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Hunting Buffalo

Four days on the Platte, and yet no buffalo! Last year’s signs of them were provokingly abundant; and wood being extremely scarce, we found an admirable substitute in bois de vache, which burns exactly like peat, producing no unpleasant effects. The wagons one morning had left the camp; Shaw and I were already on horseback, but Henry Chatillon still sat cross-legged by the dead embers of the fire, playing pensively with the lock of his rifle, while his sturdy Wyandotte pony stood quietly behind him, looking over his head. At last he got up, patted the neck of the pony (whom, from an exaggerated appreciation of his merits, he had christened “Five Hundred Dollar”), and then mounted with a melancholy air. “What is it, Henry?” “Ah, I feel lonesome; I never been here before; but I see away yonder over the buttes, and down there on the prairie, black—all black with buffalo!” In the afternoon he and I left the party in search of an antelope; until at the distance of a mile or two on the right, the tall white wagons and the little black specks of horsemen were just visible, so slowly advancing that they seemed motionless; and far on the left rose the broken line of scorched, desolate sand-hills. The vast plain waved with tall rank grass that swept our horses’ bellies; it swayed to and fro in billows with the light breeze, and far and near antelope and wolves were moving through it, the hairy backs of the latter alternately appearing and disappearing as they bounded awkwardly along; while the antelope, with the simple curiosity...

Hunting and Food of the Plains Tribes

Since this is a discussion of the general characteristics of Plains Indians, we shall not take them up by tribes, as is usual, but by topics, Anthropologists are accustomed to group the facts of primitive life under the following main heads: material culture (food, transportation, shelter, dress, manufactures, weapons, etc.), social organization, religion and ceremonies, art, language, and physical type. Food The flesh of the buffalo was the great staple of the Plains Indians, though elk, antelope, bear and smaller game were not infrequently used. On the other hand, vegetable foods were always a considerable portion of their diet, many of the eastern groups cultivating corn (maize) and gathering wild rice, the others making extensive use of wild roots, seeds, and fruits. All the tribes living on the edges of the buffalo area, even those on the western border of the Woodlands, seem to have made regular hunting excursions out into the open country. Thus Nicolas Perrot writing in 1680-1718  says of the Indians in Illinois: The savages set out in the autumn, after they have gathered the harvest, to go hunting; and they do not return to their villages until the month of March, in order to plant the grain on their lands. As soon as this is done, they go hunting again, and do not return until the month of July. Early explorers in the plateaus to the west of the plains tell us that the Nez Perce and Flathead of Idaho and even the inhabitants of the Rio Grande pueblo of Taos, New Mexico, made periodical hunting excursions to the plains. To most of the Plains...

Buffalo Hunt

The frontispiece prefixed to this volume exhibits a lively representation of the noblest sport practiced upon this continent the hunting of the buffalo. These animals were formerly spread over the whole of the great western valley, and formed the most important article of food, not only for the natives, but the early white settlers of that fertile region. They retired in the country became settled by civilized men, and are now found only on the great prairies of the far West, whose immense extent, with the scarcity of timber and water, renders them uninhabitable by human beings. Here these animals are seen congregated in numbers which seem almost incredible. As the eye roves over a verdant surface, nearly as boundless as that of the ocean, the herds are beheld grazing over the whole of the wide space, in countless multitude. The buffalo, though large and unwieldy, is not easily approached by the hunter. Extremely vigilant, and gifted with an exquisite sense of smelling, they readily discover the scent of a human being, and fly before him with precipitation. The Indians overcome this wariness by a variety of devices. Sometimes, having killed the prairie wolf, of which the buffalo has no fear, an Indian wraps him self in the skin, keeping the head in its proper position, and drags himself slowly towards the grazing herd, taking care to advance from the leeward, so that the watchful animal shall not scent his approach upon the tainted breeze. When the object is first seen, the buffaloes raise their heads, and eye it suspiciously, but the appearance of the wolf’s head, with which...

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