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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Buffalo, horses
and outlaw cattle

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

In our world today we constantly read of high prices paid for outstanding animals such as race horses, cutting horses, barrel horses and even the top bucking stock in rodeo. The top animals in those fields are well trained, well cared for and above all, must enjoy their work. To see a top-notch animal work is a distinct pleasure to anyone who appreciates stock.

When old-time ranchers and cowboys gather, they talk for hours recalling every horse they rode and telling the reasons for his worth. And thereby hangs a tale I read recently and another story told by an old-timer during an interview.

The Plains Indians, especially the Comanche, were dependent on their horses for hunting buffalo, moving their homes to another site, and for warfare. Before rifles became available, they hunted buffalo with lances and bows and arrows, all while riding at a dead run across the prairies on their horses.

The buffalo were large, could run as fast as horses for miles, their hides were tough, and it sometimes took many arrows or lances to bring the beasts down. Since it required both hands to shoot an arrow, the horse was on its own to keep the hunter close enough to shoot into the animal.

Imagine being astride a hard-running horse, in a cloud of dust, during a buffalo stampede, crossing all kinds of terrain, knowing if you did not kill an animal your family would go hungry. In these circumstances, a good hunter horse could be very valuable.

The old man being interviewed said a good buffalo-hunting horse was worth 100 average Indian horses. One chief was so proud of his buffalo horse the family carried a separate teepee just to house the horse, and the wives and children carried water and hay to the mount.

In another interview, an old cowboy told of working on a big ranch that had a wide brushy river bottom running through the middle of the ranch. The owners were trying to upgrade the quality of their cattle but were having trouble with several outlaw bulls running wild in the bottom.

They ordered their cowboys to gather the wild bulls or shoot them. Hard, dangerous riding finally found and ran down several of the wild bulls missed during years of previous roundups. They were so large and stout, even when roped they could not be pulled to where they were to be loaded on trailers.

The men tied the beasts by their horns to trees hoping they would be more docile after going without feed and water for a few days. Before they returned, a bad thunderstorm came up and caused a flood several feet deep down the brushy river bottom. The outlaw bulls all drowned while tied to the trees.

For years afterward, ranch cowboys would occasionally ride upon a huge, bleached bull skull still tied to a tree by a rope.

Though this story may sound cruel at first, probably to these "born free" wild animals, drowning was better than being confined in pens and eventually butchered for beef.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" March 30 , 2010 Column


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