From Sheridan's Troopers on the Borders
A Winter Campaign on the Plains,

By De B. Randolph Keim
New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1870

[From] Chapter II. Beyond the Pale of Civilization.

As daylight dawned on our way towards Fort Hays, several dark indefinable spots on the horizon were pointed out as small herds of buffalo. They were entirely too far distant to enable us to make a minute examination of the monstrous beast. We who had never yet had the pleasure of feasting our eyes upon a live buffalo, excepting some unfortunate representative of the species in a menagerie, were left at least to the gratifying reflection that we had some evidence that there were buffaloes in the country and that such an animal had an existence, and we [had?] a very good prospect of verifying the fact.

It was not long before several shots fired from the window of the forward car created some excitement. As the savages had appeared in sight of the railroad several days before, each man seized his rifle which he loaded and kept near at hand ready for a brush. In the car in which I was seated I observed twenty-five stand of arms, breech-loading rifles, and a large chest of metallic centre primed needle-cartridges, provided by the railroad company, for the use of the employees to defend their trains against Indian attacks.

As soon as the firing commenced several of the train men rushed into the car in which I was seated, snatched a rifle from the rack, rammed a couple of handsful of cartridges in their pockets and darted back again into the forward car.

At this juncture as I thought things were getting serious I re-examined my own rifle, buckled on a pair of pistols, slung my cartridge box over my shoulder and started forward to look into the cause of all the commotion. At this moment a shout "Buffalo crossing the track" was heard and bang! bang! bang! simultaneously went several pieces. Poking my head out of the car window I observed a small herd of six buffalo bulls running at full speed parallel with the train, about a hundred yards ahead and not more than sixty feet from the track. The stupid animals seemed bent upon crossing, but finding the locomotive pursuing too closely, at the last moment turned and attempted to get out of reach. While the pursuit was going on, a number of shots were fired but without effect. As the herd left the track, the engineer slackened the speed of the train. A fusilade now began in earnest. Each person vied with the other in firing the most shots. Two of the animals were wounded, one mortally. The locomotive whistled "down breaks." Without waiting for the train to stop every one, engineer, conductor, brakesman and passengers, leaving only the fireman, jumped off the cars and gave chase. The wounded buffalo still on his feet, with great effort was trying to make his escape. He had been shot in the thigh and though retarded, made good progress, when another ball taking effect in the other leg, let his hind-quarters down upon the ground. Nothing daunted the wounded animal made every exertion to drag himself off, on his two fore feet, when a ball under the shoulder put an end to his sufferings and his efforts to rejoin his companions. A cheer wound up the railroad chase, when the busy knives of "professionals" in hipjoint operations, soon had the "rumps" severed and after cutting out the tongues and a few strips of "hump" the rest of the two immense carcasses were left as a dainty and abundant repast for the wolf. The meat was put on the train, and again we continued our journey. Both the animals killed were bulls, and, judging from the rings on their horns and their long shaggy manes, had already outlived the ordinary life-time of their species.

[From] Chapter VI. Immense Herds of Buffaloes.

We had hardly proceeded fifteen miles on our journey when we came in sight of several large herds of buffaloes, each numbering not less than two thousand animals. We were promised a "wonderful sight" of the beast by the conductor of the train. Indeed, so marvelous were his stories that he was listened to with evident incredulity.

As we increased the distance from the last settlement, buffaloes rapidly grew in numbers. Thirty miles on the way the country was literally overrun. The main herds lay on the northern side of the track and as far as the eye could reach, not less than a distance of ten to fifteen miles, the plain was perfectly black with them. The herds nearest the track, alarmed at the strange sounds issuing from the locomotive, set off at a rapid lope, heading towards the north, in turn setting in motion the herds before them. The huge animals raised such a dust that for some minutes it was impossible to see more than a long line of hind-quarters and elevated tails. A number of isolated smaller herds which had crossed to the south upon the approach of the train, invariably raised their heads, looked at us for an instant, and then with heads down and tails up galloped towards the track making extraordinary exertions to get across ahead of the locomotive. In trying this strategic feat one specimen found himself forcibly lifted into the air and thrown into the ditch, where he lay upon his back, his cloven feet flourishing madly.

Several animals had been shot from the cars out of this herd. The train now stopped to afford time to bring in a few "rumps." While this operation was going on, a party of six or eight of us started down the track to dispatch the buffalo, still kicking and bellowing with a mixture of suspense and rage, displaying certain serpentine and spasmodic motions of the dorsal column, which indicated an effort to get on his feet. When our party got within fifty yards a shot was fired at the animal which seemed to have a peculiarly vitalizing effect. At all events it called the buffalo to a sense of his ludicrous and unnatural position. With one desperate effort the old beast regained his feet. Several more shots were instantly fired, but none seemed to take effect. Instead of retreating the irate quadruped made for our party, coming at a "full jump" head down, tongue out, bleeding and frothing at the mouth, eyes flashing, and to cap the climax of his terrible exhibitions of infuriation, roared fearfully. As there was no time to lose, and to fire at him "head on" would be but a waste of ammunition, the party scattered in all directions. For my own part, I took occasion to make a few long and rapid strides across the track into the ditch on the other side. The rest of the party imitated this dexterous movement without many moments of reflection. Losing sight of us, the enraged animal, smarting under the blow he had received from the locomotive, and the tickling he had sustained from our rifles, reaped his anger upon the opposite side of the embankment of the railroad by rending great furrows in the earth, stamping on the ground, raising a great dust, and making a terrible noise. It was very certain there was no time to waste. Should his lordship of the plains spy any of us he would doubtless renew the offensive. Raising up so as to get a partial sight of his carcass, not over thirty feet off, three of our party fired, the rest holding in reserve. Every ball seemed to take effect. Almost instantly the animal fell upon his knees. The rest then fired, when the animal rolled completely over. His tenacity of life was perfectly wonderful. By this time he must have had a dozen bullets in his body. Notwithstanding all this he struggled and swayed to and fro until he again brought himself to his feet. But all power to harm had fled. Planting himself firmly, moving his head to the right and left, his eye still full of fire, the noble beast looked even more defiant. From his nostrils ran streams of blood.

To put the animal out of misery was the first sense of recovery from our stampede. Repeated shots were fired into his body. Thug, thug, the bullets could be heard penetrating his thick hide. As each ball entered, a slight turn of the head and switch of the tail were the only external indications of the effect of the bullet. At length after having been literally "peppered" with lead, a sudden quiver passed over the animal's entire frame, he staggered and fell. One deep gasp, a convulsive motion of the jaws, one sudden flash of the eye, a quantity of dark clotted blood ejected from the nostrils, and the buffalo was dead.

Never before had I seen such an exhibition of tenacious rage and vitality. Had the animal been less injured by the locomotive, it would be difficult to say what would have been the result of his charge upon our party. It is a question, however, whether a buffalo would attack from the mere impulse of destruction. I have found the buffalo, compared with his remarkable physical strength, rather disposed to be timid. Several horsemen could ride into the midst of a herd of ten thousand with comparative safety, select their game and dispatch it; but when wounded the whole nature of the animal seems changed. He turns upon his pursuers, and death it is to him who ever falls into his power. Not satisfied with goring his victim until he is a mangled mass, he frequently plunges upon the remains until mashed into a perfect jelly. The vital spot in a buffalo is immediately under the shoulder, penetrating the heart or the lights. On the forehead the bullet of the most powerful rifle has no effect whatever, the force being entirely expended on the immense mat or "mop" of hair, eight or ten inches in length, between the eyes.

After our somewhat exciting battle, taking a last look, and I must say I felt a pang of shame as I left the inanimate carcass a useless waste, we hastened back to the train which was ready to move on and had been signaling us for some minutes.

[From] Chapter XI. An Old Fashioned Buffalo Hunt.

There is something majestic and formidable in the appearance of a buffalo. It is therefore not surprising that but few horses will readily approach sufficiently near to enable the hunter to make a close shot. Some horses rebel, notwithstanding every effort to allay their alarm. Others, by a proper course of training, carry their riders, without any direction, into just the position desirable. Such an animal is a treasure in the esteem of a plainsman. He talks about his "buffalo horse" with more pride than be would of himself, had he accomplished a feat ever so wonderful. It was interesting to watch the movements of the trained horse. He approached the buffalo rapidly but cautiously. His eyes were steadily fixed upon the animal and watched every motion. Should the buffalo expedite his pace, the horse did likewise, regulating his increased rate of speed so as to get alongside without unnecessarily alarming the animal. As the horse came abreast, the buffalo naturally swayed his course away to the right or left. This was the dangerous part of the chase. Should the buffalo after moving away, the horse following, turn suddenly, a collision would be almost certain. This the horse seemed to know so perfectly that he changed direction on a long turn. After firing, should the animal fall, the horse kept up his speed, described a circle bringing him back to the carcass of the dead or wounded buffalo.

Timid horses and awkward riders run great risk of their lives by not knowing how to avoid any hostile demonstrations on the part of the buffalo. The latter has the advantage, and by not keeping a close watch, fatal results are sure to occur. An old hunter, mounted on a "buffalo horse," in every sense of the term, dashing fearlessly across the plain in pursuit of this truly magnificent game, presents a picture the very culmination of manly sport.

[From] Chapter XII. Popular Buffalo Hunt.

The following announcement of an excursion I found at one of the railroad stations. I give a copy of it as one of the peculiar and progressive innovations made by the railways.


An excursion train will leave Leavenworth, at 8 a. m. and Lawrence, at 10 a. m. for


On Tuesday, October 27, 1868, and return on Friday.

This train will stop at the principal stations both going and returning.

Ample time will be had for a grand Buffalo


Buffaloes are so numerous along the road that they are shot from the cars nearly every day. On our last excursion our party killed twenty buffaloes in a hunt of six hours. All passengers can have refreshments on the cars at reasonable prices.

Tickets of round trip from Leavenworth, $10.00.

The inducements, at these rates, to any one anxious to visit the plains, and see a live buffalo, and perhaps a "live injun," not so acceptable at that time, were certainly very tempting, as the full expense of the above trip, at the regular rate of fare, would not have been short of seventy dollars. A quarter of a century hence, the buffalo and the Indian will have entirely disappeared from the line of the railways. The few that still survive will have then been driven to the most remote, inaccessible, and uninhabitable sections, if not entirely exterminated.

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