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Trophies of the Hunt

 Native American Nations | Extermination of the American Bison                    

 


Trophies of the Hunt
Mounted by the author in the U. S. National Museum.
Reproduced from the Cosmopolitan Magazine, by permission of the publishers.

I was delighted with our remarkably good fortune in securing such a prize, for, owing to the rapidity with which the large buffaloes are being found and killed off these days, I had not hoped to capture a really old individual. Nearly every adult bull we took carried old bullets in his body, and from this one we took four of various sizes that had been fired into him on various occasions. One was found sticking fast in one of the lumbar vertebræ.79

After a chase of several miles Mr. McNaney finally overhauled his cow and killed her, which brought the number of buffaloes taken on the fall hunt up to twenty-two. We spent the night at the Buffalo Buttes and returned to camp the next day. Neither on that day nor the one following did the wagons arrive, and on the evening of the 8th we learned from the cowboys of the N-bar camp on Sand Creek that our courier, Private West, had not been seen or heard from since he left their camp on November 24, and evidently had got lost and frozen to death in the bad lands.

The next day we started out to search for Private West, or news of him, and spent the night with Messrs. Brodhurst and Andrews, at their camp on Sand Creek. On the 10th, Mr. McNaney and I hunted through the bad lands over the course our courier should have taken, while Messrs. Russell and Brodhurst looked through the country around the head of the Little Dry. When McNaney and I reached the LU-bar ranch that night we were greatly rejoiced at finding that West was alive, although badly frost-bitten, and in Fort Keogh.

It appears that instead of riding due east to the LU-bar ranch, he lost his way in the bad lands, where the buttes all look alike when covered with snow, and rode southwest. It is at all times an easy matter for even a cowboy to get lost in Montana if the country is new to him, and when there is snow on the ground the difficulty of finding one's way is increased tenfold. There is not only the danger of losing one's way, but the still greater danger of getting ingulfed in a deep coulée full of loose snow, which may easily cause both horse and rider to perish miserably. Even the most experienced riders sometimes ride into coulées which are level full of snow and hidden from sight.

Private West's experience was a terrible one, and also a wonderful case of self-preservation. It shows what a man with a cool head and plenty of grit can go through and live. When he left us he wore two undershirts, a heavy blanket shirt, a soldier's blouse and overcoat, two pairs of drawers, a pair of soldier's woolen trousers, and a pair of overalls. On his feet he wore three pairs of socks, a pair of low shoes with canvas leggins, and he started with his feet tied up in burlaps. His head and hands were also well protected. He carried a 38-caliber revolver, but, by a great oversight, only six matches. When he left the N-bar camp, instead of going due east toward the LU-bar ranch, he swung around and went southwest, clear around the head of the Little Dry, and finally struck the Porcupine south of our camp. The first night out he made a fire with sage-brush, and kept it going all night. The second night he also had a fire, but it took his last match to make it. During the first three days he had no food, but on the fourth he shot a sage-cock with his revolver, and ate it raw. This effort, however, cost him his last cartridge. Through hard work and lack of food his pony presently gave out, and necessitated long and frequent stops for rest. West's feet threatened to freeze, and he cut off the skirts of his overcoat to wrap them with, in place of the gunny sacking, that had been worn to rags. Being afraid to go to sleep at night, he slept by snatches in the warmest part of the day, while resting his horse.

On the 5th day he began to despair of succor, although he still toiled southward through the bad lands toward the Yellowstone, where people lived. On the envelopes which contained my letters he kept a diary of his wanderings, which could tell his story when the cowboys would find his body on the spring round-up.

On the afternoon of the sixth day he found a trail and followed it until nearly night, when he came to Cree's sheep ranch, and found the solitary ranchman at home. The warm-hearted frontiersman gave the starving wanderers, man and horse, such a welcome as they stood in need of. West solemnly declares that in twenty-four hours he ate a whole sheep. After two or three days of rest and feeding both horse and rider were able to go on, and in course of time reached Fort Keogh.

Without the loss of a single day Colonel Gibson started three teams and an escort up to us, and notwithstanding his terrible experience, West had the pluck to accompany them as guide. His arrival among us once more was like the dead coming to life again. The train reached our camp on the 13th, and on the 15th we pulled out for Miles City, loaded to the wagon-bows with specimens, forage, and camp plunder.

From our camp down to the HV ranch, at the mouth of Sand Creek, the trail was in a terrible condition. But, thanks to the skill and judgment of the train-master, Mr. Ed. Haskins, and his two drivers, who also knew their business well, we got safely and in good time over the dangerous part of our road. Whenever our own tired and overloaded team got stuck in the mud, or gave out, there was always a pair of mules ready to hitch on and help us out. As a train-master, Mr. Haskins was a perfect model, skillful, pushing, good-tempered, and very obliging.

From the HV ranch to Miles City the trail was in fine condition, and we went in as rapidly as possible, fearing to be caught in the snow-storm which threatened us all the way in. We reached Miles City on December 20, with our collection complete and in fine condition, and the next day a snow-storm set in which lasted until the 25th, and resulted in over a foot of snow. The ice running in the Yellowstone stopped all the ferry-boats, and it was with good reason that we congratulated ourselves on the successful termination of our hunt at that particular time. Without loss of time Mr. Brown and I packed our collection, which tilled twenty-one large cases, turned in our equipage at Fort Keogh, sold our horses, and started on our homeward journey. In due course of time the collection reached the Museum in good condition, and a series of the best specimens it contains has already been mounted.

At this point it is proper to acknowledge our great indebtedness to the Secretary of War for the timely co-operation of the War Department, which rendered the expedition possible. Our thanks are due to the officers who were successively in command at Fort Keogh during our work, Col. John D. Wilkins, Col. George M. Gibson, and Lieut. Col. M. A. Cochran, and their various staff officers; particularly Lieut. C. B. Thompson, quartermaster, and Lieut. H. K. Bailey, adjutant. It is due these officers to state that everything we asked for was cheerfully granted with a degree of promptness which contributed very greatly to the success of the hunt, and lightened its labors very materially.

I have already acknowledged our indebtedness to the officers of the Pennsylvania; the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul; and Northern Pacific railways for the courtesies so liberally extended in our emergency. I take pleasure in adding that all the officers and employés of the Northern Pacific Railway with whom we had any relations, particularly Mr. C. S. Fee, general passenger and ticket agent, treated our party with the utmost kindness and liberality throughout the trip. We are in like manner indebted to the officers of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway for valuable privileges granted with the utmost cordiality.

Our thanks are also due to Dr. J. C. Merrill, and to Mr. Henry R. Phillips, of the Phillips Land and Cattle Company, on Little Dry Creek, for valuable information at a critical moment, and to the latter for hospitality and assistance in various ways, at times when both were keenly appreciated.

Counting the specimens taken in the spring, our total catch of buffalo amounted to twenty-five head, and constituted as complete and fine a series as could be wished for. I am inclined to believe that in size and general quality of pelage the adult bull and cow selected and mounted for our Museum group are not to be surpassed, even if they are ever equaled, by others of their kind.

The different ages and sexes were thus represented in our collection: 10 old bulls, 1 young bull, 7 old cows, 4 young cows, 2 yearling calves, 1 three-months calf80; total, 25 specimens.

Our total collection of specimens of Bison americanus, including everything taken, contained the following: 24 fresh skins, 1 head skin, 8 fresh skeletons, 8 dry skeletons, 51 dry skulls, 2 fœtal young; total, 94 specimens.
Our collection as a whole also included a fine series of skins and skeletons of antelope, deer of two species, coyotes, jack rabbits, sage grouse (of which we prepared twenty-four rough skeletons for the Department of Comparative Anatomy), sharp tailed grouse, and specimens of all the other species of birds and small mammals to be found in that region at that season. From this matériel we now have on exhibition besides the group of buffaloes, a family group of antelope, another of coyotes, and another of prairie dogs, all with natural surroundings.

The Mounted Group in the National Museum

The result of the Smithsonian expedition for bison which appeals most strongly to the general public is the huge group of six choice specimens of both sexes and all ages, mounted with natural surroundings, and displayed in a superb mahogany case. The dimensions of the group are as follows: Length, 16 feet; width, 12 feet, and height, 10 feet. The subjoined illustration is a very fair representation of the principal one of its four sides, and the following admirable description (by Mr. Harry P. Godwin), from the Washington Star of March 10, 1888, is both graphic and accurate:

A Scene From Montana-Six Of Mr. Hornaday's Buffaloes Form A Picturesque Group-A Bit Of The Wild West Reproduced At The National Museum-Something Novel In The Way Of Taxidermy-Real Buffalo-Grass, Real Montana Dirt, And Real Buffaloes.

A little bit of Montana-a small square patch from the wildest part of the wild West-has been transferred to the National Museum. It is so little that Montana will never miss it, but enough to enable one who has the faintest glimmer of imagination to see it all for himself-the hummocky prairie, the buffalo-grass, the sage-brush, and the buffalo. It is as though a little group of buffalo that have come to drink at a pool had been suddenly struck motionless by some magic spell, each in a natural attitude, and then the section of prairie, pool, buffalo, and all had been carefully cut out and brought to the National Museum. All this is in a huge glass case, the largest ever made for the Museum. This case and the space about it, at the south end of the south hall, has been inclosed by high screens for many days while the taxidermist and his assistants have been at work. The finishing touches were put on to-day, and the screens will be removed Monday, exposing to view what is regarded as a triumph of the taxidermist's art. The group, with its accessories, has been prepared so as to tell in an attractive way to the general visitor to the Museum the story of the buffalo, but care has been taken at the same time to secure an accuracy of detail that will satisfy the critical scrutiny of the most technical naturalist.

The Accessories

The pool of water is a typical alkaline water-hole, such as are found on the great northern range of bison, and are resorted to for water by wild animals in the fall when the small streams are dry. The pool is in a depression in the dry bed of a coulée or small creek. A little mound that rises beside the creek has been partially washed away by the water, leaving a crumbling bank, which shows the strata of the earth, a very thin layer of vegetable soil, beneath a stratum of grayish earth, and a layer of gravel, from which protrude a fossil bone or two. The whole bank shows the marks of erosion by water. Near by the pool a small section of the bank has fallen. A buffalo trail passes by the pool in front. This is a narrow path, well beaten down, depressed, and bare of grass. Such paths were made by herds of bison all over their pasture region as they traveled down water-courses, in single file, searching for water. In the grass some distance from the pool lie the bleaching skulls of two buffalo who have fallen victims to hunters who have cruelly lain in wait to get a shot at the animals as they come to drink. Such relics, strewn all over the plain, tell the story of the extermination of the American bison. About the pool and the sloping mound grow the low buffalo-grass, tufts of tall bunch-grass and sage-brush, and a species of prickly pear. The pool is clear and tranquil. About its edges is a white deposit of alkali. These are the scenic accessories of the buffalo group, but they have an interest almost equal to that of the buffaloes themselves, for they form really and literally a genuine bit of the West. The homesick Montana cowboy, far from his wild haunts, can here gaze upon his native sod again; for the sod, the earth that forms the face of the bank, the sage-brush, and all were brought from Montana-all except the pool. The pool is a glassy delusion, and very perfect in its way. One sees a plant growing beneath the water, and in the soft, oozy bottom, near the edge, are the deep prints made by the fore feet of a big buffalo bull. About the soft, moist earth around the pool, and in the buffalo trail are the foot-tracks of the buffalo that have tramped around the pool, some of those nearest the edge having filled with water.

The Six Buffaloes

The group comprises six buffaloes. In front of the pool, as if just going to drink, is the huge buffalo bull, the giant of his race, the last one that was secured by the Smithsonian party in 1888, and the one that is believed to be the largest specimen of which there is authentic record. Near by is a cow eight years old, a creature that would be considered of great dimensions in any other company than that of the big bull. Near the cow is a suckling calf, four months old. Upon the top of the mound is a "spike" bull, two and a half years old; descending the mound away from the pool is a young cow three years old, on one side, and on the other a male calf a year and a half old. All the members of the group are disposed in natural attitudes. The young cow is snuffing at a bunch of tall grass; the old bull and cow are turning their heads in the same direction apparently, as if alarmed by something approaching; the others, having slaked their thirst, appear to be moving contentedly away. The four months' old calf was captured alive and brought to this city. It lived for some days in the Smithsonian grounds, but pined for its prairie home, and finally died. It is around the great bull that the romance and main interest of the group centers.

It seemed as if Providence had ordained that this splendid animal, perfect in limb, noble in size, should be saved to serve as a monument to the greatness of his race, that once roamed the prairies in myriads. Bullets found in his body showed that he had been chased and hunted before, but fate preserved him for the immortality of a Museum exhibit. His vertical height at the shoulders is 5 feet 8 inches. The thick hair adds enough to his height to make it full 6 feet. The length of his head and body is 9 feet 2 inches, his girth 8 feet 4 inches and his weight is, or was, about 1,600 pounds.

The Taxidermist's Object Lessons

This group, with its accessories, is, in point of size, about the biggest thing ever attempted by a taxidermist. It was mounted by Mr. Hornaday, assisted by Messrs. J. Palmer and A. H. Forney. It represents a new departure in mounting specimens for museums. Generally such specimens have been mounted singly, upon a flat surface. The American mammals, collected by Mr. Hornaday, will be mounted in a manner that will make each piece or group an object lesson, telling something of the history and the habits of the animal. The first group produced as one of the results of the Montana hunt comprised three coyotes. Two of them are struggling, and one might almost say snarling, over a bone. They do not stand on a painted board, but on a little patch of soil. Two other groups designed by Mr. Hornaday, and executed by Mr. William Palmer, are about to be placed in the Museum. One of these represents a family of prairie-dogs. They are disposed about a prairie-dog mound. One sits on its haunches eating; others are running about. Across the mouth of the burrow, just ready to disappear into it, is another one, startled for the moment by the sudden appearance of a little burrowing owl that has alighted on one side of the burrow. The owl and the dog are good friends and live together in the same burrow, but there appears to be strained relations between the two for the moment.


Map Illustrating The Extermination Of The American Bison
Prepared by W. T. Hornaday.


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Source: The Extermination of the American Bison, 1886-’87, By William T. Hornaday, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1889

Extermination of the American Bison

 

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