How the Indians Hunted Buffalo: When Possession of Firearms Became More General the "Surround" Was Principal Method, Daily Racing Form, 1919-11-13


view raw text

; HOW THE INDIANS HUNTED BUFFALO When Possession, .of Firearms Became More General tho "Surround Was Principal Method. To describe in detail every method employed by the Indians in hunting buffalo would require space not permissible in an article like this. When the possession of firearms became more general and tne buffalo proportionately less tho "surround" was the chlefest ill favor: " By carefully showing themselves, at a distance, in intervals only alid each time at a different point, the Indians gradually rounded the detached hunches into one herd of suitable size, slowly converging it into some favoring coulie where it could be worked to the best advantage. A stealthy approach was then made on three sides, the gap left being to windward. When everything was ready n body o picked hunters under the direct leadership of the hunt master swung rapidly across the gap. Completing the surround. At a prearranged signal the encircling line crowded rapidly inward; the buffalo, dashing in every direction in their efforts to escape, were turned back by shots, yells and wide-swung blankets to a common center where, after frantically "milling" around for a time they finally stood practically still in cowering terror to be cut down to the last individual. I once saw a surround on the lower Arkansas, participated in by Cheyenncs and Arapahoes the two tribes ,at, the time living together in one village In perfect amity in which the entire herd was killed in less tijan ten minutes. As over two hundred participated, each armed .either with a Henry or Spencer repenting rifle, the fusillade reminded me of the .seconil day at Gettysburg. As each Indian emptied his magazine at least once, there .were approximately three thousand rounds expended in the killing of about three hundred buffalo.- The lethal befuddlenient and pitiful terror displayed by the poor brutes under such circumstances was the basic origin of tho expressive western slang term "buffaloed." It is of peculiar significance to one who has seen a "surround." The first hunt of the season particularly, hut nearly every other hunt of tribal participation, was always preceded by elaborate ceremonies. First, the older men made "bnffralov medicine," followed by the invocative "buffalo dance," after which carefully framed and minutely explicit rules and regulations govcrniug the hunt were proclaimed. It is to be regretted that a full description of these preliminary ceremonies is impossible here as they are of exceeding interest. Suffice it to say that the slightest infraction of these rules and regulations was drastically punishe"d, sometimes even the extreme death penalty being inflicted. Late winter hunting was permitted sans these ceremonies, but even then the" hunts had to conform to organization and rules. The exceptions were in the case of the encounter, -in the- winter only, of a solitary animal or very small bunch isolated from the main herds which could be killed without frightening the latter. And in case of famine shortage any Indian could kill to sustain life. SACRIFICE. WITH MYSTICAL RITES. In these general hunts certain parts of the first animal slain were always sacrificed to the buffalo manes, the parts being either burned or buried with mystical rites. While on this topic of mysticism it may here be interpolated that a slight amendment of my previous statement that all parts of the buffalo are. utilized is necessary. Among most of the riains tribes certain parts of the buffalo are strictly taboo. Among the Poncas and Omahas Slbuan famUyJ-fcr eiample, - tMre are gens, one of which taboos the; very young calves, another the tonguesr another the heads and skulls, and still another the tails of buffaloes, never so much as touching them with bare hands or even mentioning them in conversation. These various taboos in each case fixed the gens names of the abstainers. There was, in fact, some part of the buffalo which was tabooed by every tribe of my contact, though, in most cased such taboo was kept secret and seldom if ever divulged to whites. A curious instance of this gens-naming is the case ot the Cheyenne "Haviqs-ni-pahis" "throat closed by burning" bestowed upon them by reason of their using a buffalo aorta instead of a pipe in one of their ceremonies. En passant, much nonsense has been -written in connection with Indian buffalo hunts which needs clearing out. Iir nearly every book presenting more or less apocryphal Plains experiences appears pictures of wolfskin-clad Indians crawling up to the immense herds Avith firelocks and bows in hand. According to the relators the reds usually wiped out every buffalo in the bunch by this unique stratagem. As applied to all the tribes of my knowledge such stuff is what my northwestern Slwash friends inelegantly term "Bushwah." LEFT NO SURVIVORS TO ESCAPE. All Plains tribes were "horse" Indians and never by any chance essayed buffalo killing afoot. Their aim always was to kill every individual, leaving no survivor to escape and alarm the other herds. Any attempt to accomplish this by foot approach upon a large body of animals as scary as were the buffalo would be obviously futile, and the man attempting it would be lucky if he escaped flogging to death as a punishment for his asininity. While all Plains tribes were nomadic, their wanderings were only over comparatively restricted areas of their tribal habitation, owing to the almost unvarying hostility of adjoining tribes. Their buffalo killing was therefore, always done at home, and woe to the incautious wretch who should senselessly alarm the herds before the seasons full supply of meat had been secured. I once" called the attention of "Little Robe," head chief of the Cheyennes, to such a picture, jokingly asking him: "How many buffalo you kill this way?" His reply, while inconsequential to a degree, was tersely succinct: "Picture-maker all same damn fool. Mebhyso you loco too." The only exception conceivable would be that of a raiding war party maliciously stampeding- the enemys food stock, and even this would logically have been done by horse and not foot-incn. White men are the only ones whom I have ever seen attempt the wolf stalk. I doubt, likewise, the stories of buffalo-skin-clad Indian decoys luring over precipices the herds stampeded by other Indian assistants in their rear. Anyone who has seen a, stampede will require a full bag of salt to the digestion of such a yarn. For the name of an Indian who would deliberately put himself close enough in the path of a stampede to have any luring effect on it would emphatically be "Mud!" That man, red or white, never lived who could successfully outrun or sidestep a buffalo stampede, and I have yet to see that Indian self-sacrificing enough to play the goat on such an occasion. The driving of them .between "V"-shaped wings miles long, into pens built at the Intersection of the wings, also inclines me to the claiming of a residence in Missouri. It might be done if the pens and fences were stout enough to turn and hold the mighty onrushes which I have seen level standing ten-inch trees to the ground. It would, incidentally, entail labor of construction on a scale absolutely unthinkable to an Indian. Be that as it may, no Plains tribesman with whom I have discussed the matter ever heard of such a drive. And "neap too much work!" was the invariable comment. The horses used by Plains Indians in their buffalo work were solemnly consecrated to that purpose alone, never being used for anything else. They were Carefully trained, well kept and sedulously groomed, their tails and manes decorated with .much "buffalo medicine" finery. Among the Comanches they always had split ears to distinguish them from the common stock, and the majority of the Comanche buffalo running horses were "pintos," either black and white or liver and white. They were trained to run without bridling, so as to permit the free use of the riders both arms, being guided by knee pressure alone. They were, equally with the war ponies, among the "top" horses of the tribal caballard, quick as cats and swift as swallows, with phenomenal staying qualities. It is of record that one notable "pigeon-blue" gelding, the property of Asa Havl ."The Milky Way" a famous Pcnoteka. Comanche buffalo runner, pneo ran four hours at high speed among an Immense herd of buffalo, covering in his winding, meandering course an estimnted distance of forty miles, during which his rider lanced no less than one hundred and eight buffalo! It is likewise of record that Asa only grunted scornfully at an offer of ,000 gold for his wonderful horse. When in the chase both horse and rider were stripped to the buff, the latter riding bareback, although occasionally a small pad was used. A rcata, thrown in loose colls about the horses body just behind the forelegs, was the sole impedimenta; the. rider retained his seat by thrusting his knee-tips through the loose coils, guiding his mount by their pressure. .MOst Indians are good riders, the Comanche proverbially so, and I have seen exhibitions of Indian horsemanship that made my blood tingle. The weapons emp!oycd were firearms, lances, bows and arrows, and a curious contrivance that I saw employed . only once by the Comanches. It consisted of a light but strong bone-dry willow pole about sixteen feet long and three inches thick. At one end it was split for about three feet, and evidently dried in that condition. The prongs were about thirty inches apart at their points, and at the point of division the pole was wrapped with sinew to retard further splitting. About half way up the Y was affixed tho blade of an old curved army cutlass, sharpened to a razor edge and lashed at its ends to the arms of the Y fork so that the blade lay at an angle of about thirty degrees slope. In use the rider ran his horse up behind the buffalo, aud straddling each leg in turn just above the knee gave a sharp push against the tendon. The shearing cut of the curved, sloping blade effectively hamstrung the poor beast, whicli was left standing there helplessly anchored uutil the squaws nt their convenience knocked hint in the head Montezuma in Outers-Recreation.

Persistent Link:
Local Identifier: drf1919111301_2_4
Library of Congress Record: