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Buffalo Hunt at Niagara Falls

In 1872 James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok acted as master of ceremonies for a "Grand Buffalo Hunt" at Niagara Falls. Joseph G. Rosa's article on the hunt in the Spring 2005 issue of Nebraska History reveals that Sidney Barnett had begun planning the event in 1869. Barnett and his father owned a museum on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls that was popular with tourists, and he believed that an event featuring live buffalo would be a major attraction at the falls. William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody referred Barnett to John B. "Texas Jack" Omohundro, who promised to help secure the animals for the hunt. Barnett also tried to secure the help of Major Frank North, whose Pawnee scouts were famous on the frontier.

Barnett traveled to Fort McPherson in May of 1872 to further his plans. On June 12, the Omaha Weekly Herald published a letter from a correspondent at Fort McPherson dated June 3: "A novel undertaking is on foot here, and is of gigantic proportions. Colonel Sidney Barnett, of Niagara Falls, is getting up a grand Buffalo hunt at Niagara Falls, from the 1st to the 4th of July. He is now here for the purpose of completing arrangements and superintending the starting of the enterprise, and shipping the buffaloes East.

"He has secured the services of the celebrated scout and hunter, Mr. J. B. Omohundro, better known as 'Texas Jack,' the hero of the Loup Fork. 'Texas Jack' is a partner of 'Buffalo Bill,' and nothing that skill and foresight can accomplish will be spared to make this hunt a perfect success. Through the kindness of Major North, the commander of the Pawnee scouts, arrangements are being made for a party of Pawnee Indians . . . to go to Niagara with their fleet ponies and lodges, and full war and hunting equipment. The buffaloes will pass through Omaha the latter part of this, or early part of next month."

But the grand event was plagued with problems. The Pawnee were refused permission by their agent to participate, Texas Jack backed out, and many of the captured buffalo died. With no hope of arranging a hunt in time for the Fourth of July, as originally planned, Barnett postponed the event. According to one account of the hunt, published in 1895, he "went to the Indian territory where he engaged some Sac and Fox Indians and Mexican cowboys, and secured a fresh lot of buffaloes for his show. It was in Kansas City that he met Bill Hickok, one of the most daring and dashing scouts in the west, and he engaged him to go east and manage the Niagara Falls buffalo hunt."

The widely advertised performance finally took place on August 28 and 30, 1872, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Some of the thousands of spectators were disappointed, claiming that the show was tamer than promised. Financially, it was a disaster. But despite overwhelming difficulties Sidney Barnett had brought before the public a live action spectacle with cowboys, Indians, and buffalo, and hired a living legend to host it-a formula that would later be amplified by "Buffalo Bill" Cody's Wild West and its imitators.

(October 2005)


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Last updated 14 September 2005

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