From the earliest knowledge that the whites had of the state of affairs west of the Missouri River we learn that the “Sahara of America,” as Kansas was then sometimes called, was inhabited by buffalo and Indians. Long before Missouri was settled to its western border, white men, traders and trappers, camped along the eastern shore of the river and traded for furs which the Indians would bring across the river by canoe loads. Among the furs traded by the Indians would sometimes be buffalo robes, tanned as only an Indian could tan them at that time.
The Indians looked upon the buffalo as belonging to themselves and when the white settlers began to kill and slay they objected. They told the whites that the buffalo was their “cattle” and wanted them to be let alone.
The Indians had of course killed all they needed for their meat, also for the making of robes which they tanned most beautifully, and which it was hard for a white man to equal.
Enough of these robes would be tanned by the Indians for their trade with the whites and for their beds; often also, their wigwams were made of buffalo hides stretched around poles lashed together at the top and spread a few feet apart at the ground.
While the Indians killed all they needed for their own use, they never made the ruthless slaughter of the buffalo that the whites did after they began to settle up the country.
When the tide of civilization crossed the Missouri and began to settle along the western banks and later, farther out, the settlers made such havoc among the buffalo that these noble animals drifted farther and farther west, trying to get away from the haunts of the white man, always drifting before the tide of civilization.
When we settled on our homestead in 1871, the buffalo, for the most part, had drifted on and taken up their abode west of us in the counties of Brown, Norton, Phillips and others in that section of country. Here they could still be found in great herds and it was here the settlers used to go on hunting expeditions.
Almost every family had a supply of tanned buffalo robes. They served as covering for the horses when they must stand out in the storm while the pioneer visited awhile and did his little bit of trading at the small store. Those who never have tried it can never know what a good night’s sleep one CAN have stored away between the furry sides of a pile of buffalo robes! When a child, I was always glad when we had company for then I knew my bed would be made of buffalo robes piled down in the corner!
I think I had the experience of witnessing the tramp of the last herd of buffalo that ever passed through Mitchell County, Kansas, and had the privilege also of eating some of the meat killed last in this locality.