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Destruction of the Northern Herd

  Native American Nations | Extermination of the American Bison                   

 

The Destruction of the Northern Herd.

Until the building of the Northern Pacific Railway there were but two noteworthy outlets for the buffalo robes that were taken annually in the Northwestern Territories of the United States. The principal one was the Missouri River, and the Yellowstone River was the other. Down these streams the hides were transported by steam-boats to the nearest railway shipping point. For fifty years prior to the building of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1880-'82, the number of robes marketed every year by way of these streams was estimated variously at from fifty to one hundred thousand. A great number of hides taken in the British Possessions fell into the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, and found a market in Canada.

In May, 1881, the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal contained the following information in regard to the buffalo robe "crop" of the previous hunting season-the winter of 1880-'81:

"It is estimated by competent authorities that one hundred thousand buffalo hides will be shipped out of the Yellowstone country this season. Two firms alone are negotiating for the transportation of twenty-five thousand hides each.  Most of our citizens saw the big load of buffalo hides that the C. K. Peck brought down last season, a load that hid everything about the boat below the roof of the hurricane deck. There were ten thousand hides in that load, and they were all brought out of the Yellowstone on one trip and transferred to the C. K. Peck. How such a load could have been piled on the little Terry not even the men on the boat appear to know. It hid every part of the boat, barring only the pilot-house and smoke-stacks. But such a load will not be attempted again. For such boats as ply the Yellowstone there are at least fifteen full loads of buffalo hides and other pelts. Reckoning one thousand hides to three car loads, and adding to this fifty cars for the other pelts, it will take at least three hundred and fifty box-cars to carry this stupendous bulk of peltry East to market. These figures are not guesses, but estimates made by men whose business it is to know about the amount of hides and furs awaiting shipment.

"Nothing like it has ever been known in the history of the fur trade. Last season the output of buffalo hides was above the average, and last year only about thirty thousand hides came out of the Yellowstone country, or less than a third of what is there now awaiting shipment The past severe winter caused the buffalo to bunch themselves in a few valleys where there was pasturage, and there the slaughter went on all winter. There was no sport about it, simply shooting down the famine-tamed animals as cattle might be shot down in a barn-yard. To the credit of the Indians it can be said that they killed no more than they could save the meat from. The greater part of the slaughter was done by white hunters, or butchers rather, who followed the business of killing and skinning buffalo by the mouth, leaving the carcasses to rot."

At the time of the great division made by the Union Pacific Railway the northern body of buffalo extended from the valley of the Platte River northward to the southern shore of Great Slave Lake, eastward almost to Minnesota, and westward to an elevation of 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. The herds were most numerous along the central portion of this region (see map), and from the Platte Valley to Great Slave Lake the range was continuous. The buffalo population of the southern half of this great range was, according to all accounts, nearly three times as great as that of the northern half. At that time, or, let us say, 1870, there were about four million buffaloes south of the Platte River, and probably about one million and a half north of it. I am aware that the estimate of the number of buffaloes in the great northern herd is usually much higher than this, but I can see no good grounds for making it so. To my mind, the evidence is conclusive that, although the northern herd ranged over such an immense area, it was numerically less than half the size of the overwhelming multitude which actually crowded the southern range, and at times so completely consumed the herbage of the plains that detachments of the United States Army found it difficult to find sufficient grass for their mules and horses.67

The various influences which ultimately led to the complete blotting out of the great northern herd were exerted about as follows:

In the British Possessions, where the country was immense and game of all kinds except buffalo very scarce indeed; where, in the language of Professor Kenaston, the explorer, "there was a great deal of country around every wild animal," the buffalo constituted the main dependence of the Indians, who would not cultivate the soil at all, and of the half-breeds, who would not so long as they could find buffalo. Under such circumstances the buffaloes of the British Possessions were hunted much more vigorously and persistently than those of the United States, where there was such an abundant supply of deer, elk, antelope, and other game for the Indians to feed upon, and a paternal government to support them with annuities besides. Quite contrary to the prevailing idea of the people of the United States, viz., that there were great herds of buffaloes in existence in the Saskatchewan country long after ours had all been destroyed, the herds of British America had been almost totally exterminated by the time the final slaughter of our northern herd was inaugurated by the opening of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1880. The Canadian Pacific Railway played no part whatever in the extermination of the bison in the British Possessions, for it had already taken place. The half-breeds of Manitoba, the Plains Cree of Qu'Appelle, and the Blackfeet of the South Saskatchewan country swept bare a great belt of country stretching east and west between the Rocky Mountains and Manitoba. The Canadian Pacific Railway found only bleaching bones in the country through which it passed. The buffalo had disappeared from that entire region before 1879 and left the Blackfeet Indians on the verge of starvation. A few thousand buffaloes still remained in the country around the headwaters of the Battle River, between the North and South Saskatchewan, but they were surrounded and attacked from all sides, and their numbers diminished very rapidly until all were killed.

The latest information I have been able to obtain in regard to the disappearance of this northern band has been kindly furnished by Prof. C. A. Kenaston, who in 1881, and also in 1883, made a thorough exploration of the country between Winnipeg and Fort Edmonton for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. His four routes between the two points named covered a vast scope of country, several hundred miles in width. In 1881, at Moose Jaw, 75 miles southeast of The Elbow of the South Saskatchewan, he saw a party of Cree Indians, who had just arrived from the northwest with several carts laden with fresh buffalo meat. At Fort Saskatchewan, on the North Saskatchewan River, just above Edmonton, he saw a party of English sportsmen who had recently been hunting on the Battle and Red Deer Rivers, between Edmonton and Fort Kalgary, where they had found buffaloes, and killed as many as they cared to slaughter. In one afternoon they killed fourteen, and could have killed more had they been more blood-thirsty. In 1883 Professor Kenaston found the fresh trail of a band of twenty-five or thirty buffaloes at The Elbow of the South Saskatchewan. Excepting in the above instances he saw no further traces of buffalo, nor did he hear of the existence of any in all the country he explored. In 1881 he saw many Cree Indians at Fort Qu'Appelle in a starving condition, and there was no pemmican or buffalo meat at the fort. In 1883, however, a little pemmican found its way to Winnipeg, where it sold at 15 cents per pound; an exceedingly high price. It had been made that year, evidently in the mouth of April, as he purchased it in May for his journey.

The first really alarming impression made on our northern herd was by the Sioux Indians, who very speedily exterminated that portion of it which had previously covered the country lying between the North Platte and a line drawn from the center of Wyoming to the center of Dakota. All along the Missouri River from Bismarck to Fort Benton, and along the Yellowstone to the head of navigation, the slaughter went bravely on. All the Indian tribes of that vast region - Sioux, Cheyenne, Crows, Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegan, Assinniboine, Gros Ventre, and Shoshones - found their most profitable business and greatest pleasure (next to scalping white settlers) in hunting the buffalo. It took from eight to twelve buffalo hides to make a covering for one ordinary teepee, and sometimes a single teepee of extra size required from twenty to twenty-five hides.

The Indians of our northwestern Territories marketed about seventy-five thousand buffalo robes every year so long as the northern herd was large enough to afford the supply. If we allow that for every skin sold to white traders four others were used in supplying their own wants, which must be considered a very moderate estimate, the total number of buffaloes slaughtered annually by those tribes must have been about three hundred and seventy-five thousand.

The end which so many observers had for years been predicting really began (with the northern herd) in 1876, two years after the great annihilation which had taken place in the South, although it was not until four years later that the slaughter became universal over the entire range. It is very clearly indicated in the figures given in a letter from Messrs. I. G. Baker & Co., of Fort Benton, Montana, to the writer, dated October 6, 1887, which reads as follows:

"There were sent East from the year 1876 from this point about seventy-five thousand buffalo robes. In 1880 it had fallen to about twenty thousand, in 1883 not more than five thousand, and in 1884 none whatever. We are sorry we can not give you a better record, but the collection of hides which exterminated the buffalo was from the Yellowstone country on the Northern Pacific, instead of northern Montana."

The beginning of the final slaughter of our northern herd may be dated about 1880, by which time the annual robe crop of the Indians had diminished three-fourths, and when summer killing for hairless hides began on a large scale. The range of this herd was surrounded on three sides by tribes of Indians, armed with breech-loading rifles and abundantly supplied with fixed ammunition. Up to the year 1880 the Indians of the tribes previously mentioned killed probably three times as many buffaloes as did the white hunters, and had there not been a white hunter in the whole Northwest the buffalo would have been exterminated there just as surely, though not so quickly by perhaps ten years, as actually occurred. Along the north, from the Missouri River to the British line, and from the reservation in northwestern Dakota to the main divide of the Rocky Mountains, a distance of 550 miles as the crow flies, the country was one continuous Indian reservation, inhabited by eight tribes, who slaughtered buffalo in season and out of season, in winter for robes and in summer for hides and meat to dry. In the Southeast was the great body of Sioux, and on the Southwest the Crows and Northern Cheyenne, all engaged in the same relentless warfare. It would have required a body of armed men larger than the whole United States Army to have withstood this continuous hostile pressure without ultimate annihilation.

Let it be remembered, therefore, that the American Indian is as much responsible for the extermination of our northern herd of bison as the American citizen. I have yet to learn of an instance wherein an Indian refrained from excessive slaughter of game through motives of economy, or care for the future, or prejudice against wastefulness. From all accounts the quantity of game killed by an Indian has always been limited by two conditions only-lack of energy to kill more, or lack of more game to be killed. White men delight in the chase, and kill for the "sport" it yields, regardless of the effort involved. Indeed, to a genuine sportsman, nothing in hunting is "sport" which is not obtained at the cost of great labor. An Indian does not view the matter in that light, and when he has killed enough to supply his wants, he stops, because he sees no reason why he should exert himself any further. This has given rise to the statement, so often repeated, that the Indian killed only enough buffaloes to supply his wants. If an Indian ever attempted, or even showed any inclination, to husband the resources of nature in any way, and restrain wastefulness on the part of Indians, it would be gratifying to know of it.

The building of the Northern Pacific Railway across Dakota and Montana hastened the end that was fast approaching; but it was only an incident in the annihilation of the northern herd. Without it the final result would have been just the same, but the end would probably not have been reached until about 1888.

The Northern Pacific Railway reached Bismarck, Dakota, on the Missouri River, in the year 1876, and from that date onward received for transportation eastward all the buffalo robes and hides that came down the two rivers, Missouri and Yellowstone.

Unfortunately the Northern Pacific Railway Company kept no separate account of its buffalo product business, and is unable to furnish a statement of the number of hides and robes it handled. It is therefore impossible to even make an estimate of the total number of buffaloes killed on the northern range during the six years which ended with the annihilation of that herd.

In regard to the business done by the Northern Pacific Railway, and the precise points from whence the bulk of the robes were shipped, the following letter from Mr. J. M. Hannaford, traffic manager of the Northern Pacific Railroad, under date of September 3, 1887, is of interest.

"Your communication, addressed to President Harris, has been referred to me for the information desired.
"I regret that our accounts are not so kept as to enable me to furnish you accurate data; but I have been able to obtain the following general information, which may prove of some value to you:

"From the years 1876 and 1880 our line did not extend beyond Bismarck, which was the extreme easterly shipping point for buffalo robes and hides, they being brought down the Missouri River from the north for shipment from that point. In the years 1876, 1877, 1878, and 1879 there were handled at that point yearly from three to four thousand bales of robes, about one-half the bales containing ten robes and the other half twelve robes each. During these years practically no hides were shipped. In 1880 the shipment of hides, dry and untanned, commenced,68 and in 1881 and 1882 our line was extended west, and the shipping points increased, reaching as far west as Terry and Sully Springs, in Montana. During these years, 1880, 1881, and 1882, which practically finished the shipments of hides and robes, it is impossible for me to give you any just idea of the number shipped. The only figures obtainable are those of 1881, when over seventy-five thousand dry and untanned buffalo hides came down the river for shipment from Bismarck. Some robes were also shipped from this point that year, and a considerable number of robes and hides were shipped from several other shipping points.

"The number of pounds of buffalo meat shipped over our line has never cut any figure, the bulk of the meat having been left on the prairie, as not being of sufficient value to pay the cost of transportation.

"The names of the extreme eastern and western stations from which shipments were made are as follows: In 1880, Bismarck was the only shipping point. In 1881, Glendive, Bismarck, and Beaver Creek. In 1882, Terry and Sully Springs, Montana, were the chief shipping points, and in the order named, so far as numbers and amount of shipments are concerned. Bismarck on the east and Forsyth on the west were the two extremities.

"Up to the year 1880, so long as buffalo were killed only for robes, the bands did not decrease very materially; but beginning with that year, when they were killed for their hides as well, a most indiscriminate slaughter commenced, and from that time on they disappeared very rapidly. Up to the year 1881 there were two large bands, one south of the Yellowstone and the other north of that river. In the year mentioned those south of the river were driven north and never returned, having joined the northern band, and become practically extinguished.

"Since 1882 there have, of course, been occasional shipments both of hides and robes, but in such small quantities and so seldom that they cut practically no figure, the bulk of them coming probably from north Missouri points down the river to Bismarck."

In 1880 the northern buffalo range embraced the following streams; The Missouri and all its tributaries, from Port Shaw, Montana, to Fort Bennett, Dakota, and the Yellowstone and all its tributaries. Of this region, Miles City, Montana, was the geographical center. The grass was good over the whole of it, and the various divisions of the great herd were continually shifting from one locality to another, often making journeys several hundred miles at a time. Over the whole of this vast area their bleaching bones lie scattered (where they have not as yet been gathered up for sale) from the Upper Marias and Milk Rivers, near the British boundary, to the Platte, and from the James River, in central Dakota, to an elevation of 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Indeed, as late as October, 1887, I gathered up on the open common, within half a mile of the Northern Pacific Railway depot at the city of Helena, the skull, horns, and numerous odd bones of a large bull buffalo which had been killed there.


Where the Millions Have Gone.
From a painting by J. H. Moser in the National Museum

Over many portions of the northern range the traveler may even now ride for days together without once being out of sight of buffalo carcasses, or bones. Such was the case in 1886 in the country lying between the Missouri and the Yellowstone, northwest of Miles City. Go wherever we might, on divides, into bad lands, creek bottoms, or on the highest plateaus, we always found the inevitable and omnipresent grim and ghastly skeleton, with hairy head, dried-up and shriveled nostrils, half-skinned legs stretched helplessly upon the gray turf, and the bones of the body bleached white as chalk.

The year 1881 witnessed the same kind of a stampede for the northern buffalo range that occurred just ten years previously in the south. At that time robes were worth from two to three times as much as they ever had been in the south, the market was very active, and the successful hunter was sure to reap a rich reward as long as the buffaloes lasted. At that time the hunters and hide-buyers estimated that there were five hundred thousand buffaloes within a radius of 150 miles of Miles City, and that there were still in the entire northern herd not far from one million head. The subsequent slaughter proved that these estimates were probably not far from the truth. In that year Fort Custer was so nearly overwhelmed by a passing herd that a detachment of soldiers was ordered out to turn the herd away from the post. In 1882 an immense herd appeared on the high, level plateau on the north side of the Yellowstone which overlooks Miles City and Fort Keogh in the valley below. A squad of soldiers from the Fifth Infantry was sent up on the bluff, and in less than an hour had killed enough buffaloes to load six four-mule teams with meat. In 1886 there were still about twenty bleaching skeletons lying in a group on the edge of this plateau at the point where the road from the ferry reaches the level, but all the rest had been gathered up.

In 1882 there were, so it is estimated by men who were in the country, no fewer than five thousand white hunters and skinners on the northern range. Lieut. J. M. T. Partello declares that "a cordon of camps, from the Upper Missouri, where it bends to the west, stretched toward the setting sun as far as the dividing line of Idaho, completely blocking in the great ranges of the Milk River, the Musselshell, Yellowstone, and the Marias, and rendering it impossible for scarcely a single bison to escape through the chain of sentinel camps to the Canadian northwest. Hunters of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado drove the poor hunted animals north, directly into the muzzles of the thousands of repeaters ready to receive them. Only a few short years ago, as late as 1883, a herd of about seventy-five thousand crossed the Yellowstone River a few miles south of here [Fort Keogh], scores of Indians, pot-hunters, and white butchers on their heels, bound for the Canadian dominions, where they hoped to find a haven of safety. Alas! not five thousand of that mighty mass ever lived to reach the British border line."

It is difficult to say (at least to the satisfaction of old hunters) which were the most famous hunting grounds on the northern range. Lieutenant Partello states that when he hunted in the great triangle bounded by the three rivers, Missouri, Musselshell, and Yellowstone, it contained, to the best of his knowledge and belief, two hundred and fifty thousand buffaloes. Unquestionably that region yielded an immense number of buffalo robes, and since the slaughter thousands of tons of bones have been gathered up there. Another favorite locality was the country lying between the Powder River and the Little Missouri, particularly the valleys of Beaver and O'Fallon Creeks. Thither went scores of "outfits" and hundreds of hunters and skinners from the Northern Pacific Railway towns from Miles City to Glendive. The hunters from the towns between Glendive and Bismarck mostly went south to Cedar Creek and the Grand and Moreau Rivers. But this territory was also the hunting ground of the Sioux Indians from the great reservation farther south.

Thousands upon thousands of buffaloes were killed on the Milk and Marias Rivers, in the Judith Basin, and in northern Wyoming.

The method of slaughter has already been fully described under the head of "the still-hunt," and need not be recapitulated. It is some gratification to know that the shocking and criminal wastefulness which was so marked a feature of the southern butchery was almost wholly unknown in the north. Robes were worth from $1.50 to $3.50, according to size and quality, and were removed and preserved with great care. Every one hundred robes marketed represented not more than one hundred and ten dead buffaloes, and even this small percentage of loss was due to the escape of wounded animals which afterward died and were devoured by the wolves. After the skin was taken off the hunter or skinner stretched it carefully upon the ground, inside uppermost, cut his initials in the adherent subcutaneous muscle, and left it until the season for hauling in the robes, which was always done in the early spring, immediately following the hunt.

As was the case in the south, it was the ability of a single hunter to destroy an entire bunch of buffalo in a single day that completely annihilated the remaining thousands of the northern herd before the people of the United States even learned what was going on. For example, one hunter of my acquaintance, Vic. Smith, the most famous hunter in Montana, killed one hundred and seven buffaloes in one "stand," in about one hour's time, and without shifting his point of attack. This occurred in the Red Water country, about 100 miles northeast of Miles City, in the winter of 1881-'82. During the same season another hunter, named "Doc." Aughl, killed eighty-five buffaloes at one "stand," and John Edwards killed seventy-five. The total number that Smith claims to have killed that season is "about five thousand." Where buffaloes were at all plentiful, every man who called himself a hunter was expected to kill between one and two thousand during the hunting season-from November to February-and when the buffaloes were to be found it was a comparatively easy thing to do.

During the year 1882 the thousands of bison that still remained alive on the range indicated above, and also marked out on the accompanying map, were distributed over that entire area very generally. In February of that year a Fort Benton correspondent of Forest and Stream wrote as follows: "It is truly wonderful how many buffalo are still left. Thousands of Indians and hundreds of white men depend on them for a living. At present nearly all the buffalo in Montana are between Milk River and Bear Paw Mountains. There are only a few small bands between the Missouri and the Yellowstone." There were plenty of buffalo on the Upper Marias River in October, 1882. In November and December there were thousands between the Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers. South of the Northern Pacific Railway the range during the hunting season of 1882-'83 was thus defined by a hunter who has since written out the "Confessions of a Buffalo Butcher" for Forest and Stream (vol. xxiv, p. 489): "Then [October, 1882] the western limit was defined in a general way by Powder River, and extending eastward well toward the Missouri and south to within 60 or 70 miles of the Black Hills. It embraces the valleys of all tributaries to Powder River from the east, all of the valleys of Beaver Creek, O'Fallon Creek, and the Little Missouri and Moreau Rivers, and both forks of the Cannon Ball for almost half their length. This immense territory, lying almost equally in Montana and Dakota, had been occupied during the winters by many thousands of buffaloes from time immemorial, and many of the cows remained during the summer and brought forth their young undisturbed."

The three hunters composing the party whose record is narrated in the interesting sketch referred to, went out from Miles City on October 23, 1882, due east to the bad lands between the Powder River and O'Fallon Creek, and were on the range all winter. They found comparatively few buffaloes, and secured only two hundred and eighty-six robes, which they sold at an average price of $2.20 each. They saved and marketed a large quantity of meat, for which they obtained 3 cents per pound. They found the whole region in which they hunted fairly infested with Indians and half-breeds, all hunting buffalo.

The hunting season which began in October, 1882, and ended in February, 1883, finished the annihilation of the great northern herd, and left but a few small bauds of stragglers, numbering only a very few thousand individuals all told. A noted event of the season was the retreat northward across the Yellowstone of the immense herd mentioned by Lieutenant Partello as containing seventy-five thousand head; others estimated the number at fifty thousand; and the event is often spoken of to-day by frontiersmen who were in that region at the time. Many think that the whole great body went north into British territory, and that there is still a goodly remnant of it in some remote region between the Peace River and the Saskatchewan, or somewhere there, which will yet return to the United States. Nothing could be more illusory than this belief. In the first place, the herd never reached the British line, and, if it had, it would have been promptly annihilated by the hungry Blackfeet and Cree Indians, who were declared to be in a half-starved condition, through the disappearance of the buffalo, as early as 1879.

The great herd that "went north" was utterly extinguished by the white hunters along the Missouri River and the Indians living north of it. The only vestige of it that remained was a band of about two hundred individuals that took refuge in the labyrinth of ravines and creek bottoms that lie west of the Musselshell between Flat Willow and Box Elder Creeks, and another band of about seventy-five which settled in the bad lands between the head of the Big Dry and Big Porcupine Creeks, where a few survivors were found by the writer in 1886.

South of the Northern Pacific Railway, a band of about three hundred settled permanently in and around the Yellowstone National Park, but in a very short time every animal outside of the protected limits of the park was killed, and whenever any of the park buffaloes strayed beyond the boundary they too were promptly killed for their heads and hides. At present the number remaining in the park is believed by Captain Harris, the superintendent, to be about two hundred; about one-third of which is due to breeding in the protected territory.

In the southeast the fate of that portion of the herd is well known. The herd which at the beginning of the hunting season of 1883 was known to contain about ten thousand head, and ranged in western Dakota, about half way between the Black Hills and Bismarck, between the Moreau and Grand Rivers, was speedily reduced to about one thousand head. Vic. Smith, who was "in at the death," says there were eleven hundred, others say twelve hundred. Just at this juncture (October, 1883) Sitting Bull and his whole band of nearly one thousand braves arrived from the Standing Sock Agency, and in two days' time slaughtered the entire herd. Vic. Smith and a host of white hunters took part in the killing of this last ten thousand, and he declares that "when we got through the hunt there was not a hoof left. That wound up the buffalo in the Far West, only a stray bull being seen here and there afterwards."

Curiously enough, not even the buffalo hunters themselves were at the time aware of the fact that the end of the hunting season of 1882-'83 was also the end of the buffalo, at least as an inhabitant of the plains and a source of revenue. In the autumn of 1883 they nearly all outfitted as usual, often at an expense of many hundreds of dollars, and blithely sought "the range" that had up to that time been so prolific in robes. The end was in nearly every case the same-total failure and bankruptcy. It was indeed hard to believe that not only the millions, but also the thousands, had actually gone, and forever.

I have found it impossible to ascertain definitely the number of robes and hides shipped from the northern range during the last years of the slaughter, and the only reliable estimate I have obtained was made for me, alter much consideration and reflection, by Mr. J. N. Davis, of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Davis was for many years a buyer of furs, robes, and hides on a large scale throughout our Northwestern Territories, and was actively engaged in buying up buffalo robes as long as there were any to buy. In reply to a letter asking for statistics, he wrote me as follows, on September 27, 1887:

"It is impossible to give the exact number of robes and hides shipped out of Dakota and Montana from 1876 to 1883, or the exact number of buffalo in the northern herd; but I will give you as correct an account as any one can. In 1876 it was estimated that there were half a million buffaloes within a radius of 150 miles of Miles City. In 1881 the Northern Pacific Railroad was built as far west as Glendive and Miles City. At that time the whole country was a howling wilderness, and Indians and wild buffalo were too numerous to mention. The first shipment of buffalo robes, killed by white men, was made that year, and the stations on the Northern Pacific Railroad between Miles City and Mandan sent out about fifty thousand hides and robes. In 1882 the number of hides and robes bought and shipped was about two hundred thousand, and in 1883 forty thousand. In 1884 I shipped from Dickinson, Dakota Territory, the only car load of robes that went East that year, and it was the last shipment ever made."

For a long time the majority of the ex-hunters cherished the fond delusion that the great herd had only "gone north" into the British Possessions, and would eventually return in great force. Scores of rumors of the finding of herds floated about, all of which were eagerly believed at first. But after a year or two had gone by without the appearance of a single buffalo, and likewise without any reliable information of the existence of a herd of any size, even in British territory, the butchers of the buffalo either hung up their old Sharps rifles, or sold them for nothing to the gun-dealers, and sought other means of livelihood. Some took to gathering up buffalo bones and selling them by the ton, and others became cowboys.


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TSource: 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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