Buffalo hides

Farm Forum

The demise of the Dakota buffalo herds started in the early 1880s.

Millions were shot by professional hunters who made a good living from selling buffalo hides.

Buffalo cow hides were worth more than bull hides, so the cows bit the dust first, which didn’t bode well for buffalo regeneration.

From 1881 to 1884, buffalo hunters in what is now South Dakota were extremely active. The buffalo kill was enormous.

Among them were the famous Frazier brothers. They were pros and had one of the largest hunting outfits operating in the Dakotas. But the Frazier brothers weren’t the only ones getting rich off buffalo.

In 1881 and 1882, the firm of Douglas and Mead in Glendive, Mont., shipped out more than a quarter million hides, most from buffalo shot in the Dakotas.

In killing buffalo, hunters often saved only the hams, humps and tongues for meat, which they also sold.

The buffalo hides, when dried, weighed about 125 pounds for bulls and 50 pounds for cows. Cow hides brought from three to four cents a pound and bull hides one and a fourth cents a pound.

Buffalo meat, hams, humps and tongue, went for about three cents a pound for cows and one and a half for bull meat.

The Dickinson (ND) Press told of one hunter who went just outside the town and shot sixty animals in two hours. The paper also reported that one day in 1884, thirty-one wagons drawn by ox came in from the range loaded high with buffalo hides.

After the buffalo bonanza, there was a market for the bones. A wagon load picked up in the killing fields years later brought about eight dollars. The bones were ground for fertilizer.

In three weeks time during the summer of 1884, a hundred tons of bones were shipped by rail from Ipswich, in what is now South Dakota, to the market in Chicago.

If you’d like to make a comment, e-mail the author at cfcecil@swiftel.net.