Apicultura Wiki
Advertisement

THE buffalo is decidedly one of the noblest victims that is sacrificed to the ardor of the sportsman. There is a massiveness about his form, and a magnificence associated with his home, that give him a peculiar interest.

No part of North America was originally unoccupied by the buffalo. The places where now are cities and towns, are remembered as their haunts; but they have kept with melancholy strides before the "march of civilization," and now find a home, daily more exposed and invaded, only on that division of our continent west of the Mississippi.

But in the immense wilds that give birth to the waters of the Missouri - on the vast prairies that stretch out like inland seas between the "great lakes" and the Pacific, and extend towards the tropics until they touch the foot of the Cordilleras, the buffalo roams still wild and free.

But the day of his glory is past. The Anglo-Saxon, more wanton of place than the savage himself, possessed of invincible courage and unlimited resources, and feeling adventure a part of life itself, has already penetrated the remotest fastnesses, and wandered over the most extended plains. Where the live lightning leaps from rock to rock, opening yawning caverns to the dilating eye, or spends its fury upon the desert, making it a sheet of fire, there have been his footsteps; and there has the buffalo smarted beneath his prowess, and kissed the earth.

The child of fortune from the "old world," the favorite of courts, has abandoned his home and affectations, and sought, among these western wilds, the enjoyment of nature in her own loveliness. The American hunter frolics over them as a boy enjoying his Saturday sport. The Indian - like his fathers, ever restless - scours the mountain and the plain; and men of whatever condition here meet equal, as sportsmen; and their great feats of honor and of arms, are at the sacrifice of the buffalo.

In their appearance, the buffalos present a singular mixture of the ferocious and comical. At a first glance they excite mirth; they appear to be the sleek-blooded kine, so familiar to the farmyard, but muffled about the shoulders in a coarse shawl, and wearing a mask and beard, as if in some outlandish disguise.

Their motions, too, are novel. They dash off, tail up, shaking their great woolly heads, and planting their feet under them, with a swinging gait and grotesque precision, that suggests the notion that they are a jolly set of dare-devils, fond of fun and extravagances, and disposed to have their jokes at the expense of all dignity of carriage, and the good opinion of the grave portion of the world.

But, upon nearer examination, you quail before the deep destructive instinct expressed in the eye; the shaggy mane distends, and shows the working of muscles fairly radiant with power; the fore foot dashes into and furrows the hard turf; the tail waves in angry curves; the eyeballs fill with blood, and with bellowing noise that echoes like the thunder, the white foam covers the shaggy jaws. Then the huge form before you grows into a mountain, then is exhibited an animal sublimity, a world of appetite without thought, and force without reason.

Standing on one of the immense prairies of the "south-west," you look out upon what seems to be the green waving swell of the sea, suddenly congealed - and it requires but little fancy to imagine, when the stormcloud sweeps over it, and the rain dashes in torrents, and the fierce winds bear down upon it, that the magic that holds it immovable, may be broken, and leave you helpless on the billowy wave.

On such an expanse, sublime from its immensity, roams the buffalo, in numbers commensurate with the extent, and not unfrequently covering the landscape, until their diminishing forms mingle in the opposite horizons, like mocking spectres. Such is the arena of sport, and such in quantity, is the game.

To the wild Indian, the buffalo hunt awakens the soul as absorbingly as does the defying yell on the warpath. With inflated nostril and distended eye, he dashes after his victim, revelling in the fruition of all the best hopes of his existence, and growing in the conceit of his favor with the "Great Spirit."

To the rude, white hunter, less imaginative than the savage; the buffalo hunt is the high consummation of his propensity and power to destroy. It gratifies his ambition, and feasts his appetite; his work is tangible; he feels - hears - tastes - and sees it; it is the very unloosing of all the rough passions of our nature, with the conscience entirely at rest.

To the "sportsman," who is matured in the constrains of cities, and in the artificial modes of enlightened society, and who retains within his bosom the leaven of our coarser nature, the buffalo hunt stirs up the latent fires repressed by a whole life; they break out with ardor, and he enters into the chase with an abandonment, which, while it gratifies every animal sense possessed by the savage and hunter, opens a thousand other avenues of high enjoyment, known only to the cultivated and refined mind.

Among the Indians there are but few methods of hunting the buffalo; yet there are tribes who display more skill than others, and seem to bring more intellect to bear in the sport. The Comanches in the south, and the Sioux in the north, are, from their numbers, warlike character, and wealth, by the aborigines, considered as the true buffalo hunters.

The Comanches inhabit one of the loveliest countries in the world for a winter home - but when the heats of summer drive them northward, they travel over the loveliest herbage, variegated by a thousand perfumed flowers, that yield fragrance under every crush of the foot. The wide savannas, that are washed by the Trinity and Brasos rivers, are every where variegated with clumps of live-oak trees, among which you involuntarily look for the mansion of some feudal lord.

Here are realized almost the wildest dreams of the future to the red men; and here the Comanches, strong in numbers, and rich in the spontaneous productions of their native land, walk proud masters, and exhibit savage life in some of the illusive charms we throw around it while bringing a refined imagination to view such life in the distance.

Thousands of this tribe of Indians will sometimes be engaged at one time in a buffalo hunt. In their wanderings about the prairies, they leave trails worn like a long-travelled road. Following the "scouts," until the vicinity of the animal is proclaimed, and then selecting a halting-place, favorable both for fuel and water, the ceremonies preparatory to a grand hunt take place.

Then are commenced, with due solemnity, the prayers of the priests. A solemn feeling pervades every thoughtful member of the tribe. The death-defying warrior who curls his scalp-lock derisively when he thinks of his enemies, now bows in submission to the invisible presence that bestows upon the red man the great game he is about to destroy, and it is not until the fastings, prayers, and self-sacrifices are finished that the excitement of the chase commences.

The morning sun greets the hunter divested of all unnecessary clothing, his arrows numbered - his harness in order - a plume floats from his crown - his long hair streams down his back - his well-trained horse, as wild as himself, anticipates the sport, and paws with impatience the ground.

Far, far in the horizon are moving about, in black masses, the game; and with an exulting whoop, a party start off with the wind, dash across the prairie, and are soon out of sight.

The buffalo is a wary animal; unwieldy as he appears, his motions are quick, and, at the approach of a human being, he instinctively takes the alarm, and flies.

An hour or two may elapse, when the distant masses of buffalo begin to move. There is evident alarm spreading through the ranks. Suddenly they fly!

Then it is that thousands of fleet and impatient horsemen, like messengers of the wind, dash off and meet the herds. The party first sent out are pressing them in the rear; confusion seizes upon the alarmed animals, and they scatter in every direction over the plain. Now the hunters select their victims, and the blood is up. On speeds the Indian and his horse. The long mane mingles with the light garments of the rider, and both seem instigated by the same instinct and spirit. On plunges the unwieldy object of pursuit, shaking his shaggy head, as if in despair of his safety. The speed of the horse soon overtakes the buffalo.

The rider, dropping his rein, plucks an arrow from his quiver, presses his knees to the horse's sides, draws his bow, and with unerring aim, drives the delicate shaft into the vitals of the huge animal, who rushes on a few yards, curls his tail upwards, falters, falls on his face, and dies. An exulting shout announces the success, and the warrior starts off after another; and if he has performed his task well, every bow that has twanged, marks the ownership of a huge carcass upon the sea of the prairie, as sacredly as the waiffe of the whaleman his victim on the sea itself.

Thus, when the day's sport is over, every arrow is returned to its owner. If two have been used to kill the same animal, or any are wanting, having been carried away in mere flesh wounds; the want of skill is upbraided, and the unfortunate hunter shrinks from the sarcasms and observation of the successful, with shame.

Following the hunter are the women, the laborers of the tribe. To them is allotted the task of tearing off the skin, selecting the choice pieces of flesh, and preserving what is not immediately consumed.

Then follows the great feast. The Indian gluts himself with marrow and fatness, his eyes, lately so bright with the fire of sport, are now glazed with bestiality, and he spends days and nights in wasteful extravagance, trusting to the abundance of nature to supply the wants of the future.

Such are the general characteristics of the buffalo hunt; and the view applies with equal truth to all the different tribes who pursue, as a distinct and powerful people - this noble game.

An Indian armed for the buffalo hunt, and his horse, form two of the most romantic and picturesque of beings. The loose garment that he wears is beautifully arranged about his person, disclosing the muscles of the shoulder and chest. Across his back is slung his quiver of arrows, made from the skin of some wild animal; his long bow, slightly arched by the sinewy string, is used gracefully as a rest for his extended arm.

The horse, with a fiery eye - a mane that waves over his front like drapery, and falls in rakish masses across his wide forehead - a sweeping tail ornamented with the brilliant plumage of tropical birds; champs on his rude bit, and arches his neck with impatience, as the scent of the game reaches his senses. Frequently will these graceful Apollos pass before you, bounding gracefully along, and more than rivalling the beauty, of the equestrians portrayed upon the Elgin marbles.

Then there may be seen dashing off with incredible swiftness, a living representation of the centaur; - and as one of these wild horses and wilder men, viewed from below, stand in broad relief against the clear sky, you see an equestrian statue that art has never equalled.

The exultation of such a warrior, in the excitement of a buffalo hunt, rings in silvery tones across the plain, as if in his lungs was the music of a "well-chosen pack;" the huge victims of pursuit, as they hear it, impel onwards with redoubled speed, - they feel that a hurricane of death is in the cry.

Take a hunting-party of fifty "warriors," starting on a buffalo hunt. Imagine a splendid fall morning in the southern part of the buffalo "grounds."

The sun rises over the prairie, like a huge illuminated ball; it struggles on through the mists, growing gradually brighter in its ascent, breaking its way into the clear atmosphere in long-reaching rays, dispelling the mists in wreathing columns, and starting up currents of air to move them sportively about; slowly they ascend and are lost in the ether above.

You discover before you, and under you, a rich and beautifully variegated carpet, enamelled by a thousand flowers, glistening with the pearly drops of dew, as the horizontal rays of the sun reach them.

Here and there are plants of higher growth, as if some choice garden had been stripped of its inclosures: shrubbery waves the pendant blossom, and wastes a world of sweetness on the desert air. Among these flowery coverts browse the graceful deer and antelope.

Far before you are the long dark lines of the buffalo. In the centre of the group feed the cows and calves. Upon the outside are the sturdy bulls: some with their mouths to the ground, are making it shake with their rough roar; others sportively tear up the turf with their horns; others not less playful, rush upon each other's horns with a force that sends them reeling on their sides.

Animal enjoyment seems rife, and as they turn their nostrils upwards and snuff in the balmy air and greet the warm sun, they little dream that around them are circling the wild Indian, wilder - more savage - and more wary, than themselves.

Fancy these Indians prompted by all the habits and feelings of the hunter and warrior, mingling with the sport the desire to distinguish themselves, as on a field of honor, little less only in importance than the war-path. With characters of high repute to sustain, or injured reputations to build up - of victory for the ear of love - of jealousy - of base passions - and a thirst of blood, and you will have some idea of the promptings of the hearts of those about to engage in the chase.

The time arrives. The parties already out, are driving the herd towards the starting-place of the warriors.

They have sent up their war-cry in one united whoop, which has startled the feeding monsters, as if the lightning had fallen among them. With a bellowing response the buffalo shake their heads, and simultaneously start off.

The fearful whoop meets them at every point. Confusion seizes upon the herd. The sport has begun.

In every direction you see the unequal chase; the Indians seem multiplied into hundreds; the plain becomes dotted over with the dying animals, and the whoop rings in continuous shouts upon the air, as if the fiends themselves were loose.

Now you see a single warrior: before him is rushing a buffalo, which shows from his immense size, that he is one of the masters of the herd; his pursuer is a veteran hunter, known far and near for his prowess.

Yonder go some twenty buffalos of every size, pursued by three or four tyros, who yet know not the art of separating their victim from the herd.

Yonder goes a bull, twice shot at, yet only wounded in the flesh - some one will have to gather wood with the women for his want of skill.

There goes an old chief: his leggins are trimmed with the hair of twenty scalps, taken from the heads of the very Indians on whose grounds he was hunting buffalo; he is a great warrior; he sings, that his bow unbent is a great tree, which he alone can bend. See the naked arm, and the rigid muscles, as he draws the arrow to the very head: the bull vomits blood and falls: beyond him on the grass is the arrow; it passes through, where a rifle ball would have stopped and flattened ere it had made half the journey.

Here are two buffalo bulls side by side; they make the earth tremble by their measured tread; Their sides are reeking with sweat. Already have they been singled out. Approaching them are two horsemen; upon the head of one glistens the silvery hair of age; the small leggins also betray the old man: the other is just entering the prime of life; every thing about him is sound, full, and sleek. The old man compresses his mouth into a mere line; the eye is open and steady as a basilisk; the skin inanimate. The eyes of the young man dance with excitement, the blood flows quickly through the dark skin; and gives a feverish look to his lip and cheek. What a tale is told in these differences of look! how one seems reaching into the future, and the other going back to the past!

He of the flushed cheek touches his quiver, the bow is bent, the arrow speeds its way and penetrates its victim. The old man - he too takes an arrow, slowly he places it across his bow, then bending it as if to make its ends meet, he leans forward - sends the arrow home - the bull falls! while the one first wounded pursues his way. The old man gives a taunting shout as a token of his success.

The young warrior, confused by his want of skill, and alarmed lest his aged rival should complete the work he so bunglingly began, unguardedly presses too near the bull, who, smarting with his wound, turns upon his heels, and, with one mad plunge, tears out the bowels of the steed, and rolls him and rider on the turf. He next rushes at the rider.

The Indian, wary as the panther, springs aside, and the bull falls headlong on the ground. Ere the bull recovers himself, the bow is again bent, the flint-headed arrow strikes the hard rib, splits it asunder, and enters the heart.

The old warrior has looked on with glazed eye and expressionless face, and the young man feels that he has added no laurels to his brow, for an arrow has been spent in vain and his steed killed under him.

There goes a "brave" with a bow by his side, and his right hand unoccupied. He presses his horse against the very sides of the animal which he is pursuing. Now he leans forward until he seems hidden between the buffalo and his horse. He rises; a gory arrow is in his hand; he has plucked it from a "flesh wound" at full speed, and while in luck, has with better aim brought his victim to the earth.

The sun is now fairly in its zenith: the buffalos that have escaped are hurrying away, with a speed that will soon carry them miles beyond the hunter's pursuit.

The Indians are coming in from the field. The horses breathe hard and are covered with foam. The faces of the Indians are still lit up with excitement, that will soon pass away, and leave them cold and expressionless. The successful hunters spare not the gibe and joke at the expense of the unfortunate. Slowly they wend their way back to "the encampment;" their work is done.

The squaws, who, like vultures, follow on in the rear, eagerly begin their disgusting work. The maiden is not among them; slavery commences only with married life; but the old, the wrinkled, the viragoes and vixens, tear off the skins, jerk the meat, gather together the marrow bones, and the humps, the tongues, and the paunch; and before the sun has fairly set, they are in the camp with the rewards of the day's hunt.

The plain, so beautiful in the morning, is scattered over with carcasses already offensive with decay; the grass is torn up, the flowers destroyed; and the wolf and buzzard and the carrion crow are disputing for the loathsome meal, while their already gorged appetites seem bursting with repletion.

As might be supposed, the members of a party of adventurers once accustomed to the luxuries of refined life, and who had recently for weeks slept in the open air, congratulated themselves when they discovered upon the distant horizon the signs that mark the habitation of a "squatter." A thousand recollections of the comforts of civilized life pressed upon us before we reached the abode.

We speculated upon the rich treat of delicacies which we should enjoy, but a near inspection at once dispelled our illusions.

On the confines of the buffalo hunting-grounds, had settled a family, consisting of a strange mixture of enterprise and idleness, of ragged-looking men and homely women. They seemed to have all the bad habits of the Indians, with none of their redeeming qualities. They were willing to live without labor, and subsist upon the precarious bounties of nature.

Located in the fine climate of Northern Texas, the whole year was to them little less than a continued spring, and the abundance of game with which they were surrounded afforded, what seemed to them, all the comforts of life. The men never exerted themselves except when hunger prompted, or a spent magazine made the acquisition of "peltries" necessary to barter for powder and ball.

A more lazy, contemptible set of creatures never existed, and we would long since have forgotten them, had not our introduction to them associated itself with our first buffalo steak.

A large rudely-constructed shed, boarded up on the northern side, was the abode. Upon close examination it appeared that this "shed" was the common dwelling- place of the "family," which consisted not only of the human beings, but also of horses, cows, goats, and ill- bred poultry.

Immediately around the caravansera, the prairie grass struggled for a sickly growth. As you entered it, you found yourself growing deeper and deeper in a fine dust, that had, in the course of time, been worked out of the soil. Some coarse blankets were suspended through the enclosure, as retiring rooms for the women. On the ground were strewn buffalo skins, from which the animal inhabitants alone kept aloof.

We entered without seeing a human being. After some delay, however, a little nondescript, with a white sunburnt head, thrust aside the blankets, and hallooed out, "They ain't injuns." The mother then showed herself. She was as far removed from feminine as possible, and appeared as unmoved at our presence as the post that sustained the roof of her house.

We asked for lodging and food; she nodded a cold assent and disappeared. Not disposed to be fastidious, we endeavored to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, and wait for the development of coming events.

In the course of an hour a woman younger than the first made her appearance, and on hearing the detail of our wants, she wrinkled her soiled visage into a distorted smile, and told us that the "men" would soon be home with "buffalo meat," and then our wants should be supplied.

Whatever might have been our disappointment at what we saw around us, the name of buffalo meat dispelled it all. The great era in our frontier wanderings was about to commence, and with smiles from our party that for expression would have done credit to rival belles, we lounged upon the skins upon the ground.

It is needless for us to say what were our ideas of the "men," soon to make their appearance. Buffalo hunters were, of course, tall, fine-looking follows - active as cats - mounted upon wild steeds - armed with terrible rifles, and all the paraphernalia of the hunter's art.

The Dutch angels, that figure so conspicuously on many a gem of art in the "Lowlands," are certainly not farther removed from the beautiful creations of Milton than were the buffalo hunters that we saw from the standard our imagination and reading had conjured up.

Two short, ill-formed men finally appeared, whose bow-legs, formidable shocks of red hair, clothes of skin, and shuffling gaits, were the realities of our poetical conceptions.

Whatever might have been the charms of their faces, our admiration was absorbed in viewing their nether garments. They were made of undressed deer-skin, the hair worn outside. When first made, they were evidently of the length of pantaloons, but the drying qualifies of the sun had, in course of time, no doubt imperceptibly to the wearers, shortened them into the dignity of breeches. To see these worthies standing up was beyond comparison ridiculous. They seemed to have had immense pommels fastened to their knees and seats.

Under other circumstances, the tailor craft of the frontier would have elicited great merriment; but a starving stomach destroys jokes. Courtesies suitable were exchanged, and the preliminaries for a hearty meal agreed upon, the basis of which was to be, buffalo steaks.

A real buffalo steak! eaten in the very grounds which the animal inhabits! What romance! what a diploma of a sportsman's enterprise!

Whatever might have been my disappointment in the hunters, I knew that meat was meat, and that the immutable laws of nature would not fail, though my ideas of the romantic in men were entirely disappointed. A promise that our wants should soon be supplied, brought us to that unpleasant time, in every-day life, which prefaces an expected and wished-for meal.

Seated, like barbarians, upon the floor, myself and companions enjoyed the pleasing mental operation of calculating how little the frontier family we were visiting were worth, for any moral quality; and the physical exercise of keeping off, as much as possible, thousands of fleas, and other noxious insects, that infested the dust in which we sat.

While thus disposed of, the "hunters" were busy in various ways about the premises, and received from us the elegant names of "Bags" and "Breeches," from some fancied or real difference in their inexpressibles. "Breeches," who was evidently the business man, came near where we were sitting, and threw down upon the ground, what appeared, at a superficial glance, to be an enormous pair of saddle-bags. He then asked his companion- in-arms for a knife, to cut for the strangers some buffalo steaks.

Now if the nondescript before me had as coolly proposed to cut steaks from an ill-natured cur that was wistfully eyeing the saddle-bags, no more surprise could have been exhibited by my companions than was, when they heard the suggestion.

The knife was brought, and "Breeches" made an essay at cutting up the saddle-bags, which gave him, dressed as he was in skins, the appearance of a wild robber just about to search the effects of some murdered traveller. The work progressed bravely, and, to our surprise, soon were exhibited crude slices of meat. What we saw were the fleshy parts of a buffalo's hams, ingeniously connected together by the skin that passed over the back of the animal, and so dissected from the huge frame as to enable it easily to be carried on a horse, and thus brought "into camp."

As the sounds that accompany the frying of meat saluted our ears, we moved into the open air, to avoid the certain knowledge that we were about to complete the eating of that peck of dirt, said to be necessary before we die. Before the door were the two horses belonging to our hosts; just as they returned from the hulls, and upon one still hung huge pieces of meat, thus simply, and frontier-like, held together for transportation.

Our first buffalo steak disappointed us. The romance of months - and of years - was sadly broken in upon. The squalid wretchedness of those who administered to our wants, made rebellious even our hungry stomachs; and we spent our first night of real disappointment on the great prairies, under circumstances which we thought, before our sad experience, would have afforded us all the substantial food for body and mind that we could have desired.

Advertisement