Buffalo Story by
The Master of the Herd.
Photographed from life. From Forest and Stream.
On the last day of September, 1871, I joined my regiment, then in camp
near Fort Hays, Kansas. At that time the different troops of the
regiment had not been assigned to their winter quarters. My own was on
its way north from Texas, where it had been stationed since the close of
the war. I was extremely anxious to learn what its destination was, for
I had never killed any of the large game of the country; in fact, had
never fired a rifle except at a target. Should my troop be ordered to
Fort Riley, or Fort Harker, east of Fort Hays, or to Fort Dodge, south
of Hays, I feared that my chance of meeting with large game would be
doubtful. To my great delight, however, I found that my assignment was
to Fort Lyon, situated on the northern bank of the Arkansas River in
On October 12 about 10 a. m., we broke camp and took up our line of
march for the west, following the old Smoky Hill stage-route. The
autumn thus far had been very mild. The great migration of the buffalo
to their winter range in Texas had not yet begun, and I had some
lingering doubts as to whether we might not reach our destination before
the head of their column would cross our road. We had gone only about
ten miles from camp, however, when I espied a solitary old bull, and
instantly I was all excitement, to the great amusement of my companions.
Taking an orderly from the ranks, I put spurs to my horse, and was soon
in hot pursuit of this decrepit outcast. This was sport new both to my
horse and myself. We were both excited and equally timid. At a range of
fifty yards, or more, I emptied my revolver at the poor, tottering, old
body, and a chance shot hit him and brought him to bay. It was now his
turn to take up the chase. With some difficulty I recharged my weapon,
and one or two more shots brought my first buffalo to earth. He was old
and lean and mangy, and yet I was loath to allow one pound of his flesh
to be wasted, and wanted to carry it all back to camp. The orderly
said, with a cynical smile, "Lieutenant, he ain't no good to eat, but
you might take his tongue." His smile was changed to smothered laughter
when he saw me attempting to carve up the corners of the animal's mouth
in order to take the tongue out between the teeth. He dismounted, and
with a single cut beneath the under jaw showed me how to take out the
As evening came on, small groups of buffalo were seen dotting the plain.
At sunrise we saw hundreds where the night before there had been only
dozens. From this point on to Fort Wallace, we were never out of sight
of these nomads of the "Great American Desert." From the higher points
of our route, when the horizon was distant from ten to twenty miles,
hundreds of thousands were visible at the same instant. They were not
bunched together as cattle are, in droves, but were spread out with
great regularity over the entire face of the land.
On the third day of our march, a severe snow-storm set in, accompanied
by a fierce north wind—a genuine "norther." This night we were
compelled to leave the road and go to the Smoky Hill River for water.
We made our camp at the mouth of a small ravine that led down to the
stream through the bluffs, which there form its banks. Millions of
buffalo were driven before the storm, and, being prevented by the high
banks of the river from crossing either above or below this point, were
huddled together in a dense mass which threatened to overwhelm our
little command. By placing our camp a little to one side of this living
tide, and under the friendly shelter of the bluff, we passed the night
in security, while the countless horde kept up its ceaseless tramp.
For six days we continued our way through this enormous herd, during the
last three of which it was in constant motion across our path. I am safe
in calling this a single herd, and it is impossible to approximate the
millions that composed it. At times they pressed before us in such
numbers as to delay the progress of our column, and often a belligerent
bull would lower and shake his shaggy head at us as we passed him a few
feet distant. Of course our fare was principally buffalo meat during
this trip, and killing them soon ceased to be a sport.
The next year—the winter of '72 and '73—this herd, during its
southward migration, extended as far west as Fort Lyon, or some seventy
miles farther west than its route of previous years. It was probably
driven to this course by the extension westward of settlements in Kansas
and Nebraska. This was the last great migration of the southern herd of
buffalo. Millions and millions were killed this season, and their hides
and tongues shipped east over the Union Pacific, Kansas Pacific, and
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé railroads, and this leads me to the short
story I have to tell.
The winter had been especially severe. The entire country north of the
Arkansas valley was deeply covered with snow, while the valley itself
was comparatively open. The quarters in which I lived faced the south.
The yard in the rear of my house was inclosed by a board fence about
seven feet high, and a wide gate afforded means for entrance.
One night, in the late winter, or early spring, the region was visited
by one of those terrific storms for which this section is so justly
celebrated. The wind blew with a violence such as I had never before
experienced, the air was filled with drifting snow, and the temperature
was in the neighborhood of zero.
About the break of dawn I was awakened by my servant, who said to me:
"Lieutenant, the wind blew your back gate open last night, and a buffalo
has come in and taken refuge under the shelter of the fence."
It was only necessary for me to raise myself in bed and look out of the
window, which was at its foot, to verify this fact. I directed that my
gun and a few cartridges should be brought me, and while my servant held
up the window, I, still lying in bed, gave this solitary old bull a
broadside at fifty yards range. At the salutation, he started out
through the gate, and before I could reload, was out of sight behind the
fence, so I rolled over to resume my morning's nap.
Two or three hours later, word was brought me that I had killed the
buffalo, and that his body was lying about two hundred yards back on the
plain. I went out to him and took his tongue as my reward. Investigation
showed that I had shot him through the lungs, and that he had been able
to go thus far before succumbing to his mortal wound.
Poor, miserable, old tramp! He had evidently been driven out of the herd
to die, having become a useless member of its society, and in killing
him I spared him a few days of further suffering, and scored a record of
buffalo-killing rarely or never paralleled.
George S. Anderson.