Hunting Wild Game on the Prairie

As they moved out onto the prairies, many European and American settlers were astonished by the abundance of game. This, of course, made hunting a popular pastime for many westward migrants.

Many European and American settlers noted the abundance of game as they moved out onto the prairies. “Prairie-chickens and quails, when I first went on the overland [stage] line were numerous between the Missouri River and the Platte,” said Frank A. Root, author with William E. Connelley of The Overland Stage to California (1901). “They were seen every day from the stage-coach, numbering thousands.”

Naturally they were the most plentiful along the stage route in Northern Kansas in the vicinity of the settlements and ranches, and there were a great many along the Little Blue River in southern Nebraska. They were multiplying so rapidly that it seemed that they never could be thinned out. For a long time, they furnished much of the choice food for ranchmen, and the freighters and travelers shot thousands of them while on their way across the plains. . . .

There was an abundance of wild game in the ’60’s. In eastern Kansas, large numbers of wild turkeys and a great many rabbits were seen. Along the Little Blue river, there were also many wild turkeys and rabbits, and deer and antelope were also plentiful. In the Platte Valley were a great many deer, antelope, and an occasional elk, while a few miles distant, south from the stream and away from the heavily traveled thoroughfare, buffaloes abounded by hundreds of thousands. A great many came north to the Platte and there slaked their thirst. Buffalo wallows were numerous along the Platte in staging days. . . .

Down the South Platte for 200 miles east of Denver there were occasional sage-hens near the road; but few of the stage boys ate them, because, they said, it required a cast-iron stomach to digest them. Occasionally we ran across a pack of gray wolves on the plains, but usually, they were scarce. The native prairie wolves-the coyote-were quite numerous, and many of them could at times be seen from the stage-coach. A pelican was now and then seen along the South Platte, in the vicinity of old Julesburg, but out of reach of the ordinary rifle of those early days.

Image: Several men and women on horseback during a wolf hunt near North Platte. Circa 1910. (RG2154.PH000006-000116)

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