Title: Famous Hunting Parties of the Plains

Date: June 1894

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Famous Hunting Parties of the Plains

By "Buffalo Bill"

The first great hunter who came to this country in search of big game, of whom I have knowledge, was Sir George Gore. I was a boy at Fort Leavenworth in 1853 when he arrived there from London and fitted out his own expedition. At that time buffalo, elk, deer, and antelope were so numerous upon the plains, and all through the Rocky mountain region, that we frontiersmen were naturally somewhat surprised to find that an English gentleman would come all the way across the ocean, and make the tedious journey from the seaboard to the frontier, with no other end in view than the chase.

The ready good-fellowship, however, with which Sir George Gore adapted himself to his surroundings, soon made him a favorite. His party was made up of about two hundred men, the trappers and guides being engaged at Laramie, seven hundred miles west of Leavenworth. He had no companions to share the expense of his extensive equipment, and no guests to join him around the camp-fire in the evening. He went in for genuine sport, and bade good-by to civilization when he left St. Louis. At that time there was no railroad west of Chicago, which is fifteen hundred miles east of Laramie, and Sir George took the river route up from St. Louis. Buffalo, elk, mountain sheep, bear, and mountain lions were plentiful; and it is not surprising that the unvarnished recital of the exploits of such experts with the rifle as he, should, in these degenerate days, excite the wonder, if not the envy, of huntsmen who might vainly seek such glorious quarry anywhere in the great Rocky mountain region.

From Laramie, Sir George Gore's little caravan went out into the Big Horn mountains, into the thick of the game country. There, having bagging as much as heart could wish, his camp was surprised one evening by the Indians. The redskins ran off all his horses, traps, and trophies, and there was nothing for him and his men to do but foot it, a hundred and fifty miles, back to Laramie, leaving some of their companions dead on the field of battle.

The slaughter of several of Sir George Gore's men by the Indians, forty years ago, was an incident which might have attained internatioonal importance, had there been any possible way for the United States government to accept the proposition which his rage at the redmen led him to make with great promptness. He actually proposed to Uncle Sam to whip the entire Sioux nation at his own expense, and vowed that he could, in thirty days, equip a little army of his own, which would wipe those murderous thieves from the face of the earth. Naturally enough, Sir George's proposal could not be accepted, and the next year saw him hunting down in Florida, where he had a large party of sportsmen and a big pack of hounds. As the first of the distinguished procession of international Nimrods to come to the United States within my experience, it may be interesting to note that Sir George was a most unassuming man in dress and appearance. This led to an amusing incident in the course of his visit to Florida.

On the day of his arrival in the land of the Everglades, Sir George got separated from his party and lost his way. He rode up to one of the fashionable hotels which abounded even in those days, in his old hunting suit, and, quietly, registering his name as "G. Gore," was as quietly assigned to an attic-room. He took it and said nothing. The next morning he ate his breakfast, and was strolling around the grounds when the rest of the party, in gorgeous hunting array, with horses and hounds galore, dashed up in great style, and asked eagerly where Sir George Gore was; indeed, the clerk said the only recent arrival was a strange man who was at that moment out in the back yard, smoking. But the words had scarcely left his lips, when the hounds found Sir George in his sylvan retreat and set up such a musical chorus of yelps that his identity was at once revealed to the dismayed hotel people. At this time Sir George was about fifty years of age, and lived at Leavenworth, where my father was a contractor, having left Iowa, my birthplace, at an early age. He was a sportsman among a thousand, and he spent money with extraordinary freedom in the gratification of his passion.

Sir John Watts Garland was another great English huntsman. He came over here about 1869. At different points on the plains and in the mountains he established camps and built cabins, to which he would return regularly about once every two years. In his abscence, his horses and dogs were left at these camps, in charge of men employed for that purpose. It was Sir John Watts Garland who, it seemed to me, first realized the value of the trained horse for hunting the buffalo. As a matter of fact, whatever his speed and bottom, a horse must be broken in to that special task to enable him to give his rider the best service, when once in sight of a herd. Big-boned Indian ponies, or, as we call them, frontier horses, generally made the best mounts for this purpose. I have seen Garland offer as much as a thousand dollars for one which had a reputation and took his fancy. The off-years, when he did not hunt on the plains, he spent in India or Africa, after elephants, lions, and tigers. I met him two years ago in London, and we lamented the disappearance of big game from the United States, acquiescing, however, in the undoubted fact that it has practically ceased to exist.

In these days, when the elk and buffalo are traditions, it is difficult, perhaps, for sportsmen to realize the wild exhiliaration attending their pursuit on horseback. Elk were hunted in much the same way as buffalo, the perfection of the sport being found in the saddle. Sir John Watts Garland soon discarded the English saddles which he brought over with him, and the truly British custom of declining to drink anything until after dinner, when the day's work had been finished. No great time was required for him to learn that a cocktail before breakfast was considered entirely the thing on the prairie, and that anything else that a California saddle was out of place. His democratic ways made him very popular with the plainsmen. When he went out with a party, he roughed it like the rest of us, slept in the open on his blanket, took his turn at camp duty, and rode his own horse in the races which we often got up for our amusement. He discovered speedily that the English thoroughbred was by no means so well fitted for frontier use as the coarser western horse, which was more accustomed to avoiding prairie-dog holes and better understood the lay of the land.

The destruction of the big game in the West, about which so much has been written, and which has been ascribed to so many causes, is simply a natural consequence of the advance of civilization. There is no longer any frontier. People live everywhere, all over the Rocky mountain region.

I may mention one or two interesting facts which illustrate this metamorphosis, and which seem to me to have hitherto escaped record. Not only has the buffalo-grass, which once grew all over the country, disappeared entirely, and given place, naturally, to the blue-joint grass which is now found there in profusion, but marked atmospheric conditions have been in the same way entirely changed. It has been said that the soil upon which the Indian and buffalo roamed was as wild as they, and needed the same care in civilizing, required to be tilled to useful productiveness more laboriously than the same soil farther east. But I have never seen this strange fact about the dew recorded anywhere. In the old days it was possible to walk anywhere in that country, in the grass or out of it, at any time of the day or night, without wetting one's moccasins. There never was dew on any of the great plains between the Missouri river and the Rocky mountains. You slept out in your blanket at any season of the year, and when you awoke in the morning it was as dry as when you lay down. There has been an absolute change in all this. Heavy dews fall now with as much regularity there as elsewhere. I have a theory of my own to account for this phenomenon, and that is, that the erection of wire-fences, which has unquestionably greatly increased the downfall of rain, has in the same way, by the attention of electrical currents, brought about the dew.

The third of the great hunters whom I have known as Lord Adair, who is now the Earl of Dunraven, owner of the famous Valkyrie. He came with Dr. Kingsley, a brother of Charles Kingsley, the well-known author, and arrived at Fort McPherson in 1869. This fort is on the Platte river, about eighteen miles from the town of North Platte, where my ranch is. Lord Adair brought a letter of introduction from General Sheridan. He was a pleasant young fellow and I enjoyed hunting with him. We camped along the Loop and the Dismal rivers, and went off for elk, for the most part on horseback.

The elk hunt of those days was managed in about this way: six or seven of us would start at sunrise on our prairie horses, and get as close as possible to the elk, which would be feeding in the open, two or three hundred, perhaps, in a bunch. Thse long-legged beasts were swifter than the buffalo, and they would let us get within a half mile of them before they would give a mighty snort and dash away after their leader. Then came the test of speed and endurance. They led the horses a wild race, and it put our chargers to their mettle to overtake the game. Right in among them we would spur, and, dropping the reins, use the repeating rifle with both hands. The breech-loading Springfield piece of fifty-calibre, the same as used in the regular army, was our favorite rifle at that time. Only the master of the hunt, or his guests, or companions, would do any shooting; the hunters and attendants would occupy themselves in lassoing the young elk and taking them back to camp alive. Lord Adair shipped a good many of those captured in this way, to his place across the water.

Among the interesting things that the United States army has been, at one time or another, called upon to do is acting as escort to distinguished hunting parties. There was always a military escort for Lord Adair, and a lot of army wagons went along to take the game back to the fort, where it could be used. He was much opposed to any wanton waste. Our first expedition was out four weeks. After coming in, we would fit out again, and start in some other direction. Our expedition into the mountains, for bear, would take us as far away as Fort Steele, six hundred miles west of Fort McPherson, and we would be gone four or five weeks. Lord Adair was the first of these visiting sportsmen that I remember to have had a military escort. Garland and Gore provided their own.

Lord Adair purchased a hunting park of his own, now known as Estes park, containing about one hundred thousand acres and 130 miles northwest of Denver. It is to the northwest of Middle park, and is reached by some of the little narrow-gauge roads that run up into that country. The only incident of my expeditions with him that I remember as especially interesting was the attempt of the Indians to surpise us, on one occasion, when we were scattered out along the Dismal river. A war and thieving party of Sioux attacked us, and chased us, at top speed, nine miles to camp, where the company of soldiers who had been sent out with us took horse in turn and drove the Indians off. We lost all our game.

The New Yorkers who came out to Fort McPherson in 1870, were a lot of thoroughbreds and enjoyed themselves to the top of their bent. There were James Gordon Bennett, John G. Hecksher, Carroll Livingston, the two Jeromes, Larrie and Leonard, General Davies, a lawyer. I think: Colonel John Schuyler Crosby, and General Fitzhugh, of Pittsburgh. They were the guests of General Sheridan, who brought with him also his father-in-law, General Rucker, and his brother, Col. M. V. Sheridan. Major W. H. Brown, of the Fifth United States calvary, commanded the two companies which escorted us. Major E. M. Hayes, now of the Seventh cavalry, was our quartermaster; Dr. Ash, now of New York, surgeon, and there were other officers.

This was the best equipped hunting party I have ever been with. It was made up in New York and outfitted at Fort McPherson, on the line of the Union Pacific railway. The country to be hunted over was from McPherson to Fort Hayes, on the Kansas Pacfic railroad, some two hundred miles, including the ranges along the Medicine creek and crossing the Republican river and its branches, Beaver creek, Solomon's and Saline rivers. I met the party at Fort McPherson, and we started in September, 1871, with three hundred men. It was necessary for such an expedition to present a formidible apearance, as we were to be in the Indian country and more or less exposed to the attacks of the Dog-soldier Indians. These were the malcontents of the Sioux, Cheyennes, and the Arapahoes, who had made up their minds never to give up that great hunting range. There were about two thousand of these desperate redskins altogether, and their chiefs were Pawnee Killer, Old Whistler, and Two-Lance.

Brilliant success crowned our efforts. We found game within ten miles of our starting-point at McPherson, and were in sight of it until we arrived within ten miles of our journey's end at Fort Hayes. Before leaving McPherson, we had arranged trophies for the huntsman who should kill the first big game, one for the slayer of the first buffalo, another for the first elk, antelopte, and so on. All these animals we found in abundance, together with deer, turkeys, ducks, geese, and willow grouse. General Fitzhugh, of Pittsburgh, was the lucky man to bring down the first bison; the trophy which was presented to him consisted of a silver drinking-set, beautifully embossed with buffalo heads.

On the first day out, General Sheridan had cautioned these gentlemen to get accustomed to their horses and weapons, and not to attempt much execution. Early on the second day, General Fitzhugh brought down his buffalo. We spied a big herd on a tributary of Medicine creek—about a hundred of them, I should say—and we at once set out, prepared for action. Some of the party had special rifles of their own fancying, but any who wished could use the army guns. Mr. Hecksher killed the second buffalo, and came very near winning the trophy himself; but I was the judge, and I had to decide, in point of time, in General Fitzhugh's favor. We hunted all day, the command of troops marching along in our rear and making a fresh camp for us every night. I think General Davies wrote an amusing account of this expedition, called "Ten Days on the Plains," which was published in pamphlet form. Each night the camp was named after a member of the party, and, of course, we slept in the same camp only once.

Larry Jerome gave an amusing illustration, on this hunt, of that great appreciation of practical jokes which in afteryears afforded so much amusement to his cronies. When the party was fitting out, each of the gentlemen from New York asked me if I would get him a good buffalo horse. Of course, I had never seen any of them before, and I was equally anxious to please them all. I noticed from the first, however, that Mr. Larry Jerome made a special point of cultivating me, and, after a number of civilities on his part, it cropped out that he wanted to ride Buckskin Joe, a horse of my own, whose exploits were famous all over that country. I discovered how the wind set even before he made his request, and cheerfully consented to it. "Now," said Jerome, "don't you say a word to any of the others about my having a horse, and I'll have some fun with them."

So, for the next day or two, Mr. Jerome would go about with a long face, and announce, in a melancholy way, that he much feared that he would not be able to find an appropriate mount; he didn't think he could find a horse that would carry him, anyway, as he was a heavy man; and so on. The morning we started, he disappeared from view, and in a few moments dashed into the party, equipped cap- a-pie, on Buckskin Joe, with my own saddle, bridle, and rifle. Joe jumped and cavorted, and Mr. Jerome was in his glory.

But the hour of retribution was at hand. Buckskin Joe had been trained to chase the buffalo at full speed, and lay his rider alongside of the biggest animal he could find in the herd. The first herd we started for, Jerome rode away full of spirits, and Buckskin Joe, as if determined to do all that was expected of him, took the bit in his mouth, left the rest of us far in the rear, and picked out the ugliest-looking bull, a creature of really gigantic size, for Mr. Jerome's special delectation. As Buckskin got within a few feet of this monster, Jerome dropped his rifle, and, after much endeavor persuaded his charger to stop and, dismounted to pick up his gun, when he was horrified to see Buckskin Joe dash away after the herd, leaving him afoot on the prairie. He got no game, and was with due solemnity court-martialled, that night, in camp, for losing his horse. He made an extremely witty speech in his own defense, and said that it was evidently Buckskin Joe's hunt a great deal more than his own; but he was found guilty and sentenced to eat seven smoking buffalo cutlets in rapid succession, a penalty he paid with much cheerfulness. More than six hundred buffalo were killed on this trip, with two hundred elk, and smaller game in proportion.

As the Indians hovered in sight of us for several days, and we were never actually beyond the risk of an attack, our camps were constructed with great care. Three of the twenty-five wagons in our train were travelling ice-houses, to keep the game and wine cold. The wagons were parked in a square at night, the mules and horses being picketed inside the square, which was several acres in extent. The soldiers lay at each end of this camp. During the day our guards were also constantly on the alert, to rescue us in case we should be surprised, and at our last camp, on the Saline river, an Indian scare was forgotten up for Mr. Jerome's benefit. Mr. Crosby, Mr. Hecksher, and some others of the younger themselves as Indians and sneaked into the tents, with a result of much laughable confusion.

There were none of the discomforts of roughing it upon that expedition. A course dinner of the most delicious viands were served every evening by waiters in evening dress, and prepared by French cooks brought from New York. The linen, china, glass, and porcelain had been provided with equal care, and a big woodfire lent cheerfulness to the dining-tent. This was floord and carpeted with much care, and for years afterward travellers and settlers recognized the sites upon which these camps had been constructed by the quantities of empty bottles which remained behind to mark them.

The gentlemen were all good shots, and joined heartily in the chase. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Hecksher, in particular, excelled with the small game and in the use of the shotgun. We had glorious Indian summer throughout the whole ten days. They took the train at Fort Hayes, and returned East, arriving in Chicago, if I remember, about the time of the great fire.

Perhaps the most elaborate preparations ever made for an expedition of this kind were arranged in January, 1873, for the benefit of the Grand-duke Alexis. But I cannot say that, personally, I ever enjoyed anything more than the New York party. At that time, I had never been east of the Mississippi river, and when these gentlemen invited me to come to New York and pay them a visit, I said I feared I would never be able to get back. "Anyway," added I, "you would have to ask General Sheridan for leave of absence for me." Accordingly, the request was made that I be granted a furlough from my duties as Chief-of-scouts, and General Sheridan's reply was, "By all means, yes—after the Grand-duke Alexis has had his hunt." That was the first intimation I had had that the Russian grand-duke was coming. After the Alexis hunt was over, I did go East, and was the guest of the Union club for quite a while.

Soon after the departure of the New Yorkers to their home, I began preparing to recieve the Grand-duke Alexis. I had to keep a lookout for the game, and arranged with Spotted Tail, the great Sioux chief, to bring one hundred of his braves to show Alexis how the Indians hunt buffalo. The Russian party reached North Platte by the Union Pacific railroad, in a special train. This was something extraordinarily important and considered very complete for that time. The train was in charge of Mr. Frank Thompson, who is now vice-president of the Pennsylvania railroad company. Camp Alexis had already been established and was in readiness, in a sheltered nook on Red Willow creek, in the buffalo country, sixty miles from Fort McPherson. There were hospital tents and wall tents for the officers and their guests, many of them floored and carpeted, and heated with stoves. Special pains was taken to make the dining-room tents complete in every particular.

The military escort consisted of two companies of cavalry and two of infantry, and the regimental band of the Second cavalry. Generals Sheridan, Palmer, Tony, and Sandy Forsyth, and Ord, General George A. Custer, Colonel M. V. Sheridan, and Major Egan, of the Second cavalry, were in the party. Dr. Ash, who was General Sheridan's surgeon-general, was surgeon to the party. With soldiers, teamsters, and cooks, there were probably five hundred in all.

The grand-duke was very successful. He killed eight buffalo. The ground was very slippery, it being in the dead of winter, and the game would purposely run over the roughest country in order to break up the horses; so he had good reason to be proud of his record. He rode Buckskin and shot the buffalo from his back. One afternoon was devoted entirely to showing the grand-duke the spectacle of an Indian buffalo hunt. The redmen made a "surround," as it is called, and then scattered and charged into the herd, each picking out his own buffalo. They used bows, arrows, and lances. We saw one of the chiefs, with a powerful hickory bow, about four and a half feet long, send a steel-pointed arrow entirely through one of the buffalo, while racing along by its side at full speed. The arrow passed out on the other side, and was preserved by the grand-duke as a trophy.

Another very interesting sight was an Indian on horseback, armed only with his lance, singling out a gigantic bison and thrusting his spearhead, while both raced at full speed, straight into the creature's heart. These spears were about ten feet long, the steel head about a foot long, and the shaft possibly about three inches in diameter. Considerable skill was necessary to apply the momentum of the horse in just the right way to send the stroke home, it being necessary for the hunter instantly to let go the lance or be pulled from his steed.

During the five days we were in Alexis camp, several hundred buffalo were killed. The grand-duke then went to Denver, where a great ball was given for him, and started back to St. Louis over the Kansas Pacific railway, stopping off one day at the station Kit Carson, named after the celebrated scout of that name, for a buffalo hunt, and then went south to New Orleans.

The next and last great hunt in which I had a share was given by General Nelson A. Miles, who now commands the department of the Missouri, which used to be General Sheridan's. Immediately after the close of the World's Fair he sent me word that he wanted me to go as his guest. As this was the only time I had ever been a guest on a hunt, I accepted with great pleasure. I had my own tent, and military orderlies to come at my beck and call, and I soon got to imagine that I was Sir George Gore and the Grand-duke Alexis all rolled into one. I don't believe I would have accepted a ripe peach on a twenty-foot pole.

We started at Fort Supply, I. T., and hunted down the Canadian rivers to Fort Reno, and then over to the Washita river and into the Wichitah mountains. We were gone about three weeks. General Miles had his military escorts establish camps in advance for us, and he combined duty and pleasure by inspecting the different military posts as he passed through the country, and holding councils with the different tribes of Indians. It was sadly evident that there was no more big game to be had. The buffalo, elk, and antelope had long since disappeared. We only killed turkey, geese, chickens, and deer. The party consisted of General and Mrs. Miles, their little son, and a friend of Mrs. Miles, with a few other guests.

The general took great delight in calling in all the old-time scouts and guides and making them go along with us. Such, for example, as Ben Clark, who is now post scout and guide at Fort Reno; and Jack Stillwell, a celebrated scout of the old days, whose famous exploit in carrying dispatches through a cordon of Indians from an island upon which General Forsyth was surrounded, to Fort Wallace, is a heroic tradition of the frontier.

I can close this article in no better way than by giving the facts of this daring achievement of Jack Stillwell. It was in 1868 that General Forsyth and fifty men were surrounded by hostile Indians on an island in the Aricharee fork of the Republican river. In a short time, General Forsyth had thirty-three of his fifty men killed or wounded. Lieutenant Beecher, a nephew of Henry Ward Beecher, was killed, General Forsyth's army surgeon, Dr. Mores, went down in the first day's combat, and General Forsyth himself was repeatedly wounded. When only sixteen combantants were left, and they had had nothing to eat for a day or two, but the now decaying carcases of their horses. Stillwell volunteered to go for help to Fort Wallace, eighty-five miles distant. He started in the night, disguised as an Indian, and crawled through the grass into and, as he thought, through the Indian lines. But when the morning broke, although he had traversed seven miles, daylight found him right in the edge of an Indian camp. He crawled into a hole or gully, at the head of a washout, where the grass covered him, and lay there all day, without food or water. When night came, he started again, and had made thirty miles by the next morning. But daylight found him on a vast prairie, where he was visible for miles. To conceal himself from the Indians, he crawled into the carcass of a buffalo, which, fortunately, lay near by. He had got some water in the night, but was still without food. The next day, by ten o'clock, he struck the stage line west of Fort Wallace, got a horse, and dashed into the fort. Troops were quickly dispatched to General Forsyth; but reinforcements had already reached him from another quarter. Yet, who can say that the bravery and endurance of this gallant man went for naught?