The Killing of the Buffalo Lesson:
Using Sources
Using Sources

James Haley, The Buffalo War 1874, page 24
“The suddenness of it all was appalling. As much as it strains today’s imagination, the white men slaughtered their buffalo in hundreds of thousands, utterly obliterating in one season’s kill the southern Kansas herds on which the Cheyennes and Arapahoes had, in large measure, subsisted.”

Satanta, Kiowa, Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, page 195
“they kill my buffalo, and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting. I feel sorry….. has the white man become a child that he should kill recklessly and not eat? When the red men slay game they do so that they live and not starve.”

Old Lady Horse, Kiowa, quoted in Lee Miller, From the Heart, page 229
“Everything the Kiowas had came from the buffalo. Our tipis were made of buffalo hides, so were our clothes and moccasins. We ate buffalo meat. Our containers were made of hide, or of bladders or stomachs. The buffalo were the life of the Kiowas.”

Mari Sandoz, The Buffalo Hunters, page 85
“Large private hunts could be arranged for people of sufficient importance or money. Several with important guests came out to hunt under the guidance of the Wild Bill Hickock of the romantic magazine and newspaper stories.”

Comanches, T R Fehrenbach page 523
“One hunter, Wylie Poe, who operated out of Fort McKavett, Texas, once killed ninety animals in a single stand without moving. Another famous hunter, Orlando “Brick” Bond, normally killed 250 beasts per day, keeping fifteen skinners busy in his wake.”

William Blackmore, an English traveller 1867, quoted in James Haley, The Buffalo War 1874, pages 23 and 24, Andrist page 181
“an almost unbroken herd of buffalo. The plains were blackened with them, and more than once the train had to stop to allow unusually large herds to pass.”

William Blackmore, an English traveller 1872, quoted in James Haley, The Buffalo War 1874, pages 23 and 24, Andrist page 181
“In 1872 we were never out of sight of the buffalo. In the following autumn, while travelling over the same district, whilst the whole country was whitened with bleached and bleaching bones, we did not meet with buffalo until we were well into Indian country, and then only in scattered bands…. There was a continual line of putrescent carcasses so that the air was rendered pestilential and offensive to the last degree. The hunters had formed a line of camps along the banks of the river (Arkansas) and had shot down the buffaloes, night and morning, as they came to drink. I counted sixty-seven carcasses in one spot covering four acres.”

James Haley, The Buffalo War 1874, page 27
“Colonel, if we cross into Texas, what will be the government’s attitude towards us?” Colonel Richard Irving Dodge’s answer made it abundantly clear: “Boys,” said the Colonel, “if I were a buffalo hunter, I would hunt where the buffalo are.”

General Philip Sheridan quoted in Lee Miller, From the Heart, page 228
“They (the hunters) have done more …to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army…. For the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalos are exterminated”

General Nelson Miles, Personal Recollection and Observations (1896)
Within a few years millions of buffalo were killed for their hides, and thousands of white men, the best rifle-shots in the world, were engaged in the business. The buffalo, like the Indian, was in the pathway of civilization. Now the same territory is occupied by innumerable numbers of domestic animals that contribute untold wealth to our entire country.

Buffalo Bill Cody, The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920)
The buffaloes were quite plenty, and it was agreed that we should go into the same herd at the same time and "make a run," as we called it, each one killing as many as possible. A referee was to follow each of us on horseback when we entered the herd, and count the buffaloes killed by each man. The St. Louis excursionists, as well as the other spectators, rode out to the vicinity of the hunting grounds in wagons and on horseback, keeping well out of sight of the buffaloes, so as not to frighten them, until the time came for us to dash into the herd; when they were to come up as near as they pleased and witness the chase.

At last the time came to begin the match. Comstock and I dashed into a herd, followed by the referees. The buffaloes separated; Comstock took the left bunch and I the right. My great forte in killing buffaloes from horseback was to get them circling by riding my horse at the head of the herd, shooting the leaders, thus crowding their followers to the left, till they would finally circle round and round.

On this morning the buffaloes were very accommodating, and I soon had them running in a beautiful circle, when I dropped them thick and fast, until I had killed thirty-eight; which finished my run.

Comstock began shooting at the rear of the herd, which he was chasing, and they kept straight on. He succeeded, however, in killing twenty-three, but they were scattered over a distance of three miles, while mine lay close together. I had "nursed" my buffaloes, as a billiard-player does the balls when he makes a big run.

George W. Brown, a buffalo hunter 1870-1874
"I used a big fifty calibre Sharps rifle. It shot a hundred and twenty grains of powder, and the bullets were an inch and a quarter long. When one of these big (slugs) would hit a buffalo, whether it hit the right place or not, it would make him sick. It wouldn't be long until I put another into him. I have often shot a buffalo ten or fifteen times before I got him down."

Teddy ‘Blue’ Abbot, a cowboy in the 1880s
"All this slaughter was a put up job on the part of the government to control Indians by getting rid of their food supply.........it was a low down dirty business."

Harper's Weekly December 12, 1874

Harper’s Weekly, SLAUGHTERED FOR THE HIDE December 12, 1874, page 1022
The vast plains west of the Missouri River are covered with the decaying bones of thousands of slain buffaloes. Most of them have been slaughtered for the hide by professional hunters, while many have fallen victims to the sportsmen’s rage for killing merely for the sake of killing. These people take neither hide nor flesh, but leave the whole carcass to decay and furnish food for the natural scavengers of the plains.

Our front-page illustration represents a party of professional hunters, numbering six or eight, who have come upon a large herd of buffaloes. The first shot brings down a splendid animal, wounded purposely in a manner not to kill but to make him "pump blood," that is to say, to bleed profusely. Others of the herd gather around their wounded comrade, and appear to be too much stupefied to avoid danger by flight. The hunters kill as many as they can, until the survivors at last take fright and gallop off.

Then the "stripping" begins. The hides are taken off with great skill and wonderful quickness, loaded on a wagon, as shown in the background of the picture, and carried to the hunters’ camp. Our artists spoke with the hunters on the plains who boasted of having killed two thousand head of buffalo apiece in one season. At this rate of slaughter, the buffalo must soon become extinct. Already there is a sensible diminution of the great herds on the plains, and from many places where they were once numerous they have disappeared altogether. Some of the railroads running far out into the prairies have regular trains for parties of amateur hunters, who fire upon their victims from the car windows. Thousands of buffalo were killed in this manner, besides other kinds of wild game, and their carcasses left to decay on the ground along the line of the railroad.

The indiscriminate slaughter of the buffalo has brought many evils in its train. Among other bad consequences it has been the direct occasion of many Indian wars. Deprived of one of their chief means of subsistence through the agency of white men, the tribes naturally take revenge by making raids on white settlements and carrying off stock, if they do not murder the settlers.

Using Sources: Starter: Put the above sources into order.

Using Sources: Main: Record which writers of the sources considered that the killing of the buffalo was a good thing and which considered that it was bad. Consider how you worked this out and record what information you have used from the source and what information about the author you have used.

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© Chris Smallbone March 2006