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Webster's Last Romantic Buffalo Hunt

In the autumn of 1872 an unusual group of men engaged in what one of them, John L. Webster, called "the last romantic buffalo hunt upon the western plains of the state of Nebraska." Webster's recollection of the hunt appeared in Nebraska Pioneer Reminiscences, published by the Nebraska Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1916.

The hunting party included Webster, an Omaha attorney; Elmer S. Dundy, a district court judge; James Neville, then U.S. attorney and later a district court judge; Watson B. Smith, a district and circuit court clerk; Lt. Frederick Schwatka, later famous as an explorer of northern Canada and Alaska; and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Webster said: "These men, with the writer of this sketch, were anxious to have the experience and the enjoyment of the stimulating excitement of participating in a buffalo hunt before those native wild animals of the plains should become entirely extinct."

Webster, Dundy, Neville, and Smith took a Union Pacific train from Omaha to the military post of North Plate Station, where army horses and equipment for the expedition were secured. The amateur buffalo hunters, led by Buffalo Bill and escorted by Lieutenant Schwatka and a squad of cavalry, left North Platte Station and camped for the night at Fort McPherson. The next day they resumed their journey toward the Republican River valley.

On the afternoon of the third day of their journey, a small herd of buffalo was spotted. Buffalo Bill managed to get the eager party within a reasonable distance of the animals and then the chase began. Webster recalled that the group was so caught up in the excitement that "we did not succeed in shooting any buffalo and I don't now even know that we tried to do so."

The most unusual event of that wild afternoon was Buffalo Bill's roping of a young buffalo bull. Webster said, "When evening came we left the lassoed buffalo out on the plains solitary and alone, lariated to a stake driven into the ground so firmly that we felt quite sure he could not escape. . . . On the following morning we went out upon the plains to get the lassoed buffalo and found that in his efforts to break away he had broken one of his legs."

Surprisingly, the buffalo was not killed by the hunters. Webster said, "We were confronted with the question whether we should let the animal loose upon the prairies in his crippled condition or whether it would be a more merciful thing to shoot him and put him out of his pain and suffering." Buffalo Bill solved the problem by leading the crippled animal to a nearby ranch "and there he obtained such instruments as he could, including a butcher knife, a hand-saw, and a bar of iron. He amputated the limb of the buffalo above the point of the break in the bone and seared it over with a hot iron to close the artery and prevent the animal from bleeding to death. . . . The buffalo was then left in the ranchman's corral with the understanding that he would see it was well fed and watered."

The ultimate fate of the injured buffalo is unknown, but the amateur buffalo hunters returned to Fort McPherson and then to North Platte Station, where the army horses were returned. They had no buffalo meat to show for their efforts but did have memories of an exciting hunt.


Elmer S. Dundy. NSHS RG2411-1422



(October 2012)



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