Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 20, No. 4
December, 1942
A PAWNEE BUFFALO HUNT

By J. S. Clark*

Page 387

The Pawnees sustained themselves for generations by means of two annual buffalo hunts undertaken from the latter part of October to April and during July and August. But on their removal to Indian Territory in 1874-75 the reservation system changed their mode of life. They formerly spent much of the year living in tepees on the high, arid plains, but now they were cooped up in their mudhouses in a wet, malarial region along the Black Bear and almost one-third of the tribe sickened and died during its first two years in Indian Territory.

Even the rations issued weekly to the Pawnees were unsatisfactory under the new system. Stringy beef and unwholesome flour was now their lot with not enough of either. A former agent was under indictment charged with being in collusion with the beef contractor for accepting and issuing to the Indians beeves that were unfit for use. In order to supplement the food allowances issued each family by the federal government, the removal agreement stipulated that the Pawnees should have the privilege of going on hunting expeditions, and in May, 1879 twenty-two of the braves, accompanied by their women and children, were given permission to go on a hunt. Rations of beef, flour, sugar and coffee were issued to the party which immediately headed west where it hoped to contact buffalo within one hundred and fifty miles.

The Pawnees were in the vicinity of Fort Elliott in the Texas Panhandle June 2. They had found no buffalo and their rations were depleted. But they were in greater danger because the citizens of that town resented their intrusion and had sent a highly exaggerated account of conditions there in the form of a petition to Governor O. M. Roberts. An even greater danger lay in the fact that a company of Texas Rangers was camped nearby and it was their avowed intention to shoot any Indian found in Texas. Colonel J. S. Davidson, in command at Fort Elliott, thought it advisable to send the Pawnees back toward their reservation. He kept



Page 388

them at the post for two days, rationed them, heard complaints against them, and then started them toward Fort Supply in charge of Captain E. H. Liscum and his company. The party left Fort Elliott June 4 and arrived at Supply four days later. Here the Indians were placed in charge of the commander, Major A. J. Dallas.

The Pawnees were disappointed. Their passes would expire June 19; they had been unsuccessful in their hunt; their rations were consumed; their 200 ponies were much reduced by the march. All these factors Major Dallas took into consideration while allowing the Indians to rest before beginning their homeward trek. Then, too, he had received unofficial information of expected trouble at Fort Reno with Big Snake and a band of Ponca Indians who had left their reservation for an unauthorized visit with the Cheyennes. Dallas concluded that, after all, no harm could be done by allowing the small band of Pawnees to go on a ten day hunt under escort since he felt that buffalo could be found within forty-five miles of the post. In the event of trouble at Reno over the arrest of Big Snake such action would keep this group off the line between the railroad at Wichita, Kansas and the lower posts. The following description of the hunt appeared in the Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1879 and the correspondent signed the article with the nom de plume "Wibbleton." The writer, doubtlessly, was Captain R. I. Eskridge, Company H, 23 Infantry, who was on temporary duty at Fort Supply. Official documents in the National Archives show that this was the last successful hunt undertaken by a party of Pawnee Indians.

Fort Supply, Ind. Ter., July 1 — (1879) The Pawnee Indians—a once powerful tribe occupying the northeastern portion of Nebraska—are now being domesticated on a reservation in Indian Territory, about 250 miles east of this post. Like all Indians brought from the North to this Territory, they are dissatisfied, though it is on account of the climate, as they appear, to like their Agent, and take an interest in their agricultural pursuits. They say, now that the road of the red man is growing dim, and that of the white man growing plain and wide, they could be happy where they are if they could be healthy. A party of about 100 of these relics of barbarism came out on a buffalo-hunt, got up on the Canadian River, and got into a row with the Texans, near Fort Elliott, who accused them of stealing hogs; but as they "hardly ever" steal, it is an open question.1 How-



Page 389

ever, they were sent to this post, guarded by a company of infantry, under Captain Liscum.2

They had passes to hunt, and asked El Commandante, Major Dallas, to allow them to hunt for ten days west of this post.3 They said this would be their last buffalo hunt. They wanted to get some buffalo-cow meat to offer up to the Great Spirit when they make medicine, as well as to eat, and skins to make moccasins. The Major consented to let them go, sending Captain Eskridge, Lieutenant Brodrick, a Sergeant, and six men as escort, to keep them within the limits of the Territory, and avoid collision between them and passing "Tex," as they call all citizens in this country.4

We left on the 14th, and moved up the Beaver about twenty miles, to where the great Texas cattle-trail crosses that stream. At this point we found one section of some one's drive, —a small one, only about 3,000 head. From this place we moved, next day, on to and up Kiowa Medicine—Lodge Creek. Found three buffalo, and killed one. Two antelope and a fawn completed the day's doings. The morning of the 16th we moved up the same creek, and found, not buffalo, but an animal not so nearly extinct, —a squatter, with about 1,000 head of cattle, grazing peacefully, flourishing and growing fat, monopolizing the range to the exclusion of its aboriginal occupants, of which we were in search.

The Pawnee hunting party consisted of about fifty hunters, each with a buffalo-pony, only used in the chase. For the balance there were squaws, boys, old men, and poorly-mounted bucks. They had only bows and arrows for arms. There were about a half-dozen guns in the party; but only one "old-Kaintuck" rifle and one pistol proved serviceable when it came to action.5 They were not allowed to bring fire-arms. So we witnessed the spectacle of a









Page 390

genuine buffalo-hunt with the primitive bow and arrow, even in this day of advancement, enlightenment, and scarcity of game.

After going into camp at the end of our second day's march, a very handsome buck of about 30 summers, who was watching his horses near the Captain's tent, drew near and entered into conversation, in broken English, aided by signs. He said he had been one of the Pawnee scouts under General Crook in his Sioux campaigns; had been a Corporal. "You Cap'n," holding his hand about six feet from the ground; "tishum, Lieutenant," about five feet high; "me Corporal," about three feet high. It occurred to me that some tall trees would be necessary if he should wish to describe the General or Lieutenant-General. He was a great admirer of Gen. Crook; had taken one scalp out there; and his name was Little Bear. He had two black ponies, which he pointed out with great pride. They were very fast, and "no tire." Either of them was at the Captain's service when we found buffalo. He thought the Captain's horse a good one, but that he wouldn't go near enough to kill. He was a very handsome, interesting fellow; and we named him the Corporal.

Scouts were sent out next morning, and the party proceeded up the creek to find a herd of cattle, as before mentioned. The Indians looked dejected enough on finding about the only buffalo-range now left between Mexico and Dakota invaded and destroyed. The man in charge was sent for, and, with true Texas brass, informed the Captain that we were in Texas by ten or fifteen miles; but admitted, after looking at the map, that he was as far into the Territory, —and was served with a written notice to "move on." We could not ascertain how long this herd had been there; but it could make no difference; as there is no penalty attached to the infringement of the rights of the red man by the white. The latter enjoys immunity so long as he doesn't violate the Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not be found out." Then the extreme penalty is being escorted beyond the limits of the Territory by a squad of soldiers; transportation furnished, if he has not enough; with the privilege of bringing his herd back next day, and remaining until he is again discovered by some other chance party.6

While the party was nooning, and the squatter business was being adjusted under the tent-fly, two Indians appeared on the horizon, riding in a circle, in opposite directions, until they passed each other several times. This meant buffalo, and in a moment the whole camp was a scene of great excitement. The scouts came into camp, and, after reporting, it was decided to move about five miles in the direction of the buffalo, which were about ten miles



Page 391

away. We moved up and camped on Coon Creek, and the bucks immediately prepared for action, by divesting themselves of all clothing. Each wore a strong belt, containing a sheaf-knife, cartridges should he be so fortunate as to have any, and to which the lariat, attached to the pony's neck, is securely tied, then looped up under the belt so it will pay out its full length. So the Indian and his horse are inseparable. The horse has a bridle and lariat on, with, perhaps, a few feathers tied in his mane and tail, and some paint around his ears and eyes.

These hunters carried their, bows and arrows even when they had fire-arms, and, on the whole, appeared more attached to that primitive arm, and more skillful in its use, than I expected to find the case at this day. Each one carries a quirk (whip) on his wrist, wears a band of flaming-colored cloth around his head to secure his hair back out of his eyes, and puts as much red, yellow, and green paint on his face as he can get; then he is equipped for battle with buffalo or his enemy, in human shape.

Thus equipped, the hunters, about forty, sallied forth to the chase. Here I saw a phase of Indian character entirely new to very few white men present. Up to the time the game was sighted, most of them ran on foot, leading their ponies. Some wet their nostrils, rubbed them down, and showed them other attentions during temporary halts, truly wonderful in a man who, has the reputation of never favoring his horse.

The Captain loaned the Indians his rifle and pistol, not intending to go out; but, when the party mustered to start, he and Lieut. B. went, forgetting the heat, which, I think, had figured largely in their first decision.

This was a herd of about thirty-five, very shy, and extreme caution had to be used. A vidette was kept about a half-mile ahead, who finally discovered the game about a mile away, grazing lazily on the edge of a deep-cut ravine. The experienced hunter knew that they would run to the wind, which would at once place the ravine between them and their pursuers, and we must approach them from the lee side, for the buffalo will take to his heels at once on catching the scent of his arch-enemy, while he doesn't see him so readily as other animals.

On this occasion the party had apparently put themselves under the leadership of the Corporal, who exercised the duties of commanding officer with great dignity, and without respect to persons, as he ordered the Captain and Lieutenant to keep their places in the column, in a style that would have made a recruit's hair stand on end; which order they obeyed promptly. They moved in column, equal to our columns of fours, behind a point of land to within 1,000 yards of the game; then, at a word from the leader, moved by the left flank, and bore squarely down on the herd at a rattling pace, preserving such a line as I never expect to see equalled by

Page 392

white soldiers. There was an absence of that rattle, clatter, and cavorting which attend our cavalry-charges. The line sped forward with muffled hoofs, as it were, —conforming as one man to the movements of the leader, who rode about fifty yards in front of the centre of the line, such a picture of the typical savage as is seldom seen. This charge made a profound impression on the officers, who were by this time thoroughly in for it, though the Captain had only two buck cartridges in his belt, the balance being No. 6.

The big, stupid beasts looked at us awhile, and, finally realizing their danger, started at full speed, and immediately disappeared in the ravine, when our whole party broke and followed according to speed. We got across the ravine, which was an ugly one, twenty feet deep and but little more in width, and collared them on the up-grade, when the engagement became general. The Corporal was the first one who caught the herd, and he soon knocked down three fine ones.

Those who think an Indian pony can out run a good American horse are mistaken, for the Captain and Lieutenant were among the first to get to work. The Lieutenant went for a fine calf— the second one down. Then, dashing into the main herd, the Lieutenant knocked down a fine cow. The Captain tackled a big bull, and, his horse behaving badly, missed him with his last buck-cartridge; but, keeping close on the heels of his man, all going at a tremendous pace, he threw in a couple of cartridges of No. 6 shot, got one load of these into the buffalo's hip, then forced the beast until he turned to fight, when he shot him at twenty yards with the other load, just behind the shoulder on the left side, low down. Some of the shots, small as they were, penetrated between the ribs into the heart of the animal, and killed him.

A clean-up showed that twenty beasts had been slaughtered I wondered how the Indians would get their meat into camp, but soon found that one would take the skin, and all there is inside and outside of a buffalo, except the bones, put them on a bare pony, himself on top, and go five or six miles to camp, with the greatest ease.

The next day we lay in camp curing meat; then moved up the Kiowa Medicine—Lodge; but, finding nothing there, bore away to Duck-Ponds Creek, found eight more en route, and took them in. In this chase the Medicine Man went over a precipice, —his pony lighting on top and smashing him up badly about the ribs They put some white paint on his nose and about him generally, but he could not travel with us, and had to be left behind with his family, to return to the post by slow stages.

At this camp, buffalo were reported, and about twenty men turned out to kill them; but when they reached the ground, they found two young bucks, who had been sent out as scouts, chasing

Page 393

the game on their own account. The others tore off their clothes and whipped them.7

We then moved farther to the West; found seven buffalo, which were bagged. In this chase, the Corporal's pony fell and skinned him up badly; besides, he was so long picking himself up that he got nothing.

The next morning, Sunday the 22d, we moved on to the head of Kiowa Creek. I was riding with the Corporal, when suddenly his face lit up, and, pointing to some Indians signaling from a hill five or six miles away, he said, "Heap buffalo!" We saw the head of the column halt, and, on closing up, found that they had rounded up their stock. The bucks sat on the grass in a semi-circle, with the man who had been sent in from the signaling party, —whom we will call the Scout, —for the central figure. It was plain to be seen from the expressions of all their countenances that they were about to enter on one of the most serious duties of their lives. The Scout held the pipe. A buck on his left lit a small piece of buffalo-chip, and, passing his hand inside the arm of the Scout, threw it into the middle of the ring. All eyes were riveted on it intently for a few moments and until the smoke began to curl up from it. Then a buck from the other side walked to it, and with great ceremony picked it up and lit the Scout's pipe.8 After all hands had smoked, the Scout made his revelation as to the whereabouts and number of the buffalo, on which subject he had been as silent as the grave—up to that time. He closed by offering thanks to God for delivering the game into their hands, in a dramatic and very impressive style; to which they all responded heartily and in one voice, —then rose and stripped for action. On being informed





Page 394

by the interpreter of what the ceremony had consisted, some one suggested that they should have waited for the result; to which he replied that they would depend on their own efforts for success, having made good medicine.

This was a wild, rude way of doing religion, and in one of the wildest places I ever saw; but for square worship of the living God, pure and simple, this little band of untutored savages would have compared favorably with many fine congregations in this land who wouldn't consider them worthy to touch the hem of their garments. I am no judge of such matters; but, I am sure if Beecher could have seen this, he would have pronounced it good medicine.

They made a temporary camp here, and all the bucks turned out to join in the chase, leaving the squaws to keep camp. Only one of the escort remained in camp, and he let an Indian have his gun. A very handsome young squaw came up to the Captain, and said she would let him take her pony; that he was a good one in the chase; that she could kill buffalo if they would let her go in the chase; but made a condition that he should get her a nice cow. The pale-face accepted the pony, and promised to get her as fine a one as the herd produced, or never to bring the pony back alive.

We soon sallied forth, and after a detour of several miles, found the herd, about three hundred, grazing peacefully in a wide draw, all unconscious of the approaching danger.

The Indians divided into two parties, —one to go around to the right and approach from behind a ridge, while the other was to move straight at them. The latter party dismounted, and, leading their horses, approached to within 300 yards of the game on the left side. The Indians explained that, seeing us dismounted, the buffalo would think we were buffalo. As soon as the other party signaled their readiness, we mounted and dashed straight at them. Simultaneously with this the other party burst over the ridge, and stood outlined against the sky, every bow strung, every man and horse strained to the utmost tension, —the horses' tails and riders' hair standing straight out behind; while just beyond the herd, scampered a band of wild horses in the wildest fright.

Both parties struck the herd at the same time, and before they had time to recover from the confusion into which they had been thrown; but away they went, and it occurred to me that a similar occasion had originated the expression, "whoop her up." That's just what they did. There was a terrible rush, —buffalo, dust, bullets, arrows, and Indians mixed in such confusion as to be entirely uncomfortable to a disinterested spectator. The officers made a bold push for the herd, and found themselves alone on the left side of it, just as the Indians struck it a vigorous blow on the right side, turning the head of the herd to the left, enveloping the Captain and Lieutenant in a cloud of dust and buffalo, just as

Page 395

they all went into a deep ravine together. Just here some good work was done, as the field showed after the storm had swept past.

The herd bore off in the direction of the camp. About fifty of them ran through it, hotly pursued by the hunters. The squaws stampeded and took refuge in and under our wagon. As there was not a gun in camp, that proved to be the best place to go. The Captain killed a fine cow near camp, with which he paid his pony-hire. He also got two more fine ones, and then devoted himself to helping the needy, —finishing up those the Indians had wounded, and, having exhausted their arrows, were herding in hopes of assistance from some source.9 Lieut. B. got a nice cow. The Corporal killed six outright, besides helping his neighbors. He had a musket. The whole party killed about eighty large ones and ten calves.

We then brought the caravan up, and went into camp on the scene of action, where there was plenty of wood and water, and where the work of curing meat and hides was prosecuted industriously. The next morning the whole herd came straggling down to water, and got within 100 yards of camp, when the Indians burst out on them and killed about twenty more.

The Captain's orders requiring him to return on the 26th, we left on the 24th, —consenting, after a feast, smoke, etc., that the band should follow as soon as they could cure their meat and hides, of which it was supposed they had as much as they could transport.

Our party reached home on the 26th, having had one of the pleasantest and most interesting trips any of the members had ever experienced.

The Indians got in on the 29th, having killed 150 buffalo, all told. They were delighted with their success, and left for their Agency, intending to make another, and perhaps several other, last hunts.10 (Wibbleton)





Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site