Morton’s Buffalo Hunt

J. Sterling Morton, in a paper read before the Nebraska State Historical Society on January 10, 1899, recalled the excitement of his fall buffalo hunt in the Republican Valley in the early 1860s. Morton’s party set out from Fort Kearny, heading south toward the Republican River.

Morton recalled, “The four hunters of the expedition were Lieutenant Bush, John Heth, John Talbot (who had been honorably discharged from the regular army after some years of service) and myself. The excursion was massed and ready for departure at 8 o’clock on the bright morning of October 6, 1861. The course taken was nearly due south from the present site of Kearney city in Buffalo county. The expedition consisted of two large army wagons, four mules attached to each wagon, a light, two-horse spring wagon, and four trained riding horses experienced in the chase, together with twelve soldiers of the regular U.S. army and the gentlemen already named. It had not traveled more than twenty-five miles south of Fort Kearny before it came in view of an immense and seemingly uncountable herd of buffalo.

“My first sight of these primitive beeves of the plains I shall never forget. They were so distant that I could not make out their individual forms and I at once jumped to the conclusion that they were only an innumerable lot of crows sitting about upon the knobs and hillocks of the prairies. But in a few moments, when we came nearer, they materialized and were, sure enough, real bellowing, snorting, wallowing buffaloes. At first they appeared to give no heed to our outfit, but after we saddled and mounted our horses and rode into their midst they began to scatter and to form into small bands, single file. . . . The leading animal was generally a three-year-old cow. Each of these strings, or single-file bands, ran in a general southeast direction and each of the four hunters–Bush, Heth, Talbot, and the writer–selected a string and went for the preeminent animal with enthusiasm, zeal, and impulsive foolhardiness.”

Morton’s kill was a buffalo cow two or three years old. After several more encounters with smaller herds, the party returned to Fort Kearny. Morton returned to his home at Nebraska City with a quarter of buffalo meat and several wild turkeys.

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