MY FIRST BUFFALO
By Delbert S. Ivins
Western World Kansas - July 12, 1890
Submitted by Charlotte Slater
Shortly after the Texas Pacific was completed to Dallas, Texas, accompanied by Frank Goode, an old chum, one fine morning in June, I started from Shreveport LA., to that lively town. We had both been employed as clerks in one of the largest retail houses in Shreveport. At this particular time of the year business always grew dull, and we knew that there would soon be a reduction of force, and so we concluded not to wait and take chances of being discharged, and therefore told the proprietor that we were going to quit. At that time Dallas was having quite a boom and we thought we would try our luck there. We had been in Dallas two days, but as yet had not found a situation. On the morning of the third day after our arrival, we came across a party who were fitting out to go in pursuit of buffaloes, which were reported to be very numerous on the great plains about thirty miles southwest of Fort Worth. We happened to be acquainted with two of the party, who were old schoolmates of ours in the North and as they extended us an invitation to accompany them on their hunt, we decided to do so.
Six strong mule teams, attached to good wagons, were taken along to bring back the spoils of the chase, besides good saddle horses for every member of the party except Frank and myself.
At the close of the second day out from Dallas we saw considerable sign of buffalo and about noon of the next day we came to some fine springs which issued from the bank of a small creek, and as it was a good point for camping, and as buffalo signs were numerous, our guide thought it best to take a stand there for a day or two at least.
Frank and I were astir on the following morning by the first streak of day and we began eagerly to scan the horizon in every direction for the coveted game. We were not long in discovering a vast herd quietly grazing on the plains, about two miles to the southwest of where we were camped. Frank suggested that we take our Winchesters and quietly slip away from camp, for no one else was yet astir and surprise the boys with a buffalo steak for breakfast. This was the very thing I was about to propose to him, and as both of us were in the same notion, twenty minutes later we were nearing the vast herd.
That was the first herd of buffalo I had ever beheld. I saw many big ones afterward, but never encountered one that could compare in vastness with this mighty bison herd. The prairie seemed filled with them. They formed one dark unbroken, undulating mass that seemed bounded only at the horizon and
stretched southward as far as the eye could follow.
We proceeded cautiously across the prairie, half creeping, half crawling, keeping ourselves obscured by the tall broom weeds, which grew luxuriantly between us and the herd, until we had succeeded in approaching to within about thirty rods of the advance guard of the mighty host.
As we lay there watching the systematic arrangement and conduct of the vast herd, its divisions and subdivisions, and line of outposts, our attention was attracted by the peculiar actions of various number of one of the division which was grazing nearest to us.
First one buffalo would give a sudden jump, run a few steps, stop and look back and then, giving his body a thorough shaking would resume his feeding again, only to repeat his strange maneuvers a few seconds later. Others became affected in the same way, and one after another, they finally fell abruptly to the ground and lay motionless at full length.
"It seems to me" said I, in a whisper to Frank "that rattlesnakes must be the cause of this."
"No." said he, "I have heard it said that the prairie rattler can't kill a buffalo, and even if they could, not as quick as these fellows have gone down anyhow. I never saw anything like that before in my life, and can't understand it."
To solve the mystery we concluded to fire into that particular bunch, which would cause them to stampede up to the main herd. We each selected a buffalo and fired. The one I had chosen was a magnificent spike bull. He fell the instant the gun cracked. The one which Frank shot at fled with his immediate companions. The alarm spread along the herd, and soon the vast body was thundering away to the southwest, shaking the earth by their mighty tread.
Followed by Frank I rushed up to my trophy in great glee. I put my foot on his massive neck and felt proud of my achievement.
Suddenly I looked back at Frank. He was standing stock still a few feet behind me, staring at something beyond me, in a frightened manner. I turned to see what he was looking at, and my eyes instantly became as staring wide open as his were.
There at the other side of the dead animal stood an Indian. He was at least seven foot tall, was entirely naked, except that he wore a strip of chamois around his loins, and a quiver of arrows at his side.
His eyes flashed wickedly as he drew himself up to his full height, placed his foot on the buffalo, and smiting himself on his bare breast, exclaimed in a haughty and imperious tone "Mine boofloo!"
Before the Indian had finished making his positive claim to the buffalo, we became painfully aware that he was not alone, but that no less than eight Indians, nearly as big and ugly as himself, had appeared on the scene, as quietly and mysteriously as he had.
I had no intention whatever of disputing the red thief's claim and I knew Frank had not. I took my foot off the dead buffalo. The Indian folded his arms and looked contemptuously as us and then exclaimed: "Tobacee?"
We interpreted this to mean that the savage wanted tobacco. Simultaneously each of us produced a big plug and reached it toward him. He took both plugs bit a chew from one, and stowed them both away somewhere in his breech cloth. Then, with a wicked leer, he waved his hand towards our white covered "prairie schooners" which could be plainly seen from where we were standing and we interpreted this motion to mean that we had better go; and we went!
The mystery of the strange actions of the buffaloes we had seen fall was now plain to us.
The Indians were provided with a complete disguise made of buffalo skins, and they were hiding in the tall broom weeds on the edge of the herd, and were picking off the choicest of them with their noiseless and deadly arrows.
We did not look back until we were half way to camp; then we saw the Indians squatted in an excited group upon the ground.
"They are gambling for our tobacco," said Frank.
We had several days of fine sport hunting and killing the buffalo and when all the wagons were loaded our caravan made a safe return to Dallas.
I have often thought of the way I shot and lost my first buffalo, and I have often congratulated myself since that I did not lose my scalp, and always wondered why that villainous redskin happened to let me keep it.
BESIEGED BY WOLVES
A Stirring Adventure in A Michigan Forest
Wakeeney, Kansas - Saturday, October 25, 1890
By: Newton H. Ivins
Submitted by Charlotte Slater
Twenty years ago the region contiguous to Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan, was little else than a vast wilderness. Traverse City, situated at the head of the bay, was but a village; indeed, it had but a faint semblance of its present size and beauty. A few settlers had taken up homesteads here and there, and a considerable settlement had started on what is known as the Peninsula, a narrow strip of land twenty miles long lying between East and West Bay, about half a mile north of Traverse City.
But the tide of emigration had set in and ere long those mighty forests were destined to give place to fertile fields and happy homes for thousands of pioneers who had become disgusted with being crowded in pent up cities or towns of the older States in the East.
The lumbering interests had just begun to develop, and offered a great incentive to take up homesteads, as they could work in the lumber woods in the winter, and thus get something ahead to improve their claims through the summer. Thus, many a poor man had secured himself a home, and today the face of the country had changed so much that one would scarce recognize it, as compared to what it was then.
I have a medical friend residing near Silver Lake, a beautiful sheet of water lying about seven miles south of Traverse City, on what is known as the "Old State Road." This friend of mine moved to this region from the southern part of the state at about the time I am speaking of, when the settlers were "few and far between," and taking advantage of the homestead act, he secured a piece of Government land, where he now resides. He did not expect much practice at his profession, nor did he wish to have, as he preferred hunting and fishing and the quiet of a country home.
Another thing that induced him to locate in a new country was that he preferred to bring his family up on a farm, where he could give his boys (of whom he had three) some employment that would be healthful exercise, and at the same time be making for themselves a future home.
He would help the boys some about clearing the land, going, however, when he had a call in case of sickness, and little by little they removed the great forest trees, till they soon had cleared land enough to raise nearly their entire living.
Not long since I was up in that region, and, of course, called on my old friend, and made a visit of several days with him.
On one of our pleasure and fishing excursions on Silver Lake, the conversation turned on the subject of wolves inhabiting the swamps of that region in the early days, when the doctor told me the following interesting experience he once had with wolves in that region.
The North American wolf is naturally shy and generally like all his congeners, is a great coward. He never attacks a man singly; indeed, a pack of them will never molest a man while the least glimmer of daylight remains.
I once entertained the idea that they could be scared off, no matter how many their numbers, that it only required a little pluck and a bold front to daunt the hungriest pack of them and put them to flight. But I had a little experience with them one night which has radically changed my mind in that respect.
I had been accustomed to travel through these wild regions at all hours, by day and by night, but never had been in any way molested; nor had I ever had the slightest apprehension of danger from the wolves that were known to infest the surrounding woods and swamps.
On the night in question I had been called to see a sick child about eight miles from home, and it was near dark ere I got to my destination, consequently it was quite late in the night before I started on my return home. It was in the winter time, and the night was exceedingly frosty, but clear and starlight. I had not proceeded far on my homeward journey when, in passing through a swampy piece of ground through which my road lay; I became aware that the clatter of my horse's feet on the frozen snow had aroused a gang of wolves that were roaming the adjoining swamp.
I continued my journey, paying no attention whatever to the howling of the wolves, until I came to a steep descent where the water from an adjoining spring had overflowed the snow, which was consequently formed into a continuous sheet of ice all the way down the declivity. My horse being smooth shod, I deemed it safer to walk. Accordingly, I dismounted, and taking the bridle rein in my hand, endeavored to lead the way down the slippery path. Before, however, I had got half way to the bottom away slid both my feet and down I came. My horse was so startled at the suddenness of my fall that he made a spring to one side of the track, lost his footing and came down close beside me. In the spring he made when I fell, from my hand being fast in the bridle, I was jerked back up the hill some distance with such force that when I recovered a little from the shock, I felt fully persuaded that my shoulder was dislocated.
We both, however, gathered ourselves up as best we could; and there we stood in no condition to protect ourselves from the wolves, should they see fit to attack us; for, from the way in which my horse stood. I was afraid that he had suffered still more damage than myself.
I did not, as yet, have any fear of the wolves, although I knew they were still following us, for I could clearly distinguish the howling of five or six of them, apparently within less than twenty rods of us.
When the pain in my shoulder had somewhat subsided. I examined it more minutely, and convinced myself that it was not dislocated, but the severe wrench had injured it so much that I had no hope of making use of that arm during the remainder of my ride. As regarded my horse, I was pleased to find that he still possessed the use of his four legs, although one of them moved as though he were suffering considerable pain in it. Having contrived to get to the bottom of the descent, I again mounted with extreme difficulty. I found on proceeding that one of my horse's hind legs was severely sprained, and I began to entertain some fear, by this time, that the wolves meant mischief, for on looking back, I discovered three of them, not a dozen yards behind my horse's heels, and a few rods further back were three or four leisurely trotting along in the road. I gave an unearthly yell, and flung my left arm out to try and scare them back; they simply stopped a moment, gazing at me with a hungry look, and then leisurely resumed their trot, and were soon almost within reach of my horse's heels.
The road was in bad condition for a horse to make any speed and more especially so with one with a sprained leg and I found it was impossible to leave the wolves; so I made up my mind to quit my horse and ascend the first tree that appeared favorable for such a purpose. It was not long before such a one offered, and, permitting my horse to go loose, I was amongst the branches of a large beech tree in a few seconds, and quite out of reach of my hungry pursuers. I never doubted for a moment but that they should continue in pursuit of my horse which I thought would be able, now that he was relieved of his load, to make his escape.
But to my surprise I beheld no fewer than eleven large wolves come around the tree on which I had taken shelter, and instead of pursuing my horse, took up their positions and quietly awaited my coming down. Although I had no wish to descend under such circumstances, I was fully aware of the fate that awaited me should I be obliged to remain until morning in my present situation.
The cold was intense; and although I was comfortable dressed, I knew it was next to impossible for me to remain there through the night and not freeze to death. The situation was anything but pleasant. I gawked down upon the upturned faces of my hungry assailants and I saw plainly by their movements that they meant to entertain me there the rest of the night. I tried to think what I might do to scare them off. If I but had my trusty rifle, I thought and plenty of ammunition, I would soon clear a path through them; but as it was, I had nothing except a small pocket knife, and that was of no use whatever. Then I thought of fire, for I was already getting quite chilly. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that I had noticed, before leaving the back of my horse, that the tree in which I was espoused, had a dead top, and glancing quickly upward, I saw that as much as fifteen or twenty feet of the topmost part of the tree was dead and bare. It occurred to me at once that I could set fire to that portion of the tree and thus save myself somewhat from the effect of the intense cold.
To think was to act, and having plenty of matches with me, I immediately ascended the tree till I came to the dead portion of it, which I found sufficiently dry to ignite. Feeling carefully around the old dead body, I soon discovered that it was hollow, at least a part of the way up, and thrusting my hand in the opening I was delighted to find it nearly full of dry leaves and other combustible material.
I at once applied a match, and to my intense satisfaction I soon had the flames writhing and curling about that old dead body until it produced such a heat that I was forced to climb down a little. But the warmth was genial to my body, and I began to feel more comfortable. I was obliged to work with caution among the branches of the tree, for each awkward move of my right arm caused a pain to shoot through it.
On descending the tree to get a little away from the head of the fire, I cast my gaze down for the first time since I had conceived the novel plan of building a fire in the old dead tree top to ascertain what my besiegers were doing. To my surprise I saw nothing of them beneath the tree; but casting my eyes a little way down the road, I beheld them huddled together gazing at the flaming tree top in a dazed sort of fashion, though failing to comprehend the new foe. The old tree top was now all ablaze, and was throwing a bright light far out into the surrounding gloom.
I was wonderfully elated at the unlooked for result of my unique plan of keeping myself from freezing to death, for I saw that the wolves were becoming terribly frightened at the momentarily increasing brilliancy of my fireworks. I felt that the climax was near at hand, for I saw with pleasure that the old tree top would soon burn off at the point where I had started the fire, and would necessarily go crashing to the ground. I observed the way that it would fall, and, getting upon the opposite side, I crawled as far out on the large limb as I deemed save and anxiously awaited the result.
Not long had I to wait. Suddenly the dead top of the tree gave way, and with a tremendous crash went tearing through the lower branches, throwing shower of sparks and branches directly towards the now retreating wolves.
I scrambled down to the ground as hastily as my lame arm would permit and yelling at the top of my voice seized a firebrand and swinging it aloft I started after the now thoroughly frightened wolves.
It was a ludicrous sight to see those cowardly whelps scramble as if for dear life at the top of their speed; for in their fright they frequently ran afoul of each other and tumbled indiscriminately in the deep snow. Soon, however, they disappeared from my view, and turning about I now made vigorous strides towards home. It was something like three miles to the nearest settler from the scene of my adventure. When I arrived at his house I saw by the faint flush in the east that daylight was near at hand. The man was already up and had a cheerful fire, for which I felt exceedingly grateful, after my walk in the crisp morning air. He was greatly surprised and incredulous at the narration of my night's adventure.
Upon arriving at home I found that my horse had preceded me, and had created considerable fear in the minds of my family, for the boys were just upon the point of starting in search of me.
That night's adventure caused me to change my views regarding the innocuousness of wolves, and ever afterward the howling of them in the distant swamps brings with a shudder the recollection of how near I came to making a supper for them.