Back to the Hide

3 out of 4

What can this picture tell you about the effect of non-Indian hunters on life on the Plains?


Use evidence from other sources to help you piece together the story.

Everything the Kiowas had came from the buffalo . . . . The buffalo were the life of the Kiowa . . . . The buffalo loved their people as much as the Kiowas loved them . . . . So when the white man wanted to build railroads, or when they wanted to farm and raise cattle, the buffalo protected the Kiowa. They tore up the railroad tracks and the gardens. They chased the cattle off the ranges.

Then the white man hired hunters to do nothing but kill the buffalo. Up and down the plain these men ranged, shooting sometimes as many as a hundred buffalo a day. Behind them came skinners with their wagons. They piled the hides . . . into the wagons until they were full and then took their loads to the new railroad stations that were being built, to be shipped east to the market.

The buffalo saw that their day was over. They could protect their people no longer. Sadly, the last remnant of the great herd gathered in council, and decided what they would do.

Straight to Mount Scott the leader of the herd walked. Behind him came the cows and their calves, and the few young males who had survived. As the woman watched, the face of the mountain opened.

Inside Mount Scott the world was green and fresh, as it had been when she was a small girl. The rivers ran clear, not red. The wild plums were in blossom, chasing the redbuds up the inside slopes. Into this world of beauty, the buffalo walked never to be seen again.

--Old Lady Horse (Kiowa), n.d. as told to Alice Marriott, from American Indian Mythologies by Alice Marriott and Carol K. Rachlin, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1968

Why are these buffalo being killed?

A train runs through a herd of buffalo. On the Kansas-Pacific Railroad, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 3, 1871
Library of Congress

How are these buffalo being used?

Buffalo heads piled in front of the Kansas Pacific Railway office. Photo by Charles Schwartz

The part of the buffalo drying on the racks was considered a rare and luxurious treat by people in the East. What do you think it is?

Buffalo drying on racks. Texas Panhandle, 1874
Texas State Library and Archives Commission

How many buffalo hides do you think are in this pile?

Buffalo hides piled high. Dodge City, 1874
National Archives

What are these men wearing?

Two men in heavy coats Fred Hulstrand History in Pictures Collection, North Dakota State University, Fargo, N. D.

Notes from a Smithsonian Historian

The figures with rifles represent non-Indian hunters. They represent sportsmen--who often shot buffalo from moving trains--and commercial buffalo hunters. A single hunter with a high-powered rifle could kill more than 200 buffalo a day. Buffalo hunting was so popular that the Kansas Pacific Railroad opened its own taxidermy to mount hunting trophies for its passengers.

The ten buffalo in this section of the painting have all been killed. They are bleeding from the mouth because non-Indian hunters took only the buffalo's tongue (a table delicacy) and hide (for lap robes and fur coats); they left the rest of the body to rot in the sun.

Herds of buffalo once ranged on the northern prairies and Plains, stretching as far as the eye could see. It is impossible to know how many buffalo there once were. Some people estimate that there were as many as 50 million buffalo. By the 1890s, however, fewer than 100 buffalo remained. The tribes on the northern Plains thought the buffalo had journeyed to a mystical land in the north where they still were plentiful and lived in peace. The larger view of the hide painting shows the tracks the buffalo herds made as they traveled to this place.