KanColl Books


by Adolph Roenigk

Hunting Buffalo on the Great Plains of Kansas; Experience
in the Great Sportsman Paradise.

     Looking back over the gulf of sixty years I now know how little one is able to judge from the present what may be the outcome of the future. When I look upon the towns, churches, schoolhouses, the golden wheatfields and beautiful cultivated farms now found where once the buffalo roamed at will and the coyote howled a dismal dirge, I realize how sadly amiss was my idea of the future of the plains of Kansas. Even the men who passed many years in the great game region of Kansas never intended making it their permanent home, but come to hunt and to live the wild, free life of the frontiersman, expecting sometime to settle farther east in the region of more regular rainfall.
     The first attempt to arouse interest in agriculture on the Kansas plains in the western half of the state was made by the Kansas Pacific Railroad Company in the spring of 1869. They issued circulars and furnished garden seeds to their men along the line offering three prizes, one of $300, $200 and $100, for the best three gardens grown.
     We understood that the railroad company intended to run excursions to bring Eastern people to see what could be grown on the plains of the West, and thus induce them to purchase the land given to the company by the government as a bonus for building the road. We were skeptical about the agriculture possibilities of the plains, and thought the offer a fake scheme of the railroad company to sell to Eastern dupes land utterly worthless. But we intended to try for one of the prizes. Accordingly we made our gardens near the water tank, where we could apply the hose freely, then carefully hide it and grow a fine garden, giving the credit to the scanty rainfall. The Indian raids that followed upset our calculations. Soldiers were stationed here as at all stations along the line, and the garden project was abandoned.
     When I first came to the Station I found it as near a hunter's paradise as one could wish for. Game of some kind was in sight at all times. Buffalo, antelope, wolves and occasionally deer, as well as wild turkey, which cautious bird would stray up to the highlands from the rivers and creeks below. Two


buffalo hunters made their headquarters in a boxcar which they had fitted up with a stove and other conveniences of camp life. The car was sidetracked at Bunker Hill. Later when the buffaloes had gone farther south, they had their car set off at the siding a mile and a half west of Fossil Creek Station, but the buffaloes were never as plentiful here as they were fifteen or twenty miles east. One of these hunters went by the name of Scotty, the other’s name I have forgotten. He had been an express agent. They shipped the hindquarters to New York and Boston. Scotty hunted on horseback. I saw him kill several out of a herd in a single run.
     Many exciting episodes took place during those days. In the two years of 1868-69, somewhere near two hundred buffalo were killed within a radius of a mile of Fossil Creek, a greater number than killed in several years’ time in the vicinity of any other station on the line. Most of them were killed on what is now the townsite of Russell. Now, after these many years, there may be some people who think the number overdrawn, but I will say that I was always a close observer and even then realized what a waste was committed by the useless slaughter of buffalo.
     What a number of people could have been fed on the good meat that went to waste in the vicinity of this one station alone. It was very easy to count the number killed as only the hindquarters were taken, being cut trough, hide and all, as there was no market for the hides that we knew of then, thus leaving the front quarters lying on the prairie where they had fallen, to be gnawed by wolves or dried up by the wind and sun.
     There was no market in Ellsworth or Hayes, our trading towns. The only time a buffalo was skinned was when a hunter wanted a hide for his own use. We stretched and dried a few of them and hung them around the walls of our dugouts, as they were clean and comfortable. It might be said, we papered our houses in those days with buffalo hides. If there is an old settler living who picked up buffalo bones to sell, as so many settlers did in the seventies, he will bear me out in my statement as to the number killed. Two hundred buffaloes would not be considered a large number by the hunters who, a few years later, slaughtered the animals for their hides. I have talked with some of those professionals at the time who stated that a party of hunters had killed as many as a hundred in a


day’s hunt, and having seen the vast herds in their semi-annual migration, I do not doubt the statement.
     By first killing the leader from a point of concealment, as was often possible in broken lands and near watercourses, with quick work the hunter could secure the whole herd, owing to their confusion. We had buffalo and antelope steak in those days as often and regular as we have beefsteak now, excepting a short time during the winter. This was our fresh meat supply, as domestic beef and pork were not available.
     When the last herds of buffalo went south in the fall and it was cool enough for meat to keep, Cook, the boarding house boss, would lay in a supply, and here I wish to say that in my judgment, buffalo steak compares very favorable with good beefsteak. The cooking may have influenced my decision, as we had a most excellent cook. Only the best parts of the buffalo were used, and while there were always men coming and going, I heard no complaint about tough meat. The buffaloes were not so lean when they returned from the south in the spring as our native cattle are after going through the winter. I suppose there was a difference in their flesh in the two seasons, but we did not find the meat tough at any time; it was always good.
     The most buffaloes we ever killed at the station at one time was ten. These were killed about three hundred yards west of the railroad watertank on the north side of the track. The killing was done by John Cook and a hunter whose name I cannot recall. There were seven calves and three cows. The seven calves were all the herd contained and the adults were not wanted, but as the cows would not leave their young three were killed, although no use was made of them. On that occasion we had a good laugh on Cook. When the calves had been shot and the cows had withdrawn a short distance looking piteously upon their murdered offspring, Cook started with his wheelbarrow to bring in the meat, but with just resentment the cows dashed toward him and he had to drop his wheelbarrow and run for his life.
     At another time Cook killed five buffaloes alone, there being but that number in the bunch. This took place a few hundred yards west of the present center of the city of Russell. The station of Fossil Creek was favorably located for killing buffaloes; we seldom had to go out to hunt for them, they usually came to us. Only a few times did we have to go out


for meat and then but a mile or two brought the hunter to a herd. We would shoot one down, then get the pony and draw the hindquarters home on a sled. The pony and a wheelbarrow were the only means of conveyance we had.
     We were located between two ravines, one on the east and the other on the west, both near the railroad track. The buffalo seemed to have a dread of the railroad. Coming from the south in the spring and from the north in the fall their march was interrupted by the track which extended east and west. They would follow the track as though trying to walk around it from a single animal to a dozen or more. We could see them coming from a long distance, which gave us ample time to get our rifles, get into the ravine, and wait for them. If they were coming from the east or west we had a place of ambush in those ravines, and had only to wait until they came within the desired range to begin killing.
     John Cook and I were the best shots at the station and always went together when buffalo were in sight. We were expected to do the killing while the others who had less confidence in themselves, or cared less for the sport, watched us from the dugouts. Once five buffaloes came along the track from the west. As usual we got into the ravine on that side with our rifles. Here we separated, I going a little farther up, but they came closer to Cook than to me. He shot one in the

Finishing the kill

Finishing the kill with a butcher knife, the fore part of May, 1869


small of the back and it fell down on its haunches in a sitting posture. The remaining four came toward me and when I fired one came down, only to get on his feet the next moment. I had broken his shoulder but brought him to earth with my next shot.
     Now the boys who had been watching from the dugout came running with the butcher knives and wheelbarrow to bring home the meat.
     George Seely had just bought a new rifle and wanted to try it on the buffalo Cook had wounded. He fired at him, shot after shot without any visible effect. To put the brute out of his misery Cook said he would shoot him in the eye so the bullet would range upward into his brain, but after the shot the buffalo only blinked his eye and a few drops of blood trickled from the wound. The animal made several attempts to get on his feet whereupon the boys would scatter in all directions. I kept a safe distance in the rear, as I had heard of wounded buffaloes bounding to their feet and chasing the hunter. Now we were shown how great is the vitality of a buffalo, carrying a great number of apparently mortal wounds.
     Charley Sylvester armed himself with a butcher knife and got behind the animal and upon his back. From this position he would drive the knife into the buffalo’s side. The poor beast, with fiery eyes and streaming nostrils endeavoring to throw off his tormentor, until after being stabbed repeatedly and the knife driven to the handle in his side he rolled over and expired, carrying beside the knife wounds half a dozen or more from the rifles.
     Another band of five buffalo once approached the station from the east. Cook and I posted ourselves in the ravine, as usual, to intercept them. When they came within fifty yards they saw our heads above the bank and stopped, all standing abreast. I thought at that distance I could kill one by shooting

     NOTE: As has been stated the buffaloes that were killed around Fossil Creek Station were nearly all killed from hiding places in the ravines. However, there were six or eight old buffalo carcasses lying on a large space of level ground northeast of the station where there were no hiding places to be used by hunters on foot. These certainly were killed by hunters mounted on horseback, I thought. As it was well known that Buffalo Bill (Cody) had been furnishing buffalo meat to railroad graders along the lines in 1867 while the road was being graded through here, I attributed these old carcasses as the remains of his work. In the winter time when we were poisoning wolves for their pelts I often set poison bait on these carcasses, as the wolves were in the habit of going to these carcasses, and from one to the other, when in search of food.


him in the breast. I have tried this several times but could not kill one by a direct front shot. While Cook was waiting for them to turn their sides to us, I fired and they all ran until nearly out of range and stopped, when we both fired. While I was stooping behind the bank reloading my rifle Cook called out, “Johnnie, yours is down,” and when I looked up, ready to fire again, both were down. The remaining three ran southwest, crossing the ravine, where the one I had wounded at the first shot laid down while the others continued running until out of sight. I crawled along in the ravine quite near to the wounded buffalo and was about to give him his death shot when Cook fired at long range from the higher ground. The shot failed to kill the animal, but had the astonishing effect of making him get up and lumber away at a good pace to rejoin his companions.
     We walked up to the dead ones. Mine was a four or five-year-old bull, the largest of the two and in extra fine condition. I cut off the hindquarters, the hump and the best parts of the front quarters and shipped them to my brother-in-law in Manhattan, Kansas. He told me afterwards that he paid nine dollars express on the meat. It weighed 450 pounds. He sold one of the quarters to a local butcher for twelve dollars. The front quarters of a buffalo are much larger than the hind quarters. I thought I had shipped about half of the meat. Making allowance for offal I estimated the weight of the animal on foot to be about 1,600 pounds.
     The honor, if I may be allowed to so name it, of killing the buffalo nearest to our dugout fell to me. It was in December after the fall exodus for the south was over and no buffalo had been seen for some time, that a lone animal was sighted coming across the prairie from the southwest and headed straight for the station. Cook and I got our rifles but waited at the dugout observing the buffalo’s course before retiring to the ravines. When he seemed to take an easterly direction, Cook got into the ravine while I was yet undecided. Presently he turned and came toward me. Cook fired and hit him in the hindquarters, when instead of running he turned slowly about with his side toward me. I was lying flat on the ground. It was getting dark so I could hardly see the sights of my rifle but I shot and killed him with the first shot.
     As we gathered around the slain buffalo we were disappointed , judging from the rings on his horns his age must


have been forty years or more. He was a superannuated male who had been driven out of the herd, according to the buffalo’s custom, as they pass south and left as a prey to the wolves. His hide loked like that of an elephant, no hair or fur remaining. None of us wanted to eat the meat, however we thought it might go all right if sent to the inhabitants of Ellsworth. Cook had done some trading in that town with a man named Beebe, who handled provisions and meats, so we got him to make a sale for us.
     In order to conceal, in a measure, the age and decreptitude of the buffalo we skinned him and instructed John Cook to say (it was not customary to skin buffalo in those days) that we wanted the hide for a robe. Now, of course, this was not according to scripture, but a lenient public will perhaps be kind enough, after the lapse of so many years to lay this little diversion to boys’ tricks, large boys, still full of tricks.
     Well the hindquarters of the buffalo were shipped and sold to Beebe and the amount taken in tobacco for the boys, as I did not use the weed I got no benefit from the deal, but I was keenly anxious to know what satisfaction the meat had given. At my request Cook made inquiries on his next visit to Ellsworth and reported there was no complaint.
     People have changed as well as the country. Nowadays half the beef sold is bought and eaten under peevish complaint yet how seldom does a butcher have an aged beef on his block.

     NOTE: Jerome Beebe was one of the pioneer merchants who located at Ellsworth and there, for more than thirty years, his store of general merchandise stood open six days in the week until his death. Through thick and thin (and often there was more thin than thick) he conducted this commiserial for the people, and it is safe to say that much of the necessities of life that passed over his counter in those trying times was paid for only in the coin of a grateful and needy people, a currency that makes silver and gold as dead as autumn leaves in comparison.

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