William Edward Webb.

Buffalo land; an authentic account of the discoveries, adventures, and mishaps of a scientific and sporting party in the wild West online

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thinly sprinkled with scrubby bushes not larger than
jimson-weeds. They were several yards apart, so
that each animal was clearly acting on his own

If it puzzled us the day before to discover any
signs of game under their noses, it certainly did so
now. There was apparently no place of concealment
for any object larger than a field-mouse. The bushes
were wide apart, and the soil between was a loose
sand. Around the roots of the scrubs, it is true, a
few thin, wiry spears of grass struggled into existence,
but these covered a space not larger than a man's
hand, and it seemed preposterous to imagine that
they could be capable of affording cover. That three
dogs were pointing straight at three bushes was
apparent, but we could see nothing in or about the
latter calling for such attention.

Shamus, who had accompanied us, wished to know
if the twigs were witch hazels, because, if so, three
invisible old beldames might be taking a nap under
them, after a midnight ride. "But, then," said Do-
been, "the dog's hairs don't stand on end as they
always do in Ireland when they see ghosts and
witches." We believe that our worthy cook was
really disappointed in not discovering any stray
broomsticks lying around. These, he afterward in-
formed us, could not be made invisible, though their
owners should take on airy shapes unrecognizable by
mortal eyes.

Muggs had suggested urging the dogs in, but the
party, wiser from yesterday's experience, desired a
ground shot, if it could be secured. The Professor


adjusted his lens, and decided to make a personal
inspection around the roots of the bush immediately
in front of him.

Carefully the sage bent over the suspicious spot,
and almost fell backward as, with a whiz and a dart,
half a dozen quails flew out, brushing his very nose.
Instantly every bush sent forth its fugitives. A flash
of feathered balls, and they were all gone. Such
whizzing and whirring! it was as if those scraggy
bushes were mitrailleuses, in quick succession dis-
charging their loads. *

Only one gun had gone off, but that so loudly that
our ears rung for several seconds. Mr. Colon had
accidentally rammed at least two, perhaps half a
dozen, loads into one barrel, and the gun discharged
with an aim of its own, the butt very low down.
Two birds fell dead. But alas for our ISTimrod!
Colon stood with one hand on his stomach undecided
whether that organ remained or not. On this point,,
however, he was fully re-assured at the supper -table
that night, and in all our after experience, we never
knew that gun to have the least opportunity for
going off, except when at its owner's shoulder, and he
perfectly ready for it.

The two birds were now submitted to the party for
inspection. They were fine specimens of the Ameri-
can quail, more properly called by those versed in
quailology, the Bob White. This bird is very plen-
tiful throughout Kansas, and just before the shoot-
ing season commences, in September, will even fre-
quent the gardens and alight on the houses of To-
peka. They "lay close" before a dog, take flight


into air with a quick, whirring dart, and their shoot-
ing deservedly ranks high. They are very rapid in
their movements upon the ground, often running
fifty or seventy-five yards before hiding. When this
takes place, so closely do they huddle that it is sel-
dom more than the upper bird that can be seen.
" Green hunters " sometimes pause, trying to discover
the rest of the covey before firing, and experience
a great and sudden disgust when the single bird
which they have disdained suddenly, develops ^into a
dozen flying ones.

We had an eventful days' sport, expending more
ammunition than when among the chickens, and with
more satisfactory results, as we brought in over two
dozen birds. More than half of these were taken by
Sachem at one lucky discharge. He saw a covey in
the grass, huddled together as they generally are
when not running. At these times they form a circle
about as large in diameter as the hoop of a nail keg,
with tails to the center and heads toward the outside.
Fifteen quails would thus be a circle of fifteen heads,
and a pail, could it be dropped over the covey,
would cover them all. Not only is this an economy
of warmth, there being no outsiders half of whose
bodies must get chilled, but there is no blind side on
which they can be approached, every portion of the
circle having its full quota of eyes. Let skunk or
fox, or other roamer through the grass, creep ever so
stealthily, he will be seen and avoided by flight.
Sachem aiming at the midst of such a ring, broke it
up as effectually as BoutwelFs discharge of bullion
did that on Wall Street.


We have since found the frozen bodies of whole
co vies, which had gone to roost in a circle and been
buried under such a heavy fall of snow that the
birds could not force their way upward. Their habit
is to remain in imprisonment, apparently waiting for
the snow to melt before even making an effort for
deliverance. Oftentimes it is then too late, a crust
having formed above. A severe winter will some-
times completely exterminate the birds in certain lo-

During this first day of quail-shooting, we also saw
for the first time flocks of the snow-goose. The Pro-
fessor counted fifty birds on one sand bar. This
variety, in its flight across the continent, apparently
passes through but a narrow belt of country, being
found, to the best of my knowledge, in but few of the
states outside of Kansas.

Our return to the hotel was without accident, and
our supper such as hungry hunters might well enjoy.
After it was disposed of, we gathered around the
ample stove in the hotel office, and lived over again
the events of the day.



NEXT morning we said good-by to hospitable To-
peka, and took up our westward way over the
Pacific Railroad. An ever-repeated succession of
valley and prairie stretched away on either hand.
To the left the Kaw came down with far swifter cur-
rent than it has in its course below, from its far-away
source in Colorado. It might properly be called one
of the eaves or water-spouts of the great Rocky
Mountain water-shed. With a pitch of over five
feet to the mile, its pace is here necessarily a rapid
one, and when at freshet height the stream is like a
mill-race for foam and fury.

At the junction of the Big Blue we found the old
yet pretty town of Manhattan. To this point, in
early times, water transit was once attempted. A
boat of exceedingly light draught, one of those built
to run on a heavy dew, being procured, freight was
advertised for, and the navigation of the Kaw com-
menced. The one hundred miles or more to Man-
hattan was accomplished principally by means of the
capstan, the boat being " warped " over the number-
less shallows. This proved easier, of course a trifle



easier than if she had made the trip on macadamized
roads. If her stern had a comfortable depth of
water it was seldom indeed, except when her bow
was in the air in the process of pulling the boat over
a sand bar. The scared catfish were obliged to re-
treat up stream, or hug close under the banks, to
avoid obstructing navigation, and it is even hinted
that more than one patriarch of the finny tribe had to
be pried out of the way to make room for his new
rival to pass.

Once at Manhattan, the steamboat line was sus-
pended for the season, its captain and crew deciding
they would rather walk back to the Missouri River
than drag the vessel there. Soon afterward, the
steamer was burned at her landing, and the Kaw has
remained closed to commerce ever since.

About the same time, an enterprising Yankee ad-
vocated in the papers the straightening of the river,
and providing it with a series of locks, making it a
canal. As he had no money of his own with which
to develop his ideas into results, and could command
nobody's else for that purpose, the project failed in
its very inception.

Fort lliley, four miles below Junction City, is
claimed as the geographical center of the United
States, the exact spot being marked by a post.
What a rallying point that stick of wood will be for
future generations ! When the corner-stone of the
National Capitol shall there be laid, the orator of the
day can mount that post and exclaim, with eloquent
significance, elsewhere impossible, "N"o north, no
south, no east, no west ! " and enthusiastic inulti-


tildes, there gathered from the four quarters of the
continent, will hail the words' as the key-note of the

That spot of ground and that post are valuable.
I hope a national subscription will be started to buy it.
It is the only place on our continent which can ever
be entirely free from local jealousies. There would
be no possible argument for ever removing the capital.
The Kaw could be converted into a magnificent canal,
winding among picturesque hills past the base of the
Capitol ; and then, in case of war, should any hostile
fleet ever ascend the rapid Missouri, it would be but
necessary for our legislators to grasp the canal locks,
and let the water out, to insure their perfect safety.
Imagine the humiliation of a foreign naval hero arriv-
ing with his iron-clads opposite a muddy ditch, and
finding it the only means of access to our capital !

A painful rumor has of late obtained circulation that
a band of St. Louis ku-klux, yclept capital movers,
intend stealing the pole and obliterating the hole.
Let us hope, however, that it is without foundation.

Before leaving Topeka, the party had purchased
horses for the trip, and consigned the precious load
to a car, sending a note to General Anderson, super-
intendent, asking that they might be promptly and
carefully forwarded to Hays City, our present ob-
jective point upon the plains.

The professor, bringing previous experience into
requisition, selected a stout mustang probably as
tractable as those brutes ever become. He was war-
ranted by the seller never to tire, and he never did,
keeping f the philosopher constantly on the alert to


save neck and knees. It is the simple truth that,
in all our acquaintance with him, that mustang never
appeared in the least fatigued. After backing and
shying all day, he would spend the night in kicking
and stealing from the other horses.

Mr. Colon, by rare good fortune, obtained a beau-
tiful animal, formerly known in Leavenworth as Iron
Billy a dark bay, with head and hair fine as a
pointer's, limbs cut sharp, and joints of elastic.
After carrying Mr. C. bravely for months, never
tripping or failing, he was sold on our return to the
then Secretary of State, who still owns him. More
than once did Billy make his rider's arm ache from
pulling at the curb, when the other horses were all
knocked up by the rough day's riding. It was in-
teresting to see him in pursuit of buffalo. He would
often smell them when they were hidden in ravines,
and we wholly unaware of their vicinity. Head and
ears were erect in an instant, and, \vith nostrils ex-
panded, forward he went, keeping eagerly in front at
a peculiar prancing step which we called tiptoeing.
Once in sight of the game, and the rider became a
person of quite secondary importance. Billy said, as
plainly as a horse could say any thing, "J am going
to manage this thing ; you stick on." And manage
it he did. Not many moments, at the most, before
he was at the quarters of the fleeing monsters, and
nipping them mischievously with his teeth. I could
always imagine him giving a downright horse-laugh,
his big bright eyes sparkled so when the frightened
bison, at the touch, gave a switch of his tail and a
swerve of alarm, and plunged more wildly forward.



If the rider wished to shoot, he could do so; if not,
content himself, as Mr. Colon usually did, with cling-
ing to the saddle, and uttering numberless expostu-
latory but fruitless " whoa's."

Once on our trip Billy was loaned for the day to a
gentleman who wished to examine a prospective coal
mine. When barely out of sight of camp, Billy dis-
covered a herd of buffalo, and, despite the vehement
remonstrances of his rider, straightway charged it.
The mine-seeker was no hunter, but a wise and thor-
oughly timid devotee of science in search of coal
measures. A few moments, and the poor, frightened
gentleman found himself in the midst of a surging
mass of buffalo, his knees brushing their hairy sides,
and their black horns glittering close around him,
like an array of serried spears. He drew his knees
into the saddle, and there, clinging like a monkey,
lost his hat, his map of the mine, and his spectacles.
He returned Billy as soon as he could get him back
to camp, with expressions of gratitude that he had
been allowed to escape with life, and never mani-
fested the least desire to mount him again.

Sachem's purchase was a horse which had run
unaccountably to legs. He was sixteen hands high,
a trifle knock-kneed, and with a way of flinging the
limbs out when put to his speed which, though it
seemed awkward enough, yet got over the ground
remarkably well. With the shambling gait of a
camel, he had also the good qualities of one, and did
his owner honest service.

Muggs bought a mule, partly, because advised to
do so by a plainsman, and partly because the rest of


us took horses. With true British obstinacy he paid
no attention to our expostulations, and the creature
he obtained was as obstinate as himself. Poor
Muggs ! A mule may be good property in the hands
of a plainsman, but was never intended to carry a

Semi-Colon had the auction purchase, and Dobeen
selected a Mexican donkey, one of the toughest little
animals that ever pulled a bit. He could excel a
trained mule in the feat of dislodging his rider, and
had a remarkable penchant for running over persons
who by chance might be looking the other way. It
seemed to be his constant study to take unexpected
positions, or, as Sachem phrased it, to "strike an

My mount was a stout-built old mare, recommended
to me as a solid beast, on the strength of which, and
wishing to avoid experiments, I made purchase at
once. I found her solid indeed. When on the gallop
her feet came down with a shock which made my
head vibrate, as if I had accidentally taken two steps
instead of one, in descending a staircase.

Could the good people of Topeka have gotten us
to ride out of their town upon our several animals,
it would have given them a fair idea of a mardi gras
cavalcade in New Orleans.

And so, our camp equipage and live stock follow-
ing by freight, the express rolled us forward toward
the great plains. So far along our route we had seen
but few Indians, and those civilized specimens, such
as straggle occasionally through the streets of Topeka.
The Indian reservations in Kansas are at some dis-


tance apart, and their inhabitants frequently ex-
change visits. The few whom we had seen consisted
of Osages, Kaws, Pottawatomies, and Sioux, all
equally dirty, but the last affecting clothes more than
the others, and eschewing paint. The members of
this tribe, generally speaking, have good farms and
are worth a handsome average per head. At the
time of our visit they were expecting a half million
dollars or so from Washington, and were soon to be-
come American citizens. One privilege of this cit-
izenship struck us as very peculiar. By the State
law, as long as an Indian is simply an Indian, he
can buy no whisky, and is thus cruelly debarred
from the privilege of getting drunk, but once a voter,
he can luxuriate in corn-juice and the calaboose, as
well as his white brother. What a travesty upon
American civilization and politics !

Muggs was prejudiced against the Osages, having
been induced by one of them to invest in a bow and
arrows, "for the Hinglish Museum, you know." On
pulling for a trial shot, one end of the bow went
further than the arrow, and the cord, warranted to
be buffalo sinew, proved to be an oiled string.

Sachem declared that he had found Muggs return-
ing the wreck to the Indian with the following speech:
" 0-sage, little was your wisdom to court thus the
wrath of a Briton. Take with the two pieces this
piece of my mind. That your noble form may be re-
moved soon to the 'appy 'unting ground, where bow
trades are not allowed, is the prayer of your patron,

Mr. Colon asked Tenacious Gripe to explain the


condition of the Native Americans in Kansas. The
orator kindly consented and thereupon discoursed as
follows :

" The Indians of Kansas are divided into the wild
and the tame. Both alike cover their nakedness
with bright handkerchiefs, old shirts, military coats,
and many-hued ribbons. The principal difference
in point of dress is in the method of procuring it.
Among those tribes which are at peace with the
government, the white man robs the Indian ; among
the wild tribes the conditions are reversed the
Indian robs the white man. In the one case the
.contractors and agents carry off their half million
dollars or thereabouts ; in the other the savage bears
away a quantity of old clothes and fresh scalps. As
he finds it difficult to procure sufficient of the white
man's justice to satisfy the cravings of his nature,
he feeds it with what he can and whenever he can
of revenge. Wise men tell us, gentlemen, that re-
venge is sweet and justice a dry morsel. All Indians
beg when they get an opportunity. The tame ones,
if they find it fruitless, divert themselves by selling
worthless pieces of wood with strings attached, as
bows. The wild ones, in a like predicament, relieve
their, tedium by whacking away at our ribs with
bows that amount to something. The principles
actuating both classes are alike. It is simply the
application which causes difficulty in the one case
an appeal with bow and arrows to our pockets, in
the other to our bodies.

"All our wars with these people, gentlemen, are a
result of their political economy. They believe that


the Great Spirit provided buffalo and other game
for his red children. When the white man drives
these away, they understand that he takes their place
as a means of sustenance, and as they have lived
upon the one, so they intend to do upon the other.
If the buffalo attempts to evade his duty in the prem-
ises, they kill him and take his meat ; if the white
man, they kill him and take his hair."

Sachem produced a roll of dirty brown paper and
said that he had studied the Indian question and
found two sides to it. One he could give us in a nut-
shell, believing that the meat of the nut had often
excited the spirit of war.

Where waters sung above the sand,

And torrent forced its way,
Stretched out, disgusted with the land,

A bearded miner lay,
Prepared to strike, with willing hand,

Whatever lead would pay.

Echo of hoof on beaten ground

Rung on the desert air,
Kinging a tune of gladsome sound

To miner, watching there ;
A paying lead, at last, .he'd found

The vein a " man of hair."

An instant more, and at the ford

A savage chief appeared ;
The miner saw his goodly hoard,

And tore his own good beard.
(You '11 always find an ox is gored

When sheep are to be sheared.)


And these the words the miner said : v

" You've spoilt my drink, old fellow?

You Ve riled the brook, my brother red,
And, by your cheek so yellow,

To-night above your sandy bed
The prairie gale shall bellow.

u No relatives of mine are dead,

At least by Injun cunnin',
But many other hearts have bled,

And many eyes are runnin' ;
For blood and tears alike are shed,

When you go out a gunuin'.

" Some slumbrin' peaceful, first they knew,

They heard your horrid din
Women as well as men you slew,

You bloody son of sin ;
I mourn 'em all, revenge 'em too,

Through Adam they were kin."

This having said, the miner smart,

Drew bead upon the red man :
They're fond of beads it touched his heart,

And Lo, behold, a dead man ;
Upon Life's stage he'd played his part,

A gory sort of head man !

Two packs of goods lay on the ground ;

Quoth miner, " Lawful spoil !
My lucky star at last has found

As good as gold and oil ;
I kinder felt that fate was bound

To bless jmy honest toil.


" Such heathen have no lawful heirs
I '11 be the Probate Judge,

For though they kinder go in pairs,
Their love is all a fudge ;

I '11 'ministrate on what he wears,
And leave his squaw my grudge."





WE noticed many fine rivers rolling from the
northward into the Kaw, which stream we
found was known by that name only after receiving
the Republican, at Junction City. Above that point,
under the name of the Smoky Hill, it stretches far
out across the plains, and into the eastern portion
of Colorado. Along its desolate banks we afterward
saw the sun rise and set upon many a weary and
many a gorgeous day.

All the large tributaries of the Kansas river, con-
sisting of the Big Blue, Republican, Solomon, and
Saline, came in on our right. Upon our left, toward
the South, only small creeks joined waters with the
Kaw, the pitch of the great "divides'' there being
towards the Arkansas and its feeders, the Cotton-
wood and Neosho.

We had now fairly entered on the great Smcky
Hill trail. Here Fremont marked out his path to-
wards the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific, and on
many of the high buttes we discovered the pillars of



stone which he had set up as guides for emigrant
trains, looking wonderfully like sentinels standing
guard over the valleys beneath. Indeed we did at
first take them for solitary herders, watching their
cattle in some choice pasture out of sight.

Most of our party had expected to find Indians
in promiscuous abundance over the entire State,
and we were therefore surprised to see the country,
after passing St. Mary's Mission, entirely free of
them. Muggs asked Gripe if the American Indian
was hostile to all nationalities alike, or simply to
those who robbed him of his hunting-grounds. The
orator replied as follows:

"Sir, the aborigine of the western plains cares
not what color or flavor the fruit possesses which
hangs from his roof tree. The cue of the Chinaman
is equally as acceptable as hairs from the mane of
the English lion. A red lock is as welcome as a
black one, and disputes as to ownership usually
result in a dead-lock. His abhorrence is a wig, which
he considers a contrivance of the devil to cheat honest
Indian industry. I would advise geologists on the
plains to carry, along with their picks for breaking
stones, a bottle of patent hair restorative. It is
handy to have in one's pocket when his scalp is far
on its way towards some Cheyenne war-pole. The
scalping process, gentlemen, is the way in which
savages levy and collect their poll-tax. Any person
in search of romantic wigwams can have his wig
warmed very thoroughly on the Arkansas or Texas
borders. On the plains along the western border of
Kansas, however, geologists can find a rich and com-


paratively safe field for exploration. It is doubtful
if the savages ever wander there again.

"Of the Indian warrior on the plains we may well
say, requiescat in pace, and may his pace be rapid
towards either civilization or the happy hunting
ground. History shows that his reaching the first
has generally given him quick transit to the second.
The white man's country has proved a spirit-land to
Lo, whose noble soul seems to sink when the scalp-
ing-knife gathers any other rust than that of blood,
and whose prophetic spirit takes flight at the pros-
pect of exchanging boiled puppies and dirt for the
white brother's pork and beans. Very often, how-
ever, it must be said, Lo's soul is gathered to his
fathers by reason of its tabernacle being smitten too
sorely by corn lightning."

As Gripe paused, the Professor took up the sub-

Online LibraryWilliam Edward WebbBuffalo land; an authentic account of the discoveries, adventures, and mishaps of a scientific and sporting party in the wild West → online text (page 4 of 27)