Theodore Roosevelt.

Hunting trips of a ranchman : sketches of sport on the northern cattle plains online

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Theodore Roosevelt in Hunting Costume.
Drawn by Henry Sandham. Engraved by E. Heinemann.











Ifcnfcfcerbocfter press




Vbe ftnicfecrbocfeer presi, Hew fiock






The seven heads of large game figured in this book
are faithfully copied from the originals, shot by myself,
and now in my possession ; the proportions have been
verified with the camera.

The other engravings and etchings are for the most
part based on photographs of scenery, costumes, etc.,
taken by myself while in the West, and are accurate rep-
resentations of Western landscapes, as also of ranch life
and hunting on the plains.

Most, although by no means all, of my hunting has
been done on the Little Missouri River, in the neighbor-
hood of my two ranches, the Elkhorn and Chimney
Butte ; the nearest town being the little hamlet of
Medora so named, I may mention for the benefit of
the future local historian, in honor of the wife of the
Marquis de Mores, one of the first stockmen to come

to the place.


May, 1885.



The northern cattle plains Stock-raising Cowboys, their dress and character
My ranches in the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri Indoor amusements
Books Pack-rats Birds Ranch life The round-up Indians Ephemeral
nature of ranch life Foes of the stockmen Wolves, their ravages Fighting
with dogs Cougar My brother kills one One killed by blood-hounds The
chase one of the chief pleasures of ranch life Hunters and cowboys
Weapons Dress Hunting-horses Target-shooting and game-shooting . 1


Stalking wild geese with rifle Another goose killed in early morning Snow-
goose shot with rifle from beaver meadow Description of plains beaver Its
rapid extinction Ducks Not plenty on cattle plains Teal Duck-shooting
in course of wagon trip to eastward Mallards and wild geese in cornfields
Eagle and ducks Curlews Noisiness and curiosity Grass plover Skunks . 43


Rifle and shot-gun Sharp-tailed prairie fowl Not of ten regularly pursued Killed
for pot Booming in spring Their young A day after them with shot-gun in
August At that time easy to kill Change of habits in fall Increased wari-
ness Shooting in snow-storm from edge of canyon Killing them with rifle in
early morning Trip after them made by my brother and myself Sage-
fowl The grouse of the desert Habits Good food Shooting them Jack-
rabbit An account of a trip made by my brother, in Texas, after wild
turkey Shooting them from the roosts Coursing them with greyhounds . 66


The White-tail deer best known of American large game The most difficult to
exterminate A buck killed in light snow about Christmas-time The species

viii Hunting Trips of a Ranchman.

very canny Two "tame fawns" Habits of deer Pets Method of still-
hunting the white-tail Habits contrasted with those of antelope Wagon
trip to the westward Heavy cloud-burst Buck shot while hunting on horse-
back Moonlight ride . . -. 102


The black-tail and white-tail deer compared Different zones where game are
found Hunting on horseback and on foot Still-hunting Anecdotes
Rapid extermination First buck shot Buck shot from hiding-place Differ-
ent qualities required in hunting different kinds of game Still-hunting the
black-tail a most noble form of sport Dress required Character of habitat
Bad Lands Best time for shooting, at dusk Difficult aiming Large buck
killed in late evening Fighting capacity of bucks Appearance of black-tail
Difficult to see and to hit Indians poor shots Riding to hounds Track-
ing Hunting in fall weather Three killed in a day's hunting on foot A hunt
on horseback Pony turns a somersault Two bucks killed by one ball at very
long range 126


The prong-horn antelope Appearance, habits, and method of hunting Hunting
on horseback Wariness, speed, curiosity, and incapacity to make high jumps
Fawns as pets Eagles Horned frogs Rattlesnakes Trip on the prairie in
June Sights and sounds Desolate plains Running antelope Night camp
Prairie dogs Badgers Skylarks A long shot Clear weather Camping
among Medicine Buttes Sunset on plateau .- 180


Spell of bitter weather News brought of mountain sheep Start after them
False alarm about bear Character of Bad Lands Description of mountain
sheep or big-horn Its wariness Contrasted with other game Its haunts
The hardest of all game to successfully hunt Our trip Cold weather and
tiresome walking Very rough ground Slippery, ice-covered crags Ram
killed 220


Extinction of the vast herds Causes A veritable tragedy of the animal world-
Sentimental and practical sides Traces left by buffalo Skulls and trails
Merciless destruction by hunters and by cattle-men Development of mountain
race of the buffalo Buffalo-hunting Noble sport Slight danger A man
killed My brother charged Adventure of my cousin with a wounded buffalo



Three of my men and wounded cow Buffalo and cattle Hunting them on
foot Hunting on horseback My brother in Texas I take a trip in buffalo
country Wounded bull escapes Miserable night camp Miss a cow in rain
Bad luck Luck turns Kill a bull A wagon-trip 241


Former range of elk Rapid destruction Habits Persecuted by hunters Other
foes Lordly game Trip to Bighorn Mountains Managing pack-train See
elk and go into camp Follow up band in moccasins Kill two Character of
the deep woods Sights and sounds of the forest Blue grouse Snow Cold
weather Trout Calling of bull elk Killing elk in burned timber Animals
of the wilderness Kill great bull elk Kill another 271


Dangerous game, but much less dangerous than formerly Old-time hunters
and weapons Grizzly and other ferocious wild beasts Only fights if wounded
Anecdotes of their killing and wounding men Attacks stock Our hunting
on the Bighorn Mountains Merrifield kills black bear Grizzly almost comes
into camp Tracks of grizzly Watch for one at elk carcass Follow him up
and kill him Merrifield kills one Five shot with seven bullets She and
cub killed Return home . 297








HE great middle plains of the
United States, parts of which
are still scantily peopled by men
of Mexican parentage, while
other parts have been but recently
won from the warlike tribes of Horse
Indians, now form a broad pastoral
belt, stretching in a north and south line
from British America to the Rio Grande.
Throughout this great belt of grazing land almost the
only industry is stock-raising, which is here engaged in on
a really gigantic scale ; and it is already nearly covered
with the ranches of the stockmen, except on those isolated
tracts (often themselves of great extent) from which the
red men look hopelessly and sullenly out upon their old
hunting-grounds, now roamed over by the countless herds
of long-horned cattle. The northern portion of this belt
is that which has been most lately thrown open to the
whites ; and it is with this part only that we have to do.

2 Ranching in tke Bad Lands.

The northern cattle plains occupy the basin of the
Upper Missouri ; that is, they occupy all of the land
drained by the tributaries of that river, and by the river
itself, before it takes its long trend to the southeast. They
stretch from the rich wheat farms of Central Dakota to
the Rocky Mountains, and southward to the Black Hills
and the Big Horn chain, thus including all of Montana,
Northern Wyoming, and extreme Western Dakota. The
character of this rolling, broken, plains country is every-
where much the same. It is a high, nearly treeless region,
of light rainfall, crossed by streams which are sometimes
rapid torrents and sometimes merely strings of shallow
pools. In places it stretches out into deserts of alkali and
sage brush, or into nearly level prairies of short grass,
extending for many miles without a break ; elsewhere
there are rolling hills, sometimes of considerable height ;
and in other places the ground is rent and broken into the
most fantastic shapes, partly by volcanic action and partly
by the action of water in a dry climate. These latter por-
tions form the famous Bad Lands. Cotton-wood trees
fringe the streams or stand in groves on the alluvial bot-
toms of the rivers ; and some of the steep hills and can-
yon sides are clad with pines or stunted cedars. In the
early spring, when the young blades first sprout, the land
looks green and bright ; but during the rest of the year
there is no such appearance of freshness, for the short
bunch grass is almost brown, and the gray-green sage bush,
bitter and withered-looking, abounds everywhere, and
gives a peculiarly barren aspect to the landscape.

It is but little over half a dozen years since these lands

Ranching in the Bad Lands. 3

were won from the Indians. They were their only remain-
ing great hunting-grounds, and towards the end of the
last decade all of the northern plains tribes went on the
war-path in a final desperate effort to preserve them.
After bloody fighting and protracted campaigns they were
defeated, and the country thrown open to the whites,
while the building of the Northern Pacific Railroad gave
immigration an immense impetus. There were great
quantities of game, especially buffalo, and the hunters
who thronged in to pursue the huge herds of the latter
were the rough forerunners of civilization. No longer
dreading the Indians, and having the railway on which to
transport the robes, they followed the buffalo in season
and out, until in 1883 the herds were practically destroyed.
But meanwhile the cattle-men formed the vanguard of the
white settlers. Already the hardy southern stockmen had
pressed up with their wild-looking herds to the very bor-
der of the dangerous land, and even into it, trusting to
luck and their own prowess for their safety ; and the in-
stant the danger was even partially removed, their cattle
swarmed northward along the streams. Some Eastern
men, seeing the extent of the grazing country, brought
stock out by the railroad, and the short-horned beasts
became almost as plenty as the wilder-looking southern
steers. At the present time, indeed, the cattle of these
northern ranges show more short-horn than long-horn

Cattle-raising on the plains, as now carried on,
started in Texas, where the Americans had learned it from
the Mexicans .whom they dispossessed. It has only be-

4 Ranching in the Bad Lands.

come a prominent feature of Western life during the last
score of years. When the Civil War was raging, there
were hundreds of thousands of bony, half wild steers and
cows in Texas, whose value had hitherto been very slight ;
but toward the middle of the struggle they became a most
important source of food supply to both armies, and when
the war had ended, the profits of the business were widely
known and many men had gone into it. At first the stock-
raising was all done in Texas, and the beef-steers, when
ready for sale, were annually driven north along what be-
came a regular cattle trail. Soon the men of Kansas and
Colorado began to start ranches, and Texans who were
getting crowded out moved their herds north into these
lands, and afterward into Wyoming. Large herds of year-
ling steers also were, and still are, driven from the breed-
ing ranches of the south to some northern range, there to
be fattened for three years before selling. The cattle trail
led through great wastes, and the scores of armed cow-
boys who, under one or two foremen, accompanied each
herd, had often to do battle with bands of hostile Indians ;
but this danger is now a thing of the past, as, indeed, will
soon be the case with the cattle trail itself, for year by
year the grangers press steadily westward into it, and
when they have once settled in a place, will not permit
the cattle to be driven across it

In the northern country the ranches vary greatly in
size ; on some there may be but a few hundred head, on
others ten times as many thousand. The land is still in
great part unsurveyed, and is hardly anywhere fenced in,
the cattle roaming over it at will. The small ranches are

Ranching in the Bad Lands. 5

often quite close to one another, say within a couple of
miles ; but the home ranch of a big outfit will not have
another building within ten or twenty miles of it, or, in-
deed, if the country is dry, not within fifty. The ranch-
house may be only a mud dugout, or a " shack " made of
logs stuck upright into the ground ; more often it is a
fair-sized, well-made building of hewn logs, divided into
several rooms. Around it are grouped the other buildings
log-stables, cow-sheds, and hay-ricks, an out-house in
which to store things, and on large ranches another house
in which the cowboys sleep. The strongly made, circular
horse-corral, with a snubbing-post in the middle, stands
close by ; the larger cow-corral, in which the stock is
branded, may be some distance off. A small patch of
ground is usually enclosed as a vegetable garden, and a
very large one, with water in it, as a pasture to be used
only in special cases. All the work is done on horseback,
and the quantity of ponies is thus of necessity very great,
some of the large outfits numbering them by hundreds ; on
my own ranch there are eighty. Most of them are small,
wiry beasts, not very speedy, but with good bottom, and
able to pick up a living under the most adverse circum-
stances. There are usually a few large, fine horses kept
for the special use of the ranchman or foremen. The best
are those from Oregon ; most of them come from Texas,
and many are bought from the Indians. They are broken
in a very rough manner, and many are in consequence
vicious brutes, with the detestable habit of bucking. Of
this habit I have a perfect dread, and, if I can help it,
never get on a confirmed bucker. The horse puts his

6 Ranching in the Bad Lands.

head down between his forefeet, arches his back, and
with stiff legs gives a succession of jarring jumps, often
"changing ends" as he does so. Even if a man can keep
his seat, the performance gives him about as uncomfort-
able a shaking up as can be imagined.

The cattle rove free over the hills and prairies, pick-
ing up their own living even in winter, all the animals of
each herd having certain distinctive brands on them. But
little attempt is made to keep them within definite
bounds, and they wander whither they wish, except that
the ranchmen generally combine to keep some of their
cowboys riding lines to prevent them straying away alto-
gether. The missing ones are generally recovered in the
annual round-ups, when the calves are branded. These
round-ups, in which many outfits join together, and which
cover hundreds of miles of territory, are the busiest
period of the year for the stockmen, who then, with their
cowboys, work from morning till night. In winter little
is done except a certain amount of line riding.

The cowboys form a class by themselves, and are now
quite as typical representatives of the wilder side of West-
ern life, as were a few years ago the skin-clad hunters and
trappers. They are mostly of native birth, and although
there are among them wild spirits from every land, yet
the latter soon become undistinguishable from their
American companions, for these plainsmen are far from
being so heterogeneous a people as is commonly sup-
posed. On the contrary, all have a certain curious simi-
larity to each other ; existence in the west seems to put the
same stamp upon each and every one of them. Sinewy,

Ranching in the Bad Lands. 7

hardy, self-reliant, their life forces them to be both daring
and adventurous, and the passing over their heads of a few
years leaves printed on their faces certain lines which tell
of dangers quietly fronted and hardships uncomplainingly
endured. They are far from being as lawless as they are
described ; though they sometimes cut queer antics when,
after many months of lonely life, they come into a frontier
town in which drinking and gambling are the only recog-
nized forms of amusement, and where pleasure and vice
are considered synonymous terms. On the round-ups, or
when a number get together, there is much boisterous,
often foul-mouthed mirth ; but they are rather silent, self-
contained men when with strangers, and are frank and
hospitable to a degree. The Texans are perhaps the best
at the actual cowboy work. They are absolutely fearless
riders and understand well the habits of the half wild
cattle, being unequalled in those most trying times
when, for instance, the cattle are stampeded by a thunder-
storm at night, while in the use of the rope they are only
excelled by the Mexicans. On the other hand, they are
prone to drink, and when drunk, to shoot. Many Kan-
sans, and others from the northern States, have also taken
up the life of late years, and though these scarcely reach,
in point of skill and dash, the standard of the southerners,
who may be said to be born in the saddle, yet they are to
the full as resolute and even more trustworthy. My own
foremen were originally eastern backwoodsmen.

The cowboy's dress is both picturesque and serviceable,
and, like many of the terms of his pursuit, is partly of
Hispano-Mexican origin. It consists of a broad felt hat, a

8 Ranching in the Bad Lands.

flannel shirt, with a bright silk handkerchief loosely knot-
ted round the neck, trousers tucked into high-heeled
boots, and a pair of leather "shaps " (chaperajos) or heavy
riding overalls. Great spurs and a large-calibre revolver
complete the costume. For horse gear there is a cruel
curb bit, and a very strong, heavy saddle with high pom-
mel and cantle. This saddle seems needlessly weighty,
but the work is so rough as to make strength the first
requisite. A small pack is usually carried behind it ; also
saddle pockets, or small saddle-bags ; and there are leather
strings wherewith to fasten the loops of the raw-hide
lariat. The pommel has to be stout, as one end of the
lariat is twisted round it when work is to be done, and
the strain upon it is tremendous when a vigorous steer
has been roped, or when, as is often the case, a wagon
gets stuck and the team has to be helped out by one of
the riders hauling from the saddle. A ranchman or fore-
man dresses precisely like the cowboys, except that the
materials are finer, the saddle leather being handsomely
carved, the spurs, bit, and revolver silver-mounted, the
shaps of seal-skin, etc. The revolver was formerly a
necessity, to protect the owner from Indians and other
human foes ; this is still the case in a few places, but, as a
rule, it is now carried merely from habit, or to kill rat-
tlesnakes, or on the chance of falling in with a wolf or
coyote, while not unfrequently it is used to add game to
the cowboy's not too varied bill of fare.

A cowboy is always a good and bold rider, but his seat
in the saddle is not at all like that of one of our eastern or
southern fox-hunters. The stirrups are so long that the

Ranching in the Bad Lands. 9

man stands almost erect in them, from his head to his feet
being a nearly straight line. It is difficult to compare the
horsemanship of a western plainsman with that of an
eastern or southern cross-country rider. In following
hounds over fences and high walls, on a spirited horse
needing very careful humoring, the latter would certainly
excel ; but he would find it hard work to sit a bucking
horse like a cowboy, or to imitate the headlong dash with
which one will cut out a cow marked with his own brand
from a herd of several hundred others, or will follow
at full speed the twistings and doublings of a refractory
steer over ground where an eastern horse would hardly
keep its feet walking.

My own ranches, the Elkhorn and the Chimney Butte,
lie along the eastern border of the cattle country, where the
Little Missouri flows through the heart of the Bad Lands.
This, like most other plains rivers, has a broad, shallow
bed, through which in times of freshets runs a muddy tor-
rent, that neither man nor beast can pass ; at other seasons
of the year it is very shallow, spreading out into pools, be-
tween which the trickling water may be but a few inches
deep. Even then, however, it is not always easy to cross,
for the bottom is filled with quicksands and mud-holes.
The river flows in long sigmoid curves through an alluvial
valley of no great width. The amount of this alluvial
land enclosed by a single bend is called a bottom, which
may be either covered with cotton-wood trees or else
be simply a great grass meadow. From the edges of the
valley the land rises abruptly in steep high buttes whose
crests are sharp and jagged. This broken country ex-

io Ranching in the Bad Lands.

tends back from the river for many miles, and has been
called always, by Indians, French voyageurs, and Ameri-
can trappers alike, the " Bad Lands," partly from its
dreary and forbidding aspect and partly from the difficulty
experienced in travelling through it. Every few miles it
is crossed by creeks which open into the Little Missouri,
of which they are simply repetitions in miniature, except
that during most of the year they are almost dry, some of
them having in their beds here and there a never-failing
spring or muddy alkaline-water hole. From these creeks
run coulies, or narrow, winding valleys, through which
water flows when the snow melts ; their bottoms contain
patches of brush, and they lead back into the heart of the
Bad Lands. Some of the buttes spread out into level
plateaus, many miles in extent ; others form chains, or rise
as steep isolated masses. Some are of volcanic origin,
being composed of masses of scoria ; the others, of sand-
stone or clay, are worn by water into the most fantastic
shapes. In coloring they are as bizarre as in form.
Among the level, parallel strata which make up the
land are some of coal. When a coal vein gets on fire
it makes what is called a burning mine, and the clay above
it is turned into brick ; so that where water wears
away the side of a hill sharp streaks of black and red
are seen across it, mingled with the grays, purples, and
browns. Some of the buttes are overgrown with
gnarled, stunted cedars or small pines, and they are all
cleft through and riven in every direction by deep narrow
ravines, or by canyons with perpendicular sides.

In spite of their look of savage desolation, the Bad

Ranching in the Bad Lands. u

Lands make a good cattle country, for there is plenty of
nourishing grass and excellent shelter from the winter
storms. The cattle keep close to them in the cold
months, while in the summer time they wander out on the
broad prairies stretching back of them, or come down to
the river bottoms.

My home ranch-house stands on the river brink.
From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-
woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip
of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs
and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place
in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along
the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll
back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not
enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand though they do
not often read the books, but rock gently to and fro,
gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite,
until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the
after-glow of the sunset. The story-high house of hewn
logs is clean and neat, with many rooms, so that one can
be alone if one wishes to. The nights in summer are cool
and pleasant, and there are plenty of bear-skins and buffalo
robes, trophies of our own skill, with which to bid defiance
to the bitter cold of winter. In summer time we are not
much within doors, for we rise before dawn and work
hard enough to be willing to go to bed soon after night-

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Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltHunting trips of a ranchman : sketches of sport on the northern cattle plains → online text (page 1 of 22)