Author Topic: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt  (Read 3750 times)

Offline Pitspitr

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The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« on: August 14, 2007, 09:10:07 PM »
All of the talk about buffalo hunters camps and reloading techniques promted me to re-read an article written by Thurman A. Smith for a local newspaper. This article was the result of an interview he had with my Great-Great Grandfather. Unfortunately Grandfather Copp doesn't mention lighting (but one might conclude from their concerns about being found by the indians that they didn't use any extra light) nor reloading. In spite of the lack of minute details I found the article quite interesting. I hope you will too. The following is an excerpt from that article which was originally run in the long defunct Brewster News in 1938.

"Henry H. Copp, now in his ninety-ninth year relates the   story of a buffalo hunt in which he participated late in the year l870. "We had to make a long trip to the prairies where the buffalo were to be found in abundance. As near as I can estimate it was about one hundred and fifty miles.   Indians were plentiful, the Sioux and their mortal enemies the Pawnees, and the thieving Omahas.    Me, I was always afraid of the treacherous scamps.    We all were for that matter.    We thought that it was worse to be hungry than afraid of losing our scalps, so hunting we went."  The oldster was lying in his bed in his room, resting from his daily trip to the Brewster (Nebraksa) Post Office.    He narrated the story easily and as clear as though the thrilling adventure had been but the day before.
   "We had a good team of horses, covered wagon, and camping outfit, We reached the buffalo feeding grounds on the head of the Little Blue south-west of where Hastings (Nebraksa) is now located.    Nothing of unusual happened on the trip, unless seeing Indian signs and keeping out of sight for a time, could be called exciting.    We found the big herd of buffalo; all as fat as butter and soon killed as many as we could use.    Like the Indians we dressed only the "hump" or the forequarters of the kill.    This we made into "jerkey."(sic)
"How did you go about making "jerky"?    Well, it's been years, but I recollect as well as though it was yesterday."    The oldster was eager to review those days of adventurous thrills.    "We'd brought with us a barrel and a lot of salt. We cut the hump into long thin strips and placed them in the barrel of salt and creek water strong brine.    Here we left it to cure for about twenty-four hours.
"While it was in the brine pickle, we dug a cave in the creek by a bank and roofed it over with brush and clay.    Not unlike the dugout a lot of Nebraskans lived in, in those days.    Stringing the brine-cured strips of meat on lengths of wire, we hung it from the roof of the smoke and drying house.  After closing the opening with green hides, we kindled a slow-turning, smoke producing fire, or smudge outside in such a manner that the smoke and heat drew into the cave through a trench.    In this way we thoroughly smoked and partially dried the strips of meat.    At intervals during the process sulphur was sprinkled upon the coals and the gasses helped to preserve the stripe of 'hump'.  In the course of a day or two, the jerky was sufficiently dried to remove to our wagon.    We soon learned it must be turned over often to prevent mold.    This we did until we could get it home and hang it up again.    It looked queer hanging from the ridge pole that supported the cabin roof.    Many cabins of those days were hung as thickly as could be with strips of jerky and paper bags of dried fruit and seeds.
 
"Did the Indians bother you?" This question brought a new light to the old pioneer's countenance and quickened his speech, "They sure did and soon. First they drove the buffalo far to the south toward the Republican River. Guess they begrudged us even a few buffalo. Then the dirty beggars came to cur camp and wanted to swap ponies for our team; little runts for our good draft horses. They begged for salt, tobacco, whisky and even wanted the shirts off our backs. We refused all their requests and they were not pleased. Four guns in the hands of crack shots made them wary about any show of force. Their party was not large, half a dozen or so.
"I forgot to tell you that there were but four in our party, my brother Cal. You remember him. He was County Judge of Loup County for more than twenty years. Then there was another brother and a neighbor and myself. Sure we were afraid. Only heroes in books were not afraid of Indians; but there was nothing to do but stand up for our rights. Bluff 'em if we could; They asked if we were camping on the creek for long, and we lied to them. Told 'em we was.
"That evening we loaded our jerky into our wagon and under the cover of a moonless night, quietly started on our homeward trek. We urged our team as fast as they could travel with the heavy load and over the rough trail. Near daybreak we camped at Big Springs on School Creek. Here the stream made a sharp bend and the peninsula formed was protected on three sides by the creek and hidden from any roving bands of Pawnee or Sioux. We slept for hours. Spring Ranch in Clay County was not far distant from where we camped. But we were not hidden for long. Our trail was easy to read.
 
During the late afternoon a band of Pawnee discovered our well hidden camp, I guess they thought we were more numerous than we were for they did not attack. We saw them circling around our camp. They kept out of range for the most part. We were for 'em, laying with our guns. We heard 'em during the night but held our fire and they finally rode away. We were mighty glad to see their dust in the early morning,
"We arrived home safely with our precious load of food. We had not fired a shot at the Indians, though we had held our guns ready. We thought ourselves lucky to escape with our lives and the load of Jerky that had cost us long days of labor, not to mention our bein' scared out of a years growth."
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Offline Delmonico

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2007, 09:19:41 PM »
Good information, I think that has been re-printed in one of the Nebraska History books, it seems familer.
Mongrel Historian


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The time has passed so quick, the years all run together now.

Offline Steel Horse Bailey

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2007, 10:47:17 PM »
Cool!

Thanks for posting it!
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Offline ira scott

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2021, 02:08:59 PM »
Cool!

Thanks for posting it!

Yes Jerry,  fun to read!
It is far better to remain silent, and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt!

Offline bear tooth billy

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2021, 04:36:44 PM »
Nice story, imagine what is was like in north Texas (Comanche territory)
in June 1874, when the battle of adobe walls and several other murders
happened. You would have had to be pretty brave to go 150 miles south
of Dodge City into the heart of their territory. But that's where the buffs were.

             BTB
Born 110 years too late

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #5 on: Today at 10:31:10 PM »

Offline Dave T

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2021, 05:32:32 PM »
Thanks for the post Pitspitr.  Since this was an "excerpt" was there any mention of the guns used on this hunt in the rest of the story?  Were they still carrying percussion plains rifles?  Or perhaps did they have 50-70 Sharps, Rolling Blocks, or Needle Guns?  Or something else like a Springfield musket that was selling cheep on the used gun market?

Inquiring minds want to know,
Dave

Offline Pitspitr

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2021, 06:33:56 AM »
Since this was an "excerpt" was there any mention of the guns used on this hunt in the rest of the story?
Sorry, No. If there had been any more information on the hunt I'd have included it. As I recall, it was mostly just an old man reminiscing about people he'd known and such.
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Offline Crooked River Bob

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2022, 08:47:54 PM »
That was a nice story, Pitspitr!  Based on his comment about "going hungry," it sounds as if your great-great-grandfather Copp and his companions were subsistence hunters, on "the buffalo grounds" to lay in a supply of meat for personal use.  In 1870, I think there is a good possibility at least some of the hunters in that group may have been carrying muzzleloaders, although Spencers and the early Springfield trapdoor rifles in .58 rimfire and .50/70 were popular.

There is a memoir by James Cook, entitled (I think) Fifty Years on the Old Frontier, in which he describes a meat smoking and drying set-up much like the one mentioned in the excerpt you submitted.  He was a market hunter, though, and more up in the mountains.  However, knowledge of that sort of thing must have been pretty common back then.

I would like to look up Henry Copp see what else I can find about him.

Thanks again for that remarkable excerpt!

Crooked River Bob
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Offline Pitspitr

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2022, 06:30:41 AM »
Good luck! Please share it if you find any.
https://www.geni.com/people/Henry-Copp/6000000015722675544
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Offline Mogorilla

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2022, 07:37:09 AM »
Went back and read this again and one line really cracked me up.   "there were but four in our party, my brother Cal. You remember him. He was County Judge of Loup County for more than twenty years. Then there was another brother and a neighbor and myself"
There was another brother, boy if that does not speak volumes of a family dynamic, I do not know what does, a description and name of a brother who was a judge.  Now I want to know about another brother. 

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #10 on: Today at 10:31:10 PM »

Offline River City John

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2022, 07:58:47 AM »
Went back and read this again and one line really cracked me up.   "there were but four in our party, my brother Cal. You remember him. He was County Judge of Loup County for more than twenty years. Then there was another brother and a neighbor and myself"
There was another brother, boy if that does not speak volumes of a family dynamic, I do not know what does, a description and name of a brother who was a judge.  Now I want to know about another brother. 

"Hi! I'm Larry, and this my brother Daryl, and my other brother, . . . Daryl."
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Offline Pitspitr

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2022, 09:27:57 AM »
Went back and read this again and one line really cracked me up.   "there were but four in our party, my brother Cal. You remember him. He was County Judge of Loup County for more than twenty years. Then there was another brother and a neighbor and myself"
There was another brother, boy if that does not speak volumes of a family dynamic, I do not know what does, a description and name of a brother who was a judge.  Now I want to know about another brother.
Yeah, it would be interesting to know which of the 6 other brothers was the "other brother" It looks as though one could eliminate John and Warren. Warren died in the 1850's and John apparently never left Pennsylvania. So that leaves Charles Marvin(Curtis), Charles Sherman (Ehem...yes John), Milton D, or Allen Willis Bennett Copp. If I had to guess I would guess it was Curtis Because it seems he and Grandfather Copp were close, but my second guess would be Charles, because he died in Saunder Co. (The origin of the hunt)
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Offline Yuma Kid

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2022, 03:00:03 PM »
Jerry,
would you like to submit this to the Shootist?
John
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Offline Pitspitr

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2022, 03:33:50 PM »
I hadn't really thought about it. ::)

Will you be at Roca Saturday? I plan to be. Maybe we could discuss it then?
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Offline Yuma Kid

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2022, 06:25:02 PM »
I'll be at the Lincoln Black Powder Gun Show this weekend. Hywy 77 & Sattillo
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Offline Pitspitr

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #15 on: January 26, 2022, 06:10:48 AM »
Yes, that's what I meant. They're advertising the address as Roca.
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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #16 on: January 26, 2022, 03:17:41 PM »
Yep, I will be there. Look for the BRR table.
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Offline Crooked River Bob

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2022, 03:24:33 PM »
Pitspitr

I checked The Encyclopedia of Buffalo Hunters & Skinners and did not find a listing for anyone by the name of Copp.  However, in poking around online, I did find this, on a history of Blaine County, Nebraska:

"As Chief Smoke Maker lay dying, a score of his braves stood about on the hill overlooking the North Loup River, flowing and glowing in a bold southward curve.
   In an encounter with government surveyors on Spring Creek miles down the North Loup valley he had been wounded. With skill that belied their haste they had constructed a travois from ash poles cut in the canyon. Tenderly had they placed their stricken chief upon the conveyance and taken the up-river trail.
   Outwardly indifferent to the burning pain of the bullet-wound through his chest, Chief Smoke Maker endured the agony aggravated by the jolting. Through the long night they had traveled toward where the sun, blood-red, had dropped below the sandhills. Without resting they had urged their tough mustangs on, even after the sun arose in the misty east.
   At last they halted. Chief Smoke Maker was failing rapidly. Even as their medicine man began the incantations of his magic formula, death came. In accordance with their burial custom, they cut cottonwood and willow along the river and erected a scaffold on the low hill overlooking the stream. The chief, wrapped in his blanket and buffalo robe and with all his brilliant trappings of beaded buckskin and eagle feathers, was laid to rest on the scaffold. Later they would return and gather the remaining bones to deposit in the ossiary of their tribesmen.
   Briefly they discussed leaving the large silver medal their chief always wore suspended by a thong about his neck. The Great White Father at Washington had given the medal to his father, also a chief, as a special mark of respect and peaceful intention--a treaty the white man never kept for long. Custom prevailed and they did not remove the priceless medal from the lifeless chest of their beloved chieftain.
  During the summer of 1884 Henry H. Copp came with his family to claim a parcel of public domain adjoining the hill where the scaffold had been erected. Copp's son Alvah D., a youngster of exploring tendencies, one day came upon the grinning skull of the Indian chief. Investigation disclosed the burned off posts in the soil, great quantities of beads and the tarnished medal. He polished the silver on his boot leg until it glittered as, brightly as when cast sixty-seven years before.
   The medal was about two inches in diameter and bore on the obverse a replica of the bust of President Monroe, truncation HURSTF. Legend: "James Monroe, President of the U. S., A. D., 1817." Reverse: Two hands clasped, on cuff of one three stripes and as many buttons. The other hand (Indian's) with bare wrist. Above were crossed peacepipe and tomahawk; legend: "Peace and Friendship." After more than half a century Mr. Copp retains and treasures the medal. However, he does not vouch for the truth of the tradition of Chief Smoke Maker.
"

From Who's Who in Nebraska

So, that would have been fourteen years after Henry's buffalo hunt with his two brothers and their friend.  In any event, it looks as if you may have had a silver presidential peace medal in the family at one time.  If you can't locate the original, the United States Mint makes a facsimile, in silver.  they also make one in bronze.  The diameter of the original was said to be "about two inches in diameter," while the current rendition is slightly smaller at 1.598".  However, it matches the description otherwise, including the date of 1817.

I don't know what tribe or nation Chief Smoke Maker had governed, but they must have been hostile to white folks, or at least to American white folks.  However, his father had evidently visited Washington for an interview with President Monroe, who was our fifth president, who evidently served two terms between 1817 and 1825.  We may be able to track down the identities of the native people who visited him.

So many trails to follow...

Meanwhile, I'll keep looking around for more on Henry Copp.  I love it when you can put an actual name on ordinary people in history. 

Best regards,

Crooked River Bob
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Offline Pitspitr

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Re: The story of an 1870's buffalo hunt
« Reply #18 on: February 08, 2022, 09:14:59 AM »
Yes, that that is correct. I've handled it. It was in my Grandmothers possession until she died. When she died there were so many of us that would have liked to have owned it  that rather than cause family hard feelings it was donated to a museum.  We all got replicas that were made locally. They are the exact dimensions of the original which was just slightly bigger than a silver dollar.

Personally I don't believe Smoke Maker's family's claim that it was his. Too much of their story doesn't fit with the details of where Grandfather Copp found it. Just as today if you found something of value and advertised that you had found it and would return it to the rightful owner if they could describe it, Grandfather Copp tried to find the family of the man in the above ground burial by contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Smoke Maker's family claimed that it was his but when they were asked to describe his death and burial too many details didn't fit. The author of that article used Smoke Maker's name and took some other rather "poetic license."

The one thing I did inherit from Grandma Spencer was the mastodon tusk she found sticking out of a North Loup River bank when she was just a girl.

Grandpa Copp wouldn't have been listed in The Encyclopedia of Buffalo Hunters & Skinners, because he was just making meat for his family and was never a commercial hunter.

Most likely the original owner of the medal did not visit Washington. During his time in office Monroe sent out several Peace Commissions to visit the various tribes in the realtively newly purchased Louisiana Purchase. one of these was held in southwest Nebraska. I would have to go back and look at my book on peace medals but I believe there were 3 different sizes cast and some were silver some were brass and there were 3 different sizes. The different sizes and materials were distributed amongst the tribes based on the importance of the man they were presented to.
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