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Pale Horse Revelations #15 - Bison Hunting

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." In today's edition I want to return to the topic of the American Bison (featured previously in Pale Horse Revelations #8). Specifically, I want to focus on the hunting of these magnificent creatures by non-indigenous (white) hunters. While the previous blog entry touched on the topic briefly, I felt like it deserved a closer look. Much of what we'll cover today was worked into the story in an effort to create a realistic depiction of an iconic western activity.

Before we jump into the details, I would like to briefly revisit what was covered in Pale Revelations #8 so that it will be fresh in your minds:

"White settlers brought new methods that were more akin to slaughter. They came seeking only the skins and tongues. The rest of the animal was left to rot. Their bones were later collected and shipped back east in mass quantities.

The Bison's own behavior contributed to their demise. When one member of the herd was shot, the others would gather around it. This enabled a single hunter to kill multiple animals, and sometimes an entire herd, in a very short amount of time. This manner of hunting was promoted by settler governments in an effort to destroy the primary food source of native tribes during times of conflict." – From Pale Horse Revelations #8

Bison hides were in huge demand at this point in time. They were used for a wide variety of purposes from industrial machine belts to various clothing items and rugs. In addition, there was a huge export demand for bison hides in Europe. In response to this demand bison hunting developed into a large commercial enterprise.

A typical hunting expedition would have one or two professional hunters to do the shooting. The hunters were backed by a large support team that took care of everything else. The team typically included skinners, gun cleaners, cartridge reloaders, cooks, wranglers, blacksmiths, security guards, and teamsters. To transport all these people and the needed equipment and supplies each expedition included numerous wagons and horses.

Because of the way bison reacted when one of their number was shot, the best hunters, like Buffalo Bill Cody, were able to kill hundreds of animals at a single stand. One hunter claimed to have killed over 20,000 animals over the course of his career. The average price for a cow hide was $3.00.

The hunter would usually locate the herd in the morning. He would then set up about 100 yards away and begin the slaughter. They would try to shoot the animals broadside through the lungs to bring them down quickly. They tended to avoid headshots as the bison's thick skull often prevented the soft lead bullets from penetrating.

Once the herd finally stampeded it was the skinners turn to go to work. They began by driving a spike through the nose of each dead animal. They would then hook up a team of horses and use them to rip the hide from the carcass. Other team members would dress, prepare, and stack the hides in a wagon.

By 1873 there were close to 1,000 such commercial hunting outfits in operation. It's estimated that anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000 animals were killed per day depending on the season. Given these staggering numbers it's a wonder that any of these magnificent animals survived.

Once again, we come to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you have found it both interesting and informative. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

As a reminder, I would love to hear from you, my readers, about topics related to the Old West that you would like to know more about. All you need to do is fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your suggested topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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