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Experiments in domestication and breeding of buffaloes (1889) by Ado Hunnius

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[Title Page]


Experiments in Domestication and breeding of Buffaloes.  – 1889 – pages 1-8


Custer’s Last Battle

June 25th, 1876.

Pages 9-37


See also Introduction p. XXXI-XXXXI.


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The destruction of the Buffalo Herds



For the most part, the fashionable hunter’s chief aim was to simply kill for the sake of killing, resorting to all manner of unworthy artifices to accomplish this end; so slaughter, even when his game cannot be utilized, that he might boast of numbers slain, and to wantonly destroy, that he [could] show on his return the trophies torn from his victims.  At the present time (1887) the West is overrun yearly by trophy-hunters from all parts of the world.  Unable, in the majority of cases, from lack of endurance and skill and a knowledge of wood-craft to procure their own antlers or [belts], they employ native hunters at high wages to lead them to the game, and, and if they fail to hit the game, to do the killing for them.  These men are induced, therefore, to slaughter fast quantities of game when it is not in season, when otherwise they would have reserved it for their own maintenance and [permitted] the noble animals to [perpetuate] the


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kind.  In this way thousands of herds of game are annually destroyed, but their number is comparatively small when compared with that killed by skin-hunters, ranchmen, and by reckless stock-men, who, just for the fun of it, never miss an opportunity to employ their repeating rifles at all kinds of game.


This unnecessary destruction of game could have been prevented, or at least checked, had adequate laws existed, and their enforcement been made a matter of national consideration.  But on looking Westward we find that the great decrease of game other than the buffaloes and the elk is mainly consequent on the settlement of what but a short time ago were the natural homes of the animals.  Within a few years the [XXXXX] between the Mississippi and the Pacific coast has become traversed by railroads, and the grassy plains and fertile valleys on which countless herds of buffalo, elk, and antelope used to roam without molestation have become cattle ranges and


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stock farms.  The Union Pacific Railroad has cut the great buffalo herd in two.  The skin-hunters had already begun, and in the course of two or three years they had exterminated the buffaloes in Kansas and Nebraska.  The destruction was not completed in Texas and Western part of the Indian Territory until 1880, while the last important killing in Montana and DaKota was in 1883.


At the present time, outsid3e of the National Park, where about two hundred and sixty buffaloes are now harbored, there are not over three hundred, probably not as many, left in the whole United States.  The survivors of this magnificent race of animals are scattered in little bunches in several localities.  There are about one hundred in Montana, or at least there were a year ago (1888), some at the head of Dry Creek and the remainder at the head of Porcupine Creek.  In Wyoming there are a few stragglers from the National Park, which, when chased, run back there


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for protection.  In the mountains of Colorado last summer there were two bunches of mountain bison, one of twenty-five head and the other of eleven.  These have probably been killed.  There are none in DaKota, though eighteen months ago thirty were known to be there.  It was estimated in 1887 that there were twenty-seven in Nebraska, and about fifty more scattered in the western part of the Indian Territory and Kansas.  Those in Nebraska have since been killed by the Sioux.  Of the thousands that once inhabited Texas, only two small bunches remain.  Thirty-two head are near the Ratons, in the northwestern part of the Panhandle, and eight in the sand-hills of the Staked Plains, north of the Pecos River.  These were seen and counted on the 1st of April of last year.  This estimate of the remnant of a great race is believed to be essentially correct.


It is often asked why an attempt has not been made to save the buffalo by domesticating it, and questioning whether the profits from its


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flesh, horns, and hide would not be much greater than from raising common cattle.  The experiment has been tried by Mr. Charles Goodnight on his Palasura Canon Range (northern Texas) in Armstrong County.  Ten calves were roped in the spring of 1879 and raised.  It was found that they were very troublesome and hard to handle.  They bred more slowly than common cattle.  Mr. Goodnight has few domesticated buffaloes now on his ranch.  He has endeavored to cross them with Hereford cattle, with poor results.  Out of hundreds of trials he succeeded in procuring but one hybrid.  This, a cow-calf, was bred to a buffalo bull, and the result was a bull-calf which in appearance closely resembled a pure buffalo, thus proving the strength of the buffalo blood.  Several of the domesticated herd, however, had issue.  They were found to defend their young with great ferocity, and at no time has it been safe for strangers or women to go afoot among them.  Mr. Goodnight


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tried a series of experiments since in buffalo breeding but with poor success.  Unless the domestic cow is reared with the buffalo they will not cross.  The experiment has thus far best succeeded with dun colored cows.  This herd was lately sold to Mr. W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill).


While Mr. Goodnight’s trials at breeding the buffalo were no doubt original with him, he is by no means the first to experiment in breeding the buffalo in a domestic state.  We are told by Mr. Audubon that as early as 1813 Mr. Robert Wickliffe, of Kentucky, commenced some interesting experiments.  He began breeding from two buffalow cows, from which he raised a small herd.  The two cows came from the upper Missouri River.  At first they were confined in a separate park with some buffalo bulls, but later on they were all allowed to herd and feed with the common cattle; [now T. T.] their owner find his buffaloes more furious or wild than common cattle of the same age that grazed with them.


On getting possession of the same buffalo bulls,


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Mr. Wickliffe endeavored to cross them as much as he could with common cows, which met with some success, but he found the common bulls always shy of buffalo cows, and unwilling to accede to the same experiment of crossing.  From the domestic cow he had several half-breeds, one of which was a heifer.  This he put with a domestic bull, and it produced a bull-calf.  This when killed as a steer produced very fine beef.  He bred from the same heifer several calves, and then, that the experiment might be perfect, he put one of them to a buffalo bull, and she produced a bull-calf, which was raised to be a very fine large animal, a three-quarter, half-quarter, and half-quarter of the common blood.  After making these experiments he left them to propagate their breed themselves, so that he only had a few half-breeds, and they always proved the same, even by a buffalo bull.  The full-blood was found not to be as large as the improved stock of common cattle, but as large as the ordinary


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cattle of the country.


The udder, or bag, of the buffalo is smaller than that of the common cow, and while the calves of both were allowed to run with their dams upon the same pasture, those of the buffalo were always the fattest.  It was the experience of old hunters of that time that when a young buffalo calf was taken it required the milk of two common cows to raise it.


Unfortunately Mr. Wickliffe had no opportunity of testing the longevity of the buffalo, as all his died, either being killed by accident or because they were aged.  He, however, raised some cows that at twenty years old were healthy and vigorous and capable of sucking their calves.   It was his experience that the half-bred buffalo bull would not produce again, while a half-bred heifer was productive from either race, beyond the possibility of doubt.


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In 1876, a survey having been ordered by the military authorities to include the northwestern part of Texas and the Staked Plains, (April, May, & June) to find and locate the sources of the Red River, also the so-called Waterholes, to which the Indians used to retreat.  On the return of the party the south herd of buffalos going south, was met on June 19th in the early afternoon.  The marched slowly, but all grazing, there were any amount of calves.  They marched in what may be called “open order, each animal occupying about 8 or 9 feet or so.  On the 20th, we were all day in the very middle of the herd, which extended more than three miles east and west of our route.  The moved south even during the two nights, but much slower than at day time.  Pretty nearly every member of the party tried to figure out how many animals there might be in the herd.  The numbers so calculated were so big that no one beleived what the results actually showed. 


See back of next sheet.  (over)


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To see how far east and west the herd extended, one of the army wagons was used and by piling up boxes an elevation of about twelve feet was got, but our marine glasses could give not the real limit.  During day time the herd travelled at the rate of about 2 ½ miles in an hour; during the night they just kept slowly moving, did not stop at all for rest, lay down, or sleep. –


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In 1870 General Custer brought two calves with him to Fort Leavenworth Kansas.  The so-called old parade grounds were inclosed by a picket-fence, and the animals were given the freedom of the space; but after several accidents happened they had to be killed.  There was no sign of them to be getting tame, in fact they got every day more vicious.

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