Hunting for Food and Recreation

Hunting was an economic necessity as well as a recreational activity for pioneer Nebraskans. W. A. Anderson, who settled near Ord in Valley County, on February 1, 1879, in a 1932 Nebraska History article recalled some of his early hunting experiences:

“When I came the buffalo were all gone farther west as the Sioux and Pawnee Indians were constantly hunting them, as they were very much easier to approach and kill than other game. That they were once here in vast herds is proven by their skeletons that crop out along the sides of the canyons and also where the prairie sod is plowed up in places their bones are very abundant. Almost in any piece of swampy ground, one can find their remains where they had mired in the mud and quick sand years ago.

“The next large game was the elk which was very abundant when the first settlers came. I recall one of the old settlers asking me where I had located and when I told him, he told me of a hunting trip he had in that vicinity and had killed nine elk that day. . . . The elk were quite scarce when I came and I killed the last elk in Valley county or that was killed in the Loup country, in the spring of 1879, on Haskell Creek and not far from the Jorgensen place.”

Anderson considered antelope to be the “most wary and the most difficult to kill as they seem to have so much vitality that even after being shot through a vital spot they can run a long distance and, when they do fall, it is nearly always in a spot where they will be somewhat hidden. As late as 1883 a herd of about fifty or more passed within a quarter mile of my sod house. It was more than a year after I came before I succeeded in getting an antelope. They usually went farther west in the winter and came back in the spring, though the winter of 1879-80 a band of four of them wintered in the sand hills about at the county corners of Valley, Wheeler, and Garfield and I saw them every time I went hunting but was never able to get one.”

Anderson admitted, “Some one may ask why did I kill them? Well, the early settlers had to eat any game available and that was about all there was to be had in the way of meat. Whenever I got out of meat I took my horse and gun and went after it.”

Not all settlers had the means to hunt. Fred H. Ellis, interviewed in 1941 by workers of the WPA Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration, recalled his family’s pioneer experiences in Holt County: “The winter of 1880-81 was the worse winter I ever experienced in Nebraska. When I hauled wood from the [Niobrara] river, I used to see many wild deer and elk and antelope. . . . At the country store, my father met a man by the name of Henry Smith who lived eight miles from us. Several days later, the Smith boys brought us a nice deer. We had no guns of any kind to do any hunting with.”

Photographer John Nelson portrayed four men with shotguns and three dogs in a field, 1907-1917. NSHS RG3542-140.

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