The Great Hunt

Many modern residents of this area are not aware that large numbers of elk once roamed the Loup River drainage. The post surgeon, Dr. George Towar remarks in one of his reports:

“Some time before the advent of white settlers in this valley (1871) the American bison roamed in large numbers on its prairies. At what time the bison disappeared from the country hereabout is not known…But that they were numerous here once is attested by the fact of the numerous bones…scattered over the country…(and) …buffalo heads were a frequent sight in the valley…But of the larger ruminants, the Elk were very numerous in 1871…the writer has seen great numbers of Elk in bands of from 5 to 250…In fact so late as 1875 the garrison at Fort Hartsuff was supplied with fresh meat almost entirely from the flesh of the Elk killed by Mr. Conrad Wentworth or Little Buckshot (as he was popularly known) the post guide and hunter…”

From 1876 onward, elk were supplanted by beef cattle contracted in and herded on fort property until butchered as needed. Before their numbers were decimated, elk also served as a sporting game animal. Probably the most interesting such sport hunter associated with Fort Hartsuff was an English world-class adventurer, Sir Rose Lambert Price.

This sportsman was wealthy and well connected, an English knight and baronet. Fortunately for us he was also a writer. In 1877 a book titled: “The Two Americas: An Account of Sport and Travel: was published. In it he described his journey from England to South and North America during the years 1874 and 75. He hunted and fished at every opportunity. Arriving in San Francisco on the fourth of July 1875 he began his tri by rail across North America.

While hunting antelope with officers from Fort Sanders near Laramie City in Wyoming, Sir Price recorded a fabulous rifle exploit:

“…I killed by a chance shot…with an American Springfield rifled musket, caliber forty-five. The ball went in at the eye, passing through the neck and it being such a singular shot we measured the distance, which was exactly a thousand and ninety yards.”

The rifle he describes was the standard infantry rifle of the type commonly used at Fort Hartsuff also. It was the Springfield model of 1873, breech-loading with the ‘trapdoor’ mechanism, caliber .45-70 often referred to as the ‘needle gun’ out here on the frontier.

Among the officers witnessing this remarkable rifle shot was one under orders to proceed to Fort Hartsuff on court martial duty. He invited Sir Price along for a hunt and we pick up the story: “…one of the officers was ordered to Nebraska on court-martial duty. Prairie chicken shooting in this state is celebrated; there was also a chance of getting elk, and I willingly accepted an invitation to join him for the trip.” We resume his narrative as they leave the town of Grand Island, having arrived there on the Union Pacific Railroad:

“…I was glad to break the spell of monotony inseparably attached to traveling through flat land in a railway carriage. Our party consisted of six officers besides myself, and our destination was Fort Hartsuff, a post on the Loup River, two days’ drive from our starting point…though our route lay along the side of the Loup River, through for many miles, a rolling prairie without a tree or hill to enliven it, we all managed to enjoy the drive immensely. The non-shooters went in a trap by themselves, and the shooters in a spring waggon (sic) with a four-mule team. We had plenty of time to take things leisurely, and as each field of Indian corn was invariably full of prairie chickens we had some very pleasant sport along the road, until we arrived at Beebys, a small wayside farmhouse, where we halted for the night. (Author’s note: Beebee’s ranch was considered the half-way point between Grand Island and Fort Hartsuff. It was located directly east, just across the river from the present town of Cotesfield in Howard County. Beebee’s ranch was a popular lay-over point for travelers and also housed the lime kilns in which lime from the so-called chalk hills formation was burned. After processing, it was sold under contract to Fort Hartsuff and the lime, mixed with small quantities of cement, became the binding agent in forming the building walls at the Fort.)

Sir Price then goes on to describe the dwelling houses he observed in the Loup Valley region:

“The houses in the Loup Valley are built in a style of architecture quite peculiar to the locality…Partly owing to the extreme severity of the winter, and partly owing to a great paucity of timber for building purposes, the ground selected for the site of a house, in nine cases out of ten, is so close to a steep hill, that by a little judicious engineering the occupant is enabled to burrow a room out of the mountain. These houses, though small, are comfortable enough, being cool in the summer and hot in winter, but their appearance has a look of originality and desolation not to be found elsewhere. Beeby’s was no exception and a queerer-looking crib I have seldom put up at. Accommodation was necessarily somewhat scanty, but we found a capital hostess, got excellent food and our party of seven were glad enough to settle down for a night in a room of some twelve by fourteen feet, with but three beds between us, where we chatted and smoked well into the midnight… Our next day’s drive was more interesting. Settlements were more scattered, hills began to crop up, we constantly passed for miles close to the banks of the river, and prairie chickens were sufficiently numerous to keep us in active employment until we reached Fort Hartsuff, just in time for dinner.