Buffalo in Kansas
Not until Cortez
reached Anahuac, the capital of the Aztecs, in 1521, was the buffalo known to
Europeans. Montezuma at that time, had a well appointed menagerie, and among the
animals of his collection the greatest rarity was the "Mexican Bull, a wonderful
composition of diverse animals. "It has crooked Shoulders, with a Bunch on its
Back like a Camel; its Flanks dry, its Tail large, and its neck covered with hair like a
lion. It is cloven footed, its Head armed like that of a Bull, which
it resembles in Fierceness with no less strength and Agility."
This is probably the
first description of the American buffalo in print. In 1530 Cabeca de Vaca
encountered buffalo in a wild state in what is now Texas. He also left a
description of them, telling of the quality of their meat and of the uses of
Coronado, in 1542,
reached the buffalo country on his way to Quivira,
and traversed the plains that were "full of crooke-backed oxen, as the mountain
Serena in Spaine is of Sheepe."
In 1612 an English
navigator named Samuel Argoll mentions meeting with buffalo while on a trip to
Virginia, discovering them some miles up the Pembrook (Potomac) River, probably
near present-day Washington, D.C. Father Hennepin encountered buffalo in 1679
while on a journey up the St. Lawrence River. Marquette has said that the
prairies along the Illinois River were "covered with buffaloes."
Lewis and Clark,
the explorers, when on their return trip down the Missouri River in 1806,
mention having to wait an hour for a herd that was then crossing the river.
Colonel Richard I.
Dodge, in his Plains of the Great West, describing a herd met with in Kansas, said: "In May, 1871, I drove in a light wagon from old
on the Arkansas River, 34 miles. At least 25 miles of this distance was through
one immense herd, composed of countless smaller herds of buffalo then on their
journey north. The whole country appeared one great mass of buffalo, moving
slowly to the northward. The herds in the valley sullenly got out of my way,
and, turning, stared stupidly at me, sometimes at only a few yards' distance.
When I had reached a point where the hills were no longer than a mile from the
road, the buffalo on the hills, seeing an unusual object in their rear, turned,
stared an instant, then started at full speed towards me, stampeding and
bringing with them the numerous herds through which they passed and pouring down
upon me all the herds, no longer separated, but one immense compact mass of
plunging animals, mad with fright, and as irresistible as an avalanche. Reining
up my horse, I waited until the front of the mass was within 50 yards, when a
few well-directed shots from my rifle split the herd, and sent it pouring off in
two streams to my right and left. When all had passed me they stopped,
apparently satisfied, though thousands were yet within range of my rifle and
many within less than 100 yards. Disdaining to fire again, I sent my servant to
cut out the tongues of the fallen. This occurred so frequently within the next
10 miles, that when I arrived at
I had twenty-six tongues in my wagon. I was not hunting, wanted no meat, and
would not voluntarily have fired at the herds. I killed only in
self-preservation and fired almost every shot from the wagon." This herd is
estimated to have numbered about 4,000,000 head.
Accounts are numerous
of the existence of buffalo in other remote localities, but on the great plains
they throve best and were to be found in the greatest numbers. The mating season
occurred when the herd was on the range, when the calves were from two to four
months old. During the "running season" the herds came together in one dense
mass of many thousands -- in many instances so numerous as to blacken the face
of the landscape.
was probably very near the center of the buffalo range, and every year the
Indians had their buffalo hunt. The buffalo supplied many of their wants,
the skins being carefully tanned to supply clothing, bedding, and covers for
tepees; the meat not intended for immediate consumption was stripped off the
carcass, carefully dried, and thus made available for use until the next hunt.
The hides of the old bulls were used as a covering for a water craft known as
"bull boats" -- being carefully stretched over a round framework, the hairy side
within. These boats were constructed more easily than by hollowing out logs.
Slaughtered For the Hide, Harper's Weekly, 1874.
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Of all the four legged
animals that have lived upon the earth, probably no other species has ever
marshaled such innumerable hosts as those of the American bison. It would have
been as easy to count or to estimate the number of leaves in a forest as to
calculate the number of buffalos, living at any given time during the history of
the species previous to 1870.
to 1840 it has been estimated that approximately 652,275 buffalos were killed by
buffalo hunters, the total value of which, at
$5 each, would be $3,261,375. Where
Indians killed one for food the the hide and
tongue hunters killed fifty. This incessant slaughter was kept up year after
year, thousands of hunters -- whites and Indians -- being employed for no other
purpose than to kill as many as they could.
Cody was once engaged in this business and is said to have killed 4,280 in
18 months, while thousands of others were likewise engaged of whom no record is
had. In 1871 several thousand hunters were in the field and it is estimated that
from 3,000 to 4,000 buffalos were killed
The building of the Pacific railroads divided the buffalos
into two large herds that ranged on either side of the Platte River. The
estimated numbers in these herds at this time was about 3,000,000 each and it
was never thought by western men in those days that it would be possible to
exterminate such a mighty multitude. But, the same improvident work of
destruction continued and by 1875 the southern herd had been exterminated. The
northern herd in 1882 was thought to number about 1,000,000 head, but by 1883 it
was almost annihilated, and
Sitting Bull and a few white hunters that year had
the distinction of killing the last 10,000 that remained.
This wholesale slaughter of the
brought about more
than one uprising among the Plains
Indians, who foresaw the total destruction of
their food supply, and some bloody wars were the result. During the construction
of the Kansas Pacific and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroads the
were so numerous as to impede work, and on more than one occasion, trains were
derailed by running into herds.
After the extermination of the southern herd a new industry
sprang up, the bones of the slaughtered millions being carefully gathered and
shipped back east, where they were ground into fertilizer to be used on the
impoverished farms of the older sections. Thousands of carloads were shipped,
the average price paid being from $4 to $6 a ton.
Charles J. "Buffalo: Jones, for many years a resident of
Kansas, succeeded in a measure in domesticating the
buffalo, and made
experiments in crossing them with the Galloway breed of cattle, the product of
which was called the Catalo, taking primarily, the characteristics of the
To save the animals
from total destruction the United States secured a number of
buffalos and placed
them in Yellowstone National Park where they could be free from molestation.
This small herd increased very slowly owing to losses of calves through
predatory animals. By the early 1900s, outside of a few public and private
buffalo had entirely disappeared.
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.
buffalo can once again be seen in several places in
Kansas. The Maxwell Wildlife
Refuge is one the few places where wild
buffalo can still be seen. The refuge is
located six miles north of Canton,
Kansas just off Highway 86. There are also a
number of private ranches where herds can be seen, and some even hold
hunts. Many others sell
buffalo meat both locally and nationally.
the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,
Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar, A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing
Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these page is not verbatim,
as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.