PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
In the days when millions of buffaloes were roaming on the buffalos range from the Dakotas to the panhandle of Texas, buffalo robes were in everyday use and were nearly as common as blankets are today. In the winter time when the ground was covered with snow it was an ordinary practice for people to go sleigh riding wrapped up in a buffalo robe. Merchants, harness shops, and such dealers as dealt in blankets generally kept buffalo robes for sale.
D. O. Bancroft, the owner of the diary
this diary I interviewed the owner, who generously let me copy it, and, as he had been on one of these trips himself gave me much information. To copy the diary in full here would require too much space for the purpose of this book, but I will endeavor to give correctly the most important parts.
John P. Rathbun made two trips to the buffalo range during the winter of 1873-74. On the first trip the party consisted of himself and his brother, Ed B., Wm. H. Nicholson, Wm. Heath, Alec Harper, W. Hiliker and his brother, Ben, George Doremus, George Gorden, Chas. Bradish, and Robert Taylor. All well armed.
With six two-horse teams and wagons loaded principally with corn, the winter supply of grain for the horses. Startnig on the 29th day of December, the party traveled northwest, crossing the south and the north forks of the Solomon river, then Sappa and Beaver creek and the Republican river, where, on the 13th of January, 1874, they killed the first buffalo. From here they entered the hunting ground in western Nebraska and soon the whole party were busily engaged in killing and skinning buffalo, drying the meat, rendering tallow and staking out the hides for drying.
When the buffalo became scarce in one locality the party moved camp to another where they were more plentiful. Other hunters camps were located on the range, the members of the several hunting parties exchanged visits with each other, although the camps might be five or ten miles apart. Rathbun bought buffalo hides in several camps for the hunters, selecting those best adapted for robes. At times when their camp was located within a few days travel of the Union Pacific Railroad frequently a load of fresh or dried meat was hauled to Julesburg, Ogalala, or other stations, which was sold or traded for provisions, ammunition or other necessaries.
January 28, John Rathbun started for home with a load of buffalo hides, and returned from home back to camp February 25, bringing with him Nicholsons brother-in-law, a young man in his teens with the name of D. O. Bancroft, who is now the owner of the diary mentioned above. The Indians were very quiet that season as they generally were in the winter time.
NOTE: John P. Rathbun was born in Ohio, 1829; came to Osborne County in 1871, and died here in 1905. Wm. H. Nicholson was born in Ohio in 1837, and died in Corinth Township, Osborne County, in 1919.
March 24th the hunting party went up on the north side of the Platte river into Wyoming. While on this trip they met a band of Sioux Indians. They were peaceable inclined and our hunters traded with them, exchanging a rifle and a revolver for buffalo robes. While trading with the savages the hunters took no chances in giving them the advantage, and the Indians kept their places with due respect for the white men and their rifles. Here Mr. D. O. Bancroft stated that when the party returned from the North Platte they brought with them three hundred buffalo hides. The diary sates that hides were shipped, but it does not state to which point. The hides were bought with the object of having them tanned and made into robes.
According to this diary ninety-four buffaloes were killed by the Rathbun party during this hunting trip. On March 30 seven buffalo were killed. A ranchman named Tucker came to the camp and hauled the thirteen buffalo heads to the Union Pacific Railroad station, from where they were shipped to Denver to be mounted by a taxidermist. The hunters received pay for the heads later.
A hunters life on the plains in those days was quite different from the comforts of life enjoyed in a modern home today. There were hardships to be endured. When their camp was located near water holes or creeks devoid of timber, the men were often compelled to rely on buffalo chips for fuel to cook their meals and to warm themselves. When overtaken by a snowstorm, and the weather perhaps ranged below zero, all that could be done was to seek shelter behind a bluff or a high creek bank where they were protected from the piercing winds, blanket the horses and feed them an extra portion of corn, while the hunters wrapped themselves in buffalo robes and slept warm in some sheltered place. Occasionally the coyotes or gray wolves could be heard howling during the night, which was music to the hunters ears. In this way the time passed until the storm abated.
Now winter had passed and spring had arrived. Nothing had happened to interfere with the hunt on this trip. Besides encountering a snowstorm, breaking a wagon wheel and a wagon tongue, getting stuck fast while crossing a miry creek no serious accident occurred. On April 16 the wagons were loaded with the proceeds of the hunt and the party started for home by nearly the same route as they came, and arrived at home on May 12. So far the diary.
Mr. D. O. Bancroft also told the writer that shortly after their arrival at home he and John Rathbun, and his son, Frank, with a horse team each, made a trip to the Otoe Indian agency, hauling buffalo hides, where they were tanned and made into robes by that tribe of Indians. After the work was done three hundred buffalo robes were baled at Marysville, Kansas, and shipped to Ohio. As John Rathbun became well acquainted with the Otoes, the transaction between them having been satisfactory, another trible of Indians, the Omahas, whose reservation was located in eastern Nebraska, sought this white mans favor. In 1875 and the years following both of these tribes were accompanied by Rathbun on hunting trips to the buffalo range. By this time the buffaloes had been hunted and killed off by the millions, and were getting scarce in Kansas, but were still found in large number on the Cimeron river in the Indian Territory and the Panhandle of Texas. For the purpose of accompanying these tribes on their hunts to that country John Rathbun was appointed sub-agent. An interpreter also accompanied them. No diary was kept during these trips and as the leading members are dead little of the particulars of these hunts are known except what is remembered by the relatives.
At one time when the Otoes were camped on the Solomon river near Rathbuns and were ready to start on the journey to the buffalo hunting ground, one of the little pappooses became sick and died, which was about to delay the expedition, as according to Indian tradition and belief the soul of the little one must be cared for by building a fire for three successive nights at the little ones grave. To please the Indians and not delay the journey, arrangements were made with Ed Rathbun, a younger brother of Johns, who made the fires, after the Indians departed, to guide the soul of the little one to the happy hunting ground.
The Indians were all mounted and equipped for a long journey; the bucks were accompanied by their squaws and papooses, in all about three hundred strong. They were armed with rifles and bows and arrows. They made no surrounds in killing buffaloes like some of the wild tribes, in the West, but hunted them the same as did the white men. These hunts were successful; the party returning with their string of ponies loaded with meat and hides. After their return the Indians
made their camp near the Rathbun farm on the north side of the Solomon river, near the mouth of Twin creek. According to Frank Rathbun, a son of John P., who, with his family, still resides on the farm, the Omahas were here on a hunt and camped on his fathers place one time, but the Otoes were here several times on hunting trips and tanning robes at the camping ground mentioned. They tanned the hides and made robes for themselves and also for Rathbun, who paid them a stipulated price for each robe. The material that was used in the process was brains and grease, and the implements or tools used were stones.
Many of these robes were elaborately painted on the flesh side with a dye made of herbs and barks, which they gathered in the woods along the creeks and river. The painting was done with a bone of porous quality. Pictures were drawn of all sorts of Indian design. It was said a white man named Theodore Cunningham, painted many of the robes and did the work as well as any Indian.
In the last years of the seventies buffalo hunting came to an end; only isolated small herds were left in Montana and other out-of-the-way places, and efforts were made to preserve this useful animal and prevent its extinction
While interviewing old-timers in Osborne County I made the acquaintance of Jeff Durfey, the first settler in Osborne County. He was born in 1845 and served three years in the Thirtieth Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War. He came to Osborne County from Dane County, Wisconsin, in 1870, by the way of Nebraska, and settled on a homestead on Covert creek, where he has resided ever since. Much of the time in the early seventies he spent hunting buffaloes, traveling over the western country in a half dozen states, and many are the interesting stories he tells of those times. Covert creek is one of the best timbered streams in Osborne County. In places there are forty to eighty acres of timber in a body. One of these heavy timbered sections he