Buffalo hunters working in the area
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Professional buffalo hunters are working the area between here and the Black Hills. There have been some buffalo hunters around ever since the Black Hills gold rush started in 1876, to provide meat for the miners.
Many of the outlaw gangs who have been such a menace to the stage lines worked in the guise of hunters. They could then move their camps around the country and plunder or murder at will, with little likelihood of being located.
When the mountain men and other early travelers came across the great plains carrying their muzzle loaders, the only sure way to kill a buffalo was to ride alongside one and shoot him in the back of the neck.
It is a much different story today as the hunters are using the breech loading Sharp rifles. These hunters are very methodical in slaughtering the buffalo. They will usually hide in blinds, downwind from a herd of buffalo.
Their 50 caliber rifles have 32 inch barrels, weigh 16 pounds and are placed on rests mounted on tripods with a turntable. They are using a load of 120 grains of powder and with a bullet an inch and a quarter in length. By picking off the buffalo grazing on the edges of the main herd, an experienced hunter can shoot up to 3 of them without disturbing the rest of the herd.
The hunting party is usually made up of six men. They have one shooter, three skinners, one cook , and a wagon man. The shooter usually does his own ammunition reloading and the wagon man picks up hides from the skinners and hauls them to camp. The hides are then stretched out on the ground, hairy side down, and pegged down with small wooden pegs until they are dry.
When a sufficient number of hides are dry they are hauled to Cheyenne and shipped on the railroad to eastern tanneries.
The heavy buffalo bull hides are very much in demand for making heavy leather belts used to drive heavy industrial machinery and other equipment in the eastern United States and Europe. Many of them are also used for heavy tug straps on harnesses and for thorough-braces on stage coaches. There is also a strong demand all over the world for overcoats and lap robes and other articles made from the lighter weight buffalo hides.
In the past 20 years, millions of buffalo have been killed for just their hides and tongues with the rest of the carcass going to waste. The hunters in this area have a good market for the meat in the Black Hills so not as much of the meat is wasted. The buffalo hams are now selling in Deadwood markets for 2 1/2 cents per pound. There are still over 10,000 buffalo skirting the fringe of civilization along the northern edge of the Black Hills.
(Information source: "The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes," by Agnes Wright Spring; "Longhorns North of the Arkansas," by Ralph F. Jones.)