Malachite’s Big Hole
Hunting Buffalo and Chased by Pawnee:
The following story is told by Matt Field as he and about sixty others were traveling from Westport to the 1843 Rendezvous. Actually the last rendezvous was held in 1840, and this was an expedition privately outfitted By Sir William Drummond Stewart. During the 1830's Stewart had attended the rendezvous as a half pay retired Captain in the British Army. He fully intended to attend one more rendezvous after inheriting his estate, but events and the end of the rendezvous system prevented him from doing so. In 1843 he financed a final expedition to the mountains one last time to hunt, tell stories with his friends from the rendezvous days and frolic and gamble with the Indians before taking up his life as royalty in Britain. This may be the first ever Mountain Man Reenactment.
Stewart's expedition in 1843 traveled through a country which the buffalo had abandoned, the same as pack trains to the rendezvous of the previous decade had to travel through. Typically the pack trains would take along barrels of salt pork and/or drive a flock of sheep or cattle to get them through this country in which wild game was largely absent. Depending on how fast the party was traveling and the season and year, it might take four to six weeks of travel from Westport to the first sighting of buffalo. Field's story takes place as Stewart's expedition had nearly exhausted their food supplies and had still not sighted the elusive buffalo. Although this story pertains to Stewart's 1843 expedition, similar scenes were likely played out in earlier years. Here is what Matt Field records:
"The next incident of this day was a great preparation for a grand hunt, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when two dark spots were discovered far away on our left, which were at once pronounced by everybody to be a pair of bulls. Twenty riders were off in an instant after the long-looked for and anxiously prayed for game. Everybody believed the distant spots to be buffalo, except Crockett [Field's nickname for W.C. Kennett], who had been looking for the strange animals so long, still suffering disappointment from day to day, that he now declared the whole thing was a humbug, and no such creatures could be in existence at all! He, however, went off among the rest, and singular enough was the scene that ensued. The two black spots were no other things than two of our own companions, who were out, hungry and desperate, like many others of the party scattered around the vicinity looking for game. The two, seeing us coming, for some moments mistook us for buffalo, also, and came hurrying to meet us with immediate expedition, but they soon turned and ran from us in the hottest haste. They found we were not buffalo, and then concluded we were Pawnees (the greatest rascals and the meanest cowards among the prairie tribes), but, as they found themselves only two to twenty, they determined to take an opposite direction with the best speed they could force from their jaded animals.
They had the advantage of us, however, one of them being in possession of a spy-glass, by the aid of which he found we were not buffalo-while we were the more convinced they were a pair of old bulls the moment we saw them turn to run from us! So the chase continued. Twenty of us were running to get a supper, and two of the same party were scouring away over the prairie to save their lives! We ran our two friends until the first shades of evening began to fall, and then concluded very prudently to let the game go, and turn back, ourselves, toward camp. That morning was one of the dullest we knew during the trip, and that evening was, perhaps, the merriest. Over a supper of antelope, with a fair prospect of finding buffalo the next day, we laughed and sung and fell back again into our old fancies about the delights of wild life, but what enlivened us all into even a merrier mood was the coming back into camp of our two hunted companions, declaring they they had been chased for ten hours by the whole Pawnee nation! We at once saw through the whole mistake, and roars of laughter, repeated again and again, were heard around the camp fires until we all sank into our buffalo robes to rest."
For this and other stories of the 1843 expedition see:
Field Matt C., Prairie & Mountain Sketches, edited by Kate L. Gregg and John Francis McDermott, University of Oklahoma Press, copyright 1957.