In 1840 Alexander Ross, a Canadian trader, witnessed a buffalo hunt on the Sheyenne River by a party of professional hunters. He counted tongues of 1,375 buffalo that had been killed in one day. Very little else was salvaged from the slaughtered animals in that hunt.
As early as 1845, thoughtful observers protested the wasteful, wholesale slaughter of buffalo. The hunts continued until there were less than nine hundred buffalo left alive on the entire North American continent, is a matter of record. The buffalo was the backbone of the economy of the Plains Indians. "Uncle Buffalo," as they called him, was used as a commodity and venerated as a symbol. They fed on the flesh, either fresh or dried and preserved as pemmican jerky. Sinews or mussles and tendins were used for thread. The skins, as one observer pointed out, served as tepees, clothing, bedding, carpets, canvas, bullboats, baskets, buckets and cases for pemmican and fat, strings for their bows, ropes for tethering animals, lariats for catching young buffalo and at the end were used for a shroud and coffin. Dried and made into pemmican, the meat would keep for years. The loss of the buffalo impoverished the Indians and forced them to accept the terms imposed upon them.
Issac I. Stevens crossed the state in 1853 surveying the "Northern Route" for the proposed transcontinental railroad. At Lake Jessie east of present day Binford a herd of buffalo estimated at two hundred thousand crowded about the lake. But huge as the herds were, the end was beginning. For several years, 90,000 hides a year were handled by trading companies. These were only from animals killed from November to March, when the hides were prime.
As late as 1877 dried buffalo meat and pemmican were sold at Pembina, but the era of "Uncle Buffalo" had ended.
By the early 1880's, when the first homesteaders began to arrive in the buffalo were long gone, and Indians were rare and infrequent visitors. But though the living beasts were gone, the prairies still carried marks of their passing. Deep trails through the grass, and basin-shaped wallows gave evidence of their presence a quarter century before. Bleached, dry buffalo bones lay all over. Though the bones are now gone, many trails remain today. For many early settlers, buffalo bones were their first cash crop. The bones were shipped to Detroit, Michigan, to be ground into fertilizer. In 1884 the Cooperstown Courier reported, "A leading industry between seeding and the fall plowing season is the gathering of buffalo bones. It was reported that 250 tons of buffalo bones at $6 a ton had been purchased and were awaiting shipment. This represented bones from at least 10,000 animals! Next year, the price went up to $13 a ton and later that year it climbed again to $18 a ton. It was estimated that $8000 was paid out for buffalo bones in Cooperstown that year. This figures out to somewhere near 500 tons, or bones from 20,000 animals.
In 1874 The G.G. Beardsley surveying team saw a heard of over 200 buffalo that grazed all that summer between the Hawksnest west to Wagon Wheel Hill.
In October 1878 J.J. Nichols made a bufflo hunt to the Hawksnest, and killed a choice young bull near the springs a half mile east of the timber there.
There were many impressions of life in this new land.
There was miles and miles of open prairie covered with a very thick native grass. The only landmark for miles was the Hawksnest hills. There was not a tree in sight! In some areas the ground was white with buffalo bones, a grim reminder of the animals that had been slaughtered years earlier. When new trails were blazed, the pioneers would mark the way with large bones at frequent intervals and in passsing over the highest points, would pile up stones or spade up some sod and place a buffalo skull on the top. This marking of the trails helped them from being lost in the tall grasses of the prairies. Bones were also used as markers to plow fields in straight furrows.
The Ranch hands of the Sykes & Hughs Land Company also had their stories.
In the fall of 1881 an group from Jamestown made out for a buffalo hunt to the vicinity west of Hurdsfield, ther hunt bagged them 3 young buffalo bulls. There return trip on the east side of the Hawksnest and in the central part of the timber they found and Indian burial site. Four dead Souix were wrapped in blankets and placed up in the trees while the body of a woman was hanging nearly half out of the blanket and about to drop to the ground.
On a Sunday in late July, 1882 is called last buffalo hunt in Wells Co. Sunday services were being held at the Sykes & Hughs ranch dining hall. Just as the sermon was begining a hearder came riding in at a fast gallop and announced that a buffalo was grazing with the oxen. A note was hastily written telling the fact and passed through the congregation. Soon a party of bufflo hunters mounted there mustangs and soon had the buffalo, an old male, singled out from the oxen. Then the sport was on in earnest, even the ponies seemingly entering into the spirt of the chase. The first shot at the bufflo was on the present townsite of Sykeston. This greatly infuriated the beast, and when they reached a firebreak the bufflo suddenly stopped and carged back at the hunters and succeeded in unhorsing several of the party. The buffalo was finally killed some 2 miles SW of Sykeston. Ewen Grant who shot the bufflo sent the hide to his brother in Scotland, where today is on display in the library in the town of Inverness, Scotland. The head and horns long hung over the office door of the Sykes & Hughs bussiness headquarter in Jamestown. Richard Sykes has been quoted "If there had not already been a town of Buffalo in Dakota Territory, when he founded Sykeston, that he would have betowed the name of Buffalo on his town in commemoration of this hunt".
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