MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
BY J. STERLING MORTON
(Read before the Nebraska State Historical Society, January 10, 1899)
Among all the glowing and glorious autumns of the forty-odd which I have enjoyed in clear-skied Nebraska, the most delicious, dreamy, and tranquil was that of 1861. The first day of October in that year surpassed in purity of air, clouds, and coloring all the other October days in my whole life. The prairies were not a somber brown, but a gorgeous old-gold; and there drifted in the dry, crisp atmosphere lace-like fragments of opalescent clouds which later in the afternoon gave the horizon the look of a far-away ocean upon which one could see fairy ships, and upon its farther-away shores splendid castles, their minarets and towers tipped with gold. The indolence of savagery saturated every inhalation, and all physical exertion except in the hunt or chase seemed repellant (sic), irksome, and unendurable.
Then it was that - like an evolution from environment - the desire and impulse to go upon a buffalo hunt seized upon and held and encompassed and dominated every fibre of my physical, every ambition and aspiration of my mental, make-up. Controlled by this spontaneous reincarnation of the barbaric tastes and habits of some nomadic ancestor of a prehistoric generation, arrangements for an excursion to Fort Kearny on the Platte (Colonel Alexander, of the regular army, then in command) were completed. With food rations, tent and camping furniture, and arms and ammunition, and pipes and tobacco, and a few drops of distilled rye (to be used only when snakebitten), a light one-horse wagon drawn by a well- bred horse which was driven by the writer, was early the next morning leaving Arbor Lodge, and briskly speeding westward on the "Overland Trail" leading to California. And what rare roads there were in those buoyant days of the pioneers! All the prairies, clear across the plains from the Missouri river to the mountains, were perfectly paved with solid, tough, but elastic219
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sod. And no asphalt or block-paved avenue or well-worked pike, can give the responsive pressure to the touch of a human foot or a horse-hoof that came always from those smooth and comely trails. Especially in riding on horseback were the felicities of those primitive prairie roads emphasized and accentuated. Upon them one felt the magnetism and life of his horse; they animated and electrified him with the vigor and spirit of the animal until in elation, the rider became, at least emotionally, a centaur - a semi-horse human. The invigoration and exaltation of careering over undulating prairies on a beautiful, speedy, and spirited horse thrilled every sense and satisfied, as to exhilaration, by physical exercise, the entire mental personality. Nature's roads in Nebraska are unequaled by any of their successors.
This excursion was in a wagon without springs; and after driving alone, as far as the Weeping Water crossing, I overtook an ox train loaded with goods and supplies for Gilman's ranch on the Platte away beyond Fort Kearny.
One of the proprietors, Mr. Jed Gilman, was in command of the outfit, and by his cordial and hospitable invitation I became his willing and voracious guest for the noonday meal. With a township for a dining room over which arched the turquoise-colored sky, like a vaulted ceiling, frescoed with clouds of fleecy white, we sat down upon our buffalo robes to partake of a hearty meal. There was no white settler within miles of our camp. The cry of "Dinner is now ready in the next car" had never been heard west of the Mississippi river nor even dreamed of in the East. The bill of fare was substantial: bacon fried, hot bread, strong coffee, stronger raw onions, and roasted potatoes. And the appetite which made all exquisitely palatable and delicious descended to us out of the pure air and the exhilaration of perfect health. And then came the post-prandial pipe - how fragrant and solacing its fumes - from Virginia natural leaf, compared to which the exhalations from a perfecto cigar are today a disagreeable stench. There was then the leisure to smoke, the liberty and impulse to sing, to whoop, and to generally simulate the savages into whose hunting grounds we were making an excursion. Life lengthened out before us like the Overland route to the Pacific in undulations of continuously rising hillocks and from the summit of each one scaled we raw a similarly attractive one beyond in a seemingly never-ending
MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
pathway of pleasure, ambition, and satisfaction. The gold of the Pacific coast was not more real then than the invisible possibilities of life, prosperity, success, and contentment which were to teem, thrive, and abound upon these prairies which seemed only farms asleep or like thoughts unuttered - books unopened.
But the smoke over, the oxen again yoked to the wagons and the train, like a file of huge white beetles, lumbered along to the songs, swearing, and whip-crackings of the drivers toward the crossing of Salt creek. However, by my persuasive insistence, Mr. Gilman left his wagon boss in charge and getting into my wagon accompanied me. Together we traveled briskly until quite late at night when we made camp at a point near where the town of Wahoo now stands. There was a rough ranch cabin there, and we remained until the following morning, when we struck out at a brisk trot toward Fort Kearny, entering the Platte Valley at McCabe's ranch. The day and the road were perfect. We made good time. At night we were entertained at Warfield's, on the Platte. The water in the well there was too highly flavored to be refreshing. Nine skunks had been lifted out of it the day of our arrival and only Platte river water could be had, which we found rather stale for having been hauled some distance in an old sorghum cask. But fatigue and a square meal are an innocent opiate and we were soon fast asleep under the open sky with the moon and stars only to hear how loudly a big ranchman cam snore in a bedroom of a million or more acres. In the morning of our third day out, we were up, breakfasted with the sunrise, and drove on over the then untried railroad bed of the Platte Valley at a rattling gait. The stanch and speedy animal over which the reins were drawn, a splendid bay of gentle birth, had courage and endurance by heredity, and thus we made time. Ranches were from twenty to thirty miles apart. And the night of the third day found us at Mabin's.
This was a hotel, feed barn, dry goods establishment, and saloon all under one roof, about thirty miles from Fort Kearny. After a reasonably edible supper, Mr. Gilman and I were escorted to the saloon and informed that we could repose and possibly sleep in the aisle which divided it from the granary which was filled with oats. Our blankets and buffalo robes were soon spread out in this narrow pathway. On our right were about two hundred bushels of oats in bulk, and on our left the counter
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which stood before variously shaped bottles containing alleged gin, supposed whiskey, and probable brandy. We had not been long in a recumbent position before - instead of sleep gently creeping over us - we experienced that we were race courses and grazing grounds for innumerable myriads of sand fleas. Immediately Gilman insisted that we should change our apartment and go out on the prairies near a haystack; but I stubbornly insisted that, as the fleas had not bitten me, I would continue indoors. Thereupon Gilman incontinently left, and then the fleas with vicious vigor and voracity assaulted me. The bites were sharp, they were incisive and decisive. They came in volleys. Then in wrath I too arose from that lowly but lively couch between the oats and the bar and sullenly went out under the starlit sky to find Mr. Gilman energetically whipping his shirt over a wagon wheel to disinfest it from fleas. But the sand fleas of the Platte are not easily discharged or diverted, from a fair and juicy victim. They have a wonderful tenacity of purpose. They trotted and hopped and skipped along behind us to the haystack. They affectionately and fervidly abided with us on the prairie; and it is safe to say that there never were two human beings more thoroughly perforated, more persistently punctured with flea bites than were the two guests at Mabins's ranch during all that long and agonizing night. However, there came an end to the darkness and the attempt at sleep, and after an early breakfast we resumed the Fort Kearny journey to arrive at its end in the late afternoon of the fourth day.
There I found Colonel Alexander, of the regular army, in command. John Heth, of Virginia, was the sutler for the post and after some consultation and advisement it was determined that we might without much danger from Indians go south to the Republican river for a buffalo hunt. At that time the Cheyennes, who were a bloodthirsty tribe, were in arms against the white people and yearning for their scalps wherever found. But to avoid or mitigate dangers Colonel Alexander considerately detailed Lieutenant Bush with twelve enlisted men, all soldiers of experience in the Indian country, to go with us to the Republican Valley as an escort or guard - in military parlance, on detached service. Thus our party moved southward with ample force of arms for its defense.
MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
The four hunters of the expedition were Lieutenant Bush, John Heth, John Talbot (who had been honorably discharged from the regular army after some years of service) and myself. The excursion was massed and ready for departure at 8 o'clock on the bright morning of October 6, 1861. The course taken was nearly due south from the present site of Kearney city in Buffalo county. The expedition consisted of two large army wagons, four mules attached to each wagon, a light, two-horse, spring wagon, and four trained riding horses experienced in the chase, together with twelve soldiers of the regular U. S. army and the gentlemen already named. It had not traveled more than twenty-five miles south of Fort Kearny before it came in view of an immense and seemingly uncountable herd of buffalo.
My first sight of these primitive beeves of the plains I shall never forget. They were so distant that I could not make out their individual forms and I at once jumped to the conclusion that they were only an innumerable lot of crows sitting about upon the knobs and hillocks of the prairies. But in a few moments, when we came nearer, they materialized and were, sure enough, real bellowing, snorting, wallowing buffaloes. At first they appeared to give no heed to our outfit, but after we saddled and mounted our horses and rode into their midst they began to scatter and to form into small bands, single file. The herd separated into long, black swaying strings and each string was headed by the best meat among its numbers. The leading animal was generally a three-year-old cow. Each of these strings, or single-file bands, ran in a general southeast direction and each of the four hunters - Bush, Heth, Talbot, and the writer - selected a string and went for the preëminent animal with enthusiasm, zeal, and impulsive foolhardiness.
In the beginning of the pell-mell, hurry-scurry race it seemed that it would be very easy to speedily overtake the desired individual buffalo that we intended to shoot and kill. The whole band seemed to run leisurely. They made a sort of sidewise gait, a movement such as one often sees in a dog running ahead of a wagon on a country road. Upon the level prairie we made very perceptible gains upon them, but when a declivity was reached and we made a down hill gallop we were obliged to rein in and hold up the horses, or take the chances of a broken leg or neck by being ditched in a badger or wolf hole. But the
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buffaloes with their heavy shoulders and huge hair-matted heads lumbered along down the incline with great celerity, gaining so much upon us that every now and then one of them would drop out from the line upon reaching an attractive depression, roll over two or three times in his "wallow," jump up and join his fleeing fellows before we could reach him.
But finally after swinging and swaying hither and thither with the band or line as it swayed and swung, the lead animal was reached and with much exultation and six very nervous shots put to death. My trophy proved to be a buffalo cow of two or three years of age; and after she had dropped to the ground, a nimble calf, about three months old, evidently her progeny, began making circles around and around the dead mother and bleating pitifully, enlarging the circle each time, until at last it went out of sight onto the prairie and alone, all the other parts of the herd having scattered beyond the rising bluffs and far away.
That afternoon was fuller of tense excitement, savage enthusiasms, zeal and barbaric ambition than any other that could be assorted from my life of more than sixty years. There was a certain amount of ancestral heathenism aroused in every man, spurring a horse to greater swiftness, in that chase for large game. And there was imperial exultation of the primitive barbaric instinct when the game fell dead and its whooping captors surrounded its breathless carcass.
But the wastefulness of the buffalo hunter of those days was wicked beyond description and, because of its utter recklessness of the future, wholly unpardonable. Only the hump, ribs, the tongue, and perhaps now and then one hind-quarter were saved for use from each animal. The average number of pounds of meat saved from each buffalo killed between the years 1860 and 1870 would not exceed twenty. In truth, thousands of buffaloes were killed merely to get their tongues and pelts. The inexcusable and unnecessary extermination of those beef-producing and very valuable fur-bearing animals only illustrates the extravagance of thoughtlessness and mental nearsightedness in the American people when dealing with practical and far-reaching questions. It also demonstrates, in some degree, the incapacity of the ordinary every-day law-makers of the United States. Game laws have seldom been enacted in any of the states before the virtual extinction of the game they purposed to protect.
MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
Here in Nebraska among big game were many hundreds of thousands of buffaloes, tens of thousands of elk and deer and antelope, while among smaller game the wild turkey and the prairie chicken were innumerable. But today Nebraska game is practically extinct. Even the prairie chicken and the wild turkey are seldom found anywhere along the Missouri bluffs in the southern and eastern part of the commonwealth.
Looking back: what might have been accomplished for the conservation of game in the trans-Missouri country is suggested so forcibly that one wonders at the stupendous stupidity which indolently permitted its destruction.
The first night outward and southeastward from Fort Kearny we came to Turkey creek which empties into the Republican river. There, after dark, tents were pitched at a point near the place where the government in previous years established kilns and burned lime for the use of soldiers in building quarters for themselves and the officers at Fort Kearny which was constructed in 1847 by Stewart L. Van Vliet, now a retired brigadier general and the oldest living graduate of West Point. After a sumptuous feast of buffalo steak, a strong pint of black coffee and a few pipes of good tobacco, our party retired; sleep came with celerity and the camp was peacefully at rest, with the exception of two regular soldiers who stood guard until 12 o'clock, and were then relieved by two others who kept vigil until sunrise. At intervals I awoke during the night and listened to the industrious beavers building dams on the creek. They were shoveling mud with their trowel-shaped tails into the crevices of their dams with a constantly-resounding slapping and splashing all night. The architecture of the beaver is not unlike that which follows him and exalts itself in the chinked and daubed cabins of the pioneers.
The darkness was followed by a dawn of beauty and breakfast came soon thereafter, and for the first time my eyes looked out upon the attractive, fertile and beautiful valley of the Republican river. All that delightful and invigorating day we zealously hunted. We found occasionally small bands of buffaloes here and there among the bluffs and hills along the valley of the Republican. But these animals were generally aged and of inferior quality. Besides such hunting, we found a great quantity of blue-winged and green-winged teal in the waters of
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the Republican and bagged not a few of them. There is no water-fowl, in my judgment, not even the redheaded duck and canvasback duck, which excels in delicate tissue and flavor the delicious teal.
Just a little before sundown, on the third day of our encampment, by the bluffs land of the Republican, Lieutenant Bush and Mr. Heth in one party, and John Talbot and I in another, were exploring the steep, wooded bluffs which skirted the valley. The timber growing at that time on the sides of these bluffs was, much of it, of very good size and I shall never forget going down a precipitous path along the face of a hill and suddenly coming upon a strange and ghastly sight among the top limbs and branches of an oak tree which sprang from the rich soil of a lower level. The weird object which then impressed itself upon my memory forever was a dead Indian sitting upright in a sort of wicker-work coffin which was secured by thongs to the main trunk of the tree. The robe with which he had been clothed had been torn away by buzzards and only the denuded skeleton sat there. The bleached skull leered and grinned at me as though the savage instinct to repulse an intruder from their hunting grounds still lingered in the fleshless head. Perfectly I recall the long scalp-lock, floating in the wind, and the sense of dread and repellant (sic) fear which, for the startled moment, took possession of me in the presence of this arborially interred Indian whose remains had been stored away in a tree-top instead of having been buried in the ground.
Not long after this incident we four came together again down in the valley at a great plum orchard. The plum trees covered an area of several acres; they stood exceedingly close together. The frosts had been just severe enough to drop the fruit onto the ground. Never before nor since have my eyes beheld or my palate tasted as luscious fruit as those large yellow and red plums which were found that afternoon lying in bushels in the valley of the Republican. While we were all seated upon the ground eating plums and praising their succulence and flavor we heard the click-cluck of a turkey. Immediately we laid ourselves flat upon the earth and in the course of ten minutes beheld a procession of at least seventy- five wild turkeys feeding upon plums. We remained moveless and noiseless until those turkeys had flown up into the tall cottonwood trees standing
MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
thereabouts and gone to roost. Then after darkness had settled down upon the face of the earth we faintly discerned the black forms or hummocks of fat turkeys all through the large and leafless limbs of the cottonwoods which had been nearly defoliated by the early frosts of October. It required no deft markmanship or superior skill to bring down forty of those birds in a single evening. That number we took into camp. In quick time we had turkey roasted, turkey grilled, turkey broiled; and never have I since eaten any turkey so well flavored, so juicy and rich, as that fattened upon the wild plums of the Republican Valley in the year 1861.
At last, surfeited with hunting and its successes, we set out on our return to Fort Kearny. When about half way across the divide, a sergeant, one of the moat experienced soldiers and plainsmen of the party, declared that he saw a small curl of smoke in the hazy distance and a little to the west and south of us. To my untrained eye the smoke was at first invisible, but with a field glass I ultimately discerned a delicate little blue thread hanging in the sky, which the soldiers pronounced smoke ascending from an Indian camp. Readjusting the glasses I soon made out to see three Indians stretched by the fire seemingly asleep, while two were sitting by the embers apparently cooking, eating and drinking. Very soon, however, the two feasters espied our wagons and party. Immediately they came running on foot to meet us; the other three, awaking, followed them; speedily they were in our midst. They proved, however, to be peaceful Pawnees. Mr. John Heth spoke the language of that tribe and I shall never forget the coolness with which these representatives of that nomadic race informed him that Mrs. Heth and his little two-years-of-age daughter, Minnie, were in good health in their wigwam at Fort Kearny; they were sure of it because they had looked into the window of the Heth home the day before and saw them eating and drinking their noonday meal.
These Indians then expressed a wish for some turkey feathers. They were told to help themselves. Immediately they pulled out a vast number of the large feathers of the wings and tails and decorated their own heads with them. The leader of the aboriginal expedition, in conversation with Mr. Heth, informed him that although they were on foot they carried the lariats
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which we saw hanging from their arms for the purpose of hitching onto and annexing some Cheyenne ponies which they were going south to steal. They walked away from home, but intended to ride back. The barbaric commander in charge of this larcenous expedition was named "The Fox," and when questioned by Mr. Heth as to the danger of the enterprise, and informed that he might probably lose his life and get no ponies at all, Captain Fox smiled and said grimly that he knew he should ride back to the Pawnee village on the Loup the owner of good horses; that only a year or two before that time he had been alone down into the Cheyenne village and got a great many horses safely out and up onto the Loup fork among the Pawnees without losing a single one. "The Fox" admitted, however, that even in an expedition so successful as the one which he recalled there were a great many courage-testing inconveniences and annoyances. But he dwelt particularly upon the fact that the Cheyennes always kept their ponies in a corral which was in the very center of their village. The huts, habitations, tipis, and wigwams of the owners of the ponies were all constructed around their communal corral in a sort of a circle, but "The Fox" said that he nevertheless, in his individual excursion of which he proudly boasted, crawled during the middle of the night in among the ponies and was about to slip a lariat on the bell-mare without her stirring, when she gave a little jump, and the bell on her neck rang out pretty loudly. Then he laid down in the center of the herd and kept still, very still, while the horses walked over him and tramped upon him until he found it very unpleasant. But very soon he saw and heard some of the Cheyennes come out and look and walk about to see if anything was wrong. Then he said he had to stay still and silent under the horses' hoofs and make no noise, or die and surely be scalped. At last, however, the Cheyennes, one after another, all went back into their wigwams to sleep, and then he very slowly and without a sound took the bell off from the mare, put his lariat on her neck quietly, led her out and all the herd of Cheyenne ponies followed. He never stopped until he was safe up north of the Platte river and had all his equine spoils safe in the valley of the Loup fork going towards the Pawnee village where Genoa now stands.
MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
The Fox was an "expansionist" and an annexationist out of sympathy for the oppressed ponies of the Cheyennes.
"The Fox" declared that the number of horses he made requisition for at that time on the stables of the Cheyennes was three hundred. At this statement some incredulity was shown by Mr. Heth, myself, and some others present. Immediately "The Fox" threw back his woolen blanket which was ornamented on the inside with more than two hundred small decorative designs of horses. Among the Pawnees, and likewise, if I remember rightly, among the Otoes and Omahas, robes and blankets were thus embellished and so made to pass current as real certificates of a choice brand of character for their wearers. Each horse depicted on the robe was notice that the owner and wearer had stolen such horse. Finally, after expressions of friendship and good will, the expedition in charge of "The Fox" bade us adieu and briskly walked southward on their mission for getting horses away from their traditional enemies.
It is perhaps worth while to mention that, it being in the autumn of the year, all these Indians were carefully and deftly arrayed in autumn-colored costumes. Their blankets, head-gear and everything else were the color of dead and dried prairie grass. This disguise was for the purpose of making themselves as nearly indistinguishable as possible on the brown surface of the far-stretching plains. For then the weeds and grasses had all been bleached by the fall frosts. We were given an exhibition of the nearly perfect invisibleness of "The Fox" by his taking a position near a badger hole around which a lot of tall weeds had grown upon the prairie, and really the almost exact similitude of coloring which he had cunningly reproduced in his raiment made him even at a short distance indistinguishable among the faded weeds and grasses by which he was surrounded. In due time we reached Fort Kearny and after a pleasant and most agreeable visit with Mr. Heth and his family, Colonel Alexander and Lieutenant Bush, I pushed on alone for the Missouri river, by the North Platte route, bringing home with me two or three turkeys and a quarter of buffalo meat.
About the second evening, as I remember it, I arrived at the agency of the four bands of the Pawnee on the Loup fork of the Platte river, near where the village of Genoa in Nance county
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now stands. Judge Gillis of Pennsylvania was the U. S. government agent then in charge of that tribe, and Mr. Allis was his interpreter. There I experienced the satisfaction of going leisurely and observingly through the villages of the four bands of Pawnees, which there made their habitation. The names of the four confederate bands of Pawnee Indians were Grand Pawnee, Wolf Pawnee, Republican Pawnee, and Tapage Pawnee. At that time they all together numbered between four thousand and five thousand.
Distinguished among them for fearlessness and impetuous courage and constant success in war was an Indian who had been born with his left hand so shrunken and shriveled that it looked like the contracted claw of a bird. He was celebrated among all the tribes of the plains as "Crooked Hand, the Fighter." Hearing me express a wish for making the acquaintance of this famous warrior and scalp accumulator, Judge Gillis and Mr. Allis kindly volunteered to escort me to his domicile and formally introduce me. We took the trail which lay across Beaver creek up into the village. This village was composed of very large, earthen, mound-like wigwams. From a distance they looked like a number of great kettles turned wrong side up on the prairie. Finally we came to the entrance of the abode of Crooked Hand. He was at home. I was presented to him by the interpreter, Mr. Allis. Through him, addressing the tawny hero who stood before me, I said:
It has come to my ears that you are and always have been a very brave man in battle. Therefore I have made a long journey to see you and to shake the hand of a great warrior.
This seemed to suit his bellicose eminence and to appeal to his barbaric vanity. Consequently I continued, saying: I hear that you have skilfully killed a great many Sioux and that you have kept the scalp of each warrior slain by you. If this be true, I wish you would show me these trophies of your courage and victories?
Immediately Crooked Hand reached under a sort of rude settee and pulled out a very cheap traveling trunk, which was locked. Then taking a string from around his neck he found the key thereunto attached, inserted it in the lock, turned it, and with gloating satisfaction threw back the lid of the trunk. It is fair to state that, notwithstanding Mr. Crooked Hand's per-
MY LAST BUFFALO HUNT
sonal adornments in the way of paint, earrings, and battle mementoes (sic), he was evidently not a man of much personal property, for the trunk contained not one other portable thing except a string of thirteen scalps. This he lifted out with his right hand and held up before me as a connoisseur would exhibit a beautiful cameo - with intense satisfaction and self-praise expressed in his features.
The scalps were not large, averaging not much more in circumference than a silver dollar (before the crime of 1873). Each scalp was big enough to firmly and gracefully retain the scalplock which its original possessor had nourished. Each scalp was neatly lined with flaming red flannel and encircled by and stitched to a willow twig just as boys so stretch and preserve squirrel skins. Then there was a strong twine which ran through the center of each of the thirteen scalps leaving a space of something like three or four inches between each two.
After looking at these ghastly certificates of prowess in Indian warfare I said to the possessor: "Do you still like to go into fights with the Sioux?" He replied hesitatingly:
"Yes, I go into the fights with the Sioux but I stay only until I can kill one man, get his scalp and get out of the battle."
Then I asked: "Why do you do this way now, and so act differently from the fighting plans of your earlier years when you remained to the end of the conflict?" Instantly he replied and gave me this aboriginal explanation:
"You see, my friend, I have only one life. To me death must come only once. But I have taken thirteen lives. And now when I go into battle there are thirteen chances of my being killed to one of my coming out of the fight alive."
This aboriginal application of the doctrine of chance is equally as reasonable as some of the propositions relating to chances found in "Hedges' Logic," which I studied in the regular college course. There is more excuse for a savage faith in chance than can be made for the superstitious belief in it which is held by some civilized people.
My last buffalo hunt was finished and its trophies and its choicest memories safely stored for exhibition or reminiscence at Arbor Lodge. More than thirty-seven years afterwards I am permitted this evening by your indulgence and consideration to attempt faintly to portray the country and its primitive condi-
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tion at that time in that particular section of Nebraska which is now Franklin county.
But in concluding this discursive and desultory narrative I cannot refrain from referring to and briefly descanting on another and an earlier and larger expedition into the valley of the Republican which set out from Mexico in the year 1540 under the command of Coronado.
That explorer was undoubtedly the first white man to visit Nebraska. In his report to the Spanish government is a description of buffalo which for graphic minuteness and correctness has never been excelled. Thus it pictures them as they appeared to him and his followers more than three hundred and fifty years ago:
"These oxen are of the bigness and color of our bulls, but their horns are not so great. They have a great bunch upon their foreshoulders, and more hair upon their fore-part than on their hinder-part; and it is like wool. They have, as it were, a horse mane upon their back bone, and much hair, and very long from the knees downward. They have great tufts of hair hanging down their foreheads, and it seemeth they have beards, because of the great store of hair hanging down at their chins and throats. The males have very long tails, and a great knob or flock at the end, so that in some respects they resemble the lion, and in some other the camel. They push with their horns, they run, they overtake and kill a horse when they are in their rage and anger. Finally, it is a fierce beast of countenance and form of body. The horses fled from them, either because of their deformed shape, or because they had never seen them before. Their masters [meaning no doubt the Indians] have no other riches or substance; of them they eat, they drink, they apparel, they shoe themselves; and of their hides they make many things, as houses, shoes, apparel and robes; of their bones they make bodkins; of their sinews and hair, thread; of their horns, maws and bladders, vessels; of their dung, fire; and of their calf skins, budgets, wherein they draw and keep water. To be short, they make so many things of them as they have need of, or as may suffice them in the use of this life."
It is perhaps a work of supererogation for me after the lapse of three and a half centuries to endorse and verify the accuracy of that word picture of the buffalo. A photograph of the great
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herd which I rode into during my hunt could hardly better convey to the mind the images of buffalo. The hundreds of years intervening between my own excursion into the valley of the Republican and the invasion of Coronado had neither impaired, improved, nor perceptibly changed either the buffalo or the soil of that fertile section now comprising the county of Franklin in the state of Nebraska. Of that immediate propinquity Coronado said: "The place I have reached is in the fortieth degree of latitude. The earth is the best possible for all kinds of productions of Spain, for while it is very strong and black, it is very well watered by brooks, springs and rivers. I found prunes" [wild plums, no doubt, just as my party and the wild turkeys were feasting upon in October, 1861] "like those of Spain, some of which are black; also some excellent grapes and mulberries."
And Jaramillo, who was with Coronado, says: "This country has a superb appearance, and such that I have not seen better in all Spain, neither in Italy nor France, nor in any other country where I have been in the service of your majesty. It is not a country of mountains; there are only some hills, some plains and some streams of very fine water. It satisfies me completely. I presume that it is very fertile and favorable for the cultivation of all kinds of fruits."
And this land whence the Coronado expedition upon foot retraced its march to Old Mexico, a distance, by the trail he made, of 3,230 miles, was in latitude forty degrees and distant westward from the Missouri about one hundred and forty miles. Geographically, topographically, and in every other way, the description of Franklin and the neighborhood of Riverton in that county.
Here then in Franklin county it is recorded that the last horse belonging to Coronado and his band of precious-metal hunters died. At that time all the horses on this continent had been imported. The loss of this animal that day at that place was like the loss today of a man-of-war for Spain in a great naval conflict with the United States. It was discouraging and overwhelming and resulted in the relinquishment of further exploration for the land of Quivera --- the home of gold and silver --- and the return to Old Mexico. There was no use for saddles, bridles and other equestrian trappings, for with no horse to
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
ride even stirrups were thrown a-way, and it has been the good fortune of Nebraska to have them exhumed after a sequestration of more than three centuries.
And thus, after so many years of delay, I give you the story of the first buffalo hunt and the last buffalo hunt in the Republican Valley concerning which I am competent to make statement.
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller