We took a summer trip east, roughly paralleling the old Santa Fe Trail to Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri and returning via a long detour south through the Ozarks and then back through Oklahoma and the Panhandle. A lot to digest in all those miles, and I’ve been chewing on it while catching up on chores and tending my garden.
I brought Mari Sandoz’ The Buffalo Hunters along for the road and have been reading it since we got back home. I read her biography of Crazy Horse years ago but have never gotten around to her other books. Her prose is so rich in vivid detail that some of it invites skepticism, since she doesn’t footnote. But her extensive bibliography testifies to her thorough research. Most important, she was blessed by the advantage of living with and knowing many of the people of the generation she was writing about.
Despite her generally charitable treatment of most of those involved (including some decidedly unsympathetic characters) , the story of the hide hunters is not a happy one, and I kind of dread reading the final chapters. The numbers Sandoz cites of buffalo killed by single hunters, and the quantities of hides and bones shipped over the new railroads are both astonishing and depressing.
Tragic and wasteful as it was, it’s important to remember that today the same land feeds hundreds of millions if not billions of people.
I made my own buffalo hunt a few years ago. I never saw more than two buffalo and those at a good distance, but I had a good time nonetheless. I never got around to polishing the narrative, but I’ve posted my notes on that trip in Sources.