by the aid of ropes coiled around pine and cedar stumps as they offered; “lodging on the cold ground” with codes and rattlesnakes, if not sleeping partners, at least uncomfortably contiguous; lacking fire for culinary purposes days together, when on the bald and trackless prairie rains had rendered the Buffalo chips unfit for ignition; suffering the torments of Tantalus where the arid desert had drank up the slender streams of the earlier season, and lay cracked and parching like our thirst being palates.
The Knoxville Register
Knoxville, Tennessee Dec 29 1849
This is the first wood which we have camped at since we left Ash Creek, 18th September. We had become so well accustomed to the Buffalo chips that few were at the trouble to get wood.
Vermont Christian Messenger
Montpelier, Vermont Jan 23 1850
On this River we had almost incessant rains, and plenty of water and grass for animals; but it was with great difficulty that we could get wood to cook with, having to depend on Buffalo chips almost entirely. It was only when there was a few dry days that this kind of fuel was dry enough to use; consequently we had to eat our meals raw, and lay down at night wet and cold on the ground, get up in the night and go out in the cold rain to guard the mules, get up in the morning eat the pilot bread and raw salt pork, collect the mules and make ready to start by daylight.
Bowling Green, Missouri Jan 28 1850
There is no timbers scarcely from St. Joe until you reach the head of the Carson River, from that place onward timber plenty, and larger pines than I ever expected to see. Water in most places was good. Fuel rather scarce. The wild Sage, however, generally afforded us of full supply, so that we were not reduced to Buffalo chips but once on the entire route. Game rather scarce. Indians few and friendly- not troublesome, except now and then to drive off and ox or so a few mules.
St Joseph Gazette
St Joseph, Missouri Mar 8 1850
As the route from the states to California is of the roughest kind, sometimes grass sometimes none, and when there is none which very frequently appears, the mule will live on most anything, as I had one that in 1843 lived three months on Buffalo chips, and done well, when our cattle and horses were dying. I have done it, and will yet recommend it again, pack mules! pack mules !! and pack mules!!!
Weekly Miners’ Express
Dubuque, Iowa Aug 14 1850
Traveled to-day 28 miles and encamped on Crooked Creek, 1 mile north of river – found grass and water plenty – have found no timber for 70 miles and no prospect of any ahead for about 150 miles. Our only dependence for fuel being Buffalo chips and are old wagons which we burned as we use up the grain – several companies cross to the North side of the Platte from St. Joe Road- grass is said to be very scarce on the South side.
Gallipolis, Ohio Sep 19 1850
We left Fort Kearney on 26 May, and reach this point, 330 miles distant, in 15 days, making an average of 22 miles per day. At Fort Kearney we left the main road and cross the Platte River at Grand Island, then struck the Mormon or Council Bluffs Road. By doing this we avoided the immense crowd of emigrants in had a very good road, good grass and water, plenty of game, no wood but a good substitute and the way of ”Buffalo chips.” So I think I can recommend this route. We have seen thousands of Buffalo and antelope’s, and killed a great many, and almost lived on the meat, which is most excellent. Buffalo chasing is the finest sport I have ever engaged in, but very dangerous, without you have a good horse and you are yourself a good horseman. I was out one day last week in company with two others, and had fine fun. We charged on a herd but they out ran us; soon after we came across one by itself, so we made a charge on it and crippled it, after which we dismounted and went up to it; to prove to be a bull. He turned on us and we made some fast running. We approached him again, more cautiously, and fired on him until he fell, I made eight holes in his hide, and the other boys worked about as fast as I did, so you see they are very hard to kill, for we stood within 30 steps of him, and aim to shoot him in the heart. He was a fine, fat fellow, and made first rate beef. So much for Buffalo hunting.
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania Mar 26 1851
After a hard days march, and a very winding one, we encamped on a patch of good grass, near reed swamp, from which we procured water. No wood. But we gathered a large pile of dry wild horse dung and set it on fire, which answered the purpose very well, and is certainly an improvement upon Buffalo chips. We roasted the last of our elk meat and ate it this evening. Our provision snacks are now empty. Having nothing to cook our meat in, or with, we were obliged to roasted upon spits, and it was well scented by the fuel. With a good fire, this is by far the best way of cooking fresh meat. It has a much sweeter flavor.
The Alton Telegraph
Alton, Illinois May 23 1851
Jerry and Kinder went out hunting-Jerry killed and antelope; so we had a fine supper of fresh meat once more: as I assure you it is a luxury, after eating salt bacon for a few weeks, even as we cooked it; that is roasting it on a stick, over a Buffalo Chip fire, or stewing it without any vegetables.
Gallipolis, Ohio Oct 16 1851
We reached Fort Laramie at the foot of the Black Hills, on 28 June. Our route was then over the desert, one hundred and seventy-six miles. The country was mountainous, and deprived of timber water and grass. Indeed are only resource for fuel to make the pot boil, was, (in hunter phrase) buffalo chips.
The Morning Post
London, England June 3 1852
“Every Bullet has its Billet,” is also an interesting contribution; and gives an animated sketch of the perils which encompass the traveler whose past lies amongst the North American Indians. Sick of continually feasting on Buffalo meat, the author is determined to make a secret attempt to procure a change of diet: – “Leaving our party to swallow beef cooked on fires made of Buffalo dung, for want of better fuel, in the hope of again catching sight of five antelopes which I had viewed disappeared over the head of a bluff in the distance.”
The New Orleans Crescent
New Orleans, Louisiana Jul 22 1852
We arrived here yesterday morning, after a journey of two weeks, from New Fort Kearney. Our route has been a somewhat different one from that of any previous emigration. We crossed the main Platte twenty miles above New Fort Kearney, to the North side. The ford proved to be a good one, owing to the great with of the river, which is at this point two miles in width’
The Zanesville Courier
Zanesville, Ohio Aug 19 1852
We caught a nice mess of fish this evening. I wish you were here to take breakfast with us. They will taste so good cooked over buffalo chips.
Leicester Chronicle, England
Feb 12 1853
For 200 or 300 miles we had no wood; but by this time we had reached the Buffalo country, and Buffalo chips we found a good substitute for wood, with which we could make fires to bake, boil and so forth.
Liverpool Mercury, England
March 29, 1853
We were 200 miles on the Platte that we neither saw bush nor tree, so that the buffalo chips under the circumstances were a God-send; they made of first rate fire, equal to any pent fire you ever saw.
The Dalton Alton Telegraph
Alton, Illinois Sep 7 1853
May 27th– Roads very muddy. Crossed Buffalo Creek. No wood. Drove to the bank of the Platte, and camped with plenty of mud, water and grass, but no wood. Buffalo “chips” in abundance. Traveled 17 miles to-day.
Watertown, Wisconsin Sep 14 1853
It was only now and then that a tree or bush could be seen, indicating the course of the river. There is more just here, but it is all on the South side, and we cannot reach it. Buffalo chips are abundant, and for fuel we find them quite a passable substitute for wood. The timber that is here and for 40 miles back, is not worth counting in connection with the settlement of the country.
The Hillsdale Standard
Hillsdale Michigan Aug 8 1854
Had a cold bite of elk for dinner. Camped this evening beside a mud puddle, gathered Buffalo chips and cook supper. Shot of buzzard, dressed and tried to boil it, but the more it boiled the tougher it got, and come to the conclusion that it would not make very good soup.
Found two emigrants graves near our camp. We passed graves nearly every day, mostly died last year of cholera.
The Kansas Herald of Freedom
Wakarusa, Kansas Feb 17 1855
“The only tree of any magnitude found on its course is the Cottonwood (Populus Canadensis), and it frequently happens that not one of these is seen and a whole day’s journey, and the Buffalo dung and wild Sage constitute the only fuel to be procured.”
The Buffalo Daily Republic
Buffalo, NY July 13 1857
They are everywhere adapted to sustain a great pastoral population. Adapt brick for dwellings, impervious to heat or cold, can be made anywhere; plaster, line, clay and sand, exist beneath nearly every acre; bituminous coal is abundant, Buffalo dung is scattered everywhere, and would fuel is found plentiful by digging, for the trees are stunted by the dry atmosphere, while the roots spread out in all directions.
The Huddersfield Chronicle
West Yorkshire July 31 1858
The barrenness and destitution of the land along the route I have already noticed. Permanent habitation and cultivation of the lands this side of the Big Blue is almost, if not quite impracticable. Save a few acres here and there along the valley of some stream as the little blue, there is no timber. The only burning material that can be obtained the major part of the way is Buffalo chips. With the last two or three hundred miles wild sage stumps or bushes furnished fuel.
The Athens Post
Athens Tennessee, Aug 6 1858
In the Platte bottom we, for the first time, used Buffalo chips for our culinary operations, and found them an excellent substitute for wood.
Brownville, Nebraska Dec 16 1858
From South Fork Crossing to Camp Lucky, twenty miles which is six miles above the mouth of Pole Creek, one hundred and ten miles, with plenty of grass and water along the road, but with but little would or timber for cooking, for which Buffalo chips are used instead.
The Sunbury Gazette
Sunbury Pennsylvania Dec 18 1858
Crossing the Platte river, but were at no loss for fuel whatever; we found a great abundance of Buffalo chips which answered every purpose.
Brownville, Nebraska Dec 23 1858
(Heading to Pikes Peak) Wood is a great object on the road, and “Buffalo chips” are very scarce.
Depending on which route you take, you can see which ones advertised “Buffalo Chips”
The Weekly News-Democrat
Emporia, Kansas March 12 1859
He calculated to take no meet with him, but wood by on the route enough “Buffalo chips” to subsist on, being of the impression that these chips were something like chipped beef.
Chicago, Illinois May 3 1859
News From The Plains
Water is plenty, and there is no trouble in finding plenty of Buffalo chips and other fuel for camping purposes. He passed a very large number of Pikes Peak emigrants, all of whom were in good spirits and getting along finely.
The Buffalo Daily Republic
Buffalo, NY May 28 1859
The number that were in starving condition was absolutely terrible. Buffalo meat was sometimes I obtained by the more fortunate, who had ammunition. This was broiled over of fire, made with Buffalo chips, but oftener eaten raw. One thing quite favorable to its preservation was owing to the purity of the air. At Pikes Peak he saw a man hung who was guilty of making false representations. Mike says he is glad to get back even with his life, although somewhat poorer than when he left. He has had enough of mining.
The Racine Daily Journal
Racine Wisconsin June 3 1859
For three or four days after leaving Fort Kearney, they traveled in the snow and cold, and came near freezing to death. No timber was seen for three hundred miles – burn nothing but Buffalo chips. Pancakes were mixed with Buffalo chip dust every time they were fried.
Sioux City Register
Sioux City, Iowa July 28 1859
We here found our first Buffalo chips which make a very good substitute for wood in cooking.
Glasgow, Scotland March 21 1860
On the pampas of southern temperate America, the prairies of northern temperate America, and in sundry table lauds to boot, fuel of wood or coal is a very scarce commodity, and the chief resource of travelers is called “bosta” in the South, and “Buffalo chips” in the North: it is, in short, dry animal manure. (Note- Bosta is Spanish for cow dung)
The St Joseph Weekly Free Democrat
St Joseph, Missouri June 23 1860
Seneca is the best town site I have seen since leaving Doniphan county. There is another town about 3 miles distant from their which is attracting some attention now it consist of four sod houses. Plenty of Buffalo chips are found on the town site and new discoveries are being made every day.
The Oskaloosa Independent
Oskaloosa, Kansas July 25 1860
Jones- “Wa’al, in the first place, it’s nice level land. In the northeast corner there’s a nice neck of timber, the best timber hereabouts. Then all thro’ the tract you’ll find nice streams; lands very rich; grape vines and paw-paws growin’ all around; and in fact neighbor Smith, the pores thing you can find on the tract is Buffalo chips”
The Weekly Commonwealth
Topeka, Kansas Sept 19 1860
Travelers cam upon hunters gathering buffalo chips.
The Oskaloosa Independent
Oskaloosa, Kansas Oct 3 1860
Buffalo chips are abundant, wood is scarce.
Brownville Nebraska Dec 5 1860
Wood, buffalo chips, wheat, corn, oats, rye, buckwheat, barley, beans, chaff, chickens, eggs, lard, goose grease, cash, old rags, territorial, country and city warrants, and blank paper taken at the highest market price.
P.S. Wood wanted at this office.
Leavenworth, Kansas Feb 16 1861
At this moment, one thousand of our people are only preserved from freezing by a scanty supply of hoop-poles and Buffalo chips.
Freehold New Jersey Mar 7 1861
We had no wood to make fires to keep us warm, and nothing but Buffalo chips to cook with. Thousands of wolves howled about us all night and I frequently had to get up and drive them away or they would have killed both myself and horse. (Pikes Peak Rocky Mtn. trip)
Muscatine Weekly Journal
Muscatine Iowa July 5 1861
We have just passed over a two hundred mile stretch entirely without timber, where we were compelled to use for fuel, as dernier resort, ”buffalo chips” which, when two or three years old, burn well.
Daily National Democrat
Marysville, California Oct 4 1861
We here baked are bread with celebrated Buffalo chips.
The Fairfield Herald
Winnsboro, South Carolina Aug 21 1867
(Gardening) In November and December they are to be manured with horse or Buffalo dung, earth, straw or any rubbish, a foot or more thick to protect them from cold.
While some homesteaders were able to get hold of timber to burn, others depended on dried buffalo and cattle manure. Special stoves for burning hay were widely sold during the 1870s : The universal answer of these settlers, when asked how they get along without wood or coal, is, “O, that is the least of our troubles. We find hay to be much cheaper than wood, even if we owned wood lots within a day’s drive.” The hay can be put in the stack at each man’s door at a cost of less than two dollars a ton, and ten tons will furnish fuel for one stove during the winter. And this hay the settlers put up while they have no other work to do, and would otherwise be idle. Ingenious individuals among these settlers have patented hay-burning stoves and machines for twisting the hay into knots or sticks, and so tucking in the ends that it remains firm though handled many times over.-Minnesota Letter.
1874-1876 “In In the comparatively short distance between the Sweetgrass Hills and the Rocky Mountains we encountered no Buffalo, but this was a mere fortuitous circumstance for the particular days; the ‘chips’ were everywhere.
Occasional skeletons and buffalo chips in a good state of preservation occur eastward nearly to the Missouri, but the only very recent signs observed this year east of the Yellowstone were tracks of a few old straggling bulls a few miles east of the river”
” I have marked on the enclosed portion of a map the range of the animal on the forty-ninth parallel, of which alone I can speak from personal knowledge. During the last sixteen years it would appear that the buffaloes have been driven back over two hundred miles on the forty-ninth parallel, and now do not extend in any force beyond White Mud River, or Frenchmans Creek. ” (Being followed by the Sioux)
How the West Was Settled By Greg Bradsher
“While some homesteaders were able to get hold of timber to burn, others depended on dried buffalo and cattle manure. Special stoves for burning hay were widely sold during the 1870s”
Parsons Weekly Sun
Parsons Kansas Dec 1 1876
The fire was made of buffalo chips, a name given to dried buffalo dung, and our supper consisted of fried pork and gravy, with bread and butter.
The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper
London, England Feb 10 1877
STILL HUNTING AFTER BUFFALO (Colonel Dodge)
The wagons were placed as a windbreak to the north and east, and in many cases the only fuel, the prairie flats being timberless, was dry buffalo dung. The party were soon busily engaged in frying buffalo hump, baking bread, and boiling coffee.
Ottawa Daily Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Jan 7 1882
Mr. B. – They have either to carry wood or depend on picking up cattle or Buffalo dung, which in dry weather makes tolerably good fire.
The Clay Center Dispatch
Clay Center, Kansas May 28 1885
All this is fair tightening compared with the treacherous “pound” designed by the great chief of this district, viz: Pound-Maker; and from which he got his characteristic name . The entrance to this enclosure is by and inclined plane made of rough logs leading to a gap through which the buffaloes suddenly jump about 6 feet into a ring, and from which there is no retreat. In their entrance coverage little heaps of brush and Buffalo dung for several miles into the Prairie which surrounds the clump of woods in which the pound is concealed, and these lines serve to decoy the Buffalo to their doom when they have been driven into the neighborhood.
Phillips County Freeman
Logan Kansas May 12 1887
Tourist and hunters who go over the great western plains use buffalo dung for cooking their food, and find that it gives off very little odor while burning.
Brown County World
Hiawatha, Kansas Aug 12 1887
The cabins of Harry Wellman and Wilbert Bushley, who are holding down claims in Gove County, where Berg realized a short time ago by Cowboys. The valuables missing are blankets, watch chains, knives, trinkets etc. Bushley had traded Wellman interest in the team and wagon owned by the two and will probably jump for civilization. Fritz Schilling is with them and enjoys the wild and woolly west hugely. Buffalo dung is used for fuel there and sells at $1.50 a wagon load.
The Nebraska State Journal
Lincoln Nebraska June 4 1889
So, on fifth of May in the year 1541, Coronado and his army quitted the valleys they had pacified and Christianized so thoroughly, cross the Pecos River and soon entered upon the treeless and pathless prairies of what is now the Indian Territory and the state of Kansas. Through mighty plains and sandy heaths, smooth and wearisome and bare of wood, so that they made great heaps of buffalo dung to guide them on their return, and in spite of all their precautions were constantly losing stragglers from the camp, they made their way for 800 miles northeastwardly to the banks of a considerable river, which could have been no other than the Arkansas.
The Richmond Item
Richmond Indiana Nov 25 1896
No steam rises from the heated cattle or from the lips of the troopers. It is too cold for that. Breath of man and beast congeals as it emerges from them; pipes have been frozen up and put away; it is, indeed, matter for wonder that men can travel in such weather, and live without fire or shelter, bivouacking at times without wood and water, sustaining life on pemmican, biscuit, and tea as is made over of fire of drive Buffalo dung, when fuel can be found under the snow; carrying a week’s provisions on the saddle, without tents and with no more comforts than half a dozen pack courses can bear.
The Salt Lake Herald
Salt Lake City, Utah June 6 1897
Monday, the 19th– Very warm. In the want of wood and the folks have to use Buffalo dung for fuel. Some stray oxen have gotten out from among the Buffalo.
Kansas Farmer and Mail and Breeze
Topeka, Kansas Aug 6 1897
From thence onward for 400 miles there is nothing to be seen but one eternal desert, without one even one solitary stick of timber to cheer the eye for thirty days. Nothing here is to be had but Buffalo dung to cook the food that is used, but of this the whole Prairie are covered, and it is an excellent substitute for wood.
New York Tribune
NY, NY Nov 19 1899
The crude water wheels, run by the human foot, the wooden plough with its iron shoe, the wooden toothed Buffalo rake for a harrow, the scattering of the seed by hand and upon the waters the threshing floor of hardened mud and buffalo dung tramped by buffalo hoofs, and the winnowing of the grain by the shovel and the breeze must soon give way to the windmill pump, the steel plough, the improved harrow, the seed drill and the threshing machine. As yet there has nothing been done in this direction, for the instruments adapted to the peculiar demands of the soil have not yet been invented.
The American Israelite
Cincinnati, Ohio March 7 1901
During the day there was a cool, western breeze, and the suffering for lack of water had ceased. For fuel we used buffalo dung, as there was not a stick of wood insight. Arriving on the South side of the South Fork of the Platte, we found Col. Edwin Sumner and the Second Calvary encamped, on their return March from a scouting expedition after the Cheyennes.
The Victoria Daily Times
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada June 10 1901
Once the Pembina river is crossed, about ninety miles out from Edmonton, there are fertile valleys, many of them hundreds of acres in extent, above and behind which are miles of splendid range. No better locations exist or the farmer and stock raiser than those of the “Bog Hole,” and for miles along the Buffalo Dung river, now rechristianed on the map as the Lobstick river (a tributary to the Pembina).
The Home Record
David City, Nebraska June 12 1902
“In two days they arrived at the vast naked prairie, the wintry aspect of which has caused them in December to pause and turned back. It was now clothed in the early verdue of spring, and plentifully stocked with game. Still, when obliged to bivouse on its bare surface, without any shelter, and by a scanty fire of dry buffalo dung, they found the night blast piercing cold. On one occasion, a herd of buffalo strayed near their evening camp, they killed three of them merely for their hides, wherewith to make a shelter for the night.