PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
LAST BUFFALO KILLED IN LINCOLN COUNTY
Several Claimants to This Distinction; Palm Must Be Awarded
to Wilson Schofield and the Buffalo Which He Killed After
on Exciting Chase; An Excited Irishman and a Speciman of
the Great American Bison Engaged in Trial of Endurance.
Like the claims of the survivors of the Civil War as to who was the youngest soldier, are the claims to the distinction of killing the last buffalo. No sooner does one account appear than it is immediately discounted by another, post-dating it. There must have been ONE last buffalo killed and there being no contrary account of good record, the distinction must be awarded to this claimant. The last buffalo killed in the Saline Valley was killed by Wilson Schofield, in the month of October, 1873, the weapon used being a needle gun, a famous frontiersmans rifle. The full circumstances, as related by persons who are a part of the buffalo, are as follows:
No buffalo had been seen in the vicinity for some time. The herds had ceased to cross this part of the Saline River valley as in former years. Settlers who for years had gone to this great free beef supply for their meat, were now engaged in gathering up the bones of the animals by the wagonload, vainly regretting the wanton slaughter that had exterminated the useful bovine.
Wilson Schofield was one of the early settlers on the Saline. He had a roomy log house built of the trunks of the old gnarled cottonwoods growing along the river. Every new settler coming to the valley stopped a few days with Schofield while looking around for a claim. The extent of his hospitality was unknown. Schofield was a man past the prime of life, a native of Ohio, but he had all the stubborn traits that characterize the true frontiersman.
The year of 1873 was not a particularly prosperous one for the settlers along the Saline; the tough gumbo sod was stiff and raw; little was grown beside watermelons and sod corn. An opportunity to add to their slender larder was eagerly seized by the prairie farmers. It was late in October, 1873, when the old man Schofield, tinkering about the farm at some unimportant chore, looked up and saw a large buffalo coming from the north, headed for the river. Rushing into the house, Schofield secured
his needle gun, caught a pony, and without saddle, gave chase. He hoped to intercept the buffalo and turn it down the river in the direction of the other settlers who would be attracted by the sight and assist in killing the great beast. But the buffalos peculiar rolling gait carries him along with greater rapidity than the observer suspects. Schofield overtook the animal before he reached the river, but nothing exceeds the buffalo in stubbornness, and go into the river he would. This speciman was an enormous bull who had left his herd on the journey south and strayed into a track, probably well known of his younger days. The pursuer took two ineffectual shots at him as he plunged over the bank but instead of stopping to drink, the bison splashed through he stream and began to limber up for a long chase.
This did not suit the pursuers plan. His mouth watered for a piece of the shaggy old buffalo, and thumping his pony vigorously he was soon alongside and poured in another shot. This caused the buffalo to swerve from his course but did not diminish his speed in the least. Things were getting desperate for the old man; he had but one remaining cartridge. His pony was about winded while the buffalo (such are their powers of endurance) seemed to be getting fresher. Schofield cast a glance in the direction of the fast disappearing settlement in hope some one had seen the stern chase and would come to his assistance, but none was in sight. Every jump the buffalo took carried him nearer to the protection of the hills, and as the prospect of capture grew less, the meat seemed to grow sweeter to the hungry pursuer. With his long white hair flying in the wind and his heels beating a tattoo on his ponys ribs, the old man made a last spurt to turn the buffalo, and as he dashed across his path, staked all on a shot that few hunters risk. It is a well known fact that the skull of an aged buffalo with its thick mat of hair filled with dirt and sand, will turn the heaviest bullet, but with a do-or-die purpose, Schofield gave the great beast his only bullet square between the eyes and the bull fell dead in his steps. Twenty years afterward, the writer picked the battered chunk of lead from the brain cavity of the skull, where it lay on the corner of Section 14, Township 12, Range 9, West, in Lincoln County, Kansas.
Scarcely waiting to be sure of the animals death, Schofield galloped to his hungry neighbors with the welcome news. By
Gol, boys, Ive got a big buffalo on the other side of the river; all go over and get some, an invitation which all accepted with such heartiness that there was little more than shining bones left for the wolves by night. A strip of hide beginning back of the hump, was taken off between the horns and over the pate, which was dressed and used as a foot rug. It is now in the possession of Mrs. Dr. J. V. Baird, of Albany, Indiana.
While recounting the killing of single buffaloes, another and more exciting chase of a solitary bull took place during the summer of the same year. It was a fine, bright day. The father of the writer, Mr. William Baird, was on the road to Lincoln, the county seat, driving a team of mules to a heavy wagon. When near the ford on Spillman Creek, a boggy tributary to the Saline, he heard firing and shouts behind him, and looking back, saw a huge buffalo rushing madly along closely pursued by a horseman. The pursuer was halloing and flourishing his gun as though he was desirous of accelerating the speed of the beast instead of checking it. The driver of the mules kept a tight line on his team, not knowing what freakish notion might take the buffalo in his madness. As the chase drew nearer he recognized the pursuer as one of his neighbors, an Irishman of very excitable nature, now working up to a high pitch of wildness. He had fired a few ineffectual shots at the buffalo and was now seemingly bent on running him down.
Scarcely had the mule team gotten through the crossing when the buffalo plunged madly over a high bank some distance above and waded through the mud and water to the opposite side, but because of the steep, slippery bank, was unable to come out of the ctream. The Irishman had dismounted and was firing at the buffalo from the opposite side, but the beast only snorted and continued to try to climb the miry bank. Father hastily tied his mules to a bush and climbing down the bank, essayed to pass a noose over the animals horns. He relates that the buffalo now presented a fearful sight; blood was flowing from his many wounds and his nostrils; he gave snorts of anger and pain.
Though deeply mired in the treacherous stream he glared defiantly at both men and continued his efforts to climb out. As father tried to entangle his horns in the rope, while the Irishman from the other side, counseled him not to lariat the great beast, as nothing short of a hawser would hold him, and
the danger of being killed by the maddened bison was great. The buffalo suddenly settled this part of the encounter by turning up-stream and emerging at a point of less steepness, once more set out across the prairie apparently as fresh as ever. The Irishman again took up the chase and the two lumbered heavily away, both with their purpose changed.
Some time after father reached Lincoln, the hunter came into town laden with buffalo meat and much elated over his success. He had been running and shooting the bison half a day. Even then it was not until others, attracted by the race, came to his assistance that the huge beast was killed.
It has been claimed by some that a buffalo was killed on Spillman Creek as late as 1876, by a man named Ed. Jackson. My informants could give me no particulars of the incident and in the absence of these we can do no more than mention the claim. It is probable that in the upper Saline valley, west of Lincoln County, occasional herds and single buffalo continued to appear for some years after 1873, but in all the 60s were the height of the buffalo days in Central Kansas.