On either side of the track of the two lines of railroads running through Kansas and Nebraska, within a relatively short distance and for nearly their whole length, the most conspicuous objects in those days were the desiccated carcasses of the noble beasts that had been ruthlessly slaughtered by the thoughtless and excited passengers on their way across the continent. On the open prairie, too, miles away from the course of legitimate travel, in some places one could walk all day on the dead bodies of the
buffalo killed by the hide-hunters, without stepping off them to the ground.
The best robes, in their relation to thickness of fur and luster, were those taken during the
winter months, particularly February, at which period the maximum of density and
beauty had been reached.
notwithstanding the sudden and fitful variations of temperature incident to our
mid-continent climate, the old hunters were especially active, and accepted
unusual risks to procure as many of the coveted skins as possible.
A temporary camp would be established under the friendly shelter of some
timbered stream, from which the hunters would radiate every morning, and return
at night after an arduous day's work, to smoke their pipes and relate their
varied adventures around the fire of blazing logs.
Sometimes when far away from camp a blizzard would come down from the north in all its fury without ten minutes' warning, and in a few seconds the air, full of blinding snow, precluded the possibility of finding their shelter, an attempt at which would only result in an aimless circular march on the prairie. On such occasions, to keep from perishing by the intense cold, they would kill a
and, taking out its viscera, creep inside the huge cavity, enough animal heat
being retained until the storm had sufficiently abated for them to proceed with
safety to their camp.
Early in March, 1867, a party of my friends, all old
hunters, were camped in Paradise valley, then a famous rendezvous of the animals they were after. One day when out on the range stalking, and widely separated from each other, a terrible blizzard came up. Three of the hunters reached their camp without much difficulty, but he who was farthest away was fairly caught in it, and night overtaking him, he was compelled to resort to the method described in the preceding paragraph. Luckily, he soon came up with a superannuated bull that had been abandoned by the herd; so he killed him, took out his viscera and crawled inside the empty carcass, where he lay comparatively comfortable until morning broke, when the storm had passed over and the sun shone brightly. But when he attempted to get out, he found himself a prisoner, the immense ribs of the creature having frozen together, and locked him up as tightly as if he were in a cell. Fortunately, his companions, who were searching for him, and firing their rifles from time to time, heard him yell in response to the discharge of their pieces, and thus discovered and released him from the peculiar predicament into which he had fallen.
At another time, several years before the acquisition of New Mexico by the United States, two old trappers were far up on the Arkansas River near the Trail, in the foot-hills hunting
buffalo, and they, as is generally the case, became separated. In an hour or two one of them killed a fat young cow, and, leaving his rifle on the ground, went up and commenced to skin her. While busily engaged in his work, he suddenly heard right behind him a suppressed snort, and looking around he saw to his dismay a monstrous grizzly ambling along in that animal's characteristic gait, within a few feet of him.
In front, only a few rods away, there happened to be a clump of scrubby pines, and he incontinently made a break for them, climbing into the tallest in less time than it takes to tell of it. The bear deliberately ate a hearty meal off the juicy hams of the cow, so providentially fallen in his way, and when he had satiated himself, instead of going away, he quietly stretched himself alongside of the half-devoured carcass, and went to sleep, keeping one eye open, however, on the movements of the unlucky hunter whom he had corralled in the tree. In the early evening his partner came to the spot, and killed the impudent bear, that, being full of tender
buffalo meat, was sluggish and unwary, and thus became an easy victim to the unerring rifle; when the unwilling prisoner came down from his perch in the pine, feeling sheepish enough. The last time I saw him he told me he still had the bear's hide, which he religiously preserved as a memento of his foolishness in separating himself from his rifle, a thing he has never been guilty of before or since.
when with Fremont on his first exploring expedition, while hunting for the
command, at some point on the Arkansas River,
left a buffalo which he had just killed and partly cut up, to pursue a large
bull that came rushing by him alone. He chased his game for nearly a
quarter of a mile, not being able, however, to gain on it rapidly, owing
to the blown condition of his horse. Coming up at length to the side of the fleeing beast,
fired, but at the same instant his horse stepped into a prairie-dog hole,
fell down and threw
fully fifteen feet over his head. The bullet struck the buffalo
low under the shoulder, which only served to enrage him so that the next
moment the infuriated animal was pursuing
who, fortunately not much hurt, was able to run toward the river. It was a
race for life now,
using his nimble legs to the utmost of their capacity, accelerated very
much by the thundering, bellowing bull bringing up the rear.
For several minutes it was nip and tuck
which should reach the stream first, but
got there by a scratch a little ahead. It was a big bend of the
river, and the water was deep under the bank, but it was paradise
compared with the hades plunging at his back; so
leaped into the water, trusting to Providence that the bull would not
The trust was well placed, for the bull
did not continue the pursuit, but stood on the bank and shook his head
vehemently at the struggling hunter who had preferred deep waves to
the horns of a dilemma on shore.
swam around for some time, carefully guarded by the bull, until his
position was observed by one of his companions, who attacked the
belligerent animal successfully with a forty-four slug, and then
crawled out and--skinned the enemy!
He once killed five buffalo during a single race, and used but four balls, having
dismounted and cut the bullet from the wound of the fourth, and thus
continued the chase. He it was, too, who established his
reputation as a famous hunter by shooting a buffalo cow during an impetuous race down a steep hill,
discharging his rifle just as the animal was leaping on one of the low
cedars peculiar to the region. The ball struck a vital spot, and
the dead cow remained in the jagged branches. The
Indians who were with him on that hunt looked upon the
circumstance as something beyond their comprehension, and insisted
Kit should leave the carcass in the tree as "Big Medicine." Katzatoa (Smoked Shield), a celebrated chief of the
Kiowa many years
ago, who was over seven feet tall, never mounted a horse when hunting
the buffalo; he always ran after them on foot and killed them with his
Two Lance, another famous chief, could
shoot an arrow entirely through a
buffalo while hunting on horseback. He accomplished this
remarkable feat in the presence of the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia,
who was under the care of
During one of Fremont's expeditions, two
of his chasseurs, named Archambeaux and La Jeunesse, had a curious
adventure on a
buffalo-hunt. One of them was mounted on a mule, the other
on a horse; they came in sight of a large band of buffalo feeding upon the open prairie about a mile distant. The mule was not fleet enough, and the horse was too much fatigued
with the day's journey, to justify a race, and they concluded to
approach the herd on foot.
Dismounting and securing the ends of their
lariats in the ground, they made a slight detour, to take advantage of the
wind, and crept stealthily in the direction of the game, approaching
unperceived until within a few hundred yards. Some old bulls forming
the outer picket guard slowly raised their heads and gazed long and
dubiously at the strange objects, when, discovering that the intruders
were not wolves, but two hunters, they gave a significant grunt, turned
about as though on pivots, and in less than no time the whole herd--bulls,
cows, and calves--were making the gravel fly over the prairie in fine
style, leaving the hunters to their discomfiture. They had scarcely
recovered from their surprise, when, to their great consternation, they
beheld the whole company of the monsters, numbering several thousand,
suddenly shape their course to where the riding animals were picketed. The charge of the stampeded
was a magnificent one; for the buffalo,
mistaking the horse and the mule for two of their own species, came down
upon them like a tornado. A small cloud of dust arose for a moment
over the spot where the hunter's animals had been left; the black mass
moved on with accelerated speed, and in a few seconds the horizon shut
them all from view. The horse and mule, with all their trappings,
saddles, bridles, and holsters, were never seen or heard of afterward.
in less than eighteen months, while employed as hunter of the construction
company of the
Pacific Railroad, in 1867-68, killed nearly five thousand buffalo,
which were consumed by the twelve hundred men employed in track-laying. He tells in his autobiography of the following remarkable experience he
had at one time with his favorite horse Brigham, on an impromptu
One day we were pushed for horses to work on
our scrapers, so I hitched up Brigham, to see how he would work. He
was not much used to that kind of labor, and I was about giving up the
idea of making a work horse of him, when one of the men called to me that
there were some coming over the hill. As there had been no
seen anywhere in the vicinity of the camp for several days, we had become
rather short of meat. I immediately told one of our men to hitch his
horses to a wagon and follow me, as I was going out after the herd, and we
would bring back some fresh meat for supper. I had no saddle, as
mine had been left at camp a mile distant, so taking the harness from
Brigham I mounted him bareback, and started out after the game, being
armed with my celebrated buffalo
killer Lucretia Borgia--a newly improved breech-loading needle-gun, which
I had obtained from the government.
While I was riding toward the buffalo,
I observed five horsemen coming out from the fort, who had evidently seen
the buffalo from the post, and were going out for a chase. They proved
to be some newly arrived officers in that part of the country, and when
they came up closer I could see by the shoulder-straps that the senior was a
captain, while the others were lieutenants.
"Hello! my friend," sang out the captain; "I
see you are after the same game we are."
"Yes, sir; I saw those buffalo
coming over the hill, and as we were about out of fresh meat I thought I
would go and get some," said I.
They scanned my cheap-looking outfit pretty
closely, and as my horse was not very prepossessing in appearance, having
on only a blind bridle, and otherwise looking like a work horse, they
evidently considered me a green hand at hunting.
"Do you expect to catch those buffalo
on that Gothic steed?" laughingly asked the captain.
"I hope so, by pushing on the reins hard
enough," was my reply.
"You'll never catch them in the world, my fine
fellow," said the captain. "It requires a fast horse to overtake the
animals on the prairie."
"Does it?" asked I, as if I didn't know it.
"Yes; but come along with us, as we are going
to kill them more for pleasure than anything else. All we want are
the tongues and a piece of tenderloin, and you may have all that is left,"
said the generous man.
"I am much obliged to you, captain, and will
follow you," I replied.
There were eleven
in the herd, and they were not more than a mile ahead of us. The
officers dashed on as if they had a sure thing on killing them all before
I could come up with them; but I had noticed that the herd was making
toward the creek for water, and as I knew
nature, I was perfectly aware that it would be difficult to turn them from
their direct course. Thereupon, I started toward the creek to head
them off, while the officers came up in the rear and gave chase.
came rushing past me not a hundred yards distant, with the officers about
three hundred yards in the rear. Now, thought I, is the time to "get
my work in," as they say; and I pulled off the blind bridle from my horse,
who knew as well as I did that we were out after buffalo,
as he was a trained hunter. The moment the bridle was off he started
at the top of his speed, running in ahead of the officers, and with a few
jumps he brought me alongside the rear
buffalo. Raising old Lucretia Borgia to my shoulder, I fired, and killed the animal
at the first shot. My horse then carried me alongside the next one,
not ten feet away, and I dropped him at the next fire.
soon as one of the
would fall, Brigham would take me so close to the next that I could almost
touch it with my gun. In this manner I killed the eleven
with twelve shots; and as the last animal dropped, my horse stopped. I jumped off to the ground, knowing that
he would not leave me--it must be remembered that I had been riding
him without bridle, reins, or saddle--and, turning around as the party
of astonished officers rode up, I said to them:
"Now, gentlemen, allow me to present to
you all the tongues and tenderloins you wish from these buffalo."
Captain Graham, for such I soon learned
was his name, replied: "Well, I never saw the like before. Who
under the sun are you, anyhow?"
"My name is Cody," said I.
Captain Graham, who was considerable of a
horseman, greatly admired Brigham, and said: "That horse of yours has
"Yes, sir; he has not only got the points,
he is a runner
and knows how to use the points," said I.
"So I noticed," said the captain.
They all finally dismounted, and we
continued chatting for some little time upon the different subjects of
horses, buffalo, hunting, and
Indians. They felt a little sore at not getting a single
shot at the buffalo; but the way I had killed them, they said, amply repaid
them for their disappointment. They had read of such feats in
books, but this was the first time they had ever seen anything of the
kind with their own eyes. It was the first time, also, that they
had ever witnessed or heard of a white man running buffalo on horseback without a saddle or bridle.
I told them that Brigham knew nearly as
much about the business as I did, and if I had twenty bridles they
would have been of no use to me, as he understood everything, and all
that he expected of me was to do the shooting. It is a fact that
Brigham would stop if a buffalo did not fall at the first fire, so as to give me a
second chance; but if I did not kill the animal then, he would go on,
as if to say, "You are no good, and I will not fool away my time by
giving you more than two shots." Brigham was the best horse I
ever saw or owned for
- (Buffalo Bill Cody)
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