slaughter had benefitsby
Animals' remains provided needed items
for early settlers
whys and wherefores of the near-extinction of the buffalo will be debated from
now on with no clear conclusions accepted by all. Most writings of the time dwell
on the waste and carnage and many western films show the prairies covered with
the carcasses of slain animals. |
There was waste and carnage beyond doubt
but a close study shows not all was wasted. Many a carnivore and hungry predator
made a good living following the hunters. Buffalo beef built railroads, mined
gold and silver, fed tribes, armies, explorers, wagon trains and early settlers.
Buffalo hides made robes and commercial belting to drive the machines of manufacturing
in the east. Buffalo horns and hooves produced glue, and the hair of the beasts
stuffed the furniture of the time.
Before, during and for a short time
after the Big Hunt Period, everyone living on or traveling the Great Plains burned
buffalo chips for both heat and cooking. Settler women and children dragged wash
tubs across the surrounding prairie gathering buffalo chips for this crude but
As the buffalo herds diminished and weather took its
toll, the buffalo chip was replaced by the longhorn chip as the Texas cattle herds
began moving north. About this time, the bleached bones of the buffalo, lying
almost everywhere on the prairie, began selling by the ton to be made into fertilizer
and livestock feed additives. In reality, it was a godsend.
hard-pressed for cash, switched from gathering chips to gathering bones. This
chore not only provided much-needed income it also cleared the grassland for plowing.
The freighters distributing supplies throughout the West began stopping at settler's
homes, purchasing the piles of buffalo bones and hauling them to the nearest rail-loading
facility for profit.
Kansas history records one freighter who hauled two
wagon loads of barbed wire to Quitaque
for Charles Goodnight as saying, "I made more profit on the back-haul of gathered
buffalo bones than I did on hauling the original cargo of barbed wire."
Night Ranch, Goodnight, Texas|
courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
The bulk of buffalo bones were ground by machines, sacked and sold back to the
settlers for fertilizer. Later, ground bones were added to livestock feeds to
provide much needed calcium. It was believed bone meal mixed with ground oyster
shells made stronger egg shells for poultry.|
Major machinery companies
sold large volume bone grinders while Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward sold small
bone chippers, nippers and grinders for small farm processing.
many early day photographs of itinerant wanderers-of-the-prairie pushing wheelbarrows
gathering buffalo bones and piling them into huge ricks. By writing their names
on a buffalo skull, the ownership of the rick was established. When the surrounding
area was picked clean, they contacted a freighter who hauled the bones to the
nearest railhead loading station for shipment to a fertilizer plant. It provided
a good living as long as it lasted.
Interestingly, the legal description
for the original town plat for McLean
begins with the sentence, "Starting at a pile of buffalo bones, thence south
..." I wonder how many legal descriptions throughout the West begin in this manner.
© Delbert Trew
July 3, 2007 Column
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