1872-3 Slaughter of the Buffalo
"during the first year or two only about one out three or four buffaloes killed supplied a usable hide.
So many inept amateurs were in the field that the majority of hides were lost
by being ruined through clumsy skinning, or by spoilage through poor drying
or by failure to protect against the insect damage."
Ralph Andrist, The Long Death, 1964 p180

Rath Hide Yard, Dodge City, 1874

Rath Hide Yard, Dodge City, 1874

1872-3 Slaughter of the Buffalo: Extra Sources

Within a few years millions of buffalo were killed for their hides, and thousands of white men, the best rifle-shots in the world, were engaged in the business. The buffalo, like the Indian, was in the pathway of civilization. Now the same territory is occupied by innumerable numbers of domestic animals that contribute untold wealth to our entire country.
General Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)

The buffaloes were quite plenty, and it was agreed that we should go into the same herd at the same time and "make a run," as we called it, each one killing as many as possible. A referee was to follow each of us on horseback when we entered the herd, and count the buffaloes killed by each man. The St. Louis excursionists, as well as the other spectators, rode out to the vicinity of the hunting grounds in wagons and on horseback, keeping well out of sight of the buffaloes, so as not to frighten them, until the time came for us to dash into the herd; when they were to come up as near as they pleased and witness the chase.

At last the time came to begin the match. Comstock and I dashed into a herd, followed by the referees. The buffaloes separated; Comstock took the left bunch and I the right. My great forte in killing buffaloes from horseback was to get them circling by riding my horse at the head of the herd, shooting the leaders, thus crowding their followers to the left, till they would finally circle round and round. On this morning the buffaloes were very accommodating, and I soon had them running in a beautiful circle, when I dropped them thick and fast, until I had killed thirty-eight; which finished my run.

Comstock began shooting at the rear of the herd, which he was chasing, and they kept straight on. He succeeded, however, in killing twenty-three, but they were scattered over a distance of three miles, while mine lay close together. I had "nursed" my buffaloes, as a billiard-player does the balls when he makes a big run.
Buffalo Bill Cody, The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920)

"I used a big fifty caliber Sharps rifle. It shot a hundred and twenty grains of powder, and the bullets were an inch and a quarter long. When one of these big (slugs) would hit a buffalo, whether it hit the right place or not, it would make him sick. It wouldn't be long until I put another into him. I have often shot a buffalo ten or fifteen times before I got him down."
George W. Brown, a buffalo hunter 1870-1874

"All this slaughter was a put up job on the part of the government to control Indians by getting rid of their food supply.........it was a low down dirty business."
Teddy ‘Blue’ Abbot, a cowboy in the 1880s E.C. Abbott and H Huntingdon Smith, We Pointed Them North, 1966 page 101

The vast plains west of the Missouri River are covered with the decaying bones of thousands of slain buffaloes. Most of them have been slaughtered for the hide by professional hunters, while many have fallen victims to the sportsmen’s rage for killing merely for the sake of killing. These people take neither hide nor flesh, but leave the whole carcass to decay and furnish food for the natural scavengers of the plains.

Our front-page illustration represents a party of professional hunters, numbering six or eight, who have come upon a large herd of buffaloes. The first shot brings down a splendid animal, wounded purposely in a manner not to kill but to make him "pump blood," that is to say, to bleed profusely. Others of the herd gather around their wounded comrade, and appear to be too much stupefied to avoid danger by flight. The hunters kill as many as they can, until the survivors at last take fright and gallop off.

Then the "stripping" begins. The hides are taken off with great skill and wonderful quickness, loaded on a wagon, as shown in the background of the picture, and carried to the hunters’ camp. Our artists spoke with the hunters on the plains who boasted of having killed two thousand head of buffalo apiece in one season. At this rate of slaughter, the buffalo must soon become extinct. Already there is a sensible diminution of the great herds on the plains, and from many places where they were once numerous they have disappeared altogether. Some of the railroads running far out into the prairies have regular trains for parties of amateur hunters, who fire upon their victims from the car windows. Thousands of buffalo were killed in this manner, besides other kinds of wild game, and their carcasses left to decay on the ground along the line of the railroad.

The indiscriminate slaughter of the buffalo has brought many evils in its train. Among other bad consequences it has been the direct occasion of many Indian wars. Deprived of one of their chief means of subsistence through the agency of white men, the tribes naturally take revenge by making raids on white settlements and carrying off stock, if they do not murder the settlers.
Harper’s Weekly, SLAUGHTERED FOR THE HIDE December 12, 1874, page 1022

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© Chris Smallbone March2006