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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
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Plight of the Buffalo

James Fulton was erecting a house, the third to be built in Garden City. It was a nice day in November, 1878, and two men were on the roof shingling, when one of them paused to glance over the prairie. This was an uncontrolled habit of the isolated bands of pioneers. They were always watching the horizon, hoping for something to appear which would break the monotony of the blank prairie which so completely surrounded them. To the northeast, about two or three miles, the shingler noticed a number of objects which appeared to be little haycocks moving up and down on the grassy slopes. He called attention to his discovery and all the men of the town climbed up on the building to get a view of the unusual sight. At his first glance, W. D. Fulton shouted, "buffalo" although all that could be seen was the shaggy humps.

 

The herd was feeding slowly, and was headed toward the river. The animals advanced majestically from the higher prairie down into the valley, seemingly unaware that man was laying the foundation of a city on one of their favorite feeding grounds. On came the shaggy monsters, numbering twenty-eight. It was a grand sight and one never to be witnessed again in Finney county. But the men on the roof were thrilled at the prospect of a big game hunt, and wasted no time in gazing at the scene. In a short time they were off after the buffalo. Mr. Fulton had a fine saddle mare and John Stevens had a speedy young stallion. They rode in advance while Farlow Weeks and some others followed with a wagon to bring back the game.

The chase lasted into the night, but when Weeks returned he had two fat cows in his wagon. Fulton shot both of the cows, although every one knew Stevens was the best shot. But then, John Stevens, that stalwart young Swede, was hoping to be Fulton's son-in-law, and so . . . well, "Uncle Billy" shot both the cows, and no one ever voiced any doubts about the matter. The fresh meat was a treat to the settlers and lasted several weeks. The last buffalo seen in Finney county was in the spring of 1879. On the 24th day of April a small herd came in sight of Garden City. C. J. Jones set out after them alone. After riding several miles, his horse stepped in a prairie dog hole, and injured his leg. Mr. Jones had to abandon the chase and walked back to town, leading his horse.

On June 5, 1879, Wm. Moore, who lived north of Garden City, discovered several buffalo grazing not far from his house. He got his gun and shot at one, but the whole herd turned on him and ran him into the house, and then walked quietly off.

One of the most noted buffalo hunts in Southwestern Kansas occurred in October, 1879, and the following account of it appeared in a Topeka paper: "Through the invitation of C. J. Jones of Garden City, Governor St. John, accompanied by Dr. Parker of Independence, Missouri; Col. D. C. Smith of Normal, Illinois, and Mayor Shreeve of Topeka, arrived in Garden City October 8. They were joined by C. J. Jones, an old frontiersman who is well versed in the ways of 'roughing it' on the plains. Many a buffalo has unwillingly responded to the crack of his trusty Creedmoor. "They went immediately to Lakin, where they overtook Captain J. R. Fulton, one of the most noted buffalo hunters of the plains. He is a brave man and they had confidence in his ability to protect them against the bloodthirsty Red Devils that come down on hunters, when least expected, to retaliate for killing 'Red Man's cattle'. The story is told how Captain Fulton once bluffed the noted chief 'Big Bow' and two hundred warriors. The chief stood over the captain with drawn knife, ready to plunge it to the hilt, but the Captain looked him in the eye, laid bare his breast, and dared him to commit the deed. The Captain is one of a thousand who can look an Indian out of countenance.

"From Lakin, the party drove about eighty miles northwest, where they found plenty of bufFalo, antelope and other wild game. The Governor proved himself equal to the occasion, and many a wild beast yielded to the crack of his rifle. Dr. Parker won the laurels by killing the giant buffalo of the plains. It was laughable to see the doctor mount the beast as soon as it fell, and hear him explain, 1 always knew I had religion, now I know it.' Had we space we could give a sketch of the party creeping on all fours up to a dead buffalo and two wolves, mistaking it for a buffalo cow and twin calves. "After enjoying the charms of the plains for ten days, the distinguished party arrived at Hawley's Station on the Santa Fe railroad, just west of the Kansas line. This was the first house or anything like civilization since leaving Lakin, ten days previously. The party flagged the train at 8 p.m. and as they stepped on the platform of the front coach, they were covered by four guards, all armed with Winchester rifles, who mistook the governor's party for train robbers. The hunters surrendered, and the facts were soon made known, and the train was again rolling down the Arkansas river valley.

"They all stopped off at Garden City and were guests of Mr. Jones. After spending the day hunting antelope and jack rabbits, the Governor's party left for their homes, delighted with their trip."

 

Gone are all the buffalo that once ranged in Western Kansas, except the small herd which is kept in the game preserve. They of all the animals were best constructed to endure the fitful climate of this region. Their heavy robes protected them from the terrible blizzards when all other animal life perished. Gone forever are those grand old monarchs of the prairie, they, and all evidences of their habitation have been erased from the Great Plains by the hand of civilized man. Even their very bones have been carted away; their trails and wallows have been leveled by the "sod busters", but their memory will always be a fixed feature in the early romance of Southwest Kansas.

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