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Historical Event

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Date:

July 27, 1866

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Short Description:

The Great Fall Hunt of the buffalo is depicted in which thousands of hunters charge into a massive herd and shoot them point blank. "The hunter pauses not a moment, but loads and fires with the utmost rapidity, pouring in his bullets at the closest range, often almost touching the animal he aims at."

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The Great Fur Land - The Great Fall Hunt

Topics: (click to open)

Pemmican
Trapping, Exploring, Hunting
Hunting methods
Carnivore Diet

Important Text:

At length the scouts, who for days have been scouring the prairie in every direction, bring the welcome intelligence of the discovery of the main herds. The line of march is at once turned toward the point indicated, and the laws against firing and leaving the main body are rigidly enforced. The long train moves cautiously and as silently as possible. Advantage is taken of depressions in the prairie to keep the train concealed from the buffalo, and not a sound is raised that may give warning of its presence. Approach is made as closely as may be compatible with safety, always keeping to the windward of the herd. Then, if a convenient locality is reached, camp is made, and busy preparations for the ensuing hunt begin. Guns are carefully scanned, powder-flasks and bullet-pouches filled, saddles and bridles examined, and, above all, the horses to be used in the final chase carefully groomed, for highest among his possessions the plain-hunter ranks his "buffalo-runner." It is to him like the Arab's steed--a daily comrade to be petted and spoken to, the companion of his long journeys, and the means of his livelihood.


The buffalo-runner belongs to no particular breed, the only requisites being speed, tact in bringing his rider alongside the retreating herd and maintaining a certain relative distance while there, and the avoiding the numerous pitfalls with which the prairie abounds. Horses well trained in these duties, and possessing the additional requisite of speed, command high prices in the hunt, often ranging from fifty to eighty pounds sterling. On the hunt they are seldom used for any other purpose than that of the final race, except it may be to occasionally draw the cart of madame at times when her neighbor appears in unwonted attire.


Before daybreak on the following morning--for a chase is seldom begun late in the day--the great body of hunters are off under the guidance of scouts in pursuit of the main herd. A ride of an hour or more brings them within, say, a mile of the buffalo, which have been moving slowly off as they approached. The hunt up to this time has moved in four columns, with every man in his place. As they draw nearer at a gentle trot, the immense herd breaks into a rolling gallop- Now the critical and long-desired moment has arrived. The chief gives the signal. "Allee! allee!" he shouts, and a thousand reckless riders dash forward at a wild run. Into the herd they penetrate; along its sides they stretch, the trained horses regulating their pace to that of the moving mass beside them; guns flash, shots and yells resound; the dust arises in thick clouds over the struggling band; and the chase sweeps rapidly over the plain, leaving its traces behind in the multitude of animals lying dead upon the ground, or feebly struggling in their death-throes. The hunter pauses not a moment, but loads and fires with the utmost rapidity, pouring in his bullets at the closest range, often almost touching the animal he aims at. To facilitate the rapidity of his fire he uses a flint-lock, smooth-bore trading-gun, and enters the chase with his mouth filled with bullets. A handful of powder is let fall from the powder-horn, a bullet is dropped from the mouth into the muzzle, a tap with the butt-end of the firelock on the saddle causes the salivated bullet to adhere to the powder during the moment necessary to depress the barrel, when the discharge is instantly effected without bringing the gun to the shoulder.


The excitement which seizes upon the hunter at finding himself surrounded by the long-sought buffalo is intense, and sometimes renders him careless in examining too closely whether the object fired at is a buffalo or a buffalo-runner mounted by a friend. But few fatal accidents occur, however, from the pell-mell rush and indiscriminate firing; but it frequently happens that guns, as the result of hasty and careless loading, explode, carrying away part of the hands using them, and even the most expert runners sometimes find their way into badger-holes, breaking or dislocating the collar-bones of the riders in the fall.


The identification of the slain animals is left till the run is over. This is accomplished by means of marked bullets, the locality in which the buffalo lies--for which the hunter always keeps a sharp lookout--and the spot where the bullet entered. By the time the hunters begin to appear, returning from the chase, there have arrived long trains of carts from the camp to carry back the meat and robes. The animals having been identified, the work of skinning and cutting up begins, in which the women and children participate. In a remarkably brief time the plain is strewed with skeletons stripped of flesh, and the well-loaded train is on its return. Arrived at camp, the robes are at once stretched upon a frame-work of poles, and the greater part of the flesh scraped from them, after which they are folded and packed in the carts to receive the final dressing in the settlement. Of the meat, the choicest portions are packed away without further care, to be freighted home in a fresh state, the cold at that late season effectually preserving it. Large quantities are, however, converted into pemmican, in which shape it finds its readiest market.

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