Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Kill'em all, let the bone pickers sort 'em out 

"Maybe," he recalled, "we runners served our purpose in helping abolish the buffalo; maybe it was our ruthless harvesting of him which telescoped the control of the Indian by a decade or more. Or maybe I am just rationalizing. Maybe we were just a greedy lot who wanted to get ours, and to hell with posterity, the buffalo, or anyone else, just so we kept our scalps on and our money pouches filled. I think maybe that is the way it was."

RDF wrote:
So, he says then, what has to happen is, we gotta stop giving away our water to the Indian tribes. And the other fella said, there’s treaties that say it’s their water, not ours. And he said, but they’ve got plenty. ~ For full context see earlier post here: Pay it Forward (To Me)

What follows below might stand as a good analogy, reminder at least, of what passes today for a good deal of the grab and grub designs of the much ballyhooed social security privatization swindle being offered up by the Bush administration and its noisy panoply of toot-hill palace guard. Or even, in a larger panoramic sense, of the woosie salutaire fantastica that so often accompanies so much talk of unregulated laissez faire "free" market romanticism in general.

From The West; An Illustrated History, by Geoffrey C. Ward:

Frank Mayer and his competitors called themselves buffalo "runners," not hunters, but they avoided running - or even riding - after buffalo as much as possible. For efficiency's sake, the mounted chase had long since given way to a technique called "the stand." Mayer remembered:

The thing we had to have, we businessmen with rifles, was one-shot-kills. We based our success on...the overwhelming stupidity of the buffalo, unquestionably the stupidest game animal in the world...If you wounded the leader, didn't kill her outright, the rest of her herd, whether it was three or thirty, would gather around her and stupidly "mill"...[A]ll you had to do...was pick them off one by one, making sure you make a dropping kill at every shot, until you wiped out the entire herd...I once took 269 hides with 300 cartridges...

In the East, improved rifles were specially manufactured for the trade, capable of bringing down a buffalo at better than six hundred yards. It 'shoots today," one astonished bystander said, "and kills tomorrow." Individual hunters recorded kills of one hundred, then two hundred, from a single stand, pausing only to cool their overheated rifle barrels with canteens of water. When the water ran out, they urinated down the barrel and kept shooting. Orlando A. Bond, nicknamed "Brick" by his friends, killed 300 animals in a single day and 5,855 in one two-month outing, so many that he was permanently deafened by the sound of his own rifle.

Frank Mayer's favorite rifle, a Sharps, cost him $125, secondhand. It weighed twelve pounds, its barrel was nearly three feet long, and its telescopic sight was manufactured in Germany. "I was proud of that first Sharps of mine," he said. "It killed quicker...and it added 10 to 30 percent efficiency to my shooting." On a bet, he fired at a buffalo a half mile away with it, and when it dropped from the shot, won a three-gallon keg of "Three Roses" whiskey.

"Where there were myriads of buffalo the year before," the commander at Fort Dodge remembered, "there were now myriads of carcasses. The air was foul with a sickening stench, and the vast plain, which only a short twelve months before teemed with animal life, was a dead, solitary, putrid desert." The buffalo hunters themselves, working day after day with rotting flesh, were distinctly gamey. They "didn't wash," Teddy Blue Abbott remembered, "and looked like animals. They dressed in strong, heavy warm clothes and never changed them. You would see three or four of them walk up to a bar, reach down inside their clothes and see who could catch the first louse for the drinks. They were lousy and proud of it."

All across western Kansas, the slaughter went on - an estimated 1.5 to 3 million buffalo killed in a little over two years. Buffalo skeletons, bleached by the sun, soon covered the prairies - and started still more industries. Newly arrived homesteaders augmented their income by harvesting bones. Crews of professional "bone pickers" gathered the skeletons and brought them by wagon to railroad sidings. Buffalo horns were turned into buttons, combs, knife handles. Hooves became glue. Bones were ground into fertilizer. Thirty-two million pounds of buffalo meat made their way from the Plains to eastern factories in just three years.

Some Americans grew alarmed at the extent of the slaughter, and Congress passed a bill in 1874 making it illegal for anyone to kill more buffalo than could be used for food. But President Grant allowed the law to die without his signature. Meanwhile, hunters began to talk of moving south of Kansas, onto the hunting grounds reserved for the Indians. What would the government do if they shifted there? a delegation asked the commander at Fort Dodge.

"Boys," he answered, "if I were a buffalo hunter, I would hunt where the buffalo are."

They swarmed into the Texas panhandle to harvest the southern herd, where the Indians sensed, Frank Mayer remembered, "that we were taking away their birthright and that with every boom of a buffalo rifle their tenure on their homeland became weakened and that eventually they would have no homeland and no buffalo. So they did what you and I would do if our existence were jeopardized: they fought.... They fought by stealth. They fought openly. They murdered if they had the chance. They stole whenever they could." In the summer of 1874, the Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and southern Cheyenne rose up and drove out the hunters - and any other whites they came across. In response, Sheridan ordered a massive campaign against them, deploying five columns of troops to pursue the Indians relentlessly, depriving them of rest, or the opportunity to hunt. By the next spring, virtually all of the resisting bands on the southern Plains - desperate now for food - had come in to the agencies.

The buffalo hunters went back to work until both the northern and the southern herds had all but disappeared. Then, "one by one," Frank Mayer recalled, "we runners put up our buffalo rifles, sold them, gave them away, or kept them for other hunting, and left the ranges. And there settled over them a vast quiet...The buffalo was gone." For his years as a buffalo runner, Frank Mayer had his wagon and outfit free and clear, and several thousand dollars in the bank. He left the Plains, married a girl in Denver, and took a job in the Rocky Mountains - hunting game to feed the miners of Leadville.

"Maybe," he recalled,

"we runners served our purpose in helping abolish the buffalo; maybe it was our ruthless harvesting of him which telescoped the control of the Indian by a decade or more. Or maybe I am just rationalizing. Maybe we were just a greedy lot who wanted to get ours, and to hell with posterity, the buffalo, or anyone else, just so we kept our scalps on and our money pouches filled. I think maybe that is the way it was."


Old Lady Horse remembered a story that circulated among her desperate people, the Kiowa:

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.

The Kiowas were camped on the north side of Mount Scott, those of them who were still free to camp. One young woman got up very early...and...peering through the haze, saw the last buffalo herd appear like in a spirit dream.

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 girl. The rivers ran clear, not red. The wild plums were in blossom, chasing the red buds up the inside slopes. Into this world of beauty the buffalo walked, never to be seen again.

I'm gonna go out on limb here and guess that "Old Lady Horse" probably wasn't properly familiarized with her Francois Quesnay or post Theory of Moral Sentiments style Adam Smithian hoo-hah or whatever economic mumbo-jumbo it is that usually gets all the laissez faireian moonshine runners all hot in the pocket. And I'll bet she wasn't much impressed with all them free-bootin' shoot-em' from the hip "businessmen with rifles", exercising their fundamental human nature by virtue of some theoretical higher natural law, or whatever cockamamie financial alchemy it is that the so called "libertarian" college boy wonder-doods is always pulling on their dorks about these days. I'm gonna guess that Old Lady Horse, and her Kiowa people, saw it all too for what it really was: a greedy lot out to get theirs. And to hell with posterity.


corrente SBL - New Location
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