The morning brought with it no joy. We had arrived at the westernmost limit of the "gigantic Leicestershire" to which buffalo at this season extend, and could hope to see no trace of them between Cotton Wood Station and the Pacific. I can not, therefore, speak ex cathedrâ concerning this, the noblest "venerie" of the West: almost every one who has crossed the prairies, except myself, can. Captain Stansbury will enlighten the sportsman upon the approved method of bryttling the beasts, and elucidate the mysteries of the "game-beef," marrow-bone and depuis, tongue and tenderloin, bass and hump, hump-rib and liver, which latter, by-the-by, is not unfrequently eaten raw, with a sprinkling of gall, by the white hunter emulating his wild rival, as does the European in Abyssinia. The Prairie Traveler has given, from experience, the latest observations concerning the best modes of hunting the animal. All that remains to me, therefore, is to offer to the reader a few details collected from reliable sources, and which are not to be found in the two works above alluded to.
The bison (Bison Americanus) is trivially known as the Prairie Buffalo, to distinguish it from a different and a larger animal, the Buffalo of the Woods, which haunts the Rocky Mountains. The "Monarch of the Prairies," the "most gigantic of the indigenous mammalia of America," has, it is calculated, receded westward ten miles annually for the last 150 years. When America was discovered, the buffalo extended down to the Atlantic shore. Thirty years ago, bands grazed upon the banks of the Missouri River. The annual destruction is variously computed at from 200,000 to 300,000 head -- the American Fur Company receive per annum about 70,000 robes, which are all cows, -- and of these not more than 5000 fall by the hands of white men. At present there are three well-known bands, which split up, at certain seasons, into herds of 2000 and 3000 each. The first family is on the headwaters of the Mississippi; the second haunts the vast crescent-shaped valley of the Yellow Stone; whilst the third occupies the prairie country between the Platte and the Arkansas. A fourth band, westward of the Rocky Mountains is quite extinct. Fourteen to fifteen years ago, buffalo was found in Utah Valley, and later still upon the Humboldt River: according to some, they emigrated northward, through Oregon and the lands of the Blackfeet. It is more probable, however, that they were killed off by the severe winter of 1845, their skulls being still found scattered in heaps, as if a sudden and general destruction had come upon the doomed tribe.
The buffalo is partially migratory in its habits: it appears to follow the snow, which preserves its food from destruction. Like the antelope of the Cape, when on the "trek," the band may be reckoned by thousands. The grass, which takes its name from the animal, is plentiful in the valley of the Big Blue; it loves the streams of little creeks that have no bottom land, and shelters itself under the sage. It is a small, moss-like gramen, with dark seed, and, when dry, it has been compared by travelers to twisted gray horsehair. Smaller herds travel in Indian file; their huge bodies, weighing 1500 lbs., appear, from afar, like piles erected to bridge the plain. After calving, the cows, like the African koodoo and other antelopes, herd separately from the males, and for the same reason, timidity and the cares of maternity. As in the case of the elephant and the hippopotamus, the oldsters are driven by the young ones, en charivari, from the band, and a compulsory bachelorhood souring their temper, causes them to become "rogues." The albino, or white buffalo, is exceedingly rare; even veteran hunters will confess never to have seen one. The same may be said of the glossy black accident called the "silk robe" supposed by Western men to be a cross between the parent and the offspring. The buffalo calf has been tamed by the Flatheads and others: I have never, however, heard of its being utilized.
The Dakotahs and other Prairie tribes will degenerate, if not disappear, when the buffalo is "rubbed out." There is a sympathy between them, and the beast flies not from the barbarian and his bow as it does before the face of the white man and his hot-mouthed weapon. The aborigines are unwilling to allow travelers, sportsmen, or explorers to pass through the country while they are hunting the buffalo, that is to say, preserving the game till their furs are ready for robes. At these times no one is permitted to kill any but stragglers, for fear of stampeding the band; the animal not only being timid, but also in the habit of hurrying away cattle and stock, which often are thus irretrievably lost. In due season the savages surround one section, and destroy it; the others remaining unalarmedly grazing within a few miles of the scene of slaughter. If another tribe interferes, it is a casus belli, death being the punishment for poaching. The white man, whose careless style of battue is notorious, will be liable to the same penalty, or, that failing, to be plundered, by even "good Indians;" and I have heard of an English gentleman who, for persisting in the obnoxious practice, was very properly threatened with prosecution by the government agent.
What the cocoanut is to the East Indian, and the plantain and the calabash to various tribes of Africans, such is the "bos" to the carnivorous son of America. No part of it is allowed to waste. The horns and hoofs make glue for various purposes, especially for feathering arrows; the brains and part of the bowels are used for curing skins; the hide clothes the tribes from head to foot; the calf skins form their apishamores, or saddle blankets; the sinews make their bow strings, thread and finer cord; every part of the flesh, including the foetus, and placenta is used for food. The surplus hides are reserved for market. They are prepared by the squaws, who, curious to say, will not touch a bear skin till the age of maternity has passed; and they prefer the spoils of the cow, as being softer than those of the bull. The skin, after being trimmed with an iron or bone scraper -- this is not done in the case of the "parflèche," or thick sole-leather, and softened with brain or marrow, is worked till thoroughly pliable with the hands. The fumigation, which gives the finishing touch, is confined to buckskins intended for garments. When the hair is removed, the hides supply the place of canvas, which they resemble in whiteness and facility of folding. Dressed with the hair, they are used, as their name denotes, for clothing; they serve also for rugs and bedding. In the prairies, the price ranges from $1 to $1.50 in kind; in the Eastern States, from $5 to $10. The fancy specimens, painted inside, decorated with eyes, and otherwise adorned with split porcupine-quills dyed a gamboge-yellow, fetch from $8 to $35. A "buffalo" (subaudi robe) was shown to me, painted with curious figures, which, according to my Canadian informant, were a kind of hieroglyph or aide mémoire, even ruder than the Mexican picture-writing.
The Indians generally hunt the buffalo with arrows. They are so expert in riding, that they will, at full speed, draw the missile from the victim's flank before it falls. I have met but one officer, Captain Heth, of the 10th Regiment, who ever acquired the art. The Indian hog-spear has been used to advantage. Our predecessors in Eastern conquest have killed with it the tiger and nylgau; there is, therefore, no reason why it might not be efficiently applied to the buffalo. Like the Bos Caffre, the bison is dull, surly, and stupid, as well as timid and wary; it requires hard riding, with the chance of a collar-bone broken by the horse falling into a prairie-dog's home; and when headed or tired an old male rarely fails to charge.