Parker County Today October 2016 - Page 20

PA R K E R C O U N T Y T O D AY OCTOBER 2016 both warmth and cooking; it was sometimes used ceremoniously as a support to keep some sacred object from touching the ground, and it was so endowed with power that scouts swore their oaths of veracity on a pile of buffalo chips.” From the thick twisted hair the Indian made rope, from the sinews of the back, bowstrings and resilient, rugged thread. Bones, hooves and horns were fashioned into utensils such as cups and spoons. From the hides the Comanche made durable clothing and lodge coverings, bridles, bags and rawhide rope. And a hairon hide dulled the sharp blades of winter’s icy winds. Buffalo generally followed the same north-south migratory trails, and the nomadic Comanche followed them, by the 1730s becoming one of the first tribes to commit to a fullblown equestrian lifestyle. One of the main trails into Texas lay east of the Trans-Pecos and Llano Estacado of the western part of the state. Another was just west of the Western Cross Timbers of the Parker and Palo Pinto county area. For a century the Comanches perpetuated one of the greatest horse cultures the world has ever seen; and this mounted society revolved around the buffalo. Arguably, the most alarming realization the Comanche and other Plains Indians ever had to face was that the buffalo was not an inexhaustible natural resource. In the opening decade of the 19th century explorers Lewis and Clark reported “the moving multitude [buffalo herds)…darkened the whole plains.” Herds hundreds of thousands strong were said to have rumbled across the country’s mid-section, earning the nickname “Thunder of the Plains.” In his 1971 book Off the Beaten Path, Texas author, historian and newspaper columnist Ed Syers wrote that cattleman Charles Goodnight once saw the main southern herd. “For two days it passed — 120 miles long, 25 miles wide. Driving his steers into sheltered and curly-grassed Palo Duro Canyon, the rancher had to push ten thousand head of buffalo before them.”  Estimates are that into the mid1800s as many as 30 to 60 million bison roamed the North American 18 continent. But as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points out: “Because the great herds were nearly gone before any organized attempts were made to survey populations, we may never know just how many buffalo once roamed North America.” But it is believed that there were enough for the Indians. “Had the Comanches and other Plains Indians been left undisturbed by intruders, the buffalo might have supplied their needs indefinitely,” Wallace and Hoebel surmised. But as history attests, the intruders would not be dissuaded in their dreams of a coast-to-coast empire. “Go West, young man!” reverberated in the white soul.  At the beginning of the Anglo tsunami most Native Americans were tolerant if not outright curious. As the years passed and the frontier crept westward, the Indians began to realize the white man was not a novelty but the face of the future … and the enemy. Battling an insatiable lust for land the Comanche raided up and down the Texas frontier, trying in vain to convince settlers that their place was back east, or anywhere but Texas. When their sacred buffalo began to disappear the end of their reign as Lords of the Plains seemed inevitable as without the buffalo their cherished horse culture would become untenable. They hated the intransigent Texans, but they absolutely loathed the buffalo hunters who infested the Great Plains like locusts, leaving thousands of tongueless, skinned bison to rot in the sun. The waste was unconscionable. The Indians were stupefied. The Comanche generally killed only for sustenance and in essence used the entire animal. The white wastrels killed for money — $3 a hide and 25¢ a tongue — and left the bounty of the beasts to putrefy on the Plains. A single hunter armed with a longrange rifle could down as many as 250 buffalo a day. At the height of the slaughter the guns of as many as 5,000 buffalo hunters boomed across the prairies and plains.   The first buffalo hunters arrived at the invitation of the U.S. Army, which after the very uncivil Civil War established forts in the West to protect settlers chasing their “Manifest Destiny.” The hunters were hired to provide meat for the troops garrisoned on the Plains and to help feed the thousands of men building the railroad. But before long the growing hordes of shooters went for the easy money in tongues and skins. “The wanton slaughter of the buffalo for their hides alone so enraged the Indians that they felt compelled to kill every buffalo hunter they could find,” wrote Bill Neeley in The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker.  The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s sounded the death knell for the buffalo and any culture dependent on them. Killing buffalo became the fun thing to do. “The Indians watched in dismay as buffalo hunting took on an almost carnival atmosphere when railroads began to advertise ‘hunting by rail.’ This occurred when trains sometimes encountered large herds of buffalo crossing the tracks. Seeing a way to capitalize on the problem, the advertising flooded the newspapers and in no time, sporting men with rifles were shooting buffalo by the hundreds just for fun. Those animals shot from the train were simply left where they died.” — From Fully comprehending the ramifications of the wanton slaughter, the Indians struck out at settlers along the frontier. Increasingly criticized for their lack of effectiveness in addressing the “Indian Problem,” the army added a new page to its playbook. The reasoning was simple: Plentiful buffalo = thriving Indians. No buffalo = starving Indians more easily led by the nose to reservations. So eradication became the army’s chief tactic. A true believer in this new strategy, Gen. Philip Sheridan defended the buffalo hunters in Congress as in 1875 lawmakers discussed a long overdue bill designed to protect the American bison from extermination. He said, ”These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire Continued on page 79