In the 19th century the bison could be found in many parts of North America but especially thrived on the Great Plains. An early English naturalist described them as buffalo and that became their established name though the term is more correctly applied to other types of wild oxen found in Asia and Africa.
The buffalo is covered with long, dark brown woolly hair. It has a massive head, short neck, and high humped shoulders, with tufted tail. Hips and hindquarters are much smaller and without long hair thus forming a distinct slope from hump to tail. Fully grown a buffalo are five to six feet high at the shoulders and can weigh as much as a ton. Like other members of the cattle family, the buffalo eats grasses.
The buffalo played an important role in the life of Native Americans. Before the arrival of Europeans the buffalo were hunted on foot. Every part of the buffalo was used. They provided them with food (meat), shelter (buffalo skin tipi covers), clothing (hide robes), fuel (dried buffalo dung), tools (horn spoons and bone hide scrapers), weapons (buffalo hide shields and bow strings) and equipment (rawhide envelope for storing food). They also used hoofs to make glue, they turned bones into ornaments and buffalo tails became a fly swish.
In 1849 Francis Parkman wrote: "The buffalo supplies the Indians with the necessities of life; with habitations, food, clothing, beds and fuel, strings for their bows, glue, thread, cordage, trail ropes for their horses, covering for their saddles, vessels to hold water, boats to cross streams, and the means of purchasing all they want from the traders. When the buffalo are extinct, they too must dwindle away."
In the second-half of the 19th century European buffalo hunters, armed with powerful, long-range rifles, began killing the animal in large numbers. Individual hunters could kill 250 buffalo a day. By the 1880s over 5,000 hunters and skinners were involved in this trade. It is claimed that the killing of buffalo was supported by the U.S. military in order to undermine the survival of the Plains Indians.
In 1800 there were around 60 million buffalo in North America. By 1890 this number had fallen to 750. The Plains Indians (Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Sioux, Arikara, Mandan, Osage and Pawnee) had now no means of independent sustenance and had to accept the government policy of living on Indian Reservations.
In the 20th century the buffalo became a protected species and now number about 80,000.
(1) Heinrich Lienhard, From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, 1846 (1900)
The next day we saw for the first time old, bleached buffalo skulls, which became more numerous the farther we progressed. We saw antelope more often than before, but we were seldom able to get within shooting distance of them. Our average daily march was about fifteen miles, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending upon circumstances. We counted on getting most of our firewood for preparing our evening and morning meals along the Platte. There was certainly no lack of water as long as we were near the river, and even though it was extremely turbid, it didn't have a bad taste and apparently agreed with everybody. On the third day there were more signs of our being in the land of the buffalo. We came across more and fresher skulls, often still with horns on them. Toward evening of the third day we even found fairly fresh dung.
I was perhaps more curious than anyone else to see a buffalo, and I spied in all directions for the chance of spotting one. Walking on ahead with a couple of my comrades, I saw across the wide Platte just opposite us two big fat objects which moved. "Hurrah, buffalos across the river," I called out. First they wouldn't believe me, but soon they saw that the black clumps were actually moving. When the party arrived, we called their attention to the two black objects on the opposite shore. They agreed that they must be buffalo, and -the wagons were halted. Immediately, five or six men volunteered to take a chance on crossing the river on horseback, in order to bag one of the two buffalo, if possible. Among the volunteers were Kyburz and Hoppe. We stayed a while longer, but since they were getting closer to the other shore without trouble, the wagons slowly started up again. We now watched our hunters and the buffalo with great interest. The latter did not seem to scent any danger until our men reached shore. Now the chase started. The buffalo immediately turned toward the hills, with the hunters hot on their heels. We heard the crack of several shots, but the hunters as well as the buffalo soon disappeared from sight. It was quite a while before we saw or heard anything from our men. We pitched camp a little earlier than usual in order to await their return. We kept watching the opposite shore, and, finally, after some of our people feared that something might have happened to our hunters, they suddenly all appeared between the hills, rode the horses into the river, crossed safely, and were soon in our midst. Each one was carrying a good-sized hunk of buffalo meat, which was distributed among the party. Our campfires had all been started, and soon we were enjoying the meat. The hunt put us all in a good mood, and we found the meat delicious.
(2) George Ruxton, Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains (1847)
Dense masses of buffalo still continued to darken the plains, and numerous bands of wolves hovered round the outskirts of the vast herds, singling out the sick and wounded animals, and preying upon the calves whom the rifles and arrows of the hunters had bereaved of their mothers. The white wolf is the invariable attendant upon the buffalo; and when one of these persevering animals is seen, it is certain sign that buffalo are not far distant. Besides the buffalo wolf, there are four distinct varieties common to the plains, and all more or less attendant upon the buffalo. These are, the black, the gray, the brown, and last and least the coyote, or cayeute of the mountaineers, the "wach-unkamnet," or "medicine wolf" of the Indians, who hold the latter animal in reverential awe. This little wolf, whose fur is of great thickness and beauty, although of diminutive size, is wonderfully sagacious, and makes up by cunning what it wants in physical strength. In bands of from three to thirty they will not unfrequently station themselves along the "runs" of the deer and the antelope, extending their line for many miles - and the quarry being started, each wolf will follow in pursuit until tired, when it relinquishes the chase to another relay, following slowly after until the animal is fairly run down, when all hurry to the spot and speedily consume the carcass. The cayeute, however, is often made a tool of by his larger brethren, unless, indeed, he acts from motives of spontaneous
(3) Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail (1849)
From one of their openings descended a deep ravine, widening as it issued on the prairie. We entered it, and galloping up, in a moment were surrounded by the bleak sand-hills. Half of their steep sides were bare; the rest were scantily clothed with clumps of grass, and various uncouth plants, conspicuous among which appeared the reptile - like prickly-pear. They were gashed with numberless ravines; and as the sky had suddenly darkened, and a cold gusty wind arisen, the strange shrubs and the dreary hills looked doubly wild and desolate. But Henry's face was all eagerness. He tore off a little hair from the piece of buffalo robe under his saddle, and threw it up, to show the course of the wind. It blew directly before us. The game were therefore to windward, and it was necessary to make our best speed to get around them.
We scrambled from this ravine, and galloping away through the hollows, soon found another, winding like a snake among the hills, and so deep that it completely concealed us. We rode up the bottom of it, glancing through the shrubbery at its edge, till Henry abruptly jerked his rein, and slid out of his saddle. Full a quarter of a mile distant, on the outline of the farthest hill, a long procession of buffalo were walking, in Indian file, with the utmost gravity and deliberation; then more appeared, clambering from a hollow not far off, and ascending, one behind the other, the grassy slope of another hill; then a shaggy head and a pair of short broken horns appeared issuing out of a ravine close at hand, and with a slow, stately step, one by one, the enormous brutes came into view, taking their way across the valley, wholly unconscious of an enemy. In a moment Henry was worming his way, lying flat on the ground, through grass and prickly-pears, toward his unsuspecting victims. He had with him both my rifle and his own. He was soon out of sight, and still the buffalo kept issuing into the valley. For a long time all was silent. I sat holding his horse, and wondering what he was about, when suddenly, in rapid succession, came the sharp reports of the two rifles, and the whole line of buffalo, quickening their pace into a clumsy trot, gradually disappeared over the ridge of the hill. Henry rose to his feet, and stood looking after them.
(4) William Becknell, Missouri Intelligencer (22nd April, 1823)
The immense number of animals, however, which roam undisturbed, and feed bountifully upon its fertility, gives some interest and variety to the scenery. The wolves sometimes attack the buffalo; and whenever an attack is contemplated, a company of from ten to twenty divide into two parties, one of which separates a buffalo from his herd, and pursues him, while the others head him. I counted twenty-one wolves one morning in a chase of this kind.
(5) Nelson Lee, Three Years Among the Comanches (1859)
The Comanche Indian in his village is the idlest, laziest being in existence, a sluggard and a glutton. His sole and only pursuits are war and hunting. His wife, besides attending to the domestic duties of the tent, plants his corn and reaps it, cultivates his tobacco, tans his buffalo hides - in fine, performs wholly, without the remotest aid from him, every particle and kind of labor, which, among civilized beings, devolves upon the husband. So now, while the women toiled and strained and lifted, the men moped stupidly around, smoking their pipes, or lolled upon the ground.
While in camp the Indian is idle, listless, sleeping the greater part of the day and all night. He is slovenly in his dress, except when he meets in council or goes on the war path, when he decorates himself with the scalps he has taken, which at other times hang in his tent. His prowess as a warrior is estimated in proportion to the number he possesses.
To supply the necessaries of life, more or less are constrained daily to go out upon the hunt. In this, their only labor, they range within a circuit rarely extending more than four or five miles from the town. Their weapons, on these excursions, are the bow and arrow and the lance, both of which they use with great dexterity and skill, especially on horseback. Indeed, in the matter of horsemanship, I doubt whether there is a race on the face of the whole earth that equals the Comanches. They will lie along the sides of their horses, while under full speed, directing their course at the same time and discharging arrows from under their necks with deadly effect, in a manner astonishing to witness.
If a deer is captured, he brings it in on his horse, throws it to the women whose business is to dress and cook it. If he kills a mustang or a buffalo, he rides into the village and informs his squaw where the carcass may be found, who straightway mounts and goes out in search of it - skins it - cuts the flesh into strips, and returns.
While the men are thus indolent, the women are remarkable for their industry. Besides attending to the menial duties of the camp, working in the fields during the planting and harvesting seasons, they perform extraordinary labors in preparing buffalo hides and bringing them into the soft and pliant condition in which we see them. To do this properly requires about six weeks, and the process may be new to many of my readers.
When the hide is first brought in green, it is placed upon a log so hewed that it presents a flat surface, perhaps a foot in width. With an instrument similar to a common adze, the squaws cut away all the flesh and part of the bulkiest portions of the hide, until the whole presents a uniform thickness. This is a long and tedious operation. They are then stretched upon frames, and rubbed with a kind of pumice stone until the surface becomes furzy. If it should dry in this state, however, it would be hard, stiff and unpliant. To avoid this, they use a preparation composed of basswood bark pounded very fine and mixed with the brains of the deer or buffalo, which is applied day after day until the skin is thoroughly saturated, when it is soft and flexible.
The buffalo robe is the principal, and indeed, so far as I know, their only article of commerce - their only source of wealth. At a certain season every year they are transported to the confines of Mexico, and sold to parties of Mexican traders who annually meet them there, and receive in compensation hatchets, knives, and such other implements as are used by them, together with cheap calicoes, mescal, and a great variety of trinkets.
(6) Hiram D. Upham, letter to Abner Wood (18th June, 1865)
On board the Steamer Twilight - 450 miles below Fort Benton... I believe I have seen 50,000 Buffaloes within the last two weeks. They are continually swimming across the River in droves and very often they get caught in the current and carried right down by the boat so close that they are often struck by the wheels. The deck hands can take a lasso and catch them in the water any day... You would laugh to see the old mountain men cut the stones and tongue out of a Bull as soon as he is down. They are considered the choicest parts. Deer, Antelope, wolves. Bears and Elk are also very abundant on the shores. Indeed all kinds of game is so abundant that it has ceased to have any interest.
(7) William Wallace, The Adventures of Fig Foot Wallace, The Texas Ranger (1870)
We saw a small drove of buffalo, but our hunters did not get a shot at them and the country where we found them was so broken we could not chase them on horseback. One of our men, who had stopped behind awhile for some purpose, when he came up, reported that he had seen an Indian following on our trail; but he was a "scary" sort of fellow, and we thought his story very doubtful
We passed a singular chain of high, bald hills today. Looking at them from a distance, we almost fancied we were approaching a considerable city, so much did they resemble houses, steeples, etc. They were entirely destitute of timber.
The Leon Hiver, where we struck It, is a small rapid stream, shut in on both sides by high rocky hills. We crossed over to the northern side, and "nooned" in a grove of pecans. These trees are full of the finest nuts we had ever seen - very large, and their hulls so thin we could easily crack them with our fingers. Before we left, we gathered a wallet-fall of them, and strapped it on one of our pack mules.
In the evening, we continued our route up Armstrong's Creek, and struck camp a little after sundown near one of its head-springs. The valley along the creek is very beautiful, and the soil rich. Our hunter today killed a fat buffalo-cow on the way, and we butchered her, and packed the meat into camp. That was the first buffalo-meat I ever tasted, and I thought it better even than bear-meat. The flesh of an old bull, however, I have found out since, is coarse, tough and stringy, but the "hump" is always good, and so are the "marrow-bones" and tongue.
(8) Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail (1849)
The buffalo supplies the Indians with the necessities of life; with habitations, food, clothing, beds and fuel, strings for their bows, glue, thread, cordage, trail ropes for their horses, covering for their saddles, vessels to hold water, boats to cross streams, and the means of purchasing all they want from the traders. When the buffalo are extinct, they too must dwindle away.
(9) Lewis Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1859)
The buffalo is a timid animal, or what would be more truthful, is averse to a collision with other animals, and moves off when a man comes near him, never attacking a man in the first instance. When wounded he does not always turn upon his assailant, but he does sometimes give chase for a mile or two.
The hunter prefers to hunt on horseback when he rides up and shoots him behind the foreshoulder from the saddle and then reloads in the saddle still pursuing and fires again. They will with an expensive horse ride up within six feet of a buffalo bull with perfect impunity and bowl him over with a rifle ball. When the buffalo is full grown and in good condition it takes a fast horse to overtake him and keep up with him. The Indian still uses the bow in the far west and I have been assured over and over again by those who ought to know, that an Indian will shoot his arrow, pointed with iron, entirely through a buffalo behind the fore shoulder so that the arrow will go clean through and come out on the other side and stick in the ground. I have heard the Iroquois say that their hunters would send their arrows through a deer in the same way.
(10) James Reed, letter to James Keynes (16th June, 1846)
My first appearance on the wilds of the Nebraska as a hunter, was on the 12th (June) when I returned to camp with a splendid two year old elk, the first only only one killed by the caravan as yet. I picked the elk I killed, out of eight of the largest I ever beheld, and I do really believe there was one in the gang as large as the horse I rode.
We have had two Buffalo killed. The men that killed them are considered the best buffalo hunters on the road - perfect "stars." Knowing that Glaucus could beat any horse on the Nebraska, I came to the conclusion that as far as buffalo killing was concerned, I could beat them. Accordingly, yesterday I thought to try my luck. The old buffalo hunters and as many others as they would permit to be in their company, having left the camp for a hunt, Hiram Miller, myself and two others, after due preparation, took up the line of march. Before we left, every thing in camp was talking about Mr so and so, had gone hunting, and we would have some choice buffalo meat. No one though or spoke of the two Sucker hunters, and none but the two asked to go with us... we saw a large herd.... On we went towards them as coolly and calmly as the nature of the case would permit. And now, as perfectly green as I was I had to compete with old experienced hunters, and remove the stars from their brows; which was my greatest ambition, and in order too, that they might see that a Sucker had the best horse in the company, and the best and most daring horseman in the caravan. Closing upon a gang of ten or twelve bulls, the word was given, and I was soon in their midst... At last I loaded, and soon the chase ended and I had two dead and a third mortally wounded and dying... A short distance off we saw another drove of calves. Again the chase was renewed, and soon I laid out another fine calf upon the plains.
(11) Tamsen Donner, letter to a friend (16th June, 1846)
We are now on the Platte, 200 miles from Fort Laramie... Wood is now very scarce, but "Buffalo chips" are excellent - they kindle quick and retain heat surprisingly. We had this evening Buffalo steaks broiled upon them that had the same flavor they would have had upon hickory coals. We feel no fear of Indians. Our cattle graze quietly around our encampment unmolested. Two or three men will go hunting twenty miles from camp - and last night two of our men lay out in the wilderness rather than ride their horses after a hard chase. Indeed if I do not experience something far worse than I have yet done, I shall say the trouble is all in getting started.
(12) Frances M. Roe, letter (November, 1871)
A week or so ago it was decided that a party of enlisted men should be sent out to get buffalo meat for Thanksgiving dinner for everybody - officers and enlisted men - and that Lieutenant Baldwin, who is an experienced hunter, should command the detail. You can imagine how proud and delighted I was when asked to go with them. Lieutenant Baldwin saying that the hunt would be worth seeing, and well repay one for the fatigue of the hard ride.
Well, we rode twelve miles without seeing one living thing, and then we came to a little adobe ranch where we dismounted to rest a while. By this time our feet and hands were almost frozen, and Faye suggested that I should remain at the ranch until they returned; but that I refused to do - to give up the hunt was not to be thought of, particularly as a ranchman had just told us that a small herd of buffalo had been seen that very morning only two miles farther on. So, when the horses were a little rested, we started, and, after riding a mile or more, we came to a small ravine, where we found one poor buffalo, too old and emaciated to keep up with his companions, and who, therefore, had been abandoned by them, to die alone. He had eaten the grass as far as he could reach, and had turned around and around until the ground looked as though it had been spaded.
He got up on his old legs as we approached him, and tried to show fight by dropping his head and throwing his horns to the front, but a child could have pushed him over. One of the officers tried to persuade me to shoot him, saying it would be a humane act, and at the same time give me the prestige of having killed a buffalo! But the very thought of pointing a pistol at anything so weak and utterly helpless was revolting in the extreme. He was such an object of pity, too, left there all alone to die of starvation, when perhaps at one time he may have been leader of his herd. He was very tall, had a fine head, with an uncommonly long beard, and showed every indication of having been a grand specimen of his kind.
We must have gone at least two miles farther before we saw the herd we were looking for, making fifteen or sixteen miles altogether that we had ridden. The buffalo were grazing quietly along a meadow in between low, rolling hills. We immediately fell back a short distance and waited for the wagons, and when they came up there was great activity, I assure you. The officers' saddles were transferred to their hunters, and the men who were to join in the chase got their horses and rifles ready. Lieutenant Baldwin gave his instructions to everybody, and all started off, each one going in a different direction so as to form a cordon, Faye said, around the whole herd. Faye would not join in the hunt, but remained with me the entire day. He and I rode over the hill, stopping when we got where we could command a good view of the valley and watch the run.
It seemed only a few minutes when we saw the buffalo start, going from some of the men, of course, who at once began to chase them. This kept them running straight ahead, and, fortunately, in Lieutenant Baldwin's direction, who apparently was holding his horse in, waiting for them to come. We saw through our field glasses that as soon as they got near enough he made a quick dash for the herd, and cutting one out, had turned it so it was headed straight for us.
Now, being on a buffalo hunt a safe distance off, was one thing, but to have one of those huge animals come thundering along like a steam engine directly upon you, was quite another. I was on one of Lieutenant Baldwin's horses, too, and I felt that there might be danger of his bolting to his companion, Tom, when he saw him dashing by, and as I was not anxious to join in a buffalo chase just at that time, I begged Faye to go with me farther up the hill. But he would not go back one step, assuring me that my horse was a trained hunter and accustomed to such sights.
Lieutenant Baldwin gained steadily on the buffalo, and in a wonderfully short time both passed directly in front of us - within a hundred feet, Faye said. Lieutenant Baldwin was close upon him then, his horse looking very small and slender by the side of the grand animal that was taking easy, swinging strides, apparently without effort and without speed, his tongue lolling at one side. But we could see that the pace was really terrific - that Lieutenant Baldwin was freely using the spur, and that his swift thoroughbred was stretched out like a greyhound, straining every muscle in his effort to keep up. He was riding close to the buffalo on his left, with revolver in his right hand, and I wondered why he did not not shoot, but Faye said it would be useless to fire then - that Lieutenant Baldwin must get up nearer the shoulder, as a buffalo is vulnerable only in certain parts of his body, and that a hunter of experience like Lieutenant Baldwin would never think of shooting unless he could aim at heart or lungs.
(13) Harper's Magazine (14th December, 1867)
At this season of the year the herds of buffalo are moving southward, to reach the canyons which contain the grass they exist upon during the winter. Nearly every railroad train which leaves or arrives at Fort Hays on the Kansas Pacific Railroad has its race with these herds of buffalo; and a most interesting and exciting scene is the result. The train is "slowed" to a rate of speed about equal to that of the herd; the passengers get out fire-arms which are provided for the defense of the train against the Indians, and open from the windows and platforms of the cars a fire that resembles a brisk skirmish. Frequently a young bull will turn at bay for a moment. His exhibition of courage is generally his death-warrant, for the whole fire of the train is turned upon him, either killing him or some member of the herd in his immediate vicinity.
(14) Harper's Magazine (12th December, 1874)
The vast plains west of the Missouri River are covered with the decaying bones of thousands of slain buffaloes. Most of them have been slaughtered for the hide by professional hunters, while many have fallen victims to the sportsmen’s rage for killing merely for the sake of killing. These people take neither hide nor flesh, but leave the whole carcass to decay and furnish food for the natural scavengers of the plains.
Our front-page illustration represents a party of professional hunters, numbering six or eight, who have come upon a large herd of buffaloes. The first shot brings down a splendid animal, wounded purposely in a manner not to kill but to make him "pump blood," that is to say, to bleed profusely. Others of the herd gather around their wounded comrade, and appear to be too much stupefied to avoid danger by flight. The hunters kill as many as they can, until the survivors at last take fright and gallop off.
Then the "stripping" begins. The hides are taken off with great skill and wonderful quickness, loaded on a wagon, as shown in the background of the picture, and carried to the hunters’ camp. Our artists spoke with the hunters on the plains who boasted of having killed two thousand head of buffalo apiece in one season. At this rate of slaughter, the buffalo must soon become extinct. Already there is a sensible diminution of the great herds on the plains, and from many places where they were once numerous they have disappeared altogether. Some of the railroads running far out into the prairies have regular trains for parties of amateur hunters, who fire upon their victims from the car windows. Thousands of buffalo were killed in this manner, besides other kinds of wild game, and their carcasses left to decay on the ground along the line of the railroad.
The indiscriminate slaughter of the buffalo has brought many evils in its train. Among other bad consequences it has been the direct occasion of many Indian wars. Deprived of one of their chief means of subsistence through the agency of white men, the tribes naturally take revenge by making raids on white settlements and carrying off stock, if they do not murder the settlers.
(15) Buffalo Bill Cody, The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920)
I had my celebrated buffalo hunt with Billy Comstock, a noted scout, guide and interpreter, who was then chief of scouts at Fort Wallace, Kansas. Comstock had the reputation, for a long time, of being a most successful buffalo hunter, and the officers in particular, who had seen him kill buffaloes, were very desirous of backing him in a match against me. It was accordingly arranged that I should shoot him a buffalo-killing match, and the preliminaries were easily and satisfactorily agreed upon. We were to hunt one day of eight hours, beginning at eight o'clock in the morning, and closing at four o'clock in the afternoon. The wager was five hundred dollars a side, and the man who should kill the greater number of buffaloes from on horseback was to be declared the winner.
The hunt took place about twenty miles east of Sheridan, and as it had been pretty well advertised and noised abroad, a large crowd witnessed the interesting and exciting scene. An excursion party, mostly from St. Louis, consisting of about a hundred gentlemen and ladies, came out on a special train to view the sport, and among the number was my wife, with little baby Arta, who had come to remain with me for a while.
The buffaloes were quite plenty, and it was agreed that we should go into the same herd at the same time and "make a run," as we called it, each one killing as many as possible. A referee was to follow each of us on horseback when we entered the herd, and count the buffaloes killed by each man. The St. Louis excursionists, as well as the other spectators, rode out to the vicinity of the hunting grounds in wagons and on horseback, keeping well out of sight of the buffaloes, so as not to frighten them, until the time came for us to dash into the herd; when they were to come up as near as they pleased and witness the chase.
At last the time came to begin the match. Comstock and I dashed into a herd, followed by the referees. The buffaloes separated; Comstock took the left bunch and I the right. My great forte in killing buffaloes from horseback was to get them circling by riding my horse at the head of the herd, shooting the leaders, thus crowding their followers to the left, till they would finally circle round and round.
On this morning the buffaloes were very accommodating, and I soon had them running in a beautiful circle, when I dropped them thick and fast, until I had killed thirty-eight; which finished my run.
Comstock began shooting at the rear of the herd, which he was chasing, and they kept straight on. He succeeded, however, in killing twenty-three, but they were scattered over a distance of three miles, while mine lay close together. I had "nursed" my buffaloes, as a billiard-player does the balls when he makes a big run.
(16) Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)
While the vast herds of buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope remained, they were sure of food and raiment. They were, however, soon to be deprived of their abundant riches. The wave of civilization was moving over the western horizon. Its onward march was irresistible. No human hand could stay that rolling tide of progress. The pale faces moved over every divide; they cordelled or pushed their boats up every river. They entered every valley and swarmed over every plain. They traveled in wagons and prairie-schooners, on foot or horseback. Herding their little bands and flocks of domestic stock, they built their homes on every spot of ground that could be made productive. One great cause of disaffection among the Indians was the destruction of their vast herds of buffalo, which seemed like ruthless sacrifice.
Within a few years millions of buffalo were killed for their hides, and thousands of white men, the best rifle-shots in the world, were engaged in the business. The buffalo, like the Indian, was in the pathway of civilization. Now the same territory is occupied by innumerable numbers of domestic animals that contribute untold wealth to our entire country.
(17) Frank Root, The Overland Stage to California (1901)
The pioneers of Kansas, particularly a number who settled on the frontier - along the upper valleys of the Smoky Hill, Republican, Solomon, and Saline rivers - practically owed their lives to the existence of the buffalo. For years in the early '60's a goodly portion of the meat consumed by those early settlers was cut from the carcass of the noble, shaggy animal which so long existed as monarch of the plains. Thousands of people who at an early day went overland to Utah, Oregon and California drew their supply of meat from the buffalo. Where this life preserver was found, it was known that, by following their paths, near by water would be found. The principal article of fuel found on the frontier for cooking the meat of the buffalo was the dried excrement of the animal, known in early Kansas and Nebraska parlance as "buffalo chips." The buffalo was one of the noblest of all animals. It seemed indispensable. It furnished man with an abundance of the most wholesome meat; the hide was made into shoes and garments worn during the day, and it made a comfortable bed and supplied warm covering in or out of doors at night.
The last herd of buffalo that I ever saw in the wild, native state was in the fall of 1870. It was along the Kansas Pacific railroad near the headwaters of the Smoky Hill river. The railroad had just been built, and the animals seemed terribly frightened at the cars. In their mad race westward along the railroad, they actually kept up with the passenger-train, which was moving along from fifteen to eighteen miles an hour. The race became exciting, and all of the passengers, many of whom had never seen a buffalo, held their breath in suspense. It was noticed that the animals never changed their course, but kept steadily coming nearer the train, apparently determined to cross the track at the curve a short distance beyond. Not caring for a collision which might possibly derail the train, the engineer gave up the race and whistled "down brakes," stopping within a few rods of the animals to let them cross. A parting salute was given by some of the passengers, who emptied the chambers of their six- shooters among the beasts, but which they did not appear to mind any more than a blast from a toy pop-gun. While these animals used to cover the plains of western Kansas and Nebraska in countless millions, hardly one of them is now left to remind us of the once noble and powerful herds originally known in the great West as "crooked back oxen."
For four years-1865-1869-during the lively era of constructing the Pacific railroad and its branches, no less than 250,000 buffaloes were slaughtered in Kansas and other western states. From 1869 to 1876 the greatest slaughter took place, and the number in those years slain ran up into the millions. The animals had become quite scarce in the later '70's and the early '80's, yet no less than one and a half million buffaloes were killed The year 1870 was a great year in hunting the buffalo, during which time upwards of two million were killed in Kansas, Indian Territory and Texas. ''
The most conspicuous person engaged in the great slaughter was the intrepid scout and Indian fighter, Col. William F. Cody who has been more familiarly known as "Buffalo Bill." In 1867, when the Kansas Pacific railroad was being built across the plains to Denver, Cody, then a young man, made a contract with the railway officials to keep its officials supplied with buffalo meat. For doing this he received $500 per month. He was engaged in this work eighteen months, during which time he killed an average of about eight a day-in all 4280 buffaloes; and this is how Cody be- came the renowned "Buffalo Bill."