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Buffalo

Overland travelers almost always made some mention of buffalo. The mere sight of so many animals in such vast herds amazed them. Estimates have placed the number of buffalo in the nineteenth century at figures ranging from 60 to 125 million, according to Nebraska State Historical Society sources.

Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, on May 9, 1859, set out on an overland journey to California. As he traveled, he sent back to his paper thirty-two dispatches describing whatever caught his eye as he journeyed overland.

While crossing the Plains, Greeley encountered the large herds of buffalo which then roamed the prairies. He remarked in the seventh dispatch, written on May 29, 1859, his opinion of the buffalo as food:

"I do not like the flesh of this wild ox. It is tough and not juicy. I do not forget that our cookery is of the most unsophisticated pattern--carrying us back to the age of the building of the Pyramids, at least--but I would much rather see an immense herd of buffalo on the prairie than eat the best of them."

On May 31, 1859, Greeley commented in the eighth dispatch:
"All day yesterday, they darkened the earth around us, often seeming to be drawn up like an army in battle array on the ridges and down their slopes a mile or so south of us--often on the north as well. They are rather shy of the little screens of straggling timber of the creek bottoms--doubtless from their sore experience of Indians lurking therein to discharge arrows at them as they went down to drink. If they feed in the grass of the narrow valleys and ravines, they are careful to have a part of the herd on the ridges which overlook them, and with them the surrounding country for miles. And, when an alarm is given, they all rush furiously off in the direction which the leaders presume that of safety. . . .

"What strikes the stranger with most amazement is their immense numbers. I know a million is a great many, but I am confident we saw that number yesterday. Certainly, all we saw could not have stood on ten square miles of ground. Often the country for miles on either hand seemed quite black with them."

(June 1999)

 

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