The Extermination of the American Bison Part 11

(3) The progeny of the two species is fertile to any extent, yielding half-breeds, quarter, three-quarter breeds, and so on.

(4) The bison breeds in captivity with perfect regularity and success.

_Need of an improvement in range cattle._--Ever since the earliest days of cattle-ranching in the West, stockmen have had it in their power to produce a breed which would equal in beef-bearing qualities the best breeds to be found upon the plains, and be so much better calculated to survive the hardships of winter, that their annual losses would have been very greatly reduced. Whenever there is an unusually severe winter, such as comes about three times in every decade, if not even oftener, range cattle perish by thousands. It is an absolute impossibility for every ranchman who owns several thousand, or even several hundred, head of cattle to provide hay for them, even during the severest portion of the winter season, and consequently the cattle must depend wholly upon their own resources. When the winter is reasonably mild, and the snows never very deep, nor lying too long at a time on the ground, the cattle live through the winter with very satisfactory success. Thanks to the wind, it usually happens that the falling snow is blown off the ridges as fast as it falls, leaving the grass sufficiently uncovered for the cattle to feed upon it. If the snow-fall is universal, but not more than a few inches in depth, the cattle paw through it here and there, and eke out a subsistence, on quarter rations it may be, until a friendly chinook wind sets in from the southwest and dissolves the snow as if by magic in a few hours' time.

But when a deep snow comes, and lies on the ground persistently, week in and week out, when the warmth of the sun softens and moistens its surface sufficiently for a returning cold wave to freeze it into a hard crust, forming a universal wall of ice between the luckless steer and his only food, the cattle starve and freeze in immense numbers. Being totally unfitted by nature to survive such unnatural conditions, it is not strange that they succumb.

Under present conditions the stockman simply stakes his cattle against the winter elements and takes his chances on the results, which are governed by circumstances wholly beyond his control. The losses of the fearful winter of 1886-'87 will probably never be forgotten by the cattlemen of the great Western grazing ground. In many portions of Montana and Wyoming the cattlemen admitted a loss of 50 per cent of their cattle, and in some localities the loss was still greater. The same conditions are liable to prevail next winter, or any succeeding winter, and we may yet see more than half the range cattle in the West perish in a single month.

Yet all this time the cattlemen have had it in their power, by the easiest and simplest method in the world, to introduce a strain of hardy native blood in their stock which would have made it capable of successfully resisting a much greater degree of hunger and cold. It is really surprising that the desirability of cross-breeding the buffalo and domestic cattle should for so long a time have been either overlooked or disregarded. While cattle-growers generally have shown the greatest enterprise in producing special breeds for milk, for butter, or for beef, cattle with short horns and cattle with no horns at all, only two or three men have had the enterprise to try to produce a breed particularly hardy and capable.

A buffalo can weather storms and outlive hunger and cold which would kill any domestic steer that ever lived. When nature placed him on the treeless and blizzard-swept plains, she left him well equipped to survive whatever natural conditions he would have to encounter. The most striking feature of his entire _tout ensemble_ is his magnificent suit of hair and fur combined, the warmest covering possessed by any quadruped save the musk-ox. The head, neck, and fore quarters are clothed with hide and hair so thick as to be almost, if not entirely, impervious to cold. The hair on the body and hind quarters is long, fine, very thick, and of that peculiar woolly quality which constitutes the best possible protection against cold. Let him who doubts the warmth of a good buffalo robe try to weather a blizzard with something else, and then try the robe. The very form of the buffalo--short, thick legs, and head hung very near the ground--suggests most forcibly a special fitness to wrestle with mother earth for a living, snow or no snow. A buffalo will flounder for days through deep snow-drifts without a morsel of food, and survive where the best range steer would literally freeze on foot, bolt upright, as hundreds did in the winter of 1886-'87. While range cattle turn tail to a blizzard and drift helplessly, the buffalo faces it every time, and remains master of the situation.

It has for years been a surprise to me that Western stockmen have not seized upon the opportunity presented by the presence of the buffalo to improve the character of their cattle. Now that there are no longer any buffalo calves to be had on the plains for the trouble of catching them, and the few domesticated buffaloes that remain are worth fabulous prices, we may expect to see a great deal of interest manifested in this subject, and some costly efforts made to atone for previous lack of forethought.

_The character of the buffalo-domestic hybrid._--The subjoined illustration from a photograph kindly furnished by Mr. C. J. Jones, represents a ten months' old half-breed calf (male), the product of a buffalo bull and domestic cow. The prepotency of the sire is apparent at the first glance, and to so marked an extent that the illustration would pass muster anywhere as having been drawn from a full-blood buffalo. The head, neck, and hump, and the long woolly hair that covers them, proclaim the buffalo in every line. Excepting that the hair on the shoulders (below the hump) is of the same length as that on the body and hind quarters, there is, so far as one can judge from an excellent photograph, no difference whatever observable between this lusty young half-breed and a full blood buffalo calf of the same age and sex. Mr.

Jones describes the color of this animal as "iron-gray," and remarks: "You will see how even the fur is, being as long on the hind parts as on the shoulders and neck, very much unlike the buffalo, which is so shaggy about the shoulders and so thin farther back." Upon this point it is to be remarked that the hair on the body of a yearling or two year-old buffalo is always very much longer in proportion to the hair on the forward parts than it is later in life, and while the shoulder hair is always decidedly longer than that back of it, during the first two years the contrast is by no means so very great. A reference to the memoranda of hair measurements already given will afford precise data on this point.

In regard to half-breed calves, Mr. Bedson states in a private letter that "the hump does not appear until several months after birth."

Altogether, the male calf described above so strongly resembles a pure-blood buffalo as to be generally mistaken for one; the form of the adult half-blood cow promptly proclaims her origin. The accompanying plate, also from a photograph supplied by Mr. Jones, accurately represents a half-breed cow, six years old, weighing about 1,800 pounds.

Her body is very noticeably larger in proportion than that of the cow buffalo, her pelvis much heavier, broader, and more cow-like, therein being a decided improvement upon the small and weak hind quarters of the wild species. The hump is quite noticeable, but is not nearly so high as in the pure buffalo cow. The hair on the fore quarters, neck, and head is decidedly shorter, especially on the head; the frontlet and chin beard being conspicuously lacking. The tufts of long, coarse, black hair which clothe the fore-arm of the buffalo cow are almost absent, but apparently the hair on the body and hind quarters has lost but little, if any, of its length, density, and fine, furry quality. The horns are decidedly cow-like in their size, length, and curvature.


Regarding the general character of the half-breed buffalo, and his herd in general, Mr. Bedson writes me as follows, in a letter dated September 12, 1888:

"The nucleus of my herd consisted of a young buffalo bull and four heifer calves, which I purchased in 1877, and the increase from these few has been most rapid, as will be shown by a tabular statement farther on.

"Success with the breeding of the pure buffalo was followed by experiments in crossing with the domestic animal. This crossing has generally been between a buffalo bull and an ordinary cow, and with the most encouraging results, since it had been contended by many that although the cow might breed a calf from the buffalo, yet it would be at the expense of her life, owing to the hump on a buffalo's shoulder; but this hump does not appear until several months after birth. This has been proved a fallacy respecting _this herd_ at least, for calving has been attended with no greater percentage of losses than would be experienced in ranching with the ordinary cattle. Buffalo cows and crosses have dropped calves at as low a temperature as 20 below zero, and the calves were sturdy and healthy.

"The half breed resulting from the cross as above mentioned has been again crossed with the thoroughbred buffalo bull, producing a three quarter breed animal closely resembling the buffalo, the head and robe being quite equal, if not superior. The half-breeds are very prolific.

The cows drop a calf annually. They are also very hardy indeed, as they take the instinct of the buffalo during the blizzards and storms, and do not drift like native cattle. They remain upon the open prairie during our severest winters, while the thermometer ranges from 30 to 40 degrees below zero, with little or no food except what they rustled on the prairie, and no shelter at all. In nearly all the ranching parts of North America foddering and housing of cattle is imperative in a more or less degree,[50] creating an item of expense felt by all interested in cattle-raising; but the buffalo [half]breed retains all its native hardihood, needs no housing, forages in the deepest snows for its own food, yet becomes easily domesticated, and consequently needs but little herding. Therefore the progeny of the buffalo is easily reared, cheaply fed, and requires no housing in winter; three very essential points in stock-raising.

[Note 50: On nearly all the great cattle ranches of the United States it is absolutely impossible, and is not even attempted.--W. T. H.]

"They are always in good order, and I consider the meat of the half-breed much preferable to domestic animals, while the robe is very fine indeed, the fur being evened up on the hind parts, the same as on the shoulders. During the history of the herd, accident and other causes have compelled the slaughtering of one or two, and in these instances the carcasses have sold for 18 cents per pound; the hides in their dressed state for $50 to $75 each. A half-breed buffalo ox (four years old, crossed with buffalo bull and Durham cow) was killed last winter, and weighed 1,280 pounds dressed beef. One pure buffalo bull now in my herd weighs fully 2,000 pounds, and a [half]breed bull 1,700 to 1,800 pounds.

"The three-quarter breed is an enormous animal in size, and has an extra good robe, which will readily bring $40 to $50 in any market where there is a demand for robes. They are also very prolific, and I consider them the coming cattle for our range cattle for the Northern climate, while the half and quarter breeds will be the animals for the more Southern district. The half and three-quarter breed cows, when really matured, will weigh from 1,400 to 1,800 pounds.

"I have never crossed them except with a common grade of cows, while I believe a cross with the Galloways would produce the handsomest robe ever handled, and make the best range cattle in the world. I have not had time to give my attention to my herd, more than to let them range on the prairies at will. By proper care great results can be accomplished."

Hon. C. J. Jones, of Garden City, Kans., whose years of experience with the buffalo, both as old-time hunter, catcher, and breeder, has earned for him the sobriquet of "Buffalo Jones," five years ago became deeply interested in the question of improving range cattle by crossing with the buffalo. With characteristic Western energy he has pursued the subject from that time until the present, having made five trips to the range of the only buffaloes remaining from the great southern herd, and captured sixty-eight buffalo calves and eleven adult cows with which to start a herd. In a short article published in the Farmers' Review (Chicago, August 22, 1888), Mr. Jones gives his views on the value of the buffalo in cross-breeding as follows:

"In all my meanderings I have not found a place but I could count more carcasses [of cattle] than living animals. Who has not ridden over some of the Western railways and counted dead cattle by the thousands? The great question is, Where can we get a race of cattle that will stand blizzards, and endure the drifting snow, and will not be driven with the storms against the railroad fences and pasture fences, there to perish for the want of nerve to face the northern winds for a few miles, to where the winter grasses could be had in abundance? Realizing these facts, both from observation and pocket, we pulled on our 'thinking cap,' and these points came vividly to our mind:

"(1) We want an animal that is hardy.

"(2) We want an animal with nerve and endurance.

"(3) We want an animal that faces the blizzards and endures the storms.

"(4) We want an animal that will rustle the prairies, and not yield to discouragement.

"(5) We want an animal that will fill the above bill, and make good beef and plenty of it.

[Illustration: HALF-BREED (BUFFALO-DOMESTIC) COW.--HERD OF C. J. JONES, GARDEN CITY, KANSAS. Drawn by Ernest E. Thompson.]

"All the points above could easily be found in the buffalo, excepting the fifth, and even that is more than filled as to the quality, but not in quantity. Where is the 'old timer' who has not had a cut from the hump or sirloin of a fat buffalo cow in the fall of the year, and where is the one who will not make affidavit that it was the best meat he ever ate? Yes, the fat was very rich, equal to the marrow from the bone of domestic cattle. * * *

"The great question remained unsolved as to the quantity of meat from the buffalo. I finally heard of a half-breed buffalo in Colorado, and immediately set out to find it. I traveled at least 1,000 miles to find it, and found a five-year-old half-breed cow that had been bred to domestic bulls and had brought forth two calves--a yearling and a sucking calf that gave promise of great results.

"The cow had never been fed, but depended altogether on the range, and when I saw her, in the fall of 1883. I estimated her weight at 1,800 pounds. She was a brindle, and had a handsome robe even in September; she had as good hind quarters as ordinary cattle; her foreparts were heavy and resembled the buffalo, yet not near so much of the hump. The offspring showed but very little of the buffalo, yet they possessed a woolly coat, which showed clearly that they were more than domestic cattle. * * *

"What we can rely on by having one-fourth, one-half, and three-fourths breeds might be analyzed as follows:

"We can depend upon a race of cattle unequaled in the world for hardiness and durability; a good meat-bearing animal; the best and only fur-bearing animal of the bovine race; the animal always found in a storm where it is overtaken by it; a race of cattle so clannish as never to separate and go astray; the animal that can always have free range, as they exist where no other animal can live; the animal that can water every third day and keep fat, ranging from 20 to 30 miles from water; in fact, they are the perfect animal for the plains of North America.

One-fourth breeds for Texas, one-half breeds for Colorado and Kansas, and three-fourths breeds for more northern country, is what will soon be sought after more than any living animal. Then we will never be confronted with dead carcarsses from starvation, exhaustion, and lack of nerve, as in years gone by."

_The bison as a beast of burden._--On account of the abundance of horses for all purposes throughout the entire country, oxen are so seldom used they almost constitute a curiosity. There never has existed a necessity to break buffaloes to the yoke and work them like domestic oxen, and so few experiments have been made in this direction that reliable data on this subject is almost wholly wanting. While at Miles City, Mont., I heard of a German "granger" who worked a small farm in the Tongue River Valley, and who once had a pair of cow buffaloes trained to the yoke.

It was said that they were strong, rapid walkers, and capable of performing as much work as the best domestic oxen, but they were at times so uncontrollably headstrong and obstinate as to greatly detract from their usefulness. The particular event of their career on which their historian dwelt with special interest occurred when their owner was hauling a load of potatoes to town with them. In the course of the long drive the buffaloes grew very thirsty, and upon coming within sight of the water in the river they started for it in a straight course. The shouts and blows of the driver only served to hasten their speed, and presently, when they reached the edge of the high bank, they plunged down it without the slightest hesitation, wagon, potatoes, and all, to the loss of everything except themselves and the drink they went after!

Mr. Robert Wickliffe states that trained buffaloes make satisfactory oxen. "I have broken them to the yoke, and found them capable of making excellent oxen; and for drawing wagons, carts, or other heavily laden vehicles on long journeys they would, I think, be greatly preferable to the common ox."

It seems probable that, in the absence of horses, the buffalo would make a much more speedy and enduring draught animal than the domestic ox, although it is to be doubted whether he would be as strong. His weaker pelvis and hind quarters would surely count against him under certain circumstances, but for some purposes his superior speed and endurance would more than counterbalance that defect.


_Herd of Mr. S. L. Bedson, Stony Mountain, Manitoba._--In 1877 Mr.

Bedson purchased 5 buffalo calves, 1 bull, and 4 heifers, for which he paid $1,000. In 1888 his herd consisted of 23 full-blood bulls, 35 cows, 3 half-breed cows, 5 half-breed bulls, and 17 calves, mixed and pure;[51] making a total of 83 head. These were all produced from the original 5, no purchases having been made, nor any additions made in any other way. Besides the 83 head constituting the herd when it was sold, 5 were killed and 9 given away, which would otherwise make a total of 97 head produced since 1877. In November, 1888, this entire herd was purchased, for $50,000, by Mr. C. J. Jones, and added to the already large herd owned by that gentleman in Kansas.

[Note 51: In summing up the total number of buffaloes and mixed-breeds now alive in captivity, I have been obliged to strike an average on this lot of calves "mixed and pure," and have counted twelve as being of pure breed and five mixed, which I have reason to believe is very near the truth.]


JONES, GARDEN CITY, KANSAS. Drawn by Ernest E. Thompson.]

_Herd of Mr. C. J. Jones, Garden City, Kans._--Mr. Jones's original herd of 57 buffaloes constitute a living testimonial to his individual enterprise, and to his courage, endurance, and skill in the chase. The majority of the individuals composing the herd he himself ran down, lassoed, and tied with his own hands. For the last five years Mr. Jones has made an annual trip, in June, to the uninhabited "panhandle" of Texas, to capture calves out of the small herd of from one hundred to two hundred head which represented the last remnant of the great southern herd. Each of these expeditious involved a very considerable outlay in money, an elaborate "outfit" of men, horses, vehicles, camp equipage, and lastly, but most important of all, a herd of a dozen fresh milch cows to nourish the captured calves and keep them from dying of starvation and thirst. The region visited was fearfully barren, almost without water, and to penetrate it was always attended by great hardship. The buffaloes were difficult to find, but the ground was good for running, being chiefly level plains, and the superior speed of the running horses always enabled the hunters to overtake a herd whenever one was sighted, and to "cut out" and lasso two, three, or four of its calves. The degree of skill and daring displayed in these several expeditions are worthy of the highest admiration, and completely surpass anything I have ever seen or read of being accomplished in connection with hunting, or the capture of live game. The latest feat of Mr. Jones and his party comes the nearest to being incredible. During the month of May, 1888, they not only captured seven calves, but also _eleven adult cows_, of which some were lassoed in full career on the prairie, thrown, tied, and hobbled! The majority, however, were actually "rounded up,"

herded, and held in control until a bunch of tame buffaloes was driven down to meet them, so that it would thus be possible to drive all together to a ranch. This brilliant feat can only be appreciated as it deserves by those who have lately hunted buffalo, and learned by dear experience the extent of their wariness, and the difficulties, to say nothing of the dangers, inseparably connected with their pursuit.

The result of each of Mr. Jones's five expeditions is as follows: In 1884 no calves found; 1885, 11 calves captured, 5 died, 6 survived; 1886, 14 calves captured, 7 died, 7 survived; 1887, 36 calves captured, 6 died, 30 survived; 1888, 7 calves captured, all survived; 1888, 11 old cows captured, all survived. Total, 79 captures, 18 losses, 57 survivors.

The census of the herd is exactly as follows: Adult cows, 11; three-year olds, 7, of which 2 are males and 5 females; two-year olds, 4, of which all are males; yearling, 28, of which 15 are males and 13 females; calves, 7, of which 3 are males and 4 females. Total herd, 57; 24 males and 33 females. To this, Mr. Jones's original herd, must now be added the entire herd formerly owned by Mr. Bedson.

Respecting his breeding operations Mr. Jones writes: "My oldest [bull]

buffaloes are now three years old, and I am breeding one hundred domestic cows to them this year. Am breeding the Galloway cows quite extensively; also some Shorthorns, Herefords, and Texas cows. I expect best results from the Galloways. If I can get the black luster of the latter and the fur of a buffalo, I will have a robe that will bring more money than we get for the average range steer."

In November, 1888, Mr. Jones purchased Mr. Bedson's entire herd, and in the following mouth proceeded to ship a portion of it to Kansas City.

Thirty-three head were separated from the remainder of the herd on the prairie near Stony Mountain, 12 miles from Winnipeg, and driven to the railroad. Several old bulls broke away en route and ran back to the herd, and when the remainder were finally corraled in the pens at the stock-yards "they began to fight among themselves, and some fierce encounters were waged between the old bulls. The younger cattle were raised on the horns of their seniors, thrown in the air, and otherwise gored." While on the way to St. Paul three of the half-breed buffaloes were killed by their companions. On reaching Kansas City and unloading the two cars, 13 head broke away from the large force of men that attempted to manage them, stampeded through the city, and finally took refuge in the low-lands along the river. In due time, however, all were recaptured.

Chapter end

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