- Historic Sites
How They Killed The Buffalo
In the mid-Ninteenth Century, enormous herds roamed the western plains. In a few years only scattered remnants of these survived.
August 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 5
That was enough for the hunters. Willing to risk the danger of Indian scalpers, they quickly formed parties and set out to the south. They were followed in the spring of 1874 by dealers in hunting supplies and hides. The first of these, Charlie Myers, drove south with about forty hunters and teamsters, taking eight wagons and six-yoke teams of oxen. On the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle he cut cottonwood logs and built a branch of his Dodge City store. This site was a mile and a half fast of the ruins of the Adobe Walls trading post that a party sent out by William Bent had established about 1843. Around the Myers store the men built a corral and a stockade.
Soon afterward another Dodge merchant, Charlie Rath, also arrived to set up a Texas branch. He opened for business in a sod house near the Myers cabin. Next, James Hanrahan, also from Dodge City, came in with a supply of whisky and built a sod-house saloon between the two stores and near the Myers stockade. Then Tom O’Keefe set up a picket house for a blacksmith shop between the saloon and the Rath store. All were ready for business by the first of May, and the newcomers called their village Adobe Walls.
Business flourished with the success of the hide hunters, but danger from Indians was never far away. Hostile warriors, who had killed and scalped several of the hunters in isolated camps, made a concentrated attack on Adobe Walls at dawn on the morning of June 27, 1874. The 700 attackers were mainly from the Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa tribes and were led by Quanah Parker and Lone Wolf. Mooar and others had gone north with hides, but the outpost had 28 men and one woman. The defenders successfully fought off the Indians but lost four men.
Other temporary headquarters of the Texas buffalo hunters in the next few years included Tepee City, on Tepee Creek, and Rath City, near the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River. The latter outpost, established by Charlie Rath in January, 1877, lasted until May of the following year. In addition to offering supplies and a market for hides, it had a wagon yard, a Chinese laundry, and a combination saloon and dance hall.
In the middle and late 1870’s the principal Texas headquarters for the hunters was Fort Griffin, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. From this outpost long wagon trains hauled the hides to Dallas and Denison. One of the trains might include as many as forty wagons, each drawn by six or eight mules. As the hides made light freight, they were piled high and were held in place with poles and ropes. After Fort Worth obtained its first railroad, on July 4, 1876, it became the chief Texas shipping point for hides.
In the winter of 1876-77 an estimated 1,500 hunters were shooting buffaloes on the Texas plains, and by early spring Fort Griffin had about four acres filled with piles of hides waiting for the wagon trains to haul them to Fort Worth. In the latter town, one morning in May, 1877, a reporter noted a caravan of ten wagons coming in. “In front were eleven yoke of oxen driven by one man and dragging after them four large wagons, heavily laden. Two other teams, with seven yoke each, drawing three wagons, followed. There probably were 2,500 to 3,000 hides in the train.”
In the same spring another Fort Worth observer was impressed with one lot of 60,000 hides piled high on a platform near the Texas and Pacific Railroad. During the season, Fort Griffin sent in about 200,000 hides, which brought the hunters about a dollar each. But the peak of the slaughter had passed, and the end was in sight. The hunters had broken up the great southern herd, leaving only scattered remnants.
In the winter of 1877-78 the skinners took more than 100,000 hides in Texas. This virtually wiped out the southern herd. The only noteworthy commercial hunting left was that in the northern plains in the early 1880’s. Like many of his fellows, J. Wright Mooar put away his buffalo guns and turned to cattle ranching in Texas. His careful aim had downed 20,000 of the shaggies in eight years.
The widespread and wasteful slaughter had aroused shocked opposition, especially in the East. Several western states passed laws to curb the killing, but these measures came too late and were not strictly enforced. Realists in the West knew that the buffaloes would have to go before the hostile Indians of the Great Plains could be subdued and the ranges opened for cattle ranching.
Representative James A. Garfield expressed this view in 1874 when, in a debate in Congress, he reported that the secretary of the interior would rejoice, as far as the Indian question was concerned, when the last buffalo was killed. Early in the following year General Phil Sheridan put it even more clearly when he addressed a joint session of the Texas legislature, which was considering a bill to protect buffaloes.
The hunters, said the General, ”…will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary.…Send them powder and lead…let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”