Buffalo – the Great Slaughter

I. How it was.

The buffalo, once princes of the plains,
a shadow now, where mighty herds had reigned.
As destiny conspired ‘gainst their domains,
’til only few survivors have remained.

Back then they roamed in thund’rous, dusty clouds,
where sixty million strong owned middle earth,
on open prairie grass, ’twas never plowed,
and Indians all knew their sacred worth.

The bison’s meat was very low on fat,
but full of protein’s life-sustaining force.
Their furry hides made blankets, belts, fur hats,
plus coats, warm boots, and mittens too, of course.

In fact, for natives, nothing went unused:
the organs, brains, all bones, and even guts.
They made nomadic life richly infused,
with buffalo trail ruts among their huts.

It’s here where tragic destiny may show,
I’ve lived a life of hunting buffalo.
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II. My story

I’ve lived a life of hunting buffalo,
and later I became ashamed of that,
but early on in life it wasn’t so.
I couldn’t see the future, were I sat.

My given name is simply Matt Montana,
whose family crossed through the famous GAP,
then settled Tuscaloosa, Alabama,
to farm the land, but also hunt and trap.

‘Twas eighteen forty three when trouble struck.
My Pa was out there sweatin’ in the field,
mosquito ridden lowland full of muck,
when backache, headache, fever was revealed.

It went away, but then came back instead.
It caught my Ma, my sister, brother too.
Within a month, my family was dead,
and I was left there, wond’rin’ what to do.

I figured that, to leave there was the best.
With Pa’s Kentucy rifle, headed West.

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III. Going West, the Sighting

With Pa’s Kentucky rifle, headed West.
I also had his trusty Bowie Knife.
These things would guide my life, I can attest.
For fickle are the winds that rule a life.

I walked all day, found shelter every night.
Then met a friend named Alan on the way.
We followed wagon trails in easy sight.
Saw most majestic scene on one fine day.

From top of hill, we spotted endless herd
of buffalo that ran in thund’rous roar.
From South to North, their bovine bodies blurred.
For day and night they passed by, by the score.

I never seen such numbers here before.
They left a great impression on my mind,
a dazed amazement, at my very core,
a stirrin’ in my soul, yet undefined.

I shot one at the back of the stampede,
An action that forever set the seed.

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IV. Gettin’ to Kansas

An action that forever set the seed,
a taste of something barely known to me.
Unwary as to where that taste may lead,
we traveled on, ’til we reached St. Louie.

From there we worked a paddleboat to Kansas,
as stokers, shoveling coal into the fire.
Fort Leavenworth had promised some bonanzas,
for those who shoot the buffalo for hire.

They needed meat to feed the hungry troops.
So with a borrowed wagon and my gun,
we found a herd, and shot a couple groups,
providin’ bison food for everyone.

That gave me a good living for a while.
I sold my gun, but won one playin’ cards,
now I hunt buffalo in frontier style,
My Sharpes can shoot them from three hundred yards.

In sixty two, the railroad barons came.
Then wholesale slaughter soon became the game.

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V. The Railroads

Then wholesale slaughter soon became the game.
Oh sure, they needed meat to feed the crew,
but endless herds on tracks were most to blame.
We started killin’ thousands, not a few.

The railroads made a carnival of it,
where train cars left their windows down to shoot
at herds, while leavin’ carcasses to sit,
and rot there in the sun, along the route.

Now I became a well-paid hunting guide,
who takes large groups to shoot with wanton care.
They only want the skull, the horns, and hide.
They leave the rest decayin’ everywhere.

In sixty five, the Civil War would end.
Now Sherman, Grant,and Sheridan would act.
Without the bison herds, the tribes would bend.
Make buffalo extinction now a fact.

From here, the prior death toll number pales.
They authorized the kill on greater scales.

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VI. The Great Slaughter for Fun and Profit

They authorized the kill on greater scales.
I found myself enamored by the pitch.
At twenty five gold bucks for hides, in sales,
and seventy five cents per tongue, I’m rich!

See, Bison have a quirk, when one is shot,
the others stand, not knowing what to do,
so in a day, I can shoot quite a lot,
about two fifty with my skinnin’ crew.

That’s sixty five cool hundred dollars cash,
a fortune in this certain century.
Enough to make too many marksmen dash,
to earn a wage at this activity.

And there were even betting contests held,
to see which hunter could kill off the most.
They’d shoot until their barrels nearly melt.
The plains became a place of bison ghosts.

The natives lost what tribes depended on,
By eighty five, the buffalo were gone.

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VII. Aftermath

By eighty five , the buffalo were gone.
I lost my source of livin’ once again.
The plains were now a charnel field of bones,
and filled with bored and idle riflemen.

But then, redemption came through from the East,
as fertilizer came to great demand,
while lying there were sundried bones of beast,
to gather free, as plentiful as sand.

We shot the bison, tamed the indians,
shipped trains of bones out eastward by the ton,
a blow to beasts and Homo Sapiens.
I’m sad to say, that’s how the West was won.

So, write about the slaughter, misery.
I’m Matt Montana, that’s my given name.
Remember, when you give my history,
our nation, whole, bares both the blame and shame.

Of those vast herds, a tiny few remain.
The buffalo, once princes of the plains.

Synergy of Poetry and Verse. Author, Poet, Photographer

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