Part 2: Hunting Calves with Buffalo Jones in the Desert, 1887

Part 2: Hunting Calves with Buffalo Jones in the Desert, 1887

In the 1880s, the last southern buffalo hid in the remote, distant areas of the southwest, protected from hunters by drought and the forbidding sands of the desert. It was there that Buffalo Jones set out with two wagons and crew determined to capture and save buffalo calves.

Emerson Hough (1857–1923) was an American author best known for writing western stories and historical novels. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1880 from the University of Iowa, then studied law and was admitted to the bar.

He and a friend, the artist J.A. Ricker, arrived in Garden City Kansas just as Buffalo Jones prepared for his 2nd expedition to capture buffalo calves in remote desert regions of Texas and the southwest.

The young men had been told that a wild herd of buffalo was within 200 miles to the south.

“We had supposed that the last buffalo had been killed. . . The event of a lifetime to see them!

“It was our last chance!” wrote Hough.

They met with Buffalo Jones—who first refused them as he had “50 less determined beggars.” But apparently, he could not resist the willingness of the eager writer and artist to record his trip.

“He smiled amusedly, looked us over, made us promise not to grumble if the bread was burned, and finally said, ‘Gentlemen if you will obey orders and not shoot or scare the buffalo in any manner without permission from me, I will take you in.’

“All of which we swore would be carried out faithfully.

“And now we must tell about Mr. Jones, for without him such a hunt—or the pleasures of it, or the story of it—could not have been at all.

“The Hon. CJ Jones is ‘The gentleman from Finney,’ when he is in the legislative halls at the capital of Kansas, but when out of his legislator’s desk he is just ‘Buffalo Jones’ . . . well-known all over Kansas and the West.

Buffalo Jones, “well known all over Kansas and the West”—plainsman, buffalo hunter, mail carrier, town builder and rescuer of buffalo calves—his goal to “preserve the species.”

“He had built a city, made a fortune, located the townsite of Garden City, ‘one of the liveliest and loveliest towns in western Kansas.’

“In the 70s he was out west in Kansas, away ahead of the rain belt with little to support him but his belief in the future of the country, his ability to ‘rustle’ and no doubt the hope of a blessed immortality if he starved to death. He was mail-carrier, station agent—anything he could be.

“In those days Mr. Jones lived in the heart of the buffalo country and in the midst of the buffaloes. He grew fundamentally acquainted with the animals and learned their every habit.

“Let it not be misunderstood—he did his full share toward exterminating the buffalo . . . but even as he destroyed them, he grew to know them and regret their fate.

“And as they faded away from the range and it became certain that soon they would be gone forever, no heart was fuller of regret than his and no mind so full of expedients to rescue them.

“His goal was not to destroy, but to preserve the species by saving buffalo calves.

“So we were to be in at the ‘last roundup.’ To see a buffalo had been our highest wish.”

Jones’ party set off in 2 outfits—a heavy wagon with 3 men had left the railroad for the south a week earlier, with the camping supplies and tents and over 2,000 pounds (a ton) of grain for the horses. He noted that preparations for the trip had cost him over $1,000.

Scenes on the journey. The heavy wagon (shown here in sketch by JA Ricker), left a week earlier with camping supplies, an extra team and 12 milk cows to furnish fresh milk and “mothering” for the buffalo calves they hoped to capture.

“The heavy wagon had a mule team, an extra team, three running horses—Jennie, Kentuck, Mr. Jones’s favorite Kentucky horse, and a black horse we christened Blackie.

“Also 12 milk cows without their calves, which meant they could not travel more than 20 miles a day.”

The livestock were in charge of Charlie Rude—the man Buffalo Jones always “banked” on. He had been on the first calf hunt the year before, and “knew the trail and the points to make for.”

The lighter wagon made 80 miles the first day into the desert, and camped for the night in the valley of the Cimarron. Between rocky bluffs on one side and gray sandhills on the other.

They found the wagon trail, met some cowboys with a ranch wagon who were picking up buffalo chips for fuel.

From the cowboys, they learned their other wagon had camped 6 miles below the night before. Only half a day ahead. About 2 o’clock they sighted them through field glasses and pushed on till they caught up with them.

Ez Carter had killed an antelope buck the day before. Not yet 18 years old, he was known as a plainsman of experience and one of the best ropers on the range.

“We found all the boys jolly and enthusiastic over the hunt. Stock well-watered from the buffalo wallows, filled from a recent rain,” reported Emerson Hough.

“Hobbled horses, pitched the tent. Ate a supper fit for the gods.

The full camp. They made 80 miles in one day and caught up with the other wagon. That night their camp was “busy and jolly” at the edge of civilization. They ate an antelope supper “fit for the gods.” Colonel Jones and Ez practiced their roping skills during which anyone was “likely to lose a hat or be tripped up by the heels, while the Greyhound, Don, was roped so often he howled whenever he heard the whiz of the lasso.” Credit JA Ricker.

“Our tent that night was a busy and jolly one. Colonel Jones and Ez began to practice with the lasso, in order to work up their skill and muscle for the coming trial on the buffalo calves.

“During their drill hour we were any of us likely to lose a hat or be tripped up by the heels, while the Greyhound, Don, was roped so often that he howled whenever he heard the whiz of the lasso.”

That night a heavy wind came up and blew down the tent.

Next day they ate at the Anchor D ranch—“Pretty near the ‘Jumping-off place of the world.’

“Now about 150 miles from our starting point, well down where we might expect to see or hear of the buffalos.

“But could get no news of the herd. They “might be at a point known as Company M, or down on the Agua Frio,’ or there might be water enough along the San Francisco to hold them, or out on the Flats, at some waterhole known only to themselves . . .

“We were not surprised, for we knew that cattlemen would not tell us of the herd if they were within 10 miles, and Colonel Jones says he always finds buffalo in the opposite direction from that advised to go.

“Therefore, our leader was not in the least put out by this general blankness in regard to the buffalo.”

Being now some 30 miles in advance of the slow-moving heavy wagon with the milk cows, they left instructions with cowboys at the ranch for the rest of their party to pitch camp on the upper pools of the Beaver while they went scouting ahead for buffalo with the lighter vehicle.

Buffalo—Running against the Storm!

Finally, one morning during a rain storm they saw—far off to the left—a small bunch of rapidly moving objects.

“As soon as he saw these animals through the glasses, Colonel Jones gave an exclamation of surprise.

“ ‘Why, they’re going against the storm!’ and a moment later added, ‘Yes, they’re buffalo, sure!’”

The animals were three or four miles distant, and the rain made everything obscure, although it could be seen they were running furiously and directly into the wind.

“Boys,” said Mr. Jones, “Those are buffalo. The buffalo is the only animal that ever runs against a storm. Cattle or horses drift before it, but a buffalo, never.”

”The animals came within a mile and a half and at last we could really say we had seen our first buffalo. We could see the humps plainly and how low they carried their heads as they went on in their tireless, lumbering gallop.

“There were only three—a cow, a yearling and a calf. We were half frantic to get at them, but Mr. Jones refused to tire the horses by a chase after so small a number. We begged Colonel Jones to turn back, but he assured us we would see plenty more.

“We crossed Tepee creek, finding some water in pools near the trail.

“The sun was getting low, and we were trundling along at the base of the breaks when our eyes were caught by a cloud of dust rising from the other side of a little ridge. We snatched up the glasses. The cloud came nearer. It swung up over the crest.

“Huge black forms—20, 30, 50, 60—rolled and surged along with it, heading almost toward us. No need for glasses now. Our tongues ‘froze stiff,’ until a second later our leader sprang clear of the buggy at a single bound and shouted in a voice like a bugle.

“’Get out the horses! They’re buffalo, by Jupiter! Give me the lasso!’ “

In seconds Colonel Jones and Jennie sped ahead—the mare seemed to fly.

“The sight was a grand one. With head well down and nostrils wide, the bay beauty tore in on them, eager as her rider and was never once called on with the spur. She crowded into the dust, into the herd, pushed out from it a cow and calf and lay alongside of them in her stride,” wrote Hughes.

The mare Jennie “eager as her rider, crowded into the dust, into the herd, pushed out from it a cow and calf and lay alongside of them. . . In a flash the dust was gone, and there was Colonel Jones kneeling on top of a struggling little tawny object, while Jennie stood by looking on complacently.” JA Ricker.

Then we saw her rider lean forward. Up came his hand, circling the wide coil of the rope. We could almost hear it whistle through the air. The next instant out it flew.

“In a flash the dust was gone, and there was Colonel Jones kneeling on top of a struggling little tawny object, while Jennie stood by looking on complacently.

“A second later the little object was hobbling around upon the grass alone.  Colonel Jones was following young Carter now and we were making for the calf.

“The herd at once swept out of sight and we drove up to the first victim. He was a comical looking, round-headed, curly little rascal. We laughed when approaching him. The first thing he did was to utter a hoarse bawl and charge at us with head down.

“In doing this, of course the hobble tripped him up and he turned a somersault.

“Before he could recover, we sat down on top of him—the first buffalo calf we had ever seen. We found that he was secured in precisely the best and most effectual way that could have been devised.

“The hobble was made of several strands of untwisted rope. At the middle it was tied in a large loop, which was slipped over the calf’s head.

“The two loose ends—which were left at just that length which experience told was right—were slip-noosed. These loops were fastened just above each hind foot, where they sat tight on the pastern joint, and drew the tighter for each struggle the calf made to free itself.

“Thus shackled, the captive was unable to make any progress, but at the same time was not choked or held in any way to injure it.

“Of course, adjusting the hobble took but an instant.

“And that was necessary—for even after the delay of a minute the herd would gain ground enough to make them hard to overtake.

“As we afterwards learned, Carter and the gray horse got into the edge of the herd easily enough, but his horse could not be pushed in close enough for roping, as he was afraid of the buffalo.

“Carter spurred and quirted him in vain. He was just the same old ‘gray devil’ and needed the stay-chain.

“Carter was furious at his inability to reach a calf. Colonel Jones again passed him and went into the herd within two miles of the place where the first calf was caught.

“He missed his cast at the next calf, but the mare did not stop.

“As she ran alongside of the now angry animal, Colonel Jones stooped down and caught it by the tail, turning it heels-over-head, and before it could rise the Colonel was on top, held it in his arms, and then hobbled it.

“This was a large bull calf, the largest taken on the entire hunt and he made a big fight after his fall. The calf was like a basketful of eels to hold.

“The last calf was caught by Carter, who roped it neatly as Colonel Jones cut it out of the herd and turned it toward him. This was a fine heifer calf, apparently the idol of her mother’s heart, for the latter came very near making a casualty the price of the capture.

“As soon as the calf was roped, the cow left the herd and charged Carter viciously as he bent over his victim.

The mother left the herd and charged toward Ez Carter as he hobbled her buffalo calf. Colonel Jones rode up just in time and drove the cow off—but only for a moment. She continued to charge and regretfully, he shot and killed her with his revolver. Corner sketch shows the light wagon. JA Ricker.

“Seeing this danger, Colonel Jones rode up just in time and drove the cow off for a moment. But she returned again and again and finally began charging at him whenever he came near, so that, much as he regretted it, he was compelled to shoot her with his revolver, killing her almost instantly.

“This was an unwished result and was much deplored, for we came, not to slay, but to rescue.

“After this, both rode on after the herd, which was by this time far toward the darkening horizon. The horses were now well blown, for they had run in the herd not only once, twice, but three times, and had gone a distance of 8 or 10 miles from the start.

“Colonel Jones soon pulled up and turned back to find the wagon.

“In the meantime my companion and I had, by dint of severe exertion, got the first calf tied up more firmly and secured in the light wagon, where it required all our strength to keep it until we devised the plan of piling the heavy tent upon it.

“We then drove on along the trail, using the glass all the time to sight the next captive, which we presently did, at a distance over a mile from us.

“We repeated our tactics here, having a great time with this big fellow; then drove on, meeting Colonel Jones before we got to the last calf. As it was possible and quite easy to miss seeing so small an object at such long distances, we were glad to learn that we had found all that had been caught.

“It was nearly dark by the time we had the last calf in the wagon, and as soon as Carter came up, all started back toward the Beaver.

“We could not camp, for we had no water and the horses needed it sadly.

“As there was none elsewhere within 20 miles, it was absolutely necessary that we find the river. It should be remembered that this river had no water in it, except at certain places. And we did not yet know where those places were.

“We might have to drive 20 miles after getting to the riverbed and might have to travel nearly that far in trying to get down through the breaks which fenced in the stream.

“All this was pretty near to being serious. But it was one of the demands of buffalo hunting.

“So we said nothing, but turned in the direction where we knew the stream lay, and ran by the compass and the stars, driving in darkness which grew more dense at every moment.

“If our leader had been a man inexperienced on the Plains, or unacquainted with the general lay of the country, we would have had a dry camp that night, and would in all probability have lost our calves, to say nothing of any possible discomfiture to ourselves, or injury to our horses.

“In an hour or so we came to the edge of the breaks, and began to hunt a way down through them.

“Richter and Carter rode off to the right, while Colonel Jones drove a little to the left. We noticed that all the trails appeared to converge at the head of a certain draw, and after driving across them till that fact was established, we knew that they led to water.

“We therefore followed down this draw, and fired signals for the boys to come in.

“Presently we heard Carter fire, he having got out on a point at our left.

“Ricker had not come in, and did not answer any signal. Fearing he was lost, Carter went back after him.

“Colonel Jones and myself, following the draw, presently got into the valley and found water. There was not much, and it was tramped up by cattle and had several dead carcasses in it.

“But still it was water, and we were glad to find it.

“By the time we had the horses out and the baggage on the ground, Ricker and Carter got into camp, the former insisting that he was one of the sort that didn’t get lost.

“We all fell to and proceeded to water the horses and get camp up. We found there was no axe or hatchet with us, but were lucky to find a hard stone, with which we drove our tent pins—for it looked like rain.

“We had no coffee mill, but an old buffalo skull, a bit of canvas and the stone served instead.

“Presently the clouds broke, and the southern moon peeped out brightly. It revealed another pool of water below us, and we could see a bunch of ducks upon it. As we had not stopped to butcher our buffalo, we had no meat, so Ricker took his three-barrel and shot four ducks, which Ez Carter fished out with his lasso.

“When we went down to the water we heard something flopping and discovered it was fairly alive with bullhead fish. We therefore supposed that the running water could not be very far away. A search soon revealed that a succession of pools began a short distance below our camp.

“Then as our little fire of chips was going nicely, Ez soon had some bread baking, the coffee pot simmering and some bacon and skinned teal sizzling in the frying pan.

“Our stove was a buffalo skull and our shovel a shoulder blade. No Man’s Land is entirely devoid of timber, and even of small sticks.

“While we were getting supper and arranging the tent, Colonel Jones was busy with the calves.

Jones stretched a long rope on the ground, fastening the ends to two tent pins driven in the ground. Then he strung the calves “like fish on a trot-line,” tied by the neck. “The little fellows were vigorous and full of fight.” JA Ricker.

“Taking a long rope, he stretched it along the ground, fastening the ends to two strong tent pins driven to the head in the ground. On this rope he strung his calves, like fish on a trot-line, each calf being tied by the neck and with its limbs left free.

“This arrangement gave them plenty of play and kept them from injury, while at the same time it rendered their escape impossible. The little fellows were vigorous and full of fight, and whenever anyone came near they would lower their heads and come at him with a short bawl.

“We amused ourselves by pushing each other upon them, and found by experience that they could butt hard enough to knock a man entirely off his feet.

“They spent most of their time standing with head down, back humped up, and tail cocked out, pawing the ground for all the world like an old bull, and from time to time uttering short, hoarse bawls, that sounded more like the grunt of a hog than the bleat of a calf.

“We sat beside them after supper until a late hour. Then we rolled up in our blankets and went to sleep, telling each other that we were the luckiest fellows in all the world.”

Next morning, May 14, all were up early, checking on the calves.

“We feared we would lose all our calves before the main outfit arrived, for we had not a cow with us, of course, and not even a can of condensed milk.

“All that could be done, was to try to induce our panting and suffering little captives to drink of the water which we offered them. But they refused to be comforted, and indignantly butted the water pail endwise whenever it was left near them, or charged headlong at a wet rag or a stick.

“Colonel Jones concluded to go out and try to find the herd again, then to return, and in the evening either rope a range cow, or drive down in the night to meet our team and get some condensed milk to keep the calves alive until the domestic cows would arrive.

“Accordingly, he, Ricker and Carter started out with all the horses, directly after breakfast. It fell to my lot to remain and guard the camp—which I did not relish very much.

“At 3 pm our scouting party returned. They had not found the herd, but had met two buffalo cows, undoubtedly the mothers of the captured calves, whose maternal instinct had led them to return in search of their offspring.

“One cow was killed for meat. Her udder was full of milk, and as there was no water to be had, the Colonel filled a canteen. After milking the canteen about half-full he corked it up and tossed it into the spring wagon.”

Unexpectedly, the milk churned itself into butter in the hours of driving, which the men salted and drained.

“We had one grand feast of hot biscuits and buffalo butter! It was declared delicious when enjoyed with hot biscuits.

“No water could be discovered anywhere. The flats were entirely dry.”

Jones rode his horse down the Beaver hoping to meet the other wagon team.

“Giving neither himself nor his horse any rest—for it was imperative that we get milk, or we would lose our calves.

“The little fellows began to look gaunt, their tongues black and swollen, hanging from their mouths, while they continually uttered their hoarse, growing grunts of complaint.”

It was a couple of hours after dark when they heard repeated yells and shooting. They replied and soon the others came up with the wagon and cows.

Jones had found the wagon just in time or it would have stayed up on the flats, probably passing by and wandering “no one knew how far into the waterless country.”

“Everything was now confusion in camp. We had a great many animals to take care of and it necessitated work.

“The cows had all to be lassoed and hobbled—which they resented. The horses to be watered. Supper to cook, and a hundred other things to be done.

“One of the first of these duties was feeding the buffalo calves. And this was one of the most interesting features of the whole hunt.

Mothering the Buffalo Calves

“Ez roped a certain old red cow of about the right color as any we had, and hobbled her securely fore and aft. Then we picked out the youngest calf and approached—the little fellow butting and fighting viciously.

“The cow turned her head and promptly kicked so hard she broke the hobble and sent the calf a somersault. It was strange, but after a few moments this cow and buffalo calf seemed to ‘take to’ each other. And within an hour the curly little rascal was lying down by the side of his new mother, chuck full of milk and happy as a clam.” JA Ricker.

“The cow turned her head and promptly kicked so hard she broke the hobble and sent the calf a somersault. This did not daunt it, however, and it returned, seeming to take in the situation at a glance.

“It was strange, but after a few moments this cow and buffalo calf seemed to ‘take to’ each other. The best of relations were established between them.

“And within an hour the curly little rascal was lying down by the side of his new mother, chuck full of milk and happy as a clam. This calf was never wild after that, but could be approached easily and was perfectly docile.

“In the morning we let it loose near the cow and it followed her about, kicking up its heels and bawling out of very exuberance of spirits.

“The next day, the cows were hobbled and the calves’ lariats allowed to drag loose, yet they never made any attempt to escape. Today the little calf is the tamest on Colonel Jones’ ranch and the old red stripper (as she is called, for she has had no calf of her own for three years) is its devoted mother.

“This cow took a great notion to all the buffalo calves and would allow two of them to suckle at once, though she would drive off a domestic calf. The buffaloes were emphatic, imperious little scamps, and she seemed to take a fancy to them.

“The other calves gave some trouble. They did not take kindly to the white cow which was introduced to them as their stepmother, nor did she take to them.

“One of the calves preferred a beer bottle, covered with a rag.

“The big bull calf would drink from nothing but a bucket—though he made a very good supper in that way. And, it may not be believed, but he would never afterward drink out of any but that particular pail, which happened to be painted white outside and in.

Teaching the buffalo calves to drink was a challenge. They were “full of action and spirit,” pawing, butting and snorting “to make up a history of interesting experiences that never can be duplicated.” JA Ricker.

“If any other was offered him, he would butt it over at once and prance around pawing at the dirt, until someone would call out, ‘Give him the white pail!’

“The scenes of that night and of the succeeding days, in trying to teach the buffalo calves to assume their new relations, were full of action and spirit, and went to make up a history of interesting experiences that never can be duplicated.”

Both wagons next headed farther west with supplies for a week’s trip, leaving behind in the home camp all the cows and the buffalo calves, with Robinson to care for them.

They drove 50 or 60 miles, and then for 2 days scoured the country for 50 miles around to find some trace of the buffalo herd. Constantly they studied the horizon with “powerful field-glasses.”

“We found but little water, but dug a hole in the sand and got enough for our use.

“We began to be discouraged—all except our leader, whose resolve to find the buffalo herd seemed never to flag.

“One morning just as the sun was rising we saw a little bunch of animals slowly walking toward us, about two miles distant and on the other side of a wire fence.

“We turned the glasses on them. They looked like buffaloes. We studied them.

“They looked wonderfully like buffaloes . . .

“Colonel Jones fired a shot toward them. At once they strung out into a line and tailed off as hard as they could go. Cattle do not run at the sound of a gun. Buffaloes always do—a habit acquired since they have been hunted so much.” NPS, Harlan Kredit.

“We divided in our opinions. Colonel Jones thought they were buffaloes. But we did not wonder at that, because he thought everything he saw was a buffalo. Ez didn’t know. Charlie didn’t care. Ricker was not certain. I knew all the time they were only cattle.

“Finally, Colonel Jones fired a shot toward them from his rifle.

“At once they strung out into a line and tailed off as hard as they could go. Cattle do not run at the sound of a gun. Buffaloes always do—that is a habit acquired since they have been hunted so much.

“In a moment Colonel Jones and Ez Carter were in saddles and racing ahead, with Ricker and myself a good second in the light wagon and Charley following with the mule team after the dust cloud.

“We all got across the wire fence, I don’t know just how, and followed after the dust-cloud.

“The wagons were far behind when, after a half-hour’s breathless drive, we saw a horseman appear on the crest of a distant ridge.

“He gave us the Plains signal to ‘Come ahead’—which is by riding at right angles to those called if mounted, or by repeatedly rising and squatting down if on foot.

“We hurried on and soon by the glass made him out to be Ez Carter and saw that he had at the end of his lasso a lively red object we knew to be another buffalo calf.

“Ez came riding down on a gallop, the calf running parallel with the rope stretched tightly. This was the curliest calf caught on the trip, and a fine prize she was.

“Ez had lost his hat and we learned that Colonel Jones had gone back along the trail to find it and his field glass, both of which were found.

“The calf was caught under rather peculiar circumstances. Both horsemen were crowding it. Colonel Jones cast for it, but it dodged the noose and ran square in front of his horse.

“The calf ran against it and both fell, knocking it fully 15 feet away and throwing Colonel Jones headlong.”

Jones, according to his version, was satisfied as he passed through the air that the fall would kill him, but concluded that it would be as well to go into another world with a calf in his arms as in any other way!

“He fell directly on top of the calf, caught it in his arms and held on until Carter roped it. It was a ludicrous and altogether lucky accident. Neither man, horse nor calf seemed to be much injured.

“We bundled the calf into the big wagon and headed northeast in the direction of our main camp, through terrible sandhills which made rapid travel impossible.

“The day was very warm.  We gave the horses all the water left and started on with many misgivings.

“We did not stop for dinner, but spent our time trying to find out where we were.

“And, thanks to fortune and hard driving, we at last got up to a little mesa which was familiar and soon struck a trail and better country for traveling.

“We were truly thankful that our leader was not a tenderfoot, for such had best not go hunting in that country, unless he wants to die crazy and bleach his bones among the sandhills.

“We came upon a ridge and our white tent lay before us, a thin blue shaft of smoke piercing the sultry evening air.

“The water pool shone in the evening sun and the cattle were grazing about it or lying near.

“Our jaded horses pitched their ears forward and actually broke into a trot.

“The long and wearisome day was over. We were thankful that the day had been no worse.

“The mule team with Charley and Ez came in late.

“During our absence one of the calves had died—the only heifer calf we had, and therefore most valued of course.

“This made us feel sad, so on the whole it was rather a demoralized crowd of hunters that gathered around our late supper that night.”

They stayed in camp a day or two to rest the horses “which were well-nigh broken down under the severe tasks which had been imposed upon them.”

One afternoon the camp was out of meat and Jones went out on foot to stalk some antelope he saw coming in to the water.

They heard a shot and he came in at a dead run, calling out to Hough and Ricker, “Get out the horses, boys! Four bulls just ran out the other side when I shot! You’re going to have that shot at a bull I have been promising you.”

“He gave us the signal to come on and we galloped up to the top of the level country,” reported Hough.

“There four miles ahead running into the wind and looming up as large as churches in the streaming mirage which surrounded them were four huge objects—the buffalo bulls!

“The bulls were running directly from us and neither saw nor winded us. They fell into a walk.”

The men rode closer. Racing to a small hollow they left the horses and crawled toward a sagebrush that hid them.

“We made a big circle back and got the wind to suit us

“Now the skill of the old buffalo-hunter began to assert itself. We found he knew more in a minute than we did in all the rest of the year.

“We laid ourselves flat along the earth and inch by inch crept up to the edge of the shallow little basin in which the bulls were standing. “

They all shot, but the bullets went high. The bulls ran.

They shot again. The bulls kept going.

At just that moment a herd of 50 buffalo cows and calves showed up heading for the water, and the calf hunters dashed off to follow them.

At just that moment a herd of 50 buffalo cows and calves showed up heading for the water, and the calf hunters dashed off to follow them. Hough and Ricker—who’d been yearning for a shot at a buffalo bull—were left alone to stalk the four bulls—but without success. SDGGP, Chris Hull.

The two young men Hough and Ricker—who’d been yearning for a shot at a buffalo bull—were left alone to stalk the four bulls. They got some good shots but without Jones’ help, most of the shots went wild and they could not tell if any animals were hit.

They hiked back to camp, fed the calves, hobbled the horses and sat late into the night.

Meanwhile, far into the distance, the calf hunt went on. When the others returned, well after midnight they had “three more buffalo calves curled up in the bottom of the wagon.”

Bright and early the next morning Jones declared his decision to make one more foray farther south. He said it would be the last hunt.

Before dark Ez Carter came in slowly leading the bay mare Jennie. Both were nearly dead from thirst and exhaustion. He threw himself on the ground saying, “I guess she’s sure gone!”

“The poor creature looked it truly. She stood with head down and legs wide apart, wet with sweat and trembling like a leaf. We soon found she was quite blind and blundered and stumbled about the camp.

“Then we poured a straight pint of raw whiskey into a pail. Before we could dilute it with water, the mare felt the rim of the pail, and at once drank its contents at a gulp.

“She drank that whiskey straight and it was the best thing she could have done.”

They gave her water and “she began to prick up her ears and whinny a little.”

“Then we knew she would pull through and we held a general jubilee, hugging the game old animal and calling her all sorts of pet names.”

“That mare’s clear grit,” said Carter. “She’s gone over 100 miles today and hasn’t had a drop of water. I’ve made three big runs on her and caught 5 calves without uncinching the saddle.”

Carter told them they made the first run for calves early that morning, and a second run late in the morning, and again in the afternoon. The horses were nearly exhausted and the day terribly hot.

The day was hot and the calves exhausted. So were the horses, but they made three runs—over 100 miles—without “a drop of water.” NPS, J Schmidt.

Jones had got so far away that it looked like he would have to leave his exhausted horse and try to make the 50 or 60 miles on foot.

But he found the trail and by driving his horse for a time—as it was so near gone it would not lead—and managed to keep it going until he sighted the wagon and signaled for them to come up.

The whole outfit was nearly “done up” and it was a question whether they would all ever get into camp.

But luckily Jones recognized a certain table-rock, and knew that camp lay far below them.

“Had they gone up the stream instead of down, they would have lost all their stock, and would probably have perished themselves.

“A party going down on that range would be foolish to start without a thoroughly posted guide. They would get no game, and would stand a large chance of dying of thirst.

“Carter had come down to get a fresh team and take back such water as he could.

“Poor fellow! He looked weary enough himself. But he did not tarry and after his hasty supper started back with the spare team, carrying as much water and whisky as he could sling about him in canteens.”

About midnight the rest of the party rode silently into camp.

The next morning Jones announced that he, Hughes and Ricker were heading home immediately and prepared the light wagon and for the trip, leaving the wearied stock for the heavier wagon to collect and bring.

“Our hunt was over!

“By driving day and night—we held our way steadily and, almost before we knew it were at the railroad and home in Garden City.

“Once we drove 100 miles in 24 hours!”

Even though they were disappointed not to finish their hunt for bulls, Emerson Hough marveled at his and Ricker’s good fortune in having their experience of hunting buffalo in the desert with Buffalo Jones.

He summed up their success with the calves.

“Today in the pasture at the edge of Garden City, Colonel Jones has 11 buffalo calves. Four of them are yearlings, fat as seals, shaggy as sheep, and so tame that you can almost touch them.

“The other 7 are the calves of this year’s hunt. They are lively as crickets and run bawling after their foster mothers like any other calves. The ‘old red stripper’ supports two and watches them with the most motherly pride.”

Hughes asks himself whether others could have succeeded as well—without the likes of Buffalo Jones.

“Could not the calf-hunt be duplicated by other parties? Could a party of hunters not acquainted with the country go into that region with any chance of success?” he speculates, then answers his own question.

“No. It would be dangerous to try. Water is too scarce. The path of the hunt might be a ‘journey of death.’

“It is probable that we were the last—or very near that last—civilized hunters to look upon the buffalo wild on its native range.

“It will be the cool, calculating, fiendish skin hunter who will make the last stalk.”

Hear his boasts, “I’ve got the last!”

“Poor fool!”

Buffalo Jones’ several trips into Texas deserts to save buffalo calves are compiled from his journals by Col. Henry Inman in the book Buffalo Jones’ Forty Years of Adventure by Charles Jesse Jones, published in 1899. However, this 2nd hunting trip is described in Jone’s book by E. Hough, with drawings by J.A. Ricker, two young men who pleaded to be taken along.
(See also our earlier Blog: Part 1: Hunting Calves with Buffalo Jones in the Desert, 1886).


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 1: Hunting Calves with Buffalo Jones in the Desert, 1886

Part 1: Hunting Calves with Buffalo Jones in the Desert, 1886

Into the desert sands. In 1886 a few wild buffalo could still be found in the most remote and formidable desert country of Texas. Buffalo Jones travelled into those desperately dry desert regions to capture calves. Credit National Park Service.

On a bleak cold day—April 24, 1886—Buffalo Jones struck out with Charley Rude and Newton Adams with a team of 3-year-old mules harnessed to a light spring wagon and another team hauling a heavier lumber wagon.

They took provisions for a 6-week expedition in Texas desert country determined to capture buffalo calves for Jones’ Kansas ranch.

Their point of departure was the little Kansas town of Kendall, on the Arkansas River not far from the west border of that state.

First challenge was crossing the treacherous Arkansas River—about a half mile wide, 5 feet deep with a quicksand bottom and choked with floating ice.

Jones met that challenge by commandeering two of his own “immense work teams”—large draft horses which happened to be working in an area quarry hauling out the “marble block” he was constructing at his home in nearby Garden City, Kansas.

The draft horses pulled the 2 rigs across the river and sent them on their way into the Oklahoma sandhills beyond and southwest across plains and deserts of the Indian Territory and the Panhandle of Texas.

It was to be “a long weary march—with the almost absolute certainty of not meeting a soul,” according to CJ Jones’ biographer, Colonel Henry Inman, who compiled his book, Buffalo Jones’ 40 Years of Adventure, by Charles Jesse Jones, from his journals in 1899.

Buffalo Jones was already well known in Kansas as a legislator and successful town builder who came West as a buffalo hunter and worked as a mail carrier, station agent and rancher.

Although successful on many fronts, his current passion was to rescue buffalo calves and develop a herd of them from the wild.

Heading into No Man’s Land

Day after day the little party strained their eyes hoping to discover something that would relieve the monotony.

Scenes on the Journey. Jones’ party stopped at a last cattle ranch where ranching people kept quiet about the whereabouts of any wild buffalo herd. They left civilization behind and headed into ‘No Man’s Land.’ Credit JA Ricker, artist.

Always it seemed they were searching for water, as well as buffalo calves.

Then one day Buffalo Jones was driving his light team ahead, while Rude lay in the rear leading two saddle-horses which were reserved for the chase when the proper time would arrive.

Jones climbed a divide hoping to find water for camping, when he suddenly exclaimed.

“Great Heavens!. . . An elephant for sure!

Buffalo Jones sighted their first buffalo just before dark as he stood on the wagon seat at the edge of a high divide looking for water. Abruptly he sat down, swung the wagon down into a nearby ravine, handed the reins to Rude, then jumped out, crawled back to peek over the top, and shot a huge bull. Credit NPS, J Schmidt.

He gave the off horse a cut with the whip and whirled the team around so short and quick that it almost tumbled supplies out of the wagon.

Old hunter that he was, he had made it a rule to stand up on the seat in crossing a ridge, when after big game. Now this allowed him to see buffalo before they noticed his approach.

He sat down, drove quickly into the ravine, then jumped out, gave the reins to Rude and scrambled to the crest of the divide with his Winchester and peeked over.

In a few minutes, Bang! came the gun’s report. He turned and waved for Rude to come.

Three hundred yards beyond was a huge buffalo bull—dead! Killed instantly by his rifle.

Charley Rude and Newton Adams were excited and delighted to see their first buffalo.

They carved off about a hundred pounds of excellent meat and skinned the remarkably large head for mounting.

It was getting dark and the men had no water all day and were extremely thirsty. Worse, they had found no water in their last 20 miles. The horses were jaded.

Colonel Jones built a fire of buffalo chips on the highest point of the divide, telling Adams to keep up the signal so they wouldn’t get lost.

Then he and Rude mounted the saddle-horses and went in search of water. Jones took the high plateau and Rude the bottom of the ravine—each with a pail on his arm.

Hours passed, but neither returned to camp.

Adams grew anxious, frightened that Indians had captured both men. So he let the signal fire die out—and crawled off to hide in the long grass.

Near midnight he heard the sound of a gun far out on the prairie. He grew frantic with fear, convinced that Jones was killed—as the shot had come from that direction.

Soon he heard another report—from due north, followed immediately by two more to the east.

In terror he listened, sure that his time had come, forgetting entirely that he was supposed to return any shots he heard.

Very soon, to his terror, he saw what he supposed was an Indian riding a pony, passing by the camp. He shrank back into his hiding spot hoping all would go on by without discovering him.

His imagination told him the entire prairie was alive with hostile Indians hunting him!

Suddenly, one of his horses whinnied loudly at the passing horse, and his heart sank.

But the next second a voice called out, “Hello Adams! Where are you?”

It was Colonel Jones. His life on the Plains taught him how to find camp. He had come close even without the beacon fire he had started on the hill before he left.

Embarrassed, Adams leaped to his feet to help renew their buffalo chip fire on top of the hill.

By its dull glare Rude was guided into camp. In his pail he carried water, having found a small pond—while Jones had found none, looking from the high points.

Luckily, Rude had enough water to quench the thirst of the men, wet the throats of the four mules and Jones’ horse—his own having satisfied himself at the pond.

Colonel Jones broiled a large piece of delicious buffalo meat on the coals, brewed coffee and fried ‘slapjacks—being dubbed as good a cook as he was a hunter.

Then, the men’s stomachs filled and comfortable, they spent a jolly time until well after midnight listening to Jones’ stories of his experiences in the Great Plains and mountains.

Next morning, while the others fixed breakfast, Jones took his field glasses, strolled off in search of water, and in a short time discovered—a half mile to the southwest a beautiful pool of the purest and clearest.

He returned by a very high point where he could not resist stopping to contemplate the magnificent scenes all around him.

“For the Colonel is a lover of Nature in her quieter moods, as well as in the midst of an exciting chase after her wildest and dangerous creations,” wrote his biographer.                                                                                                                                                             “The air was so pure that not a vapor streaked the dawn, so that he could see over a vast area.

“He who has never been alone on the Great Plains and looked across a magnificent stretch of prairie at the moment of sunrise, cannot comprehend the thrill of emotion which fills one’s soul as he gazes upon such a scene—a landscape bewildering in its vastness.

“Colonel Jones stood entranced as he drank in the variety and charming features of the panorama, which only ended in the deep blue of the horizon, while imagination took him beyond.

“Little groups of antelope were either grazing, or having completed their morning repast were ruminating in the sunny ravines.

“Bands of wild horses were gamboling on the green hillsides, while here and there a wolf or coyote that had not yet finished its nocturnal prowling, slowly moved toward its den of seclusion as the sun rose in fullness of beauty and splendor.

“The wind was blowing from the south and it would not do for the scent of the party to be wafted in the direction of the herd, for buffalo will more quickly stampede at the smell of objects approaching them than by actual sight of the disturbing element.” E Nottingham Caprock Bison Release. Credit Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“Far in the distance was a herd of perhaps 20 monstrous buffalo, unconscious of the fact that so near was an individual who had enlisted his best efforts in ‘rescuing the perishing’ from annihilation.

“How slowly they move! In single file toward their sequestered nooks. Where the grass is thick and tender.

“Now the Colonel became intensely interested in this group of shaggy monsters as the light glinted upon their huge bodies.

“What he desired was the young bison, to raise at his ranch and thus perpetuate the species. There might be a hundred there, but the fact could not be determined, except by going closer.

“The Colonel returned to camp. With the animals all watered, breakfast was hurriedly dispensed of and soon

“They arrived at the crest of a high divide, where to the northwest, far beyond in a wide valley, a herd of 20 buffaloes was discovered—the same first seen by the Colonel in the early morning—lying down for their midday rest.” JA Ricker.

“The Colonel guided as usual, riding in the light wagon, leading his Kentucky thoroughbred, already saddled and bridled, with lasso carefully wound around the horn of the saddle and plenty of small rope to bind the calves if any were found in the herd.

“About 10 o’clock they arrived at the crest of a high divide, where to the northwest, far beyond in a wide valley, a herd of 20 buffaloes was discovered—the same first seen by the Colonel in the early morning—lying down for their midday rest.”

Here the team was immediately turned to the left, into a draw that opened into a larger one, situated between the buffalo and their pursuers—out of sight.

“Arriving at the larger ravine, a turn into it at the right was made, until another ravine from the west was encountered. Turning into it the most precautionary measures were adopted.

“The wind was blowing from the south and it would not do for the scent of the party to be wafted in the direction of the herd, for buffalo will more quickly stampede at the smell of objects approaching them than by actual sight of the disturbing element. And the odor of a white man is particularly obnoxious to them.

“The wind was blowing from the south and it would not do for the scent of the party to be wafted in the direction of the herd, for buffalo will more quickly stampede at the smell of objects approaching them than by actual sight of the disturbing element.” E Nottingham Caprock Bison Release.

They had to leave the wagons as the rattle of the wheels would certainly betray their presence.

At Last, Buffalo Calves

“Colonel Jones then cautiously took his saddle horse by the reins, drew up the cinch, and gave Rude orders to keep up and gather in the calves if any should be caught. And to lay on the lash and be sure not to lose sight of him.

“Then he led the horse as near as he dared, quickly mounted, laid flat upon the animal and galloped directly toward the buffalo.

“Every detail of his methods worked like a charm. If he had sat erect upon his horse the herd would have become frightened at once and been out of sight in a few moments. He did not deviate from a straight line in the slightest.

“To the buffalo, the object they saw was only a wild horse, looking at it as a very familiar sight. For buffalo are not able to distinguish a moving object from a stationary one, particularly if it is coming directly toward them,” according to Jones.

“Nearer and nearer the Colonel approached the herd, until he was within 200 yards, when they commenced to rise and move slowly away.

“In an instant confusion ran riot with the herd. Away they went, all going to the northeast as if they had been shot out of a cannon . . . To his infinite delight as the buffalo stood up, he saw four tawny calves among them, which had been hidden from view before, so completely were they masked by their mothers, nestled close to their great shaggy bodies.” NPS, Harlan Kredit photographer.



“To his infinite delight as the buffalo stood up, he saw four tawny calves among them, which had been hidden from his view before, so completely were they masked by their mothers, nestled close to their great shaggy bodies.

“In an instant confusion ran riot with the herd. Away they went, all going to the northeast as if they had been shot out of a cannon.

“By this time Mr. Rude had arrived with his mules at the top of the hill, from which commanding position he could grasp the whole exciting scene and take in every feature of the chase.”

“Colonel Jones was in excellent condition to do good work that morning. Getting so near the herd before it started and mounted on his best Kentucky runner was a combination of strategy and luck.

“Fearing that when he dismounted to tie a calf his horse might get frightened and leave him, he had fastened one end of the lasso around his animal’s neck, so he could be sure of keeping the horse from stampeding while binding the captive.

“As soon as the Colonel closed up to the surprised animals they ran all the faster.

“Mark how the cows protect their calves, sheltering them almost under their shaggy bodies!

“But old ‘Kentuck’ was in his prime and swept down upon the buffalo like a wolf on a wandering lamb.

“Now see the lasso whirling in mid-air from skillful hand. Away it goes into the midst of the fleeting shadows of the frightened animals.

“The horse comes to a sudden halt!

“A tawny calf is rearing and plunging at the end of the rope in its frantic struggles to escape the fatal snare!

“It is in vain. In an instant the Colonel is on the ground, grasps the little brute and in three distinct motions lashes its hind legs close up to its neck, slips the noose from its head and with a single bound that would have done credit to the most nimble circus rider, is firm in the saddle again.

“And see how the blooded horse sweeps over the prairie! At every jump the sod and dust are whirled 30 feet high in air, to land on the ground a hundred yards in his rear.

“What a wonderful picture! Scenes rivaling the chariot-racing in the Roman Coliseum of old!

“Every hope of success now depended upon the endurance of the thoroughbred. Like a hawk swooping down on its prey did the noble steed again close in on the flying herd.

“Now the lasso once more is whirled into the air. It shoots out like a cat’s paw and rakes in another calf!

“The Colonel was off as quickly as before, but as he was binding this second victim, he heard a loud grunt accompanied by a terrible rattling of hoofs immediately in his rear.

“Looking up to discover the cause of the strange commotion he saw the mother, who having heard her offspring bleating, was coming to its rescue—her eyes green as an angry tiger’s and hair all turned the wrong way.

“Looking up to discover the cause of the strange commotion he saw the mother, who having heard her offspring bleating, was coming to its rescue—her eyes green as an angry tiger’s and hair all turned the wrong way.” Jones threw his body into the saddle and Kentuck darted off like a flash with the enraged cow in close pursuit. NPS.

“With a bound that surprised the Colonel himself, he threw his body into the saddle and sunk both spurs into Kentuck’s flanks, upon which the horse darted off like a flash with the enraged cow in close pursuit.

“Kentuck whirled into the air like a small boy’s top—as the other end was still around the calf’s neck. There was no time to unfasten the rope from the horse’s neck, as the cow had already passed him and was fixing for another charge.

“All that could be done was to run Kentuck in a circle, using the calf as a pivot—or shoot the cow.

“Bang! Bang! Bang! came three reports from the Colonel’s 45 double-action revolver, but still the cow came nearer and nearer.

“The gallant hunter realized that there remained only two charges in the chambers, so he collected his nerve and waited till the furious animal was almost within reach of his horse. Then, leaning far back in the saddle, he took deliberate aim, firing the fourth time.

“The cow gave a furious snort and bounded away. She was hit high up in the shoulder, badly hurt but not mortally wounded. When she had gone about a hundred yards, she halted, shook her head and pawed the earth.

“Colonel Jones, taking advantage of this lull in hostilities, quickly slipped off Kentuck, tied one the of calf’s hind legs close to its neck, then drew the noose from its neck, again mounted and started after the fleeting herd a mile away, as though nothing had happened.

“Upon overtaking them, he profited by the lesson he had just learned and did not attempt to throw the lasso over another calf while the rope was attached to his horse’s neck. So, reaching down, he attempted to untie it, but the terrible strain it had been subjected to during his little fracas with the cow had so tightened the knot that he found he could not do so.

“The Colonel was well aware that if he stopped to untie it, it would be impossible to overtake the herd again, as his horse was fast becoming fatigued and not able to make another race.

“He concluded that if he pressed the herd hard enough the buffalo would get away and abandon the calves, which they would not do under ordinary circumstances.

“He then contented himself with an occasional dash between the calf and the remainder of the herd, causing it to bleat and beg for assistance.

“In every instance the cows and bulls invariably turned completely around, grunting in response, facing their enemy with a sold front of sharp-horned and vicious-looking heads, coming in the very impersonation of brute rage to the rescue of their little one.

“The Colonel then determined to resort to catching one of the calves with his hands, so he could hurriedly let it go if the herd pressed too closely.

“Reaching over to the right as they dashed over the prairie, he succeeded in grasping the tail of one of the calves (buffalo always run with their tails curved over their backs ‘like scorpions.’)

“The well-trained Kentuck knew that when his rider leaned to the right or to the left it was a signal to turn in that direction.

“So when the Colonel leaned to the right to grasp the tail of the calf, the horse promptly turned in that direction, unfortunately striking the calf with his feet.

“In an instant horse, rider and young buffalo were tumbled in a confused mass on the ground!

“The calf bellowed lustily, half scared to death, upon which 19 of the infuriated bulls and cows turned and started for the intrepid but reckless Colonel with all the intensity of concentrated wrath.

“Nineteen of the infuriated bulls and cows turned and started for the intrepid but reckless Colonel with all the intensity of concentrated wrath. . . Striking the horse a terrific cut with the rope brought him to his feet and senses in a second. Away he dashed with his master clinging to the saddle, out of the way of the impending clash of the charging buffalo.” Parks Canada.

“He at once realized the terrible predicament he was in, but his inevitable coolness in time of danger did not forsake him.

“Striking the horse a terrific cut with the rope brought him to his feet and senses in a second. Away he dashed with his master clinging to the saddle, out of the way of the impending clash of the charging buffalo.

“It was a ‘close call’—to employ a Western expression indictive of escape from almost certain death.

“But Fortune favored the hunter that day—as she has many times since—and the buffalo were doubly enraged upon arriving at the spot where the calf stood, to find their enemy vanished like a mirage.

“These two thrilling experiences, so closely following each other, did not abate one jot of the Colonel’s usual ‘nerve.’

“In a moment, it was ‘Up, Guards and at them! Again, as soon as he could straighten out matters, he dashed into the herd, running it until one calf, exhausted, was far in the rear.

“He pressed the buffalo at such a rate that they were soon so far away they could not hear it bleat.

“He then whirled his horse about, galloped back and met the calf, threw the lasso around his neck, dismounted, tied it and started for the other, the last calf.

“By careful tactics he succeeded in overtaking the herd and the last calf and its mother were separated from the herd, when with the last load in his revolver, he so wounded the cow that she was unable to keep up with her young one, and throwing the lasso over it, he captured the coveted prize.

“Three very exciting hours had just passed in the intense desperate struggle. Both the Colonel and his wonderful horse were so worn out that, after resting for a few moments they were so stiff that neither could make any rapid movement.

Mr. Rude was nowhere in sight and in fact was left 15 miles behind.

His horse exhausted, Jones took off the saddle, tied his horse to it, and set off on foot to find the wagon, his tongue already parched and swollen—with all their water in the wagon driven by Rude.

After two hours, near sunset, Jones saw a wagon far in the distance. Rude was heading for an antelope, which he later said he thought was a man on horseback. He was completely turned around and bewildered.

Together the two men gathered in the calves, found where Jones had left Kentuck, and made a ‘bee line’ for their camp—20 miles away, which turned out to be exactly where Jones said it was.

They arrived about 10 pm, and tied the calves 16 feet apart on a long rope.

But the men got little sleep that night as the calves were bawling constantly for their mothers.

Next morning they christened the calves:  Lucky Knight whose mother had been in such a rage;  May Queen which had thrown Kentuck;  Robert Burns the first saved and Grace Greenwood, the last.

Sadly these last two did not survive the return trip back to Kansas.

Thirst and Opportunity in the Desert

Desiring to get more calves, Jones persuaded his party—now reluctant to go farther into the bleak desert—to continue farther southwest in Texas.

First, they took the buffalo calves they had captured back to one of the last ranches they had passed.

From then on, with misgivings—although courageous—Mr. Rude and Adams plowed on through deep sand and dry lands with scarce water for many miles and many days.

From the top of one of the highest points both men actually felt cold chills run through their nerves as they gazed upon the barren landscape stretching out before them.

To the very verge of the horizon there lay an apparently boundless desert of pure sand. Sometimes the whole surface resembled a high rolling sea with the spray flying high. The wind howled mournfully over the great waste.

Meanwhile Jones rode ahead searching with great confidence and optimism for water and buffalo.

He was more than a mile in advance of the wagons, plowing through the sand at a fearfully slow rate, when upon looking backward over his trail he saw the caravan had halted. Mr. Rude was signaling for him to return.

He swept the whole area with his powerful glass, saw there was no danger lurking from any quarter, so he signaled for them to come on—by riding in a circle.

The wagons did not move, but Rude mounted the other saddle horse and started for the spot where the Colonel waited, impatient for the loss of time.

Rude looked very pale when he arrived. He said that Mr. Adams refused to go any farther for fear they would all perish in the desert from want of water—and that he himself was not anxious to proceed. They had found no water that whole day.

Colonel Jones’ only answer was: “’Go where you like. I shall cross this desert! I know you never can find your way home—you would better choose the wiser part.”

He whirled his horse and rode straight away to the south, as he’d been going, without one parting look at his companions.

After some time he topped a high point out of sight and walked back to the crest of the divide, peeking over with his glasses to check on the wagon.

He saw that the two men had conferred fully 15 minutes. Then they climbed back in the wagon and began to follow his trail.

Mile after mile went by with no vegetation visible anywhere. Darkness set in early and Jones stopped to wait till the wagon came up. They made a dry camp that night.

Next morning, he set out early and about 10 am from a high vantage point spotted a big lake glistening in the sunlight, some 6 miles away. Or was it another mirage?

A band of wild horses was approaching the real or imagined lake. Soon he would know.

Jones insisted that wild horses are the best sign of water because—unlike buffalo—they come to water every day between 10 and 3 pm.

In the desert wild horses are the best sign of water because they come to water every day between 10 am and 3 pm, Colonel Jones told his men. In contrast, he said buffalo will travel three days or more before attempting to find water—so it is useless to follow buffalo hoping they are heading for water. Credit

In contrast, when they came up he told Rude and Adams, that a buffalo herd can travel three days or more without attempting to find a stream or lagoon of water.

The wild horses went to the spot at a gallop, lowered their heads and appeared to drink. Then they sloshed water a few minutes, turned about and went back the way they had come.

Water, without a doubt! Jones had watched wild horses in these maneuvers before.

The other two men were scarcely convinced the beautiful lake was real and not a mirage—until they actually dipped their fingers in the water.

That afternoon Jones saw through his glass a distant lone buffalo cow rapidly traveling south. He was certain she was frightened and hurrying to catch the main herd. She disappeared from sight, still going due south.

They followed with the wagon and covered at least 20 miles before stopping to camp. In all that long distance not an object was visible on the vast expanse before them.

Until just as the sun was setting. Then they saw 9 distinct large animals far off in the southwest, too far off to be sure.

And as Jones peeped cautiously over the next divide he saw what he believed was the last 600 wild buffalo in the world.

Next morning he left the wagon early with two horses to dash after the buffalo, telling his assistants to follow closely behind to pick up calves.

Unfortunately, in the light wagon they soon lost him in the distance and swirling dust of the rapidly stampeding buffalo herd.

The wolves and coyotes were very bold in this “No Man’s Land.” Dozens of them constantly prowled around his horses, slashing at the buffalo calves.

Jones roped 2 calves and wondered, “Shall I leave this one and take chances of the wolves devouring it?”

He decided, “Yes. Such an opportunity to catch calves will never again occur. I have travelled 500 miles for this all-important opportunity!”

Jones grabbed off his cowboy hat, tucked it under one calf’s neck rope. His coat went under another. His vest went under another.

By this time his horse was exhausted.

“Without checking their speed, Colonel Jones leaped on the second horse he was leading, cut him loose and rolled the steel spurs upon his faithful steed’s flanks.”

The 6th and 7th calf each got a cowboy boot tucked in against their neck rope.

Jones knew that wolves will not disturb anything that has on it the scent of man—thinking it is a trap. And at first they didn’t.

“But when the 8th was caught there was a desperate struggle,” according to the writer describing that first buffalo calf hunt.

“The horse by this time was all of a tremble, and covered with foam.

“The gallant Colonel, having no other garment he could well spare, mounted his horse, reached down and drew the baby buffalo up in his arms.

“He then started on the backward track. He could see a band of wolves encircling the 7th calf, so spurred up ‘Jubar’ to the rescue.

“He arrived at the spot just in time. The wolves had closed in on it and were ready to complete their tactics, when they were scattered right and left by the Colonel—who reached down and drew the supposed victim up in triumph.

Jones carried two buffalo calves on the saddle while searching for the wagon—with more than 50 wolves and coyotes trotting all around as they accompanied him. Ricker’s sketch shows the buffalo herd in the distance at far right, while wolves surround the captured calves. Wolves came as close as they dared to the small trussed-up calf in the right foreground—being leary of the odor of one of Jones’ cowboy boots. Sketch by JA Ricker.

“This calf was also carried on toward his goal, with a band of more than 50 wolves and coyotes trotting all around as they accompanied him.”

“The next calf fortunately, had been left in a clump of grass which the wolves had missed entirely. When the Colonel reached it his courage failed.

“The danger was too great to attempt taking the 3rd animal up in his arms with the others.

“He let the calves down on the ground and made a dash at the wolves, shooting at them with his revolver, but they paid little attention to this kind of music.

“He was in a dilemma. In a precarious position. ‘Where in the world was the team?’

“He was worn out completely and his strength was gradually giving way. He longed to see the wagon.

“Certainly, his companions could not be lost. The trail of the herd was visible fully half a mile away.

“As often as he would venture off in search of the men, as often did the wolves return and attempt to get at the helpless calves. So he was compelled to remain and fight the vicious, hungry brutes.

“After more than a full hour’s worrying with the pack, he heard the report of a gun—but in an entirely opposite direction from where he expected.

“Upon this happy turn, he made a dash to the top of a high hill near by where he saw the wagon about a mile distant. The driver apparently was wandering at random over the prairie.

“By this time all the wolves were aggregating in one large pack around the three calves and he had to rush down on them in a mighty hurry to save his prizes.

“Yet they hardly noticed him, continuing to jump upon the little buffalo.

“He stood guard over them, preventing the wolves from effecting their purpose, only by the greatest efforts until the team came up.

“And to make matters worse—bringing with them another pack of the hungry devils, which had been escorting the wagon for miles.

“The report of the gun that had attracted the Colonel’s attention was caused by Mr. Rude, who had fired at one of the impudent monsters—a great gray beast, which fortunately he succeeded in killing.

“The men had gathered up three of the calves as they came to them. The three guarded by Colonel Jones were quickly loaded and the wagon going at as rapid a rate as possible back over the trail of the herd until the other two calves and the horse that had been cut loose were safely taken also.

‘The Greatest Herd of Buffalo in the World’

“It was found that the wolves had made no attack upon them. The foresight of the Colonel in putting his clothes around them had prevented it.

“When the last little buffalo was placed in the wagon, Colonel Jones sank on the ground, perfectly exhausted.

“Fortunately, there was a quart bottle of whisky in the light spring rig, it having been brought from home as an antidote to the possible bite of a rattlesnake, the country being full of them.

“A drink of this was administered to him by Mr. Rude and it immediately revived him.

“The team was driven to where chips could be procured.

“A dinner was elegantly served, consisting of deliciously broiled buffalo steak, hot biscuits and excellent coffee—the first warm meal the tired hunters had partaken of for 48 hours.

“An extraordinary appetite gave a zest to it, such as cannot be appreciated by those who have never experienced a plainsman’s capacity under similar circumstances.

“The party bade farewell to the ‘Staked Plains’ and drove to the ranch where they had left the five calves already caught.

“Fourteen calves were secured—a whole wagon box full.

Buffalo Jones declared his expedition a great success, his first great effort at capturing the nucleus of what he believed would become “the greatest herd of buffalo in the world.” NPS.

They then took a ‘bee line’ for the Colonel’s home in Kansas and arrived there with 10 of the last buffalo calves in good health.

Four died on the way, due to fatigue and inadequate nutrition.

Buffalo Jones declared his expedition a great success, his first great effort at capturing the nucleus of what he believed would become “the greatest herd of buffalo in the world.”

Source: “Buffalo Jones’ 40 Years of Adventure,” by Charles Jesse Jones. Compiled from his journals by Col Henry Inman, 1899. Copyright 1899, by Crane & Co, Topeka, Kansas

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Traditions of Buffalo Origin

Traditions of Buffalo Origin

In October 2016, the Nature Conservancy brought a herd of 23 bison to roam on more than 1,000 acres at Kankakee Sands. Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy.

Long ago, a tribe of Cheyenne hunters camped at the head of a rushing stream, which eventually emptied into a large cave.

The people were starving. They hunted deer, rabbits, porcupines, birds and even skunks until all were gone.

Then they would move to a new camp. But soon all wildlife was gone there too.

Because of the great need for a new food supply for his people, the Chief called a council meeting.

“We should explore this large cave,” he told his people.

“How many brave hunters will offer to go on this venture? Of course, it may be dangerous, but we have brave hunters.”

The men were silent. No one responded to the Chief’s request.

Every morning he repeated his plea.

Finally, one young brave painted himself for hunting and stepped forth in the council.

He said, “I will go and sacrifice myself for our people.”

He arrived at the cave, near the opening, where the stream rushed underground.

There to his surprise, Young Brave found two other Cheyenne hunters, also painted for hunting.

“We will go with you,” they said.

“Are they here to taunt me,” Young Brave wondered? “Will you only pretend to jump when I do?”

A large cave opened into a gumbo hill, where the stream rushed underground. Credit Nicole Haase.

But the other two braves assured him they would go with him, no matter how dangerous.

“You are mistaken about us. We really do want to enter the cave with you,” they said.

Young Brave then joined hands with them and they jumped into the opening of the cave. Together they tumbled down a long passage, then came to a stop.

They stood up, but because of the darkness, it took some time for their eyes to adjust.

Suddenly they saw what looked like an opening or door in the wall, with a hide hanging over it.

Young Brave knocked, but there was no response. He knocked again, much louder. Then they heard a frail voice.

An old Indian grandmother pulled back the hide and opened the door. “Where did you come from? And what do you want, my brave ones?” she asked.

“Grandmother, we are searching for a new food supply for our tribe,” Young Brave replied politely. “Our people never seem to have enough food to eat.”

“Are you hungry now?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, kind Grandmother, we are very hungry,” all three braves answered, hopefully.

The old grandmother pulled open her door wide, inviting the young men to enter.

She took them to a window and pointed for them to look.

“Look out there!” she said.

At first it was hard to see, but soon their eyes opened and a beautiful wide prairie stretched before their eyes. Great herds of buffalo were grazing contentedly.

The young hunters were surprised to see outside the window great herds of buffalo grazing contentedly on the beautiful green prairie grasses. SD Tourism.

The young hunters could hardly believe what they saw!

The old grandmother told them to sit and brought each of them a stone bowl filled with buffalo meat.

How good it tasted!  They ate and ate until they were full.

To their surprise, more buffalo meat still remained in their stone bowls!

“I want you to take your stone bowls of buffalo meat back to the people at your camp. Don’t spill any on the way,” said the old grandmother.

“Tell your people that soon I will send them live buffalo.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind Grandmother,” said the three young Cheyenne braves.

They took their bowls and being careful not to spill any meat, went back into the cave. It was very dark, but finally they saw a dim light and found a narrow passage.

After a time they found their way up and scaled the walls of the cave.

When the young hunters returned to their camp with gifts of buffalo meat, the people rejoiced over this new, good food.

The entire tribe ate heartily from the old grandmother’s three magic bowls, and still there was meat left over.

When the Cheyenne awoke at dawn the next day, herds of buffalo had mysteriously appeared, surrounding their village and eating the green grass in all four directions!

The people were truly thankful to the old Indian grandmother and to the Sky Spirits for their good fortune.

From then on they could hunt buffalo whenever they wanted.

But they always remembered to give thanks to all, and thanks to the buffalo—for offering up their flesh, their hides and other gifts for the Cheyenne people and their families.

How Coyote freed the Buffalo from Humpback

Another tradition told of the release of buffalo before they ran free over the earth. One of these involved a powerful being named Humpback who owned all the buffalo.

Humpback’s buffalo broke out of the corral and ran free over the earth.

In the first days a mean and powerful being named Humpback owned all the buffalo in the world. He kept them locked in a stone corral in the mountains north of San Juan, where he lived with his young son.

The buffalo were crowded into the corral, without much to eat, and most of their food was covered with dust.

They tried to reach for the green grass and sagebrush that grew outside their corral on the mountainside, but could not.

Humpback shared the buffalo with no one else and refused to give any meat to his neighbors, even though they were starving.

One summer game was very scarce. Coyote and the people hunters traveled many miles in all directions but found nothing to eat. The people and their children grew thin with hunger.

They sought help from the wily Coyote. Something had to be done to help the buffalo escape from Humpback’s corral.

Coyote and his family lived not far from the mountains. His children, too, cried because their bellies were empty.

Coyote called the people to a Council.

“Humpback will not give us any buffalo,” he said. “Let us go over to his corral and make a plan to help them escape.”

The people traveled to the mountains near Humpback’s place and camped. After dark they inspected his buffalo pens.

They found the stone walls had no opening. They were too high to climb. The only entrance was through the back door of Humpback’s home.

For four days they watched the father and son and the buffalo.

Then Coyote summoned the people to another Council and asked them to offer suggestions for releasing the buffalo.

“There is no way,” said one older man. “To release the buffalo we must go into Humpback’s house, and he is too powerful for us to do that.”

“I have an idea,” Coyote said. “For four days we have secretly watched Humpback and his young son go about their work.

“Have you noticed that the boy is lonesome? He does not own a pet of any kind?”

The people did not understand what this had to do with freeing the buffalo, but they knew that Coyote was a great schemer so they waited for him to explain.

“I will change myself into a Killdeer,” Coyote said. “In the morning when Humpback’s son goes down to the spring to get water, he’ll find a Killdeer with a broken wing.

“He will want this bird for a pet and take it back into his house.

“Once I am in the house I can fly into the corral, and the cries of the Killdeer will frighten the buffalo into a stampede. They will come charging out through Humpback’s house and be free to run upon the earth.”

The people thought this was a good plan, and the next morning when Humpback’s son came down the path to the spring he found the Killdeer with a crippled wing.

As Coyote had planned, the boy picked up the bird and carried it back into his lodge.

“Look here,” the boy cried. “This is a very good bird!”

“It is good for nothing!” Humpback shouted at him. “All the birds and animals and people are rascals.”

“It is a very good bird,” the boy repeated.

Humpback wore a blue mask over his face and fierce nose. Through its slits his eyes glittered. His basket headdress was painted black with a zigzag streak of yellow to represent lightning.

“Take it back where you found it!” roared Humpback, and his frightened son did as he was told.

As soon as the Killdeer was released it flew to where the people were camped and changed back into Coyote.

“That plan did not work,” he said, “but I will try again in the morning. Maybe a puppy will be better than a bird.”

The next morning Humpback’s son found a small dog by the spring, lapping at the water.

The boy picked up the puppy and hurried home.

“Look here!” he cried. “What a nice pet I have found.”

“How foolish you are, boy!” Humpback growled. “A dog is good for nothing. I’ll kill it with my club.”

But the boy hugged the dog tightly to his chest and began crying.

“Oh, all right,” Humpback growled. “But first let me test that animal to make certain it is a dog. All animals in the world are schemers.”

He took a coal of fire from the hearth and brought it closer and closer to the dog’s eyes until it gave three rapid barks.

“It is a real dog,” Humpback decided. “You may keep it in the buffalo corral, but not in the house.”

This was exactly what Coyote wanted.

When darkness fell and Humpback and his son went to sleep, Coyote opened the back door of the house.

Then he ran among the buffalo in the corral, barking as loud as he could. The buffalo were badly scared because they had never before heard a dog bark.

When Coyote ran nipping at their heels, they stampeded toward Humpback’s house and smashed down the rear door.

The buffalo broke through Humpback’s front door and all escaped to run free on the western plains. Nature Conservancy.

The pounding of their hooves in his house awakened Humpback. He jumped out of bed and tried to stop them, but the buffalo crashed through his front door and escaped.

All the buffalo escaped from Humpback’s corral. They scattered over all the plains and grazed on the lush green grass in the sunshine.

After the last of the big shaggy animals had galloped away, Humpback’s son could not find his small dog.

“Where is my pet?” he cried. “Where is my puppy?”

“That was no dog,” Humpback said angrily. “That was Coyote the Trickster. He has turned loose all our buffalo and we can never get them back again.”

Humpback said, “That was Coyote the Trickster. He has turned loose all our buffalo and we can never get them back again.” Photo courtesy of SD Tourism.

That was all true. The buffalo had escaped and now ran free to roam over the earth.

Coyote and the people could hunt them whenever they were hungry—but only when they thanked the buffalo for sharing their gifts.

Ancient Storytelling

Some tribes held another tradition for the origin of buffalo. Their beliefs centered on a Spirit Being who formed a buffalo shape out of mud and then breathed life into it.

Storytelling was one way that early Native Americans passed down their traditions and culture. Often families sat around the fire after dark and told stories on long winter evenings. It kept their customs, history and heritage alive from one generation to the next. Some traditional stories are still told today. Credit Cameron Nelson and Sarah VanAuken.

From this effigy came untold herds of buffalo that populated the earth.

The same traditions in different variations are often told by storytellers from different tribes, especially when those tribes shared kinship or traded with each other.

In ancient times, storytelling was an art and an important way of passing down religious beliefs, history and tribal culture.

Traditional beliefs were—and often are today—taught at a grandmother’s knee. Or told by grandfathers.

Some restrictions and taboos apply. Only special people were allowed to tell certain stories and at certain times of the year.

Some stories and traditions were passed down through a specific medicine man, and he alone was allowed to tell them.

There were traditions of the origin of buffalo, the flood that covered the earth, the close connections of the people with the spirit world of their relatives—buffalo and other wildlife and birds.

Other stories modeled good behavior such as kindness to the less fortunate and the generosity of every good hunter in sharing his game

Traditional storytellers believe the old stories are best told in the native language and to those who understand the culture.

Much of the spirit, humor and excitement are lost when stories need to be translated, they say.

Further, Cree storytellers suggest the stories lose meaning without the close connection to nature, the Great Spirit and other people, which is part of their culture and reflected in the stories told to small children from birth.

Not always do the traditional stories provide religious or cultural significance or teach a lesson

The Native American grandmother might entertain children with hilarious tales of coyote tricksters and other mischief just for the fun of it while she beaded moccasins or babysat the little ones. Credit Painting Howard Terpning.

The venerable Native grandmother, with a twinkle in her eye, might entertain with hilarious tales about coyote tricksters and other mischief.

Some stories she told just for fun of it, with twists, turns and surprises for a giggling circle of attentive children.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 2

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 2

Buffalo resting in the junipers at Teddy Roosevelt National Park, ND. Credit National Park Service.

William Hornaday published his amazing report on the slaughter of the buffalo herds in a government book in 1889, which he titled The Extermination of the American Bison.

It was intended to be the last word on bison.

William Hornaday hunted buffalo in remote canyons of central Montana, shot, killed and mounted his large, majestic bull with its family of six for the Smithsonian—which became an icon for the nation–wrote his amazing book on how buffalo were being exterminated, and then devoted the rest of his life to saving live buffalo in Parks and wildlife refuges throughout the country. Photographer unknown.

Determined to get it right, he spared no effort in contacting every possible source of buffalo knowledge, from Army officers at far-flung western forts to fur traders, railroaders, hide hunters and cowboys.

He learned that the end of the big herds came in Dakota Territory—on the Great Sioux reservation—but offered few details. Except to state that Sitting Bull and his band were there at the end.

He soon discovered that small herds of buffalo here and there were not only surviving—but thriving and multiplying.

Upon publishing his greatest book—on extermination of the buffalo—Hornaday could have rested on his laurels, but fortunately for us, he did not.

Instead, he spent the rest of his life fighting for the conservation of healthy, live buffalo.

No longer solely interested in carcasses, he developed a vision for living buffalo—a way they could be kept safe in parks and public lands across America.

He had a new mission—to save buffalo and other game animals in refuges where they could live out their lives in safety.

In Washington, DC and New York he lectured and wrote impassioned articles on the need to set aside national reserves for buffalo and other wildlife.

But Congress did not act.

In no uncertain terms, Hornaday expressed his anger and despair.

“We are weary of witnessing the greed, selfishness and cruelty of ‘civilized’ man toward the wild creatures of the earth. We are sick of tales of slaughter and pictures of carnage.

“It is time for sweeping reformation; and that is precisely what we now demand,” he wrote.

“If the majority of the people of America feel that so long as there is any game alive there must be an annual two months or four months open season for its slaughter, then assuredly we soon will have a game-less continent.”

A gameless continent! A sobering thought indeed.

Yet, the west teemed with wildlife and the risk of that seemed impossible.

Westerners generally opposed laws to restrict hunting, knowing many desperate pioneers on the frontier survived by hunting and selling hides and meat.

Congress shrugged the conservation concerns aside.

As for using public land for grazing buffalo, that was highly unlikely when the public clamored for even more homestead land.

As an early leader in conservation and the passionate editor of Field and Stream Magazine Grinnell, too, played an important role in influencing the saving of buffalo in America.

An early conservation writer, George Bird Grinnell earned his PhD and editorship of Field and Stream Magazine, after first joining the Pawnee’s in their last great buffalo hunt of 1872 while still in college. Credit William Notman, c 1880.

George Bird Grinnell wrote often about the need for saving the buffalo.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Grinnell lived in Audubon Park and had connections with the Audubon family, which likely helped spur his interest in the natural world.

Like fellow conservationists Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt, Grinnell had a special interest in the west.

Like them he hunted buffalo and in fact, had joined the Pawnee’s last great buffalo hunt of in 1872 while still in college.

He rode with General Custer’s 1874 Black Hills expedition and the next year went with Col. William Ludlow’s expedition to Yellowstone Park.

For the Ludlow report he documented the poaching of buffalo, deer, elk and antelope that was going on in Yellowstone.

Grinnell earned a PhD from Yale in 1880, where he was already an editor of Field and Stream Magazine. He continued his long-term career as senior editor and publisher of that magazine.

On his western ranch Theodore Roosevelt—who came to Dakota in 1883 to hunt big game and stayed to set up a ranch business—soon realized that the elk, bighorn sheep and buffalo that he so admired would not survive relentless overhunting or the destruction of their grasslands under modern civilization.

A frail asthmatic child, Theodore Roosevelt learned hard-riding cowboy ways on his badlands North Dakota ranch and built up his strength and endurance. He hunted big game and grew convinced of the need to preserve all forms of wildlife.

He became increasingly convinced of the need to protect the magnificent buffalo and provide large, safe places for them to live.

When the long and bitterly cold winter of 1886–1887 wiped out his herd of cattle and those of other ranchers, and with them over half his $80,000 investment, Roosevelt returned to the East.

The badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park after a rain, at sunset—rugged ridges, clay banks and fertile green bottomlands. Good ranching country. NPS.

After that disastrous winter, he let go of most of his ranch holdings but continued to maintain some cattle interests in the badlands.

In 1886, after his first wife’s death, Roosevelt married Edith Carow, a childhood friend.

He entered politics—first as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, then president of the NY City Board of Police Commissioners, and next as governor of NY where he battled corruption and fought for reform.

He launched the rules for his Square Deal: “Honesty in public affairs, an equitable sharing of privilege and responsibility, and subordination of party and local concerns to the interests of the state at large.”

Appointed assistant secretary of the navy by President William McKinley, Roosevelt worked for a stronger navy and railed against Spain for its interference in Cuba and North American affairs.

When war with Spain was declared in 1898, Roosevelt organized the Rough Riders and was sent to fight in Cuba. The successful charge of the Rough Riders up Kettle Hill July 1, 1898, during the deadly Battle of Santiago was well publicized and made him a national hero.

TR became Vice President of the United States in 1901—a powerless office. However, he gave one memorable speech at the Minnesota State Fair.

“I have always been fond of the West African proverb,” he told the crowd. ‘Speak softly and carry a big stickyou will go far.’”

The cartoonists picked up on his “big stick.”

It was a hint of the style he would soon put into practice. Within six months he was President, upon the assassination of William McKinley.

He continued to visit western North Dakota to hunt, renew himself and refresh his soul in the badlands, where he said “the romance of my life began.”

The American Bison Society

The American Bison Society arranged a donation of bison from the New York Zoological Society to the new Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve in Oklahoma. On Oct 11,1907, 15 of “the finest buffalo from the New York Zoological Park were shipped by rail to Oklahoma.’ Here the six bulls and nine cows were being safely returned to the plains and mountains of Oklahoma. Credit US FWS Archives.

Grinnell founded the Audubon Society of New York, and organized the New York Zoological Society. He wrote articles against market hunting and in favor of realistic game laws.

With Theodore Roosevelt he founded the Boone and Crockett Club, dedicated to the restoration of America’s wildlands. Together he and Roosevelt wrote the club’s first book in 1895.

For 35 years, until 1911, Grinnell had an ideal platform in Field and Stream for publicizing his passion on conservation and environmental issues.

Grinnell took hunting trips to what is now Glacier National Park in Montana, with the well-known guide James Willard Schultz.

In a 1885 visit they hiked over the St. Mary Lakes region naming outstanding features including the glacier named for him—Grinnell Glacier.

These experiences spurred him to write many articles urging protection of the buffalo and the American West. He spent many years studying the natural history of the region.

He was influential in establishing Glacier National Park when the park system began in 1910.

Grinnell also took a deep interest in Native Americans.

On his many trips west, he often lived with Indian tribes and became an advocate for them in the East. He wrote many books on the Native Americans, some of the most popular on the Cheyenne, the Pawnee and the Blackfeet. Also Blackfeet Indian Stories, When Buffalo Ran, and Native American Ways: Four Paths to Enlightenment

As a young man Grinnell lived with and became a friend of several Indian tribes. Later he became an advocate for them.


Then Hornaday discovered an amazingly effective route to his conservation goals.

The idea came on a lecture tour, when a listener asked, “Why not form a society dedicated to the permanent preservation of the buffalo?”

Americans could be mobilized for a cause, as Henry Osborn, president of the New York Zoological Society, wrote in his foreword to William Hornaday’s new book,   Our Vanishing Wildlife:

“Americans are practical. Like all other northern peoples, they love money and will sacrifice much for it, but they are also full of idealism, as well as moral and spiritual energy.

‘The influence of the splendid body of Americans and Canadians who have turned their best forces of mind and language into literature and into political power for the conservation movement, is becoming stronger every day.”

Hornaday passed the idea on to the new president, who often voiced his regrets at the state of conservation in his country.

“The extermination of the buffalo has been a veritable tragedy of the animal world,” Theodore Roosevelt said.

In his message to Congress on Dec 5, 1905, the Conservation President Teddy Roosevelt called for a buffalo refuge.

“The most characteristic animal of the western plains was the great shaggy-maned wild ox, the bison, commonly known as buffalo.

“Small fragments of herds exist in a domesticated state, here and there. Such a herd as that on the Flathead Reservation should not be allowed to go out of existence.

“Either on some reservation or on some forest reserve or refuge, provision should be made for the preservation of such a herd.”

At last, a president who understood both buffalo and ranching—from his time as a western rancher—and with a heart for conservation!

Three days later, on Dec. 8, the American Bison Society was born, with William Hornaday as president and Roosevelt, honorary president.

Memberships poured in and suddenly Hornaday had the power he wanted.

He immediately proposed a federal range—on or next to the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, where Michel Pablo still ran his half of the original Walking Coyote herd.

Within six months Congress appropriated money to enclose 8,000 acres of the National Wichita Forest Reserve in southwest Oklahoma with a high wire fence for a wildlife refuge and stocked it with 15 donated buffalo.

One of the first wildlife parks to get buffalo was the National Wichita Forest Reserve in southwest Oklahoma, stocked with 15 donated buffalo.


By 1909 the US government owned 158 buffalo.

Most were in Yellowstone National Park, along with 40 head on the National Bison Range, 19 on the Wichita Game Reserve in Oklahoma, and 7 in the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC.

Fourteen Buffalo donated to Wind Cave National Game Preserve in the Black Hills, SD, leave New York City after a send-off by men of the American Bison Society. Credit Wildlife Conservation Society.

The American Bison Society stocked Wind Cave National Game Preserve in the Black Hills with 14 buffalo, surprisingly from the New York City Zoo, and later added six from Yellowstone Park.

This remains a special herd that tests genetically pure because of its unique origins.

Grinnell founded the Audubon Society of New York, and was an organizer of the New York Zoological Society.

He was a founding member, with Theodore Roosevelt, of the Boone and Crockett Club, dedicated to the restoration of America’s wildlands. Together he and Roosevelt wrote the club’s first book in 1895.

Buffalo arriving at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. NPS.

He campaigned intensely against market hunting and for realistic game laws and was influential in the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty in Great Britain in 1916 as well as the adoption of strong regulatory control of hunting in all states.

Hornaday came up with another startling new idea that took root: Forever prohibit the sale of wild game.

Another federal herd of six donated buffalo, launched in the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, failed to grow. The last lone buffalo died there a couple of decades later.

The Teddy Roosevelt Legacy

Perhaps spurred on by the popularity of their successes with the American Bison Society, President Theodore Roosevelt wielded his “big stick” and went on to establish numerous wildlife refuges stocked with buffalo and teeming with wild animals and bird life.

As president—from 1901 to 1909—he became one of the most powerful voices in the history of American conservation.

Roosevelt set aside almost five times as much land as all of his predecessors combined, and earned himself a place on Mt. Rushmore as this country’s greatest conservationist, along with three of its greatest leaders, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Teddy Roosevelt earned his place on Mt. Rushmore as the Conservation President. NPS.

The Park System grew rapidly. When the National Park Service was created in 1916—seven years after Roosevelt left office—there were 35 sites to be managed by the new organization. Roosevelt helped create 23 of those.

He took the view that the President as a “steward of the people” should take whatever action is necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution.

“I did not usurp power,” he wrote, “but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.”

When it came to setting aside land and resources for use of the general public he did not hesitate. He said:

”We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources.

“But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

After becoming president, Roosevelt:

  • Created the United States Forest Service (USFS) and established
  • 150 national forests
  • 51 federal bird reserves
  • 4 national game preserves
  • Set aside 230 million acres of public land

National parks are created by an act of Congress. Roosevelt worked with his legislative branch to establish these 5 parks:

  • Crater Lake National Park (OR) – 1902
  • Wind Cave National Park (SD) – 1903
  • Sullys Hill (ND) – 1904 (now managed by USFWS)
  • Platt National Park (OK) – 1906 (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area)
  • Mesa Verde National Park (CO) – 1906
  • Also added land to Yosemite National Park (CA)
  • Named for him is Theodore Roosevelt National Park (1978)
    in the badlands of North Dakota, where he owned two cattle ranches

and where his Presidential Library is scheduled to be built soon.

Since he did not need congressional approval for national monuments, Roosevelt could establish them much easier than national parks. He dedicated these 18 sites as national monuments:

  • Devil’s Tower (WY) – 1906
  • El Morro (NM) – 1906
  • Montezuma Castle (AZ) – 1906
  • Petrified Forest (AZ) – 1906 (now a national park)
  • Chaco Canyon (NM) – 1907
  • Lassen Peak (CA) – 1907 (now Lassen Volcanic National Park)
  • Cinder Cone (CA) – 1907 (now part of Lassen Volcanic National Park)
  • Gila Cliff Dwellings (NM) – 1907
  • Tonto (AZ) – 1907
  • Muir Woods (CA) – 1908
  • Grand Canyon (AZ) – 1908 (now a national park)
  • Pinnacles (CA) – 1908 (now a national park)
  • Jewel Cave (SD) – 1908
  • Natural Bridges (UT) – 1908
  • Lewis & Clark Caverns (MT) – 1908 (now a Montana State Park)
  • Tumacacori (AZ) – 1908
  • Wheeler (CO) – 1908 (now Wheeler Geologic Area, part of Rio Grande National Forest)
  • Mount Olympus (WA) – 1909 (now Olympic National Park)

Roosevelt also established Chalmette Monument and Grounds in 1907, site of the Battle of New Orleans, now part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.

Sagamore Hill, New York, was the home of Theodore Roosevelt and his family from 1885 until his death in 1919. Called his “Summer White House,” during his time in office it is now a Historic Site with 83 acres of park grounds and historic buildings. NPS.

TR’s words and actions continue to affect how we approach and appreciate the natural world.

Though his many writings describe numerous hunting trips and successful kills, they are filled with his regret for the loss of species and habitat. He wrote:

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird.

“Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals—not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.

“But at last it looks as if our people are awakening.”

Today, Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy is found across the country.

His words and actions continue to affect how we approach and appreciate the natural world.

He saw the effects of overgrazing, and suffered the loss of his ranches because of it.

Here in North Dakota, where many of his personal concerns inspired his later environmental efforts, Roosevelt is remembered with a national park that bears his name and honors the memory of this dedicated conservationist.

Roosevelt continued to maintain some cattle interests in the badlands until he became Vice President of the United States in 1901.

For the rest of his life he continued to visit good friends he made in the badlands and to enjoy the renewal and inspiration—and what he called the ‘hardy life’—he found here.

“I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.

“It was here that the romance of my life began.

“I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me.

“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.

“The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.

“Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.”

At age 42 TR also expanded presidential power for support of the public interest in conflicts between big business and labor.

Although he promised continuity with McKinley’s policies, he transformed the public image of the presidency at once.

He led the nation toward an active role in world politics, particularly in Europe and Asia.

Theodore Roosevelt riding with others into Yellowstone Park from the train station in Gardiner, MT. NPS.

Roosevelt wielded his big-stick diplomacy in 1903, when he helped Panama pull away from Colombia and gave the United States a Canal Zone.

He secured the route and began construction of the Panama Canal (1904–14). In 1906 Roosevelt visited the Canal–the first president to leave the US while in office.

He reached an agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of the world.

He won the Nobel Prize for Peace (posthumously) for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

He renamed the presidential home “the White House” and opened its doors to entertain an array of people who fascinated him—cowboys, prizefighters, explorers, writers and artists.

He gained the respect and affection of ordinary working Americans everywhere despite his wealthy upbringing.

His refusal to shoot a bear cub tied to a tree on a 1902 hunting trip inspired a toy maker to name a stuffed bear after him—and a teddy bear fad swept the nation.

The North Room in TR’s Sagamore Hill home at Oyster Bay displays his buffalo head, his hunting skills and love for the natural world, along with a touch of elegance. NPS.

TR and Edith lived all their adult lives at Sagamore Hill, an estate near Oyster Bay, Long Island. They had five children: Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin.

The Roosevelt family with Theodore and Edith seated in front; oldest daughter Alice, center back. NPS.

His young children played on the White House lawn—along with TR himself at times. The marriage of his oldest daughter Alice in 1905 to Representative Nicholas Longworth of Ohio became a major social event.

Always the reformer, Roosevelt gave speeches from the presidency’s “bully pulpit,” aimed at raising public consciousness about the nation’s role in world politics, the need to control the trusts that dominated the economy, the regulation of railroads and the impact of political corruption.

He appointed young college-educated men to administrative positions.

“While President, I have been President,” he said. “Emphatically; I have used every ounce of power there was in the office . . . “

“I do not believe that any President ever had as thoroughly good a time as I have had, or has ever enjoyed himself as much.”

Roosevelt’s last visit to the North Dakota badlands came in the fall of 1918, just a few months before his death January 6, 1919 at the age of 60, in Oyster Bay, New York.

His Presidential Library begins construction in 2021 within the borders of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the badlands, where his two ranches—the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn—were located.

Who Really Saved the Buffalo?

 So who really did save the buffalo?

William Hornaday took special delight in the new buffalo refuge in western Montana when it was finished with its magnificent view of the snow-packed Mission range.

At last his wildest dreams had come true.

“It is beautiful and perfect beyond compare,” he marveled.

Indeed. It is perfect!

There, in the shadow of the Rockies, buffalo still graze across the open grasslands of Montana’s beautiful Flathead Valley, rising in the stunning foothills and narrow canyons of what the Natives call Red Sleep Mountain to the high Missions beyond.

Big Medicine, the famous white buffalo, was born there and lived out his 26 years on the National Bison Range.

The refuge is kept as a natural, controlled ecosystem, with a target population of around 350 buffalo, 130 elk, 200 mule deer, 175 white-tailed deer, 100 antelope, 40 bighorn sheep and 30 mountain goats.

About 125,000 visitors come every year to enjoy its delights. Many drive the one-way 19-mile road that climbs up and over the mountain among grazing buffalo and other wildlife.

No going back once committed!

The road to the top and along the ridge is delightful—high switch-backs but no heart-stopping drop-offs. It’s a two hour drive—maybe somewhat longer with summer traffic. And well-worth it!

The main herds are often found with their calves along the creek bottoms.

Here and there up high on the mountain can be seen a lone buffalo bull or two.

And at the summit of Red Sleep Mountain the view of the valley and the rugged Mission Range beyond is nothing short of spectacular!

History rightly gives a great deal of credit for saving the buffalo to the Duprees and Philips, Walking Coyotes, Pablo and Allard, McKay, Goodnights and Buffalo Jones.

We honor these five family groups with ‘boots on the ground’ who rescued buffalo calves and kept them alive, healthy and multiplying.

Without them, there’d be no American bison today.

Buffalo roundup in Badlands of North Dakota via helicopter. NPS.

Still, we also need to honor these visionary conservatists for their dedication and determination to provide the buffalo with safe places to live out their lives.

For their persistence in developing wildlife sanctuaries for buffalo throughout the United States, making them available for the enjoyment of people everywhere—William Hornaday, George Bird Grinnell and President Theodore Roosevelt are Buffalo Conservation heroes.

And yes, I believe Teddy Roosevelt well deserves his place on Mt. Rushmore as our greatest Conservation President!

Bully for him!

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Red Sleep Mountain Range Returned to Flathead Reservation

Red Sleep Mountain Range Returned to Flathead Reservation

Long in the works, the 250 to 300 buffalo that live on this refuge as well as the National Bison Range itself have been turned over to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as of Dec. 27, 2021, when President Donald Trump signed it into law. These tribes have strong historical, geographic and cultural ties to the land and the bison. Credit Ryan Hagerty, US FWS.

On Dec. 27, President Donald Trump signed into law an act that returns “all land comprising the National Bison Range including all natural resources interests and appurtenances of that land to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).”

The Act further states that this restored land shall be a part of the Flathead Indian Reservation, administered as tribal trust land and managed by the Tribes. This includes all bison on the range, as well as all buildings and structures located on the land.

 The law establishes a 2-year transition period, during which the Secretary will cooperate with the Tribes in transition activities regarding the management of land, bison, and other resources. This includes providing to the Tribes, as determined appropriate by the Secretary, funds, personal property, equipment, or other resources.

 The range has been transferred to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). Red Sleep Mountain is the historic name of the mountain which contains the National Bison Range and its one-way tourist auto route over the Red Sleep Mountain.

 The local Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people convey how important the buffalo is to their traditional way of life. Today, the Tribe keeps their culture vibrant and alive with an annual River Honoring, Pow Wows, Native language schools, active cultural committees, and a tribal museum at the People’s Center.

“The CSKT have strong and deep historical, geographic and cultural ties to the land and the bison, and their environmental professionals have been leaders in natural resources and wildlife management for many decades,” Interior Assistant Secretary Tara Katuk Sweeney wrote in her statement. “Interior is pleased to continue its partnership and work with them on the restoration of the (National Bison Range) to federal trust ownership for the Tribes.”

Tribal Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said the transfer returned care of the bison to the people who had made it a mainstay of their culture, the Missoulian reported.

It was included as part of the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, co-sponsored by all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation: Senators Steve Daines (R) and JonTester (D) and Rep (now Gov.) Greg Gianforte (R).

That act also settled a long-standing treaty negotiation that gave the CSKT rights to major water resources inside the Flathead Indian Reservation in return for releasing claims on more than 10,000 water rights outside its boundaries.

“The restoration of this land is a great historic event and we worked hard to reach this point,” Fyant said.

“This comes after a century of being separated from the buffalo and the Bison Range, and after a quarter-century-long effort to co-manage the refuge with the FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).”

CSKT spokesman Robert McDonald said the public would see little change on the 18,800-acre wildlife refuge covering Red Sleep Mountain south of Pablo.

The Tribal Council agreed to continue following the conservation plan developed by FWS that controls how the refuge is managed for wildlife and the public.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is still in place,” McDonald said on Friday. “The Tribal Council is in regular contact with them, and we’re working on an agreement for how things will progress and operate in the future.

“There are a lot of questions about staffing, positions, what should be added or remain—things like maintenance crews, biologists, people in the gift shop and cultural interpretation. We’re in the early process of hashing out how it’s going to go.”

McDonald said the mission of the refuge to be a publicly accessible landscape focused on preserving wild bison would not change.

On Thursday, CSKT officials announced they were replacing federal regulations governing hunting, fishing and recreation on the refuge with an essentially identical set of rules authorized by the Tribes.

The replaced regulations include rules governing user fees to enter the refuge, prohibition of fireworks, weapons or explosives except under authorized circumstances, prohibition of hunting or taking of resources from the refuge except as authorized, and use of motorized vehicles.

McDonald said the exceptions would apply to actions previously allowed by FWS. Boy Scout troops, for instance, have been allowed to gather shed elk antlers and biologists have conducted studies involving capturing or occasionally killing specimen wildlife. Those exceptions would continue under tribal management, he said.

The original herd of bison released in 1909 was purchased with private money raised by the American Bison Society and then donated to the Refuge.

Today, 250-300 bison live on this refuge. To keep track of herd health, the Refuge conducts an annual Bison capture. And to ensure the herd is in balance with their habitat, surplus bison are donated and/or sold live, according to the US Fish and Wildlife.

(ORDER NO. 3390 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management to the Bureau of lndian Affairs and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 1

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 1

In essence, the saving of buffalo focused on two major factors.

On the one hand were westerners, both Native American and whites, who saw what was happening to the buffalo and cared about saving them.

With boots on the ground, these people rescued, nourished and protected fragile buffalo calves until they multiplied into healthy and prolific herds.

Without them American bison would likely have gone extinct. There’d be no buffalo in North America today. It almost happened.

 On the other hand were outstanding Conservationists from the east—who came west to hunt buffalo, yes—but who also understood what was going on and fought for refuges and wildlife parks where they could live out their lives in safety.

The Buffalo Conservationists we know best are President Theodore Roosevelt, William Hornaday and George Bird Grinnell. Each made a significant impact on wildlife conservation in the United States—particularly on buffalo.

As young men, their early lives were influenced by nature, by wildlife—and by the west and western values.

Theodore Roosevelt Travels West

Theodore Roosevelt came west to hunt buffalo at age 24—just as the last of the great wild herds vanished forever. He nearly missed them all together.

Roosevelt was considered an eastern dude when he arrived in Medora. But he learned to love the badlands, developed a broad-minded viewpoint as a rancher, became an advocate for the strenuous life and the Conservationist President of the United States.

In fact, he arrived on September 8, 1883 in Medora, Dakota Territory, on the newly finished stretch of the Northern Pacific railway. It was only a month later—in mid-October—that Sitting Bull and his band killed the last 1,200 wild buffalo ranging on the nearby Great Sioux Reservation.

Born in 1858 in New York City into a wealthy family, he struggled as a frail child, was taught by a private tutor and quickly discovered a passion for the outdoors and nature.

A 6-year-old Roosevelt with his younger brother Elliott watched Lincoln’s funeral procession from the second-floor window of their grandfather’s mansion (building at center far left). Photographed at the window, as confirmed by wife Edith, who was also there as a childhood friend. Manhattan, April 25, 1865.

His favorite activities included hiking, rowing, swimming, riding, bird-watching, hunting and taxidermy.

Creating a vast collection of specimens, he filled his boyhood home and later his adult estate with insect collections and mounted animals. Some are still on display in the Smithsonian.

Roosevelt’s youth was dominated by poor health and asthma. He suffered sudden nighttime asthma attacks that terrified both him and his parents. Doctors had no cure. Here photographed in Paris at age 11.

Roosevelt graduated from Harvard and studied law at Columbia. In 1880 he married Alice Lee, a socialite he met there.

Then, deciding not to finish law school, he took an opportunity that opened to him in politics.

 Elected as a Republican to the New York State Assembly at 23, Roosevelt quickly made a name for himself as a foe of corrupt machine politics.

In Medora Roosevelt found and hired a local guide, Joe Ferris. Riding horseback on a 10-day hunt well outside the reservation they flushed out a few lone bulls and one small band of buffalo in the badlands of the Little Missouri River Valley, southwest of Medora.

In his book The Works of T Roosevelt, Memorial Edition, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Roosevelt writes about that hunting adventure.

As he relates it, the first buffalo bull they saw plunged out of a little side coulee, taking both he and the guide by surprise.

“A shabby looking old bull bison galloped out and, without an instant’s hesitation, plunged over a steep bank into a patch of broken ground around the base of a high butte.

“So quickly did he disappear that we had not time to dismount and fire. Getting our horses over the broken ground as fast as possible, we rode round the butte only to see the buffalo come out and climb up the side of another butte over a quarter of a mile off.

“In spite of his great weight and cumbersome, heavy gait, he climbed up the steep bluff with ease and even agility, and when he had reached the ridge stood and looked back at us for a moment.

“In another second he made off . . . he must have traveled a long distance before stopping, for we followed his trail for some miles, yet did not again catch so much as a glimpse of him.”

Later they saw three black specks—three more old bulls. They dismounted and crawled on hands and knees.

“We got within about 125 yards and as all between was bare ground I drew up and fired. The bullet told on his body with a loud crack, the dust flying up from his hide; but did not in the least hinder him, and away went all three with their tails up.

“I drew up and fired. The bullet told on his body . . . but did not in the least hinder him, and away went all three with their tails up.” Credit Missoulian, Kurt Wilson.

“For seven or eight miles we loped our jaded horses, occasionally seeing the buffalo far ahead.

“When the sun had just set, we saw all three had come to a stand in a gentle hollow. They faced us and made off, while the ponies put on a burst that enabled us to close in with the wounded one.

“Within 20 feet I fired my rifle, but the darkness and violent labored motion of my pony made me miss.

“I tried to get in closer, when suddenly up went the bull’s tail and, wheeling, he charged with lowered horns. My pony spun round and tossed his head.

“My companion jumped off and took a couple of shots, missed in the dim moonlight and to our unutterable chagrin the wounded bull vanished in the darkness.

A day or so later in the rain they came over a low divide and saw black objects in the distance. Again they crept toward them on hands and knees upwind.

“The rain was beating in my eyes and the drops stood out in the sights of the rifle so I could hardly draw a bead—and I either overshot or else at the last moment must have given a nervous jerk and pulled the rifle clear off the mark.

“At any rate, I missed clean and the whole band plunged down into a hollow and were off before I could get another shot.”

Finally, on the 10th day they passed the mouth of a steep ravine along the Little Missouri River, on Cannonball Creek, close to the Montana border.

Suddenly both horses threw up their heads and looked with alarm toward the head of the gully. 

“I slipped off and ran quickly but cautiously up along the valley. Before I had gone a hundred yards, I noticed in the soft soil at the bottom the round prints of a bison’s hooves and immediately afterward got a glimpse of the animal himself—a great bison bull—as he fed slowly up the ravine not 50 yards off.

“As I rose above the crest of the hill he held up his head and cocked his tail in the air. Before he could get off I put the bullet in behind his shoulder. 

“The wound was an almost immediately fatal one.

“Yet with surprising agility for so large and heavy an animal, he bounded up the opposite side of the ravine, heedless of two more balls, both of which went into his flank and ranged forward—and disappeared over the ridge at a lumbering gallop, the blood pouring from his mouth and nostrils. 

“In the next gully we found him stark dead, lying almost on his back, having pitched over the side when he tried to go down it. 

“He was a splendid old bull, still in his full vigor, with large, sharp horns and heavy mane and glossy coat, and I felt the most exulting pride as I handled and examined him.” 

Roosevelt shot his buffalo on September 20, 1883 on upper Little Cannonball Creek near where it is joined by the Little Missouri, just across the Dakota Territorial line into Montana, according to Joe Wiegand, Theodore Roosevelt scholar, who portrays TR with the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in Medora. 

At the time Wiegand says Roosevelt and Joe Ferris were using the Nemilla Ranch as a base camp, hosted by Gregor Lang and his 16-year-old son Lincoln, north of today’s Marmarth, ND.  

Roosevelt was so delighted with his hunting adventure in the scenic badlands with rugged buttes and fertile green bottoms all around that he impulsively decided to become a cattle rancher.

Painted Canyon, TR National Park, at sunset. Roosevelt was so delighted with his hunting adventures in the badlands with its rugged buttes and fertile green bottoms that he invested in two cattle ranches. Medora Foundation.

He invested in two cattle ranches—the Maltese Cross seven miles south of Medora and the Elkhorn, 35 miles north. 

The next year TR suffered a double tragedy when his mother and his wife both died on the same day—Valentine’s Day. His wife had given birth two days before to a daughter, also named Alice.

He returned to Medora and spent much of the next two years on his ranch in the Badlands of Dakota Territory.

Roosevelt threw himself into ranching, determined to get a taste of the American frontier before it was gone forever, and to restore his health by living a vigorous life.

In Medora, Roosevelt lived in the saddle, learning to be an authentic cowboy, ranching, driving cattle, hunting—and at the same time overcame his physical weaknesses.

He fell in love with the Little Missouri badlands and admired the strenuous life of the outdoorsmen who lived and worked there, trying to follow their example.

In the North Dakota badlands he lived in the saddle, learning to be an authentic cowboy ranching, driving cattle—he even captured an outlaw and at the same time overcame his physical infirmities.

In Dakota Territory Roosevelt changed from the frail, New York “dude” who arrived there—into a democratic advocate for ranching and the strenuous life who became the 26th President of the United States.

William Hornaday Seeks Buffalo Carcasses

in 1886 William Temple Hornaday also came west to hunt buffalo—if he could find any. 

As chief taxidermist of the Smithsonian Museum, when he learned that buffalo were almost extinct, he surveyed the Smithsonian’s storage closets for buffalo bones and carcasses.

Shocked, he found only one poorly mounted female, a few tattered bison hides and an incomplete skeleton. 

How would future generations of Americans be able to visualize the magnificent mammal that once stampeded across the plains and prairies by the millions, if the greatest museums in the nation had none?

He wanted some buffalo carcasses for mounting, so that future Americans could view them.

William Hornaday and an unidentified man working in the taxidermy lab behind the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. A bird hangs from the ceiling, and mounted animals line the shelves. Skulls and animal skins are scattered throughout the room. Credit Smithsonian Institution Archives, c. 1880.

Hornaday immediately requested permission to travel west to collect bison carcasses—dead buffalo—lots of them, preferably as many as 80. If that many still existed. 

He planned to shape them into a dramatic new Smithsonian exhibit, unlike any seen before, and share the rest with the foremost museums in the United States, so that when buffalo became totally extinct—as he had no doubt would soon happen—future generations could still view the pinnacle of America’s great wildlife heritage.

Thus began Hornaday’s fascination with the buffalo that continued all his life.

Little did he know then that American Bison would become his obsession, that he’d spend the rest of his life fighting for their survival. 

The last of the great wild buffalo herds had disappeared in October 1883, when Sitting Bull and his band killed the last 1,200 on the Great Sioux Reservation in Dakota Territory. 

But, chasing rumors, Hornaday set forth by train with two museum assistants for the little cow town of Miles City, Montana on May 6, arriving after four days. 

Since his journey was a government project, Hornaday had some clout, and managed to pry loose a few soldiers from nearby Fort Keogh to come along on a buffalo hunt. 

All inquiries, both in Miles City and at Fort Keogh, two miles distant, got the same reply, “There are no buffalo anymore and you can’t get any anywhere!” 

However, one distant rancher on the Little Dry Creek sent a message that was still a chance to find a few buffalo around the Big Dry. 

Five days later their party crossed the Yellowstone River and headed up Sunday Creek to the northwest, where a few survivors might still be living farther north in the rough badlands country known as the Missouri River Brakes.

By this time they had an escort of a Sergeant and four soldiers from Fort Keogh, plus a cook, teamster, wagon, and six-mule team. They purchased two saddle horses for hunting. 

His party rode horseback more than a hundred miles farther, deep into the most rugged country they had ever seen. 

There they had a series of hunting adventures unlike any other, as detailed in Hornaday’s government report, later published as his despairing book on how the “extinction” came about. 

They finally found and captured a lone buffalo calf, which exhausted, had been unable to catch up with its mother. But they never found the herd it came from. 

On the 10th day they found a couple of bulls. They shot one and realized he was shedding his winter coat—leaving his hide so tattered and seedy looking it could not be mounted.

The Hornaday party arrived in May and hunted the remote badlands northwest of Miles City. But when they did shoot a bull, its hide was so tattered and seedy looking they decided to return in September for hides in prime winter condition. Credit NPS, J Schmidt, 1977.

They decided to wait till fall for hides in prime winter condition.

After beseeching local ranchers to spare their intended targets, they took the live calf and returned to Washington.

In late September they returned to the same remote badlands, some 135 miles northwest of Miles City.

“Wild and rugged butte country, its sides scored by intricate systems of great yawning ravines and hollows, steep-sided and very deep and bad lands of the worst description.

“Such as persecuted game loves to seek shelter in,” wrote Hornaday.

In two months of hard riding they found a few small bands of extremely wild stragglers—a lone buffalo bull here, two or three cows with calves there. Seven in one bunch.

By this time they had 10 saddle horses and the help of a few more soldiers from Ft. Keogh.

Splitting up, they rode 25 miles or more each day in different directions.

Searching out “the heads of those great ravines around the High Divide . . . where the buffalo were in the habit of hiding,” they eventually killed 22 buffalo—bulls, cows and calves.

Not the 80 carcasses Hornaday had hoped for, but a raging November blizzard with bitter cold cut short their hunt.

Hornaday felt some pride at the big bull he shot himself.

“A prize! A truly magnificent specimen. A stub-horn bull about 11 years old. His hair in remarkably fine condition, being long, fine, thick and well colored—16 inches in length in his frontlet.”

His bull stood a full six feet tall when they added the four-inch-long hair on the hump—standing two inches taller than their next largest bull.

He was nine-feet-two inches, head to tail. In circumference, eight-foot-four around the chest just behind the foreleg.

The bull had been shot several times before. Within the carcass he carried four old bullets of various sizes—as did nearly every bull they killed in those hidden canyons.

Cover of Hornaday’s book Campfires in the Canadian Rockies. This is the story of a trip he made in 1905 with John M. Phillips to high mountain crags and ledges in the Canadian Rockies. They spent more than a month studying, as no trained naturalists ever had before, the habits of the mountain goat at close range. Phillips photographed them, he said “under conditions of utmost peril.” Photo by JM Phillips.

Returning to Washington, Hornaday and his assistants set to work.

After a full year they unveiled their masterpiece.

There in a huge glass case, visitors to the Smithsonian Museum viewed an enchanting scene.

The grouping of six buffalo in an authentic Montana setting, included Hornaday’s prize stub-horn bull.

The Washington Star described the exhibit on March 10, 1888:

A little bit of Montana—a small square patch from the wildest part of the wild West—has

been transferred to the National Museum. . .The hummocky prairie, the buffalo-grass, the sagebrush, 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.

A triumph of the taxidermist’s art!

It was a sight Hornaday feared no one would ever see alive again.

He hid a message voicing his despair in a small sealed metal box in the Montana dirt of the display.

Discovered nearly 75 years later when the exhibit was moved to Montana, curators read Hornaday’s heartfelt plea:

My illustrious Successor

Enclosed please find a brief and truthful account of the capture of the specimens which compose this group.

When I am dust and ashes, I beg you to protect these specimens from deterioration and destruction.

W.T. Hornaday

Chief Taxidermist, March 7, 1888

But Hornaday was not finished. He still had his official report to write: (ital) The Extermination of the American Bison, for the National Museum’s 1887 annual report. It was reprinted as a book in 1889.

George Bird Grinnell Joins the Cause


George Bird Grinnell and hiking party on Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park, MT. Credit Morton Elrod, University of Montana, Mansfield Library.

George Bird Grinnell joined the cause of saving buffalo early.

Like fellow conservationists Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt, Grinnell had a special interest in the west—where he made more than 40 trips from his New York headquarters.

Like them he had hunted buffalo, and in fact, joined the Pawnee’s last great buffalo hunt in 1872, at the age of 22, while still in college.

That year in August Grinnell and a friend took the train to what they considered an exciting new travel destination: Nebraska.

The Pawnee were living on a small reservation along Nebraska’s Loup River. Twice a year, the army allowed the tribe to travel south to hunt buffalo in their historic Kansas hunting grounds.

These “hunts of the Indians [had] been described to me with a graphic eloquence that filled me with enthusiasm as I listened to the recital, and I determined that if ever the opportunity offered I would take part in one,” wrote Grinnell.

With the help of a guide, they found the Pawnee hunting village of 200 lodges spread across the prairie.

The head chief received them warmly telling them the hunt so far, had not been successful.

“But tomorrow,” he promised, “a grand surround will be made.” His young scouts had reported a large herd about 20 miles away.

“Here were 800 warriors, stark naked, and mounted on naked animals,” said Grinnell. “A strip of rawhide, or a lariat, knotted about the lower jaw, was all their horses’ furniture.

“Among all these men there was not a gun nor a pistol, nor any indication that they had ever met with the white men . . . Their bows and arrows they held in their hands.”

Grinnell and 800 hunters thundered across the Kansas plains.

He marveled at the skill of the bareback riders, so perfectly in tune with their horses, that the plains appeared to be “peopled with Centaurs.”

Despite the excitement of the hunters, tight discipline governed their advance. At regular intervals in the front of the procession rode the “Pawnee Police,” whose authority during the hunt was absolute.

Much was at stake. The food supply of the tribe for the next six months would be determined in the moments about to unfold.

Ten miles from camp, the lead riders, Grinnell among them, carefully crested a high bluff.

“I see on the prairie four or five miles away clusters of dark spots that I know must be the buffalo.

“Close now, the hunters change course, using the line of bluffs to conceal their advance.”

Finally, only a single ridgeline separated the mass of hunters from the mass of their prey.

“The place could not have been more favorable for a surround had it been chosen for the purpose,” according to Grinnell.

The terrain before them consisted of an open plain, two miles wide, surrounded by high bluffs.

“At least a thousand buffalo were lying down in the midst of this amphitheater.”

In a classic surround, Indians encircled the herd before the great charge. In this hunt, though, they would employ a variant of the strategy.

“All 800 hunters would ride into the herd from the same side. The objective was for the fastest riders to pass all the way through the herd, then turn back to face it.

Grinnell said great clouds of dust quickly filled the air, along with flying pebbles and clods kicked up by fleeing hooves. He realized that some buffalo were now coming back—directly at him. The herd had been turned. CM Russell painting.

 “If successful, the herd too would turn—into the charging bulk of the hunters.”

Behind the ridgeline, the hunters assembled in a long, crescent-shaped formation. Then over the hill they rode.

“[W]hen we are within half a mile of the ruminating herd a few rise to their feet and soon all spring up and stare at us for a few seconds.

“Then down go their heads and in a dense mass they rush off toward the bluffs.

“The leader of the Pawnee Police gave a cry,  “Lo?-ah!”

“Like an arrow from a bow each horse darted forward,” recalled Grinnell. “Now all restraint was removed, and each man might do his best.”

Grinnell, who had only one horse, soon fell behind the Indians on fresh mounts. Great clouds of dust quickly filled the air, along with flying pebbles and clods kicked up by fleeing hooves.

As he galloped forward, Grinnell could just make out the fastest riders, disappearing into the herd. Soon he could no longer see the ground, relying completely on his horse to navigate the field, aware that falling could mean death.

Halfway across the valley, Grinnell realized that some buffalo were now coming back—directly at him. The herd had been turned.

“I soon found myself in the midst of a throng of buffalo, horses and Indians.”

Grinnell began shooting, “and to some purpose.”

Two-thousand-pound animals tumbled and skidded to the earth around him. Shooting from a galloping horse required a skilled mount, steady hands, and even steadier nerve.

Riders attempted to come alongside a running buffalo, aiming behind the shoulder. It was difficult and dangerous.

“The scene that we now beheld was such as might have been witnessed here a hundred years ago. It is one that can never be seen again.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Grinnell lived in Audubon Park as a young man, on what was previously the estate of John James Audubon. His school, conducted by Madame Audubon likely encouraged his interest in the natural world.

As a graduate student and naturalist he rode with General Custer’s 1874 Black Hills expedition. The next year he went with Col. William Ludlow’s expedition to Yellowstone Park, and wrote a scathing report on the poaching of buffalo, deer, elk and antelope that was going on there.

While still a student, George Bird Grinnell went with Col. Ludlow’s expedition to Yellowstone Park and wrote a scathing document relating the disastrous poaching of buffalo and other wildlife, attached to Ludlow’s report.

Grinnell graduated from Yale University in 1870, earned a PhD in 1880 and became an anthropologist, historian, naturalist and prolific writer.

In 1876 Grinnell became editor of Field and Stream magazine and remained there as senior editor and publisher for 35 years. This gave him an excellent platform for his writings on conservation and environmental issues.

He took hunting trips with the well-known guide James Willard Schultz. During a 1885 visit they hiked over the St. Mary Lakes region, naming many of the features in what is now Glacier National Park in Montana—including Grinnell Glacier.

About this area he wrote:

“Far away in Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies an unmapped northwestern corner—the Crown of the Continent.

“The water from the crusted snowdrift which caps the peak of a lofty mountain there trickles into tiny rills, which hurry along north, south, east and west, and growing to rivers, at last pour their currents into three seas.

“From this mountain-peak the Pacific and the Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico receive each its tribute. Here is a land of striking scenery.

“There is a solitude, or perhaps a solemnity, in the few hours that precede the dawn of day which is unlike that of any others in the 24, and which I cannot explain or account for. Thoughts come to me at this time that I never have at any other.”

But he also wrote, “We are a water-drinking people and we are allowing every brook to be defiled.”

Hornaday Voices his Despair

In his 1889 book, The Extermination of the American Bison, Hornaday regarded the buffalo extinction as inevitable.

“There is no reason to hope that a single wild and unprotected individual will remain alive 10 years hence,” he wrote.

“And in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up,” wrote Hornaday. “Nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water courses, a few museum specimens and regret for his fate.” NPS.

“The nearer the species approaches complete extermination, the more eagerly are the wretched fugitives pursued to the death whenever found.”

His official count of the surviving buffalo in 1889 totaled only 1,091 head for all of North America. Half of that total he credited to “very old rumors” of 550 wood buffalo in northern Canada.

That was likely an exaggeration, he admitted. But, “We will gladly accept it.”

However even this number was destined to drop lower. The lowest official number fell to 800 in 1895, according to the count of Canadian historian Ernest Thompson Seton.

The 200 counted in Yellowstone Park had dropped to a low of only 23, as the herd was nearly annihilated by hide hunters lurking at its borders and poachers within, according to the National Park Service.

Hornaday voiced his despair.

“If the majority of the people of America feel that so long as there is any game alive there must be an annual two months or four months open season for its slaughter, then assuredly we soon will have a game-less continent!” he said.

“The wild buffalo is practically gone forever.

“And in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water courses, a few museum specimens and regret for his fate.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Buffalo Stone

The Buffalo Stone

A small stone, which is often a fossil shell, or sometimes only a queer shaped piece of flint, is called by the Blackfeet I-nĭs´kĭm, the buffalo stone.

This stone has great power, and gives its owner good luck in bringing the buffalo close, so that they may be killed.

The stone is found on the prairie, and anyone who finds one is thought to be very lucky.

Sometimes a man who is going along on the prairie will hear a queer faint chirp, such as a little bird might make. He knows this sound is made by a buffalo stone.

He stops and searches for it on the ground, and if he cannot find it, marks the place and comes back next day to look for it again. If it is found, he and all his family are glad.

The Blackfeet tell a story about how the first buffalo stone was found.

Long ago, one winter, the buffalo disappeared.

The snow was deep, so deep that the people could not move in search of the buffalo; so the hunters went as far as they could up and down the river bottoms and in the ravines, and killed deer and elk and other small game, and when these were all killed or driven away the people began to starve.

One day a young married man killed a prairie rabbit. He ran home as fast as he could, and told one of his wives to hurry and get a skin of water to cook it.

She started down to the river for water, and as she was going she heard a beautiful song. She looked all about, but could see no one who was singing.

The song seemed to come from a big cottonwood tree near the trail leading down to the water. As she looked closely at this tree she saw a queer stone jammed in a fork where the tree was split, and with it a few hairs from a buffalo which had rubbed against the tree.

The woman was frightened and dared not pass the tree.

Soon the singing stopped and the I-nĭs´kĭm said to the woman,

“Take me to your lodge, and when it is dark call in the people and teach them the song you have just heard.

“Pray, too, that you may not starve, and that the buffalo may come back. Do this, and when day comes your hearts will be glad.”

The woman went on and got the water, and when she came back she took the stone and gave it to her husband, telling him about the song and what the stone had said.

As soon as it was dark, the man called the chiefs and old men to his lodge, and his wife taught them the song that she had heard.

They prayed too, as the stone had said should be done.

Before long they heard far off a noise coming.

It was the tramp of a great herd of buffalo.

Then they knew that the stone was powerful, and since that time the people have taken care of it and have prayed to it.

Story told by Blackfeet and recorded by George Bird Ginnell.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Geist: All buffalo today likely descended from under 300

Geist: All buffalo today likely descended from under 300

The Pablo buffalo herd of 716 head arrived in Canada between June 1907 and 1912. They were a mix of genetics from calves captured originally in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. Photo credit Wainwright, Canada.

Valerius Geist, for 27 years a Professor of Zoology, Program Director of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and author of Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison — estimates that all Plains Bison originated from 88 bison calves captured between 1873 and 1889, plus 23 Yellowstone survivors—for a total of 111.

Geist says the Woods Buffalo of Canada survived back then in somewhat larger numbers than Plains Buffalo.

“In the 1890s, the herd of northern Bison in what is now Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, may have shrunk to 300 to 500 animals. It is even possible that as few as 250 survived,” he writes.

“Allowing for the fact that we do not know how many of the captured calves grew up to reproduce, all North American bison alive today are likely descended from fewer than 300 individuals, including northern Wood Bison, the 88 captured bison, the 23 in Yellowstone, and a few in zoos.”

Of these, only the 5 Plains Bison calves rescued by the Duprees in South Dakota did not contribute to the genetics of the Plains Bison assembled by the Canadian government by 1914 in Buffalo National Park near Waianwright and Elk Island National park near Edmonton.

The Duprees did not sell South Dakota buffalo from their herd, but let them multiply, running free on the Great Sioux Reservation.

When that herd was purchased by Scotty Phillip, he did engage in some buying and selling, as he built it up to 1,000 head or more—a tourist attraction.

The various herds in private hands were soon mixed, since Buffalo Jones participated in a great deal of buying and selling from herds far and wide.

“The Pablo herd contained bison captured originally in Montana or Alberta, Saskatchewan, Texas, and probably individuals from Kansas and Nebraska,” states Geist.

Some of the pure Canadian Mckay herd went to Sir Donald A. Smith, who donated 13 of them to Banff National Park. They were joined by 3 Texas bison donated from Goodnight’s herd, brought to Banff in 1887.

Geist reports that in the 5 years between June 1, 1907 and June 6, 1912, Pablo delivered to Canadian authorities 716 bison. Of these, 631 went to Buffalo National Park and the remaining 85 to Elk Island National Park.

All were multiplying greatly, he says. Beginning on June 25, 1925 some 6,673 Plains Bison—4,826 yearlings, 1,515 two-year-olds, and 332 three-year olds—were shipped to Wood Buffalo National Park from Buffalo National Park. (Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison, by Valerius Geist, published by Voyageur Press, Stillwater MN.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

USDA Bison Meat Purchases Top $20 million In Past Four Years

USDA Bison Meat Purchases Top $20 million In Past Four Years

Native American children really enjoy the taste of Bison and the connection it gives them to their cultural heritage. There are many health benefits associated with eating bison meat,” says Dianne Amiotte-Seidel, project director/marketing coordinator for the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

USDA’s annual purchase of ground bison meat for utilization in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations has topped $20 million, according to information provided to the National Bison Association this week by the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) now offers traditional foods including bison, blue cornmeal, wild rice, wild salmon and catfish.

A purchasing summary this week documents that the agency has purchased 2.5 million lbs. of ground bison for a total of $21.4 million from fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2020.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations provides USDA Foods to income-eligible households living on Indian reservations and to Native American households residing in designated areas near reservations or in Oklahoma. USDA distributes both food and administrative funds to participating Indian Tribal Organizations and state agencies to operate FDPIR.

By introducing buffalo meat at 13 tribal schools, one company has been able to show students the health benefits while further connecting them with their cultural heritage.

A growing number of tribal communities are reconnecting children with their rich history and culture by establishing farm-to-school programs. In doing so, tribes are integrating traditional foods—like bison—into child nutrition programs.

Rich in flavor, low in fat and high in protein, buffalo meat is a good substitute for beef. It has significantly more iron with higher levels of vitamins and minerals and twice as much beta carotene as strictly grain-fed meats.

“There are many health benefits associated with eating bison meat,” says Dianne Amiotte-Seidel, project director/marketing coordinator for the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), who has spent nearly her entire professional career working to bring buffalo meat into tribal schools. “Plus, the taste is delicious and it’s a very versatile protein.”

Last year, ITBC, based in Rapid City, S.D., received a three-year Administration for Native Americans Grant to decrease the risk of diabetes by the incorporation of buffalo meat into children’s diets. ITBC also received a one-year USDA Farm to School Grant to assist schools on Indian reservations in South Dakota with the goal of procuring buffalo meat and fresh produce for their school lunch program, developing school gardens and developing educational curriculum.

“Once we had the grants, we began conducting onsite visits with 33 schools and the nine corresponding tribes to determine their ability to incorporate locally raised buffalo meat into school lunch programs,” says Amiotte-Seidel. “The assessments included the tribe’s and school’s infrastructure (cold storage, corrals, etc.), available buffalo, staff training levels and local support.”

Ultimately, 13 schools were able to participate in the program, and the results have been nearly all positive. But there have been a number of challenges—from supply to slaughter to prep methods to education—for ITBC to overcome.

“Many reservations are located in rural and remote areas with existing food systems challenged by a lack of infrastructure,” says Amoitte-Seidel. “But we’ve worked hard to sort these problems out and improve the chain to make access more feasible.”

After working closely with the USDA, Amoitte-Seidel was able to get approval for state-run slaughter houses to process the buffalo from local tribes for use in the schools.

“In many cases, there is no access to USDA plants near these reservations,” she explains. “Lower Brule (S.D.) Sioux Tribe had been transporting their bison four hours away to Sturgis to have it processed, then it had to be transported back. It was inefficient and complicated. Being able to use a state-run slaughter house closer to the reservation will make access easier for the schools currently participating and for others who would like to start.”

Another challenge Amoitte-Seidel has successfully overcome has been training the school nutrition professionals in the cafeterias about how to prepare the meat and talk with the students about its significance.

“Because buffalo meat is lower in fat, it cooks differently than traditional beef,” she says. “But we have held trainings for cooks, managers and superintendents where they come together, learn recipes and ways to prepare it properly and network with one another to share ideas and recipes.”

Education has been a key piece of the puzzle. It starts with arming the schools’ foodservice professional with knowledge about the tribe’s buffalo heritage, which they can relate to students and other staff. Then, once they’re comfortable cooking it, they incorporate it into menus where it best fits.

And at Flandreau (S.D.) Indian Schools, students were given the option of a beef patty or a bison patty. Many who were familiar with bison opted for that. Staff also experimented with the placement of meat on the hot line, but what they discovered was the more students learned about the health benefits and the history behind their tribe and buffalo meat, they were more likely to try it.

“St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation downplayed their use of bison to students in order to have a seamless transition,” says Amoitte-Seidel. “The cooks simply substituted buffalo meat for beef in spaghetti, chili, sloppy Joes and soup. When they explained to students that they were using the bison, the students were surprised and excited. Many commented on how buffalo is a rich part of their culture and that they couldn’t even taste the difference between buffalo and beef. They love the dishes are excited to continue trying new and different ones.”

Enemy Swim Day School (Waubay, S.D.), which serves Native American students in the Glacial Lakes region of northeast South Dakota, actually saw a reduction in food waste when it began incorporating buffalo meat into menus and it now serves the meat weekly.

And students at The Circle of Nation Boarding School (Wahpeton, N.D.) have enjoy the buffalo meat so much, they’ve requested it be on the menu more than once a week.

“The buffalo program has been a success on so many fronts,” says Amoitte-Seidel. “Students are really enjoying the taste of the bison and the connection it gives them to their cultural heritage.”

Newsletter, Joanna DeChellis, Feb 21, 2017

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison Meat: Delicious and Nutritious

Bison Meat: Delicious and Nutritious

Back in 1880, Native people ate buffalo meat with great relish, seasoned or not, whether cooked over a campfire or on a grill. Just as we do today. Photo Nebraska Bison.

“The meat that has ‘ping’ to it—the meat that satisfies.”

That is how Lakota hunters from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe described the taste of buffalo to the missionary Thomas Riggs on the way to their last winter hunt in December of 1880.

For 15 years buffalo had been gone from their Great Sioux Reservation, due to settlement pressures from the east, but mysteriously they had returned and the older hunters were eager to taste their favorite meat again.

Snow fell almost continuously and the hunting party of 101—about half men and half women and children—followed the Moreau River valley west with buckboard wagons and extra pack horses. Some days they made only three or four miles in deep snow that crusted and grew deeper day by day.

The hunters grew excited that last day as they neared the Slim Buttes, where scouts told them the buffalo had returned.

They talked of how tired they were of eating porcupine, skunk, venison and badger meat. During their journey the party had killed and eaten 148 porcupines and 200 deer.

The Lakota also had brought 500 dogs as back-up if needed—but mostly to fatten up for later.

Then, on the day before Christmas, they made their first local buffalo hunt in 15 years.

The men returned to camp loaded with an abundance of meat and robes. The women helped unload and cared for the meat and hides.

The Lakota on that last hunt in the Slim Buttes were so pleased with Buffalo meat, that they still took delight in it—even after 8 or more weeks of eating only buffalo meat—after all other food, coffee and tobacco was gone. Photo NBA.

Fires crackled, pots boiled. People ate the tasty buffalo meat with great relish. All were smiling and happy.

In fact they were so happy with the hunt and the meat that they stayed in the Slim Buttes hunting area in tepees and tents for 3 months—even though they had packed only enough provisions for 3 weeks and soon ran out of all other food.

From then on they had only fresh buffalo meat to eat—no vegetables, no tobacco, no coffee or tea, except what they made with rose hips.

But still they stayed—even through the coldest blizzards and deepest snow they had ever known—until they had all the buffalo meat and hides they could carry home again.

“Eat the meat of the buffalo. It’s healing. It keeps our people strong. It fills the soul as well as the body,” say Native Elders today.

Health-conscious people across the US and Canada have discovered the benefits of Bison meat today. They call it nutritious, hearty, sweet and rich, tasty and tender and nearly fat-free.

Speaking for myself, some of the best meat I ever tasted was at the 3-Day National Bison Association Summer Convention held in North Dakota in 2019.

We ate buffalo meat every day. Tender and tasty! Perfectly seasoned!

Much of the meat was donated by local producers as I remember—so they probably made sure it came from the best bison cuts, from bison of just the right age. No tough old bulls.

The Great American Buffalo Cookbook

Front Cover of the Great American Buffalo Cookbook, available from NBA for only $3. Photo NBA.

The National Bison Association compiled and published a 22-page gem called “The Great American Buffalo Cookbook” in 2002. It’s organized for all cooks, those just getting started with cooking Bison as well as seasoned cooks.

Includes lots of good cooking tips, clearly explained. Everything you need for cooking delicious Buffalo Meals—and all for only $3.00.

You can order The Great American Buffalo Cookbook here: National Bison Assoc, 8690 Wolff Court, #200; Westminster CO 80031, or by visiting the website (Note: even more recipes are available on the NBA website.)

Back cover of the Great American Buffalo Cookbook. A gem of a book published by the National Bison Association in 2002. Photo courtesy of NBA.

This cookbook is only 22 pages, but includes lots of good cooking tips, clearly explained.

(Note: Except for front and back covers, shown above, the colored food photos that illustrate this article are not included in the NBA Cookbook.)

Grilling Buffalo Steaks

Lots of “Hints” and “Tips” are included. The NBA Cookbook starts right out with the basics of grilling a Buffalo Steak.

Cooking hint–Sear both sides of steak on hot grill to keep the juices in the steak, then turn heat down and finish cooking to desired doneness. Photo NBA.

Grilling Buffalo Steaks

Cooking time is important in order not to overcook your steaks. Total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the steaks.

1 inch thick      Rare: 6-8 minutes                   Medium: 10-12 minutes

1 ½ inch thick  Rare: 10-12 min                      Medium: 14-18 min

2 inch thick      Rare: 14-20 min                      Medium: 20-25 min

Steaks recommended for grilling/barbecuing include Rib Eye, T-bones, New York Strip, Flat Iron, Flank and Sirloin.

Less tender cuts of buffalo steaks are not recommended for grilling unless they have been marinated.

Steaks thinner than ¾ inches thick are not recommended for barbecuing or broiling. (Note: Well-done buffalo steaks are not recommended. Due to the leanness of the meat, buffalo has a tendency to become dry when overcooked.)

Buffalo meat, always delicious from the grill, whether steak or sausages. Cooking buffalo to well-done is not recommended, however, due to the leanness of the meat. Photo Buffalo Hills Bison.

Broiled Buffalo Steak

Rub your favorite cut of steak with a combination of a little garlic salt, cooking oil, ground black pepper and lemon juice. The lemon makes it tangy, with a zippy flavor.

Rosemary Marinated Steak

1 sirloin buffalo steak

1 Tbs. dried rosemary

½ cup red wine

¼ cup olive oil


  • For good cooking, preheat broiler or grill at least 5 min. before you broil or grill a steak.
  • Use long handled tongs to turn steaks on the grill. A fork will pierce the meat and allow the flavorful juices to escape.
  • Sear both sides of your steak on hot grill to keep the juices in the steak, then turn heat down and finish cooking to desired doneness.
  • When cutting thin slices of meat, have the whole piece slightly frozen. It will slice easier.

Kabobs made with cubes of Bison steak. Some veggies may be pre-cooked. Photo Quill Creek Farms.

The cookbook is divided into 4 sections, with 6 to 10 recipes in each:

1. Steak and recipes using meat chunks, cubes or slices. Includes Buffalo Fajitas, Pita Pockets, Kabobs, Stew and Stir-Fry.

2. Buffalo Roast and Leftovers, includes Bar-B-que Buffalo, Crock Pot, Buffritos, Sandwich Filling.

3. Ground Buffalo and Buff A Loaf, Buff-N-Biscuit, Chicken-Fried Steak, Meatballs, Lasagna, Cheeseburger Pie, Buffalo Quiche and Chili.

4. Miscellaneous (Buffalo salami, tongue, heart, more).

Further it is noted that Buffalo may be used with any of your favorite beef recipes if you remember these basic tips.

Buffalo Cooking Tips

Buffalo meat is similar to beef and is cooked in much the same way. The taste is often indistinguishable from beef, although buffalo tends to have a fuller, richer (and sweeter) flavor. It is not “gamy’ or wild tasting. Buffalo is low in fat and cholesterol, and is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Fresh cut buffalo meat tends to be darker red and richer in color than many of the other red meats.

Filet Mignon are prime cuts of the best Bison meat. NBA

Less tender cuts and odds and ends can be easily turned into delicious sausages in casings with the right equipment. Photo Quill Creek Farm.

The lack of fat ensures that buffalo meat will cook faster. Fat acts as an insulator—heat must first penetrate this insulation before the cooking process begins. Marbling (fat within the muscle) aids in slowing down the cooking process. Since buffalo meat lacks marbling, the meat has a tendency to cook more rapidly. Caution must be taken to ensure that you do not overcook buffalo.

  • When oven broiling buffalo, move your broiler rack away from the heat about a notch lower from where you normally broil your beef steaks. Check your steaks a few minutes sooner than you normally would.
  • If you normally cook your roast beef at 325 F, turn your temperature down to around 275 F for buffalo. Plan on the roast being done in about the same amount of time as with a comparable sized beef roast. To ensure the temperature you prefer, we recommend using a meat thermometer indicating the internal temperature.
  • Ground buffalo or Buffalo burger is also leaner (most ranging about 88-92% lean). It will also cook faster so precautions must be taken not to dry out the meat. There is very little (if any) shrinkage with buffalo burger—what you put in the pan raw will be close to the same amount after you cook it. Pre-formed patties tend to dry out faster when grilling. (Hint: the thicker the patty, the juicier the burger.) Although ground buffalo is leaner, there is no need to add fat to keep it from sticking to the pan or falling apart.

All meat, no matter the leanness has enough fat available to cook with it properly. The great thing about ground buffalo is you don’t need to drain off any grease from the pan!

Award Winning Bison Recipes from NBA

A deluxe burger with added tomato slice, onion and lettuce with maybe cheese and bacon enhances the plain burger, which can be a bit dry. Be careful not to overcook. NBA

Additional Bison recipes are available at

Here are some award winners selected by NBA and on their website.

This is an especially good one. For the dedicated chef, I think.

Irish Creek Ranch Best Slider, Winning “Best Bison Slider” Recipe from the NBA’s 2017 Winter Conference.

First Place Bison Burger Slider Recipe, by Karissa Dorey

Irish Creek Ranch Favorite Sliders.

Vermilion, Alberta Bison burgers are something that even the most unlearned, uncultured taste buds can enjoy. (For those of you who believe bison taste “gamey!”)

It is a sure staple on our ranch. Everyone loves it.

My husband every time repeatedly exclaims whilst sinking his teeth into this juicy burger, “This is amazing. People would pay a lot of money for this!”

Hands down this is the BEST burger ever. And maybe even the best BISON burger!

All this being said it is possible to totally screw up a bison burger.

So follow the instructions—especially the burger patty frying part and cover that frying pan!

Irish Creek Ranch Favorite Sliders

Makes: 8 -1/4 lb slider patties

Burger Patties:

2 lbs Ground Bison, thawed
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Worcestershire Sauce
3 Tablespoons Canola Oil

Whiskey Caramelized Onions:
2 Sweet onions
3 Tablespoons Olive oil
8 Brown mushrooms
2 Tablespoons Whiskey

8 slices of Gruyere cheese
8 slices of bacon
8 sourdough slider buns
4 handfuls of arugula

Truffle Aioli Sauce:

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lemon, juice
1 cup mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Truffle oil
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard


First prepare onions 1 hour in advance:

Cut onions thinly. Place in frying pan over med-high heat, cover and cook onions and oil till

translucent. Take lid off and cook on low for 1 1/2  hour—be sure there is a single layer of onions on bottom of pan. Periodically stir to prevent burning. In the last 15 mins add mushrooms. Let cook. Then in the last 5 mins add whiskey.

Truffle Aioli Sauce:

Stir together all ingredients. Set aside


Cook bacon in advance for about 30 mins in the oven at 375 F. (Cook in a pan with sides lined with parchment paper.)

Burger patties:

Form 8 equal patties. Do not over handle. Sprinkle seasoning and Worcestershire sauce over each burger. Brush canola oil over each burger. Over high heat, heat remaining oil in a large frying pan. Once oil is hot (500 F) place burgers oil side and seasoning side down. Cover pan and cook for 4 mins. Flip and cook for additional 3 mins or until burger patties reach 140 F.

Let sit for 5 to 10 min before serving. Place caramelized onions/mushrooms and then bacon and then cheese over each burger. Cover and cook for additional 1-2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Place on a freshly toasted bun smeared with Truffle Aioli sauce and arugula or lettuce. Stack from bottom to top: bottom bun, aioli sauce, lettuce, burger, onion/mushroom, cheese, bacon, aioli, top bun. Serve with fresh oven baked sweet potato fries and/or salad.
Karissa Dorey, Irish Creek Bison.

Other winners:

Canadian Prairie Bison Chili, Winner of “Best Bison Chili” Recipe from the NBA’s 2018 Winter Conference.

Colorful Bison Chili, Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch, Runner Up for “Best Bison Chili” Recipe from the NBA’s 2018 Winter Conference.

Sweet and Smoky Island Slider, Runner Up Slider Recipe from the “Best Bison Slider Recipe” Contest

Southwest Bison Pho, by Benjamin Lee Bison2020 NBA Winter Conference Recipe Winner.

Truly Saskatchewan Bison Stew, Winner 2019 NBA Winter Conference Best Bison Stew.

Bison Blue Cheeseburger

Bison Blue Cheeseburger is tasty with Blue Cheese. NBA.


Serves 6

Kathy Cary, Lilly’s, Louisville, Kentucky

Food Photography Jason McConathy

Recipe styling: Cook Street School of Fine Cooking—Denver, Co



1 1/2 lbs. ground bison
1 Tbs. good quality Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. roasted & chopped shallots & garlic
1 tsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Splash extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
Good quality blue cheese or Roquefort
2 red onions sliced
Balsamic vinegar
2 bulbs fennel sliced



Combine first 6 ingredients and form 6 patties, adding approximately 1 teaspoon of blue cheese into the center of each patty. Grill to order.


2 sliced red onions drizzled with extra virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar.
Grill until tender.
2 bulbs of fennel, sliced & sautéed until tender.
Toss the onions & fennel together and place on bison burger
Serve with rosemary roasted potatoes and homemade coleslaw.

Bison: High in Protien, Low Fat, Low Cholesterol

Research from Dr. Marty Marchello of our own North Dakota State University is included in the NBA Cookbook—so you can see how Bison compares nutritionally with beef and other meats. His USDA research was done at NDSU in 1996, updated in 2007 and 2013.

Below are Dr. Marchello’s nutritional comparisons for fat, protein, calories, cholesterol, iron and vitamin B-12 of 100 grams of cooked meat (a 3.5 oz serving) from Bison, Beef (both choice and select), Pork, Chicken and Sockeye Salmon.

Dr. Marty Marchello’s nutrition chart compares the fat, protein, calories, cholesterol, iron and vitamin B-12 of 100 grams of cooked Bison meat (a 3.5 oz serving) to that of choice and select Beef, Pork, Chicken and Sockeye Salmon. NDSU.

At the August 2002 meeting of the Missouri Bison Association, Professor Barbara Lohse (Knouse), PHD, RD, LD, a Dietitian from Kansas State University spoke about the nutritional value of Bison meat.

Dr. Lohse, now Associate Professor and Principal Investigator at Pennsylvania State University, said there are many important advantages to bison meat in addition to the well-known “High in Protein, Low in Fat and Low in Cholesterol.”

This is especially important during this time when more people are pursuing healthier nutritional lifestyles, she said.

Dr. Lohse highlighted the following advantages of Bison nutrition:

    • B6 and B12 (Bison is a HIGH source of these vitamins)
      • Vitamin B12 is only available from animal sources
      • Vitamin B12 has been shown to keep the elderly mentally alert
      • Vitamin B6 is needed for protein metabolism
    • Sodium (Bison is a LOW source of Sodium)
      • High sodium intake is associated with hypertension
    • Potassium (Bison is a HIGH source of Potassium)
      • Key to lowering Blood Pressure
      • Most foods high in potassium are also high in calories
      • Bison contains 1/3 more potassium than chicken
    • Iron (Bison is a HIGH source of available Iron)
      • Necessary for hemoglobin formation and prevention of anemia.
      • Bison is 3 times higher in Iron than pork or chicken.
    • Selenium (Bison is a HIGH source of Selenium)
      • An antioxidant shown to help prevent cancer.
      • Bison has 4 times higher amount of Selenium than the USDA recommends as an antioxidant
    • Conjugated Linoleic Acid (Bison is a high source of CLA)
      • Antioxidant that has been shown to help prevent cancer
    • Calories (Bison is a LOW source of calories) 1/2 the calories of pork and chicken

Ranch to Table: The buffalo meat market

Many customers prefer to buy Bison meat from local producers directly or at Farmer’s Markets, enabling them to know just where their meat comes from. Photo Quill Creek Farms.

“Now buffalo can be found in many grocery stores, health food stores, meat markets and mail order companies. Make buffalo a regular item on your family’s dinner table and enjoy the great taste and healthful benefits of buffalo,” says the NBA website.

Also available on the NBA website is a list of producers who sell and ship Bison meat.

Beware of Water Buffalo Masking as American Bison

In her presentation Dr. Lohse emphasized the big differences between meat from American Bison (Bison) and Water Buffalo originating in Asia or Africa—recently being sold in the United States. Packages are often designed to resemble homegrown Bison.

In NUTRITION CHARTS she notes that American Bison meat is labeled “Bison,” not “Buffalo.” If you purchase meat labelled “Buffalo” it is probably imported water buffalo.

The NBA Cookbook, published earlier, doesn’t mention this. It can be a bit confusing because the Cookbook calls for “Buffalo” in its recipes. (Just remember Dr Lohse’s tip above when purchasing meat. Otherwise, we accept the terms as interchangeable.)

Don’t make the mistake of buying Buffalo meat unless it’s labelled “Bison.”

Note that buffalo today are butchered young—at 2-3 years of age—while they are tender and tasty. In addition buyers often have the choice whether to buy grass-fed or grain finished bison meat—which is a bit higher in fat, preferred by some. Many other health-conscious customers prefer and enjoy grass-fed bison meat.

It’s not like old days when the big old bulls were easiest to shoot, running on the outside of a stampeding herd to protect the more tender and tasty young bulls and cows running farther inside.

Native American hunters knew this and found a way to get past the old bulls, to the more tender and well-flavored young bulls and cows. In our histories they often told of how they’d shoot several bulls running on the outside of the herd to get past them and reach the more tender—and tasty—young bulls and cows being protected there.

Only if a hunter wanted a special trophy head, or huge tough hides for covering the tepee did he settle for older bulls. Likely, tenderness was less of a concern when their meat was dried for making jerky or pemmican.

Native Americans Love and revere the taste

Today, with their own tribal herds—no question, the opportunity to again eat buffalo meat is cherished by Native Americans.

They love and revere the taste of real Bison meat.

Tribes with buffalo herds use much of their own buffalo meat within the community.

Butchering and caring for the meat is regarded as an integral part of the circle of life, and as an important skill to teach children.

Today Indian tribes with their own herds use much of their buffalo meat within the community for special events and as an honored part of the healthy foods in diabetes programs. Because buffalo meat is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein, highly absorbable iron and zinc, it is considered a healthy food. When grass fed it is even lower in fat and more nutrient-dense. Photo InterTribal Buffalo Council.


 “We take our children to the kill,” explains LaDonna Allard, Tribal Historian for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“The process is carried out with due ceremony, with prayer and thanksgiving, she says. “We thank the buffalo.”

A high-powered rifle takes down the animal, so it is killed instantly to alleviate suffering.

The carcass is then skinned and cut up in traditional ways, with all parts used in ceremonies—horns, skulls, bones and hides.

“Every part has meaning. We use them all,” Allard explains.

The Fort Peck tribes in Northeastern Montana have built their own butchering facility, out near the corrals, for tribal members who want to purchase and slaughter their own buffalo from the business herd of about 200 head.

Robert Magnan, Fort Peck Fish and Game Director, says he buys a buffalo himself each year and shares it with relatives, as do around three dozen other tribal members.

One of the easiest and most tasty ways to prepare Bison Burgers is on the grill. Photo by Nebraska Bison


“We have all the equipment—saws, grinder—and they bring their own wrap. We teach them how to cut up the different parts—roast, steaks. Grind the tougher cuts and scraps for hamburger. [We teach] how to cook them.”

But first, says Magnan, echoing what others explain, “We talk to the buffalo. Tell them we need meat to feed our families. Thank them for their willingness to take care of us.”

For meat used in the tribes’ federally subsidized programs the Ft Peck tribes haul live animals to the nearby small town of Scobey, where they are processed in a USDA meat inspected plant.

A buffalo carries less meat than a steer, he says, about 800 pounds on the carcass.

The Fort Peck tribes offer buffalo hunts, as many as 40 or 50 a year from their business herd.

In 2014 hunters paid the tribe $850 for a two-year-old bull, $1,200 for a dry cow, $1,500 for an ordinary bull, and up to $10,000 for a big bull with well-formed horns.

Many are return hunters who come from foreign countries—Korea and Germany—and Texas and other states throughout the US.

Magnan’s staff instructs hunters to wait until they can shoot an animal off by itself—one of the five or six in a pasture with blue ear tags, designated for paid hunting. They are told not to fire into the herd.

Magnan insists the selected buffalo needs to be put down quickly without suffering. He goes with the hunter and carries a rifle to finish the job himself if the paying hunter only wounds it.

In many tribes, anyone putting on a community feed can request buffalo meat.

Buffalo is served at graduations, namings and community celebrations, and has become an honored part of the healthy foods in diabetes programs.

Because buffalo meat is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein, highly absorbable iron and zinc, and is considered delicious and exceptionally healthy, it is welcomed as a healthy food. When grass fed, it is even more nutrient-dense.

Diabetes is a serious concern in many Indian tribes.

Tribal leaders attribute their higher diabetes risk to genetics and reservation living, which often leads to a sedentary lifestyle and diet high in sugar and fat.

Today’s lifestyles are quite unlike the traditionally active lifestyles and lean, high protein diets of 100 years ago. 

“Buffalo meat, grass fed meat—this is something people with diabetes can eat that is good for them,” Alvah Quinn explains in talks at schools.

Buffalo meat is considered a healthy meat for people with diabetes. Photo North Fork Bison.


 “We can offer 100 percent pure buffalo meat to our tribal members for nothing or almost nothing. With all the diabetes in Indian Country, eating right is important.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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