Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

Multitudes of Buffaloes

Ten days after we celebrated the independence of this country we encamped near the Narrows, within sight of the snow-capped Wind River Mountains, and then it was that our company got some idea of what a herd of buffaloes looked like.

When we broke camp in the morning it seemed as if the entire land was covered with the animals. They were in such throngs that the sound of their hoofs was like the rumbling of distant thunder, and one could hear the click, click, clicking of the thousands upon thousands of horns when they came together in battle, for the bulls appeared to be fighting incessantly as they moved here and there.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

Some of the brutes were rolling in the dust, turning from side to side as if in greatest delight, others had gathered in groups as if watching those who fought. One could compare the scene to nothing more than to an ocean of dark water surrounding us on every side, pitching and tossing as if under the influence of a strong wind.

It was such a sight as I had seen more than once, but to my companions it was terrifying at the same time that it commanded their closest attention.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

The big brutes were in such numbers that they gave no heed to us. Had we been needing meat, hundreds upon hundreds might have been brought down within a mile of the encampment. As it was, four of our men could not resist the temptation to go out and kill some, although it was wanton butchery, for we had then so much flesh in camp that more could not be carried.

I was a little anxious on beginning the day's march, fearing lest we might find ourselves in the midst of that herd, for they gave no attention to man even when our people were shooting.

But it was not for us to halt because of a lot of stupid buffaloes, and I gave the word to move on, insisting that all the men, being fully armed, should guard the cows lest they be stampeded.

For two hours we rode in the very midst of that countless herd, with the shaggy, heavy brutes pressing so close to our wagons that some of the men were forced to go on ahead and drive them away by firing pistols or using clubs, for one could get near enough to pommel them as you might pommel a lazy horse.

I did not breathe freely until past noon, and then we had left behind us that surging sea of beasts.

But for the fact that the time would come, as I knew full well, when we should need meat, I would have said I hoped we should never see another buffalo that side of the mountains.