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General Philip H. Sheridan commander of the Department of the Missouri from (1867-1883) described the buffalo as "the Indians' commissary".

Sheridan with his staff officers while commanding the Department of the Missouri including George Armstrong Custer

"At the period of which I write, in (winter) 1868, the Plains were covered with vast herds of buffalo—the number has been estimated at 3,000,000 head—and with such means of subsistence as this everywhere at hand, the 6,000 hostiles were wholly unhampered by any problem of food-supply. The savages were rich too according to Indian standards, many a lodge owning from twenty to a hundred ponies; and consciousness of wealth and power, aided by former temporizing, had made them not only confident but defiant."


"These men (the buffalo hunters) have done more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians' commissary. Send them powder and lead if you will, but for the sake of a lasting peace let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are extermininated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy who follows the hunter as the second forerunner of an advanced civilization."--General Philip H. Sheridan

The Buffalo Hunters

Buffalo Bill Cody was a guide and courier for Sheridan and Buffalo hunter for the Kansas-Pacific Railroad during the time Sheridan was commander of the Department of the Missouri

William Cody while in the Kansas territory and upon meeting a group of military men preparing for a buffalo hunt in the summer of 1868. He gave the following account of how he won his name.


American Bison by Chester Comstock
commissioned to honor donors to
"The Villages" Florida charter school
2007 Comstock Sculpture Studio

"Come along with us," offered the captain graciously. "We’re going to kill a few buffalo for sport, and all we care for are the tongues and a chunk of the tenderloin; you can have the rest.

"Thank you," said Will. "I’ll follow along."

Nearby there were eleven buffaloes in the herd, and the officers started after them as if they had a sure thing on the entire number. Will noticed that the game was pointed toward a creek, and understanding "the nature of the beast," started for the water, to head them off.

As the herd went past him, with the military quintet five hundred yards in the rear, he gave Brigham’s blind bridle a twitch, and in a few jumps the trained hunter was at the side of the rear buffalo; Lucretia Borgia spoke, and the buffalo fell dead. Without even a bridle signal, Brigham was promptly at the side of the next buffalo, not ten feet away, and this, too, fell at the first shot. The maneuver was repeated until the last buffalo went down. Twelve shots had been fired; then Brigham, who never wasted his strength, stopped. The officers had not had even a shot at the game. Astonishment was written on their faces as they rode up.

"Gentlemen," said Will, courteously, as he dismounted, "allow me to present you with eleven tongues and as much of the tenderloin as you wish."

"By Jove!" exclaimed the captain, "I never saw anything like that before. Who are you, anyway?"

"Bill Cody’s my name."

"Well, Bill Cody, you know how to kill buffalo, and that horse of yours has some good running points, after all."

"One or two," smiled Will.

Captain Graham—as his name proved to be — and his companions were a trifle sore over missing even the opportunity of a shot, but they professed to be more than repaid for their disappointment by witnessing a feat they had not supposed possible in a white man—hunting buffalo without a saddle, bridle, or reins. Will explained that Brigham knew more about the business than most two-legged hunters. All the rider was expected to do was to shoot the buffalo. If the first shot failed, Brigham allowed another; if this, too, failed Brigham lost patience, and was as likely as not to drop the matter then and there.

It was this episode that fastened the name of "Buffalo Bill" upon Will, and learning of it, the friends of Billy Comstock, chief of scouts at Fort Wallace, filed a protest. Comstock, they said, was Cody’s superior as a buffalo-hunter. So a match was arranged to determine whether it should be "Buffalo Bill’ Cody or "Buffalo Bill" Comstock.

Charlie Russell's painting of a Bull Buffalo

The hunting-ground was fixed near Sheridan, Kansas, and quite a crowd of spectators was attracted by the news of the contest. Officers, soldiers, plainsmen, and railroad men took a day off to see the sport, and one excursion party, including many ladies, among them Louise, came up from St. Louis.

Referees were appointed to follow each man and keep a tally of the buffaloes slain. Comstock was mounted on his favorite horse, and carried a Henry rifle of large calibre. Brigham and Lucretia went with Will. The two hunters rode side by side until the first herd was sighted and the word given, when off they dashed to the attack, separating to the right and left. In this first trial Will killed thirty-eight and Comstock twenty-three. They had ridden miles, and the carcasses of the dead buffaloes were strung all over the prairie. Luncheon was served at noon, and scarcely was it over when another herd was sighted, composed mainly of cows with their calves. The damage to this herd was eighteen and fourteen, in favor of Cody.

In those days the prairies were alive with buffaloes, and a third herd put in an appearance before the rifle-barrels were cooled. In order to give Brigham a share of the glory, Will pulled off saddle and bridle, and advanced bareback to the slaughter.

That closed the contest. Score, sixty-nine to forty-eight. Comstock’s friends surrendered, and Cody was dubbed "Champion Buffalo Hunter of the Plains."

The heads of the buffaloes that fell in this hunt were mounted by the Kansas Pacific Railroad Company, and distributed about the country, as advertisements of the region the new road was traversing. Meanwhile, Will continued hunting for the Kansas Pacific contractors, and during the year and a half that he supplied them with fresh meat he killed four thousand two hundred and eighty buffaloes. But when the railroad reached Sheridan it was decided to build no farther at that time, and Will was obliged to look for other work.


Comstock's story ended a few months after his contest with Bill Cody. During the summer and into the fall of 1868 indians were on the rampage in the Kansas territory. As to the nature of their activities and Comstock's death see the follow excerpt from Gen, Philip Sheridan's Memoirs.

"Leaving the Saline, this war-party crossed over to the valley of the Solomon, a more thickly settled region, and where the people were in better circumstances, their farms having been started two or three years before. Unaware of the hostile character of the raiders, the people here received them in the friendliest way, providing food, and even giving them ammunition, little dreaming of what was impending. These kindnesses were requited with murder and pillage, and worse, for all the women who fell into their hands were subjected to horrors indescribable by words. Here also the first murders were committed, thirteen men and two women being killed. Then, after burning five houses and stealing all the horses they could find, they turned back toward the Saline, carrying away as prisoners two little girls named Bell, who have never been heard of since."

When this frightful raid was taking place, Lieutenant Beecher, with his three scouts—Comstock, Grover, and Parr—was on Walnut Creek. Indefinite rumors about troubles on the Saline and Solomon reaching him, he immediately sent Comstock and Grover over to the headwaters of the Solomon, to the camp of a band of Cheyennes, whose chief was called "Turkey Leg," to see if any of the raiders belonged there; to learn the facts, and make explanations, if it was found that the white people had been at fault. For years this chief had been a special friend of Comstock and Grover. They had trapped, hunted, and lived with his band, and from this intimacy they felt confident of being able to get "Turkey Leg" to quiet his people, if any of them were engaged in the raid; and, at all events, they expected, through him and his band, to influence the rest of the Cheyennes. From the moment they arrived in the Indian village, however, the two scouts met with a very cold reception. Neither friendly pipe nor food was offered them, and before they could recover from their chilling reception, they were peremptorily ordered out of the village, with the intimation that when the Cheyennes were on the war-path the presence of whites was intolerable. The scouts were prompt to leave, of course, and for a few miles were accompanied by an escort of seven young men, who said they were sent with them to protect the two from harm. As the party rode along over the prairie, such a depth of attachment was professed for Comstock and Grover that, notwithstanding all the experience of their past lives, they were thoroughly deceived, and in the midst of a friendly conversation some of the young warriors fell suddenly to the rear and treacherously fired on them.

At the volley Comstock fell from his horse instantly killed. Grover, badly wounded in the shoulder, also fell to the ground near Comstock Seeing his comrade was dead, Grover made use of his friend's body to protect himself, lying close behind it. Then took place a remarkable contest, Grover, alone and severely wounded, obstinately fighting the seven Indians, and holding them at bay for the rest of the day. Being an expert shot, and having a long-range repeating rifle, he "stood off" the savages till dark. Then cautiously crawling away on his belly to a deep ravine, he lay close, suffering terribly from his wound, till the following night, when, setting out for Fort Wallace, he arrived there the succeeding day, almost crazed from pain and exhaustion.


Publisher: Charles L. Webster & Company 1888

William Comstock met his death on August 27, 1868, in his twenty-sixth year.

Due to the hostilities being conducted by the indians Sheridan prepared his command to conduct a winter campaign against the raiders. The plight of the indians and the future of free ranging hunting parties in pursuit of buffalo essentially had come to end. The Medicine Lodge treaty of Oct. 1867 stipulated that the indians would retire to designated reservations and that Indians roaming outside of the reservations were in violation of the treaty.

Gen. Philip Sheridan submitted the following report to General Sherman dated November 1, 1869 describing the military operations in the Department of the Missouri from October 15, 1868 through March 27, 1869. The report included a sworn statement from Edmund "Guerriere" which was titled "In the field, Medicine Bluff Creek, Wichita Mountains, February 9th, 1869." Guerrier's statement was this:

"I was with Cheyenne Indians at the time of the massacre on the Solomon and Saline rivers in Kansas, the early part or middle of last August, and I was living at this time with Little Rock's band. The war party who started for the Solomon and Saline was Little Rock's, Black Kettle's, Medicine Arrow's and Bull Bear's bands; and as near as I can remember, nearly all the different bands of Cheyennes had some of their young men in this war party which committed the out rages and murders on the Solomon and Saline. Red Nose, and The-man-who-breaks-the-marrow bones, [Ho-eh-a-mo-a-hoe] were the two leaders in this massacre; the former belonged to the Dog Soldiers, and the latter in Black Kettle's band. As soon as we heard the news by runners who came on ahead to Black Kettle - saying that they had already commenced fighting, we moved from our camp on Buckner's Fork of the Pawnee, near the head waters, down to North Fork, where we met Big Jake's band, and then moved south, across the Arkansas river; and when we got to the Cimarron, George Bent and I left them and went to our homes on the Purgatoire."

Sheridan seems to use this statement, in part, as justification for Custer's attack on Black Kettle's encampment at Washita.

The year 1867 with the signing of the Medicine Bow Treaty marks the end of the old west and the beginning of the wild west.

During his command of the Department of the Missouri Sheridan sought out and hired the best men he could find to be guides for his military units. Among the men he hired for this position were William Cody and William Comstock and Wild Bill Hickock. All three if these men had been ponie express riders during its brief history.

Wild Bill Hickock was a friend and companion of Buffalo Bill Cody as a buffalo hunter in the Kansas Territory

George Armstong Custer was one of Sheridans favorite subordinates during his Missouri Command

"On the first of June1867 , with about three hundred and fifty men and a train of twenty wagons, I left Fort Hays and directed our line of march toward Fort McPherson, on the Platte River, distant by the proposed route two hundred and twenty-five miles. The friendly Delawares accompanied us as scouts and trailers, but our guide was a young white man known on the Plains as Will Comstock. No Indian knew the country more thoroughly than did Comstock. He was perfectly familiar with every divide, water-course, and strip of timber for hundreds of miles in either direction. He knew the dress and peculiarities of every Indian tribe, and spoke the languages of many of them. Perfect in horsemanship, fearless in manner, a splendid hunter, and a gentleman by instinct, as modest and unassuming as he was brave, he was an interesting as well as valuable companion on a march such as was then before us. Many were the adventures and incidents of frontier life with which he was accustomed to entertain us when around the camp-fire or on the march. Little did he then imagine that his own life would soon be given as a sacrifice to his daring, and that he, with all his experience among the savages, would fall a victim of Indian treachery."

Quoted from the Memoirs of Gen. George Armstrong Custer


Standard Issue of Cavalry soldier's riding gear during the Indian Wars. Image has a link to articles about Sheridans Buffalo Soldiers the 9th and 10th Cavalry

Articles on the expansion of the American west and the fate of the American Buffalo during the American 19th century

Lewis and Clark on the Missouri July 1806

The Buffalo Hunt, illustrated by Catlin, Bodmer, Miller and other artists 1830-1930

Philip Sheridan's command 1867-1983


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