User Rating: 3 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

This vast prairie lay practically unbroken by rugged crags and hills, or deep canyons. And owing to frequent prairie fires, not even trees or bushes grew along the water courses, except on small islands in the Arkansas river. There was very little natural protection which make attractive haunts for many species of wild animals.

However, this region was inhabited by an abundance of wild animal life at the time of early discoveries and explorations. The Arkansas valley with its grassy uplands rolling down to the broad, moist river bottom, and its ever-flowing stream of water, was a meadow which attracted and fed innumerable numbers of buffalo. The antelope thrived here in herds and bunches, and also a few deer and elk.

Of the smaller animals which roamed the prairie, were the thousands of big gray wolves and coyotes, and the litde swift, similar to a fox in shape but much prettier and so fleet they could outrun anything. Skunks were numerous and their bite was very fatal. There were many badgers and some bob-cats, also beaver and mink. D. W. Barton recalls that during the winter of 1873, trappers caught six hundred beaver on the Arkansas between Dodge City and the present site of Garden City.

The Pawnee creek with its many spring branches sheltered immense numbers of skunks, mink, muskrat, badger, civits and coons. Of course there were hosts of prairie dogs and rabbits, rattlesnakes, terrapins and ground squirrels harboring all over the surface of the prairie. So entirely does civilized man sweep the wild beasts from his presence as soon as he gains opportunity, that most of these animals became extinct soon after the country was opened for settlement, and but few others have immigrated into this region to take their place. The opossum and tree squirrels which are quite common now have come here in late years. The wild horses and cattle found here by pioneer settlers were not native, but were strays from southern herds.

Hunting wild horses in Western Kansas was the chief occupation of the first settlers in this region. Not for

(Rabbit hunt, January 03, 1894, at Garden City. Image:Courtesy of KSHS)

Sport, but as a means of livelihood. Richard J. Churchill says of the wild horses:

"There were numerous bands of wild horses that roamed the high prairie and came into the Pawnee valley to water. These gave us trouble to keep our own from mixing with them. It was very interesting to watch the strategy and the generalship of the wild stallions. In traveling the mare always took the lead, while the gentleman stayed behind and kept up the stragglers. Only by doing this was he able to keep his harem together. If by chance two bands were near each other, they would bunch up on different sides while the two stallions, like gladiators of old, would meet between them and fight it out. Kick, strike, bite, no holds barred. Finally one of them would decide he was getting the worst of it and would hike out for his own band and whoop them away as fast as possible to prevent the other stallion from getting his mares away from him.

"Many of the settlers made money by running the horses down and selling them. The first death among the settlers occurred at one of these wild horse roundups. It was the first day out, and camp had been made for the evening. They were unloading their stuff from the wagon when Charley Goddard pulled a Winchester rifle to him by the muzzle. The gun caught in a buffalo robe and was discharged, shooting him in the stomach. He lived only a few hours. Another young man and I stayed with him while a rider was dispatched for a doctor. The others went to the valley to tell his family. I will never forget that night. The dead man sleeping so peacefully, the mournful howling of the coyotes spoke of earthly things. Yet the vast dome of the sky set with glittering stars, the silence, the hush of nature, had in it the sublime. It made me feel as though we were in God's own cathedral. At sunup the next morning his folks found us, and we buried him in the valley in a rude pine coffin, hastily made. It was pioneer life."

There is a draw in the southeast part of Lane county just across the line of Garfield known as Wild Horse Canyon. In the early days it was walled up at the ends so horses could not get out, and the sides were so steep they could not climb up them. One end was left partly open with a strong gate for closing. The hunters, after following a bunch of wild horses until they would be almost famished for water and so tame they could be driven, would head them into this corral, close the gate and capture them.

James Craig recalls the wild horses that were here when he first arrived: "Early in the spring of 1879 hundreds of wild horses were roaming the country. The ground was bare of vegetation, and parties were formed to run them down while they were almost starved and without water. Their plan was to take food and grain and camp at some water hole, and round up eight or ten small bunches, and with their grain-fed and shod horses run them all day. Then round them up at night and keep them close to camp without food or water. At the end of the week with such treatment, the ponies were so worn out that they could be driven to some good corral and roped. A forked cottonwood stick about 15 inches long was tied with rawhide to one front foot, they were then turned out to graze and corralled at night. In a very short time they would be shipped east and sold. I remember Link Fulton and a man named Johnson drove sixty wild ponies to Garden City and corraled them. I bought five of them and soon broke them to work and ride. They were all colors, bays, blacks, buckskins and roans." John H. Whitson says: "We got much amusement and service out of a pair of ponies we bought from W. R. Hopkins in 1885. They had been caught by wild horse hunters out of a wild herd. But they were runaways before joining that herd, as they bore brands. One brand was that of an Indian owner; it showed a buffalo and a bow and arrow, the bow and arrow as big as the buffalo. These ponies ran away with me, tried to throw me, and cut up all manner of tricks. But they pulled a buggy and buckboard for me over many leagues of the flat lands of Western Kansas."

James R. Fulton and W. D. Fulton and his son Link were the most famous of the wild horse hunters in Western Kansas. John Stevens and Emanuel Schnars, both young men, were connected with their outfit. For several years prior to any settlement west of Dodge City they spent their time in capturing wild horses in this region. It was while on one of these trips that they conceived the idea of founding a city, and the next March, 1878, they returned and filed on land and staked out Garden City. But they still continued to hunt wild horses. Mrs. E. L. Wirt, daughter of W. D. Fulton, said recently: "We camped by the river on the present site of Garden City until some building material arrived, and to me, then a young girl, it was a very thrilling adventure. Antelope came near our house to feed. There were buffalo and wild horses in large herds in the surrounding country. And the wild horses still proved to be a very profitable business for my father. The summer of 1878 he captured and corralled over one hundred. They were beautiful animals with long mains and tails, roaring like lions, and almost climbing over the corral for freedom."

From the Garden City Paper in 1879. "Messrs. Fulton and Stevens have opened a livery stable. They are at pres-sent negotiating for some buggies and propose that the one hundred wild horses they caught last summer shall pay for their oats."

The following account was written by Link Fulton, just before his death in 1927: "During the summer of 1880 a Mr. Roberts came west for his health. He had some money, so he and I formed a partnership and equipped an outfit and started out after wild horses. After being out twenty days we drove a bunch of twenty fine wild horses into Garden City. There was a good corral near the present entrance to Finnup Park. We had considerable trouble in getting them into the corral, but finally succeeded. In a short time all the people in town and several emigrants came down to see the horses. C. J. Jones climbed up on the fence and some stranger was with him. C. J. asked what we would take for the herd, and we finally closed the deal, through the help of Jones, selling to the stranger for $400. This was an almost unbelievable amount of money at that time. The next day we helped the man as far as Pierceville with the horses."

The methods used to capture wild horses seemed cruel, since it was accomplished by starving them for food and water. Many times it was necessary to kill the stallion to keep him from running the mares away. Accidents were quite common in handling the wild horses, resulting in their being killed. James R. Fulton caught several fine horses on one trip and tied them out on the prairie. During the night it rained causing the ropes to shrink around their necks and one of the horses was found choked to death in the morning.

A fine young colt which had been captured by W. D. Fulton was hobbled and turned out to graze. A large gray mule running loose caught it by the neck and carried it about 30 yards, at the same time shaking it like a dog would a rat, killing it almost instantly. At this date there are very few wild animals for hunting or trapping in Finney county. Badgers, skunks, a few civets and coyotes are about all that are left. The hide markets in this region depend now for business chiefly on domestic cattle and old horses.

FISH

This is not considered a natural fishing section of the state, but in the years before irrigation the Arkansas river and the Pawnee with its many spring branches all carried good streams of water and many fine fish were taken from them. The Indians and pioneers were well supplied with bass, channel cat, and their favorite was a certain specie of river trout. At this period there is scarcely any fish in the streams, but a great many private lakes and irrigation reservoirs have been stocked with fish from the state hatchery. The best known are McKinney's dam, north of Deerfield, and Kinney's dam, near Kalvesta.

BIRDS

Before the occupation of the white man this country was the nesting place or feeding grounds for many varieties of game birds. The prairie abounded in prairie chickens, long billed and golden plover, quail and wild turkeys. The bayous along the streams were covered with immense swarms of many varieties of ducks, geese, heron, snipes and cranes. A story is told that even after Garden City was founded, "great flocks of cranes would hover over the town, and the pioneer business men would sit in their private office and shoot through the windows, killing great numbers." Some are inclined to discount that story, but there was a corn field just back of the office of the "Garden City Paper" in the fall of 1879 which was a feeding place of a large number of cranes, and furnished considerable fun for hunters and a number were killed.

There were many carrion birds, black ravens, buzzards, hawks, crows, owls and eagles. But at that time about the only bird that could be classed as a song bird was the meadow lark. The western meadow lark, which is native to all parts of Kansas, has been unanimously chosen as the state bird.

The cultivation of the soil always means a loss of certain species, but on the other hand many birds are quick to follow in the path of agriculture. The planting of fruit and shade trees have attracted many birds of the nesting variety to this region.

H. W. Menke published in October, 1894, at Lawrence, Kansas, the first list of Kansas birds ever collected. His list is of great value.

A list was made from observations of B. R. H. d'Allemand and S. C. Bruner covering the period from May, 1913, to January, 1915. The data in their report was mostly taken at the Garden City and Kansas nurseries, and in their immediate vicinities, including the river bottom which was between the two nurseries. Their list contains 116 birds and they have given both the common and scientific names. The data was based on studies with field glasses and no collecting was done.

G. B. Norris, of Garden City, has spent much time in observation of bird life in this region and he has done considerable collecting. His list is available but has never been published, although it is considered the most complete yet to be compiled.