Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Breakfast over, the day's work was planned out. We were desirous of loading one of our wagons with game, and sending it back to Hays, from whence the meat could be forwarded by express to distant friends, and serve as tidings from camp, of "all's well." The other wagon we decided to keep with us. Horseback hunting, although fine sport, evidently would not, in our hands, prove sufficiently expeditious in procuring meat.

Our guide adduced another argument as follows: "Yer see, gents, if yer want ter ship meat by rail, it won't do ter run it eight or ten miles, like a fox, and git it all heated up. Ther jints must be cool, or they'll spile." Stalking the bison was to be our day's sport, therefore, and we were speedily off, taking only the two wagons, the riding animals being all left in camp. Shamus prepared a lunch for us, as we did not expect to return for dinner before dusk.

Following the same route as the day before, we soon ascended the Saline "breaks," and emerged on the plains above. Looking to us as if they had not changed position for twenty-four hours, the buffalo herds still covered the face of the country, busy as ever in their constant occupation of feeding. For animals which perform no labor, they have an egregious appetite, eating as if they were Nature's lawn-gardeners, and were under contract with her to keep the grass shaved.

What an immense aggregate of animal power was running to waste before us. Those huge shoulders, to which the whole body seemed simply a base, were just the things for neck-yokes. Others, indeed, had thought the same before us, and tried to utilize these wild oxen. A gentleman at Salina, Kansas, obtained two buffalo calves, and trained them carefully to the yoke. They pulled admirably, but their very strength proved a temptation to them. A pasture-fence was no obstacle in the way of their sweet will. Not that they went over it, but they simply walked through it, boards being crushed as readily as a willow thicket. In summer they took the shortest road to water, regardless of intervening obstructions, and they thought nothing of flinging themselves over a perpendicular bank, wagon and all. After carefully calculating the result of his experiment at the end of the first year, the owner decided that, although he undoubtedly had a large amount of power on hand, he could obtain a similar quantity, at less expense, by buying a couple of steam-engines.

A few months previous to our trip, a contractor on the Kansas Pacific Railroad determined to domesticate a young bison bull, and accordingly took it to his home at Cincinnati. Proving a cross customer, he presented it to the Longview Lunatic Asylum, near that city, but there was no inmate insane enough to occupy the yard simultaneously with Taurus for any length of time. The first day he charged among the lunatics in a reckless manner, eliciting surprising activity of crazy legs. If exercise for their minds was what the poor creatures needed, they certainly obtained it, by calculating when and where to dodge.

Without loss of time, we set about finding a gateway into the herds. Looking at the surface before us, it appeared a level, unbroken plain, quite to the verge where it rolled up against the distant horizon. One would have maintained that even a ditch, if there, might be traced in its meanderings across the smooth brown floor. Yet deep ravines, miles in length, wound in and out among the herds, though to us entirely invisible. A short search discovered one of these, which promised to answer our purpose, and to lead to a spot where a large number of cows and calves were feeding. Fortunately the wind was north, so that we could creep into its teeth without sending to the timid mothers any tell-tale taint.

The wagons were stopped, and we got out, and descending into the hollow, moved forward. The walls on either side seemed disagreeably close. All around us was animal life, a small portion of which would have been sufficient, if so disposed, to make the concealed path which we were traversing a veritable "last ditch" to us. As we entered the ravine, some coyotes slunk out of it ahead of us, and one large gray wolf, with long gallop, disappeared over the banks. The temptation to fire at them was very strong, but prudence and the guide forbade.

We picked up some very fine specimens of "infernal grape," in the form of nearly round balls of iron pyrites. They lay upon the surface like canister-shot upon a battle-field. It seemed as if during the early period, when Mother Earth began to cool off a little, her fiery heart still palpitated so violently under her thin bodice, that beads of the molten life within, like drops of perspiration, had forced their way through, and, in cooling, had retained their bubble-like form. We could have picked up a half-bushel of them which would have made very fair aliment for cannon. The dogs of war could have spit them out as spitefully and fatally against human hearts as if the morsels had been prepared by human hands. From such well-molded shot, of no mortal make, Milton might have obtained his charges for those first cannon which the traitor-angel invented and employed against the embattled hosts of heaven. Shamus, when he afterward became acquainted with the specimens, called them "a rattlin' shower of witches' pebbles."

We also passed large surfaces of white rock, which were sprinkled all over with dark, hollow balls, of a vitrified substance. Most of them were imbedded midway in the rock, leaving a hemisphere exposed which, in color and form, was an exact counterpart of a large bomb. If the reader has ever seen a shell partly imbedded in the substance against which it was fired, this description will be perfectly plain. There were indications that a volcano had once existed in this vicinity, and it seemed highly probable that the red-hot balls which it projected into air had fallen and cooled in the soft formation adjacent, still retaining their original shape.

We should have lingered longer over these geological curiosities, had not the premonitory symptoms of a scientific lecture from the Professor alarmed our guide into the remonstrance, "You're burnin' daylight, gents!" and thus warned, we pushed forward.

A few hundred yards further brought us to the spot for commencing active operations. Dropping upon hands and knees, we began crawling along the side of the ravine in a line, pushing our guns before us. We knew that the buffalo must be very close, for we could hear the measured cropping of their teeth upon the grass. They seemed to be feeding toward us, as we slowly drew up to the level. I found myself trembling all over, so nervous that the cracking of a weed under our guns sounded to me as loud as a pistol-shot.

I looked around, and the stories which I had read in my youth of adventures in oriental lands rose fresh to my memory. I almost imagined our party a dozen wild Bedouins, creeping from ambush to fire upon a caravan, the first note of alarm to which would be a storm of musketry. Unshaven faces, soiled clothes, and rough hair, assisted us to the personation, and if aught else was needed to carry out the fancy, it soon came in a low "Hist!" from the guide, as he pointed to the level above us. Following the direction of his finger, we saw some hairy lumps, about the size of muffs, not fifty yards in front of us, bobbing up and down just above the line which defined the prairie's edge against the sky. For an instant, we supposed them to be small animals of some sort, playing on the slope, but the low voice of the guide said, "Thar they hump, gents!" and we caught the word at once, just as the whaler does the welcome cry of "There she blows," from the look-out aloft. What we saw, of course, were the humps of buffaloes moving slowly forward as they fed. At a word from our guide, we halted for last preparations.

"Fire at the nearest cows, gents," he said, "and if you get one down, and keep hid, you'll have lots of shots at the bulls gatherin' round."

Muggs was continually getting his gun crosswise, so that should it go off ahead of time, as usual, it would shoot somebody on the left, and kick some one on the right. Just ahead of us, a prairie dog sat on his castle wall, and barked constantly. But, fortunately, neither his signals nor our grumbled remonstrances to the Briton seemed to attract the attention of the herd in the least degree.

A few more feet of cautious crawling, and several buffaloes stood revealed, a cow and calf among the number. The mother espied us, and lifting her uncouth head, with its crooked, homely horns, regarded us for an instant with a quiet sort of feminine curiosity, and then went to feeding again. She probably considered us a parcel of sneaking wolves, and being conscious of having hosts of protectors near her, was not at all frightened. Almost simultaneously, the guns of the whole party were at shoulder, and just as the cow lifted her head again, to watch the movement, we fired. The fate of that bison was as effectually sealed as that of the condemned army horse which was first used to tell Paris and the world the terrors of the mitrailleuse. The poor creature gave a quick whirl to the right, made two convulsive jumps, and then stood still. She dropped her nose, a gush of blood following fast; her whole frame shuddered, as the air from the lungs tried to force its way through the clotted tide, and then she fell dead, almost crushing the calf also. The smell of the blood seemed to excite the bulls more than the report of the guns, which had only startled them for an instant. Some stood stupidly snuffing about the prostrate victim, while others, straightening out their tails, marched uneasily around.

Lying on the ground, and our heads only visible, we kept up a constant firing. It was almost impossible not to hit some of the old bulls. The veterans were wounded rapidly, and in all portions of their bodies. One old fellow, who had been standing with his rear to us, suddenly took it into his head to run for dear life, and away he went accordingly, with his hams looking very much like the end of a huge pepper-box. Two or three others soon began to show signs of grogginess, being drunk with the blood which was collecting internally from their many wounds.

One bulky and distressed specimen suddenly caught a glimpse of the Professor's hat. Forthwith the tail was straightened and raised stiffly into the air, the head was lowered, and down he came upon us at full charge. Such a proceeding, a few days before, would simply have resolved itself into a question whether he could catch us or not. Now, however, we stood our ground, or rather we lay upon it very firmly, while enough of us took careful aim to batter his bones fast and sorely. Before taking twenty steps, he was limping from a shattered foreleg, and in a moment more came to a sullen halt, and shook his old head in impotent rage. His eyes were fixed fiercely upon ours; he evidently desired nothing in the world so much as to get forward for a closer acquaintance, but his broken bones forbade. We fired rapidly, and fairly loaded his body with lead before he allowed death to trip him from his feet. He never took his eyes from off us, until the body rolled over, and I thanked our breech-loaders which had prevented the poor beast from having a fair chance.

Three buffalo were down, as the result of our first "stalk." The herd had fled, but the calf we had first seen remained standing stupidly by his dead mother. "Let's ketch the critter," said our guide, and to catch him we accordingly prepared. The first movement was to surround him, which done, we began closing in upon him. He was hardly larger than a good-sized goat, and we feared might succeed in dodging us, but as the circle narrowed, our hopes of securing a live specimen increased. Suddenly, the little fellow seemed aware of his danger, and, whirling about, with head down, made a dart for the open space between Sachem and the guide. As they closed to prevent his escape, our fat friend went down with a butt in the stomach, which, although far from pleasant, was nevertheless the occasion of sufficient delay on the part of the calf to enable the guide and Semi-Colon to lay firm hold upon him. It was wonderful what a warlike little fellow he proved, butting undauntedly at our legs, and uttering, as he did so, a hissing noise. "But me no butts," exclaimed the Professor, with a facetiousness which from him was almost as amusing to the rest of us as the pugnacity of the calf, as he sprang aside to avoid a blow on the knee, and suddenly recognized Duty's call in another direction. It was not long, however, before the little animal was securely bound, and laid in one of the wagons, which by this time had come up.

The work of skinning and cutting up our game now began, the robe of the cow proving finer than that from either of the others. Our men told us that from one position old hunters sometimes shoot down a dozen buffalo before the herd takes flight. Success is much more probable if the first victim is a female.

Other herds invited our attention, and by three o'clock in the afternoon we had twenty quarters secured, and were returning to camp. Only the first three robes had been taken off, the skin being left on the rest of the meat, the better to preserve it from soiling.

Such hunting fatigues one, and we were glad enough to see the smoke of our fire rising from the valley, and to anticipate the dinner which we felt was waiting for us. The plains tired us, and so did conversation, and all instinctively felt that any attempt at a joke, in our hungry, worn out condition, would have caused an all but fiendish state of feeling. Momus himself could not have made that party smile. Most of us had taken part in cutting up the carcasses, and as we now rode home, sitting on the skin-covered quarters, we looked like a party of butchers returning from the slaughter-pens.

As we drew close to camp, how goodly a sight did Shamus seem, in his white apron, bidding us "Hurry to yer dinner!" while backing up his invitation were the brown turkeys, the stews and roasts, the white bread and yellow butter, and a clean table-cloth. On the spot, we could have pardoned Shamus all his notions of witchcraft, and I think that Sachem's charity just then would even have covered our cook's late weakness in the line of "spooning." The Professor's science, Colon's philanthropy, Sachem's wealth of worldly wisdom, and Muggs' British self-complacency, all combined, offered no such consolation, in this hour of sober realities, as the simple Irishman, with his basting-spoon.

Water from the brook and towels from the chest soon removed blood and dust, and dinner followed. Shamus had many a mark scored against Sachem for attacks on himself and his ancestry, and ventured during dinner to rub out one, by asking Tammany, in a very respectful manner, and as if it was a matter of our _cuisine_, whether calves' heads agreed with his stomach.

What would have been called in Washington, "an unpleasant episode," was discovered by Muggs in the center of a biscuit. Taking a hearty British bite from it, various hairy lines followed the morsel into his mouth, and caught among his teeth. Examination revealed one of Mr. Colon's choicest spiders, which by some means had effected his escape and crawled into the dough. It was hard to tell which was most incensed, the Briton or the entomologist. Sachem remarked that the specimen was much kneaded, and added it to our bill of fare as "game, breaded."

As night approached, our Mexicans prepared for wolf-baiting. During the day they had shot two or three old bulls, which wandered within half a mile of camp, and now the swarthy fellows intended to turn an honest penny. For these purposes professional hunters, and occasionally teamsters on the plains, provide themselves with bottles of strychnine, and a quantity of this was accordingly produced. We went with the men to see the operation, as it clearly came within the province of our studies. With their knives the Mexicans cut from the carcass lumps of flesh about the size of one's fist, into which gashes were made, doses of strychnine inserted, and the flesh then pressed together again. The balls, thus charged, were scattered close around the carcass, and a few laid upon it. Cuts were also made, and the poison introduced in various parts of the hams. As many as fifty doses were thus prepared, and we then returned to camp.

No coyote serenade occurred that night, the musicians evidently being busy drawing sweetness from the cords of the slain. A solemn hush lay over the land, for the bisons are a quiet race, and, except in novels, never take to roaring any more than they do to ten-mile charges.

powered by social2s