Game in the Pike’s Peak Region
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In telling of the great quantities of game in this region, Ruxton says:
Never was there such a paradise for hunters as this lone and solitary spot.
Game abounded on every hand. Bear, elk, deer, mountain sheep, antelope, and grouse were in abundance in the surrounding mountains and valleys. Of buffalo there were few except in the valleys west of Pike’s Peak and in the Bayou Salado, or South Park, as it is now known.
Ruxton further says:
It is a singular fact that within the last two years the prairies, extending from the mountains to one hundred miles or more down the Arkansas, have been entirely abandoned by the buffalo; indeed, in crossing from the settlements of New Mexico, the boundary of their former range is marked by skulls and bones, which appear fresher as the traveler advances westward and towards the waters of the Platte.
The evidence that Ruxton here mentions were still apparent twelve or fourteen years later, when the first settlers of this region arrived. Buffalo skulls and bones were scattered everywhere over the plains, but live buffalo could seldom be found nearer than one hundred miles east of the mountains.
The reason for this has been variously stated, some claiming that a contagious disease broke out among the buffalo in the early forties, which virtually exterminated those along the eastern base of the mountains. Others say that about that time there was a tremendous snowfall in the early part of the winter which covered the whole country along the eastern base of the mountains to a depth of six to eight feet, and that as a result all the buffalo within the region of the snowfall starved to death during the following winter. It is very possible that the latter reason may have been the true one, as a heavy fall of snow in the early part of the winter is not unknown. In the winter of 1864-1865 the antelope of this region nearly starved to death, owing to a two-foot fall of snow, on the last day of October and the first day of November, 1864, which covered the ground to a considerable depth for most of the winter.
While it is true that there were no buffalo in this immediate region at the time Ruxton was here, nor afterwards, it is well-known that they had been fairly plentiful in earlier years. Lieutenant Pike tells of killing five buffalo the day he reached the present site of Pueblo in 18o6, and a day or two afterwards he killed three more on Turkey Creek, about twenty miles south of where Colorado Springs now stands, and saw others while climbing the mountains in his attempt to reach the “high point,” “as he calls it, now known as Pike’s Peak.
In 1820, Long’s expedition, on its way from Platte Canon, killed several buffalo on Monument Creek, a few miles south of the Divide; and later, while camped on the Fountain a short distance below the site of the present city of Colorado Springs, killed several more.
Sage says that in 1842, during a five days’ stay at Jimmy’s Camp (ten miles east of the present city of Colorado Springs), he “killed three fine buffalo cows.”