A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part 2

With Konza Prairie Biological Station to its north and the rich variety of the Tallgrass Prairie to its south,  the Kansas town of Council Grove is perfectly situated to accomodate vacationing families, prairie enthusiasts, nature photographers, and history buffs.

In the 1800s, the trappers, traders, and settlers who passed through town had different concerns. For them, Council Grove was a pivot point, a final opportunity to reconsider their chosen path before moving on.  East of Council Grove, water and wood had been plentiful, and other small communities growing up along the Santa Fe Trail could offer assistance in case of difficulty. Beyond Council Grove, there were more, and arguably less-friendly, Indians. There was less water, less wood for fuel and repairs, and a changing topography that guaranteed new and more difficult struggles.

If a mind-change were to occur, if a new course were to be plotted or a decision made to return to more familiar worlds, it most likely would happen in Council Grove.

At the aptly-named Last Chance Store, westward-bound travelers listened to tales told by eastward-bound traders and pondered their options. Beyond the store, certain necessities of life — an old sign lists them as beans, bacon, and whiskey — would be unobtainable.  The store represented a final commitment, a last chance to purchase and replenish before moving into a world of increasing privation and few guarantees.

As the freighters, soldiers, and adventurers rolled away from Council Grove, the Last Chance Store was one of the last buildings they passed before moving out onto the vast expanse of the plains.  A few recorded their impressions of the day in journals. Most seem to have kept their own counsel. In the midst of it all, the heavy-laden and creaking wagons began to scribe their own version of the tale into the pages of the prairie. The ruts of their wheels, the tracings of their story, still are visible today, only miles from the town.

As I began my own journey away from the Flint Hills and toward the Cimarron River, subtle changes overtook the land. Cottonwood and bluestem were joined by tumbleweed and yucca.  Grain elevators sprouted along the horizon, their silhouettes softened by clouds of blowing dust. Here and there, promontories of rock appeared, their histories predating settlement and statehood by millenia.

I was especially intrigued by Pawnee Rock, a Dakota sandstone formation rising up against the sky not far from the town bearing the rock’s name, and only a hundred yards or so from the old Santa Fe Trail.

Sacred to the Pawnee, the rock served as a meeting place for tribal councils, and as an observation point for buffalo hunters. Sometimes, hunters set their sights on more than buffalo. The Pawnee, Kiowa, Arrapahoe, and Cheyenne all were known to make raids on freighters and caravaners crossing the plains, and the rocks provided a perfect vantage point for their scouts.

For travelers engaged in such crossings, Pawnee Rock was considered to be the half-way point between Franklin and Santa Fe. So many celebrated their arrival at the spot by engraving their names into the soft stone, it’s been said the rock once looked like a hotel register.

One woman who inscribed her name was Susan Shelby Magoffin, the 18-year-old bride of an experienced trader making her first journey across the Trail to Santa Fe and Chihuahua. In her journal entry for July 4, 1846, she wrote:

The wagons left Pawnee Rock some time before us, for I was anxious to see this wonderful curiosity. We went up and… mi alma [“my soul” — Susan’s nickname for her husband, Samuel] with his gun and pistols kept watch, for the wily Indian may always be apprehended here. It is a good lurking place and they are ever ready to fall upon any unfortunate trader behind his company and it is necessary to be careful, so while mi alma watched on the rock above and Jane [Susan’s personal maid] stood by to watch if any should come up on the front side of me, I cut my name, among the many hundreds inscribed on the rock and many of whom I knew.
It was not done well, for fear of Indians made me tremble all over and I hurried it over in any way. This I remarked would be quite an adventure to celebrate the 4th!

Susan, her husband Samuel, and the other members of their party were traveling for convenience and protection with the military — specifically, with the historically significant Kearny Expedition.

When Congress declared war against Mexico on May 14, 1846, President Polk immediately ordered Colonel Stephen W. Kearny to march from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to New Mexico, and to capture the province in the name of the United States.

Kearny was promoted to Brigadier General and went to work assembling his contingent, which eventually numbered between 2,000 – 2,500 men. In his book titled Kearny’s March, Winston Groom says:

It took Kearny less than six weeks to organize, train, equip, and provision his Army of the West. On June 26, 1846, its leading elements marched out of Ft. Leavenworth and turned southward on the the vast plains of Kansas, toward the New Mexican capital, traveling 962 miles.
The trick was to reach Santa Fe quickly and occupy it in the name of the United States of America, before the government in Mexico City could send an army to reinforce the garrison.

When the Expedition reached the halfway point along the Santa Fe Trail, a Private named Robinson and some of his fellow soldiers climbed to the top of Pawnee Rock to see what they could see. What they saw were buffalo. In Robinson’s words:

In this vicinity we saw the first great herd of buffaloes that we had met with. From the top I witnessed one of the greatest sights ever beheld. Far over the plain to the west and north was one vast herd of buffaloes — some in column, marching in their trails, others carelessly grazing. Every acre was covered, until in the distance the prairie became one black mass, from which there was no opening, and extended to the horizon.

Some years later, in May of 1871, Colonel Richard Irving Dodge was able to confirm the vision. In Donald Berthrong’s The Southern Cheyenne, Dodge is quoted as saying:

From the top of Pawnee Rock, I could see from six to ten miles in almost every direction. The whole mass was covered with buffalo, looking at a distance like one compact mass. I have seen such sights a number of times, but never on so large a scale.

My own climb to the top of Pawnee Rock was marked with adventure, but no buffalo. Those great herds are well and truly gone, although I did spot a few grazing behind a fence near the site of historic Fort Larned.

Still, the grasslands support more than buffalo, and if there were to be no buffalo roaming alongside my trail, there would be deer and antelope aplenty, playing, and posing, and exhibiting great curiosity before taking their leave in a rush of hooves and horns.

As I traded the last of the Cimarron grasslands for the Panhandle of Texas, rocks replaced animals as the primary attraction. Palo Duro Canyon is justly famous, but Caprock Canyon State Park is equally striking.

Caprock Canyon also happens to be the home of the Texas State Bison Herd.  Using many of the same techniques utilized on the Konza Prairie, experts are expanding a herd of Southern Bison and slowly enlarging the range available to them.

The bison are descendents of animals saved in 1878 at the request of a kind-hearted Mary Ann Goodnight. Moved by the plight of starving bison calves left because of the slaughter taking place, Mary Ann appealed to her husband, and Charles Goodnight started his own bison herd with a few of the orphaned animals. The wonderful results — and some wonderful footage of bison wandering and wallowing — can be seen here.

I’d planned only one more stop after Caprock Canyon — a return visit to a business I’d discovered more than a decade earlier. Named for the pictographs preserved on a bluff stretching alongside the Concho River, Paint Rock, Texas also is the home of Ingrid’s Handwoven Rugs. I’d purchased a small piece to use as a wall hanging during my first visit. This time, I hoped to find a rug.

A weaving business in Paint Rock isn’t as strange as it might seem. Historically, the town has been a major center for sheep and wool production, and the Edwards Plateau has been home to a majority of the nation’s Angora goats.

When Ingrid’s opened in the old general store in 1979, its owners were Leo and Ingrid Haas. Their second cousin, Austrian-born Reinhard Schoffthaler, came to America as a trained chef and operated a restaurant on Long Island, New York, before opting to take the time-honored advice to “go West, young man.”

He found the Panhandle agreeable, and decided to stay. After purchasing an interest in Ingrid’s business in 1981, he became its owner two years later. There were difficulties along the way, particularly when sheep and angora goat numbers declined, but today the business has adapted and is thriving, with a new focus on custom weaving for people who raise llamas and alpacas.

Friendly and sociable, Reinhard was in the shop the morning I arrived, and offered a tour of his business. It was delightful to see the process from beginning to end, from the storage area for fleece arriving from across the country…

to its cleaning and loosening in the blender…

to the beautiful sheen of finely-carded wool ready to be spun around a jute core.

On the turning drums, the yarn is wound into a coil, ready to be used in weaving.

Some new machinery had been added since my last visit, including this twelve-foot loom, shown here from both sides.

The skill of the weavers is remarkable, not to mention their dedication. Reinhard asked if I thought I could stand there all day, doing such repetitive work. When I said without hesitation that I could, he gave me a quizzical glance. “You’re so certain?” When he learned that I sand and varnish boats for a living, his laughter was infectious. “Well,” he said. “I think maybe you could work here.”

We returned to the showroom, where I selected and paid for my rug. As I did, I noticed another, particularly striking rug lying on the floor. Following my glance, Reinhard said, “That’s a nice one., but it’s not for sale. It’s made from buffalo fur.”

He went on to explain that many ranchers who raise buffalo commercially, or maintain a herd for other purposes, collect the animals’ fur after the spring shedding, then send it along to be woven into rugs and saddle blankets.

A shedding bison is quite a sight. As the winter coat loosens and falls, the animal begins to appear moth-eaten. To hasten the process, the bison rubs against everything in sight, trying to relieve itself of the irritation. Soon, bison fur is everywhere, caught on fence posts and trees, spiky plants and rocks. Birds and other small creatures pluck away bits to line their nests, and humans find their own ways to make good use of the fur.

Seeing my admiration for the unusual rug, Reinhard reached down into a box. “Here,” he said. “Here’s some buffalo fur for you.”

Large enough to fill my hand to overflowing, the puff of fur was lighter than I would have imagined — as light as a feather, lighter than milkweed down, lighter than a handful of prairie grasses.

What seemed at first to be a single clump turned out to be a collection of smaller bits, held together by the slight coarseness of the fur. Soft and springy, the fur compressed easily enough to be hidden in my hand. Released, it stretched and grew in the sunlight, a soft, flat-brown tangle shot through with reddish hairs.

“Reinhard,” I said, “this is perfect. I was hoping to take home a souvenir of the bison, but a paper bag filled with buffalo chips didn’t seem such a good idea.” “Oh, no,” he said. “You need something more special, something nice, to keep. Now you have a good memory, a nice bit of fluff to help you remember the buffalo.”

And so I do. 

On the prairies, winter is lingering. Snow still falls across the bottomlands; north winds swirl and complain around the Konza hills.  Where sunlight slides across the face of Pawnee Rock, shadows play among the frozen ruts below, and the grasses bide their time.

In the midst of it all, the bison stand, patient, impassive, heavily-coated, dreaming of the spring to come — of new grass, new coats, and new calves. Perhaps, if they are lucky or blessed, they may even discover a new future.

They once were lost, these bison of ours, but they are being re-found. At the edge of my desk, close enough to touch, a sweet little puff of buffalo fluff betokens that return.

Comments are welcome. To read Part I of the story, please click HERE. To leave a comment, please click below.

82 thoughts on “A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part 2

  1. Great post. Important history you share, too. The bison video is very important. “Visitor education”! Yes! Bison have killed tourists! They are not cows!

    Love reading more about my ancestors’ home in Kansas. Thanks again for the wonderful posts on this.

    1. Needless to say, Martha, I thought of you when writing again about Council Grove. It was such an interesting, important place — though not yet, in those days, a crossroads.Movement through town was primarily east/west back then. The north/south came later.

      Bison aren’t cows, for sure. Some of the men in Kearny’s expedition wrote about that, and their great surprise to see the bison herds acting in ways they didn’t expect. I was glad to find the terrific video of the Texas bison, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Linda

  2. Linda,
    When you said that I might not know the ending of your travel with the bison fluff, you were right. I would have never thought about collecting the bison fur so that it could be woven into rugs or saddle blankets. Nice ending to your story and your travel to the plains states.

    Konzadocent

    1. Konzadocent,

      There are surprises all around. I never would have thought of weaving with buffalo fur, either. I suppose part of the reason is that I associate wool or fur with shearing, whether of sheep, llamas or alpacas. I never in my life had heard of buffalo shearing, and couldn’t imagine such a thing.

      On the other hand, I didn’t know about the bison losing their winter coats in such a helpful way. I suppose that some — perhaps even most — of the fur might also come from animals whose meat heads to the dinner table. Now that I have this written, I have more quetions than ever. As you know, I’m not averse to calling people to find out stuff. I need to give Ingrid’s a call and ask a few more questions.

      Glad you enjoyed the tale.

      Linda

  3. Another fascinating historical post. I loved the video and have seen some of those chilling photos of the carcasses and skins. I’m sure I read first hand accounts in “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History,” but it may have been elsewhere as well.

    I can’t help think that you know of Quanah Parker,…there’s a town named after him six hours north of you. However, if you haven’t read this book, I encourage you to do so. I can just see a post developing out of the history recounted in that book. There are other places mentioned that are not that far from you.

    1. Martha,

      Texas Parks and Wildlife produces consistently good videos, and the series from Caprock is especially appealing.

      I first saw those photos you mention when I began writing these posts. Chilling is a good word for it. I was especially distressed to see how much of the bone was shipped east for the production of china. As someone who spent a few years collecting and dealing in American china, I’m glad now that bone china wasn’t one of my interests.

      Quanah Parker’s as much a part of Texas history as the Alamo. Interestingly, one of the people he had dealings with was Charles Goodnight. Tom Parker, whose photographs often appear here, is a Kansas photographer who’s done a good bit of research on the entire Parker clan, as has Audrey Kalivoda, whose documentary focuses more directly on Cynthia Ann Parker.

      Just to confirm the six-degrees-of-separation hypothesis, a very, very good friend’s mother was born and raised in Oklahoma as a child, not long after statehood. Her father’s birth certificate listed “Indian Territory” as the place of his birth — and at one point, her father met Quanah Parker. An old sketch of Quanah hung in my friend’s living room, and his family talked about him as though he lived down the block.

      Linda

  4. Not having heard of Susan Shelby Magoffin, I looked her up at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Shelby_Magoffin

    and learned that the rigors of traveling wore her out and damaged her health. She lived only nine years more, dying at the age of 28.

    I recognized the 1946 Kearny Expedition stamp, which I used to have (and probably still have) copies of. I was surprised to find out that Kearny was born in Newark, New Jersey. Of course the place looked very different and no doubt much prettier in 1794 than it did two centuries later.

    1. I had to laugh, Steve, when I watched this shorter video from Caprock Canyon. The question mark butterfly isn’t the only one who uses a question mark – and now I know where the phrase “high-tailing it” comes from.

      It’s a sad coincidence that the miscarriage Susan experienced in late July of 1846 probably was related to a different sort of “mis-carriage”. The same day she carved her name on Pawnee Rock, there was an accident that destroyed her carriage and left her battered and bruised. It is a shame she died so young. Her journal’s delightful.

      I’d missed the fact that Kearny had roots in New Jersey. Of all the details in the account of his exploits that amazed me, perhaps the most amazing was that he outfitted his expedition and got them on the road in six weeks. Perhaps there was less paperwork to be filled out in those days.

      Linda

    1. Gallivanta, I think it was something even more primal than that. In the days of the bison slaughter, there are many reports that she listened to the calves crying and bleating for their mothers, and just couldn’t bear not to do something about it. Apparently there are some in this world that wouldn’t touch, but it certainly touched her.

      What’s most amazing is that, just a hundred and fifty years ago or so, these animals still were here. It raises quite an uncomfortable question – what are we destroying today, that will cause people a century down the road to look back and ask, “Whatever were they thinking?”

      Linda

      1. That is both an uncomfortable and a scary question. Not only what we are destroying but what we are helping to create; things like super bugs resistant to antibiotics.

    1. Z, the truth is that Ingrid’s deserves its own post. The artistry there — the dyeing of the wools, the history of the patterns, the possibility for native weavers to continue their tradition and make a living from it — is just wonderful.

      If you have time and a good connection, you really should check out the link for Paint Rock. There are terrific photos of the native rock art/pictographs — including what may be a Native shaman wearing a bison headdress. Clearly, the paintbrush lived there, too.

      It’s a magical place. Now, I want to see the pictographs myself. Perhaps a journey up that way for the summer solstice is in order.

      Linda

    1. Homestead Ramblings, there are times when I’m amazed by how much I experienced in such a relatively short trip. Part of the fun of writing about it is getting to re-experience it all, sorting out the impressions and drawing connections among them.

      Anaïs Nin said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” That seems exactly on-target to me.

      And yes, I came home with treasure. Of course, one woman’s treasure is another person’s trash. When I’m gone, someone is going to clean this all out, pick up a ratty old pile of dead fur and think, “What in the world is this?” Maybe I should tuck a copy of the story underneath it.

      Linda

  5. Morning Linda:

    I have read so much about the Great Prairies that I sometimes believe I was there in my previous life. The United States is so fortunate for having caring citizens like Mary Ann Goodnight who helped to save the bisons from total annihilation.

    I understand their numbers were once about six million and, due to irresponsible hunting, the population dwindled to less than a thousand. Now the population is recovering, and in some states, you can even eat buffalo steaks.

    The Santa Fe trail also rings a bell. The ruts made by the wheels of the wagons were so deep you can still see them from the International Space Station.

    Wonderful information and pictures. We can’t thank you enough!

    Warm Regards,

    Omar.-

    1. Omar,

      I suspect you know more about the American West than a high percentage of our school students. Curiosity and interest are great learning tools, as you know.

      I’ve seen so many numbers it’s hard to say, but I do know that the herds in Texas once numbered around 4-5 million. If our state supported that many, I can’t even guess how many million there once were. There are reports that the last buffalo was killed in Kansas in 1887. To think of that near-extinction taking place in such a short time is almost beyond belief.

      But yes, they are recovering, and buffalo is available at my meat market, as well as at various farmers’ markets around the area. I buy it ground from time to time, but I’ve seen that steaks also are available.

      One of the sites I used during my trip is this one, which shows aerial views. They’re much older (in terms of photographic techniques and so on – no satellite views here!) but the driving instructions were very useful for someone not using GPS coordinates (me).

      If you click on the link for Schmidt Ruts #1, you’ll find a terrific set of photos that show the ruts very clearly, on the left side. The MIddle Springs and Point of Rocks views show other places where I did quite a bit of exploring on foot. Middle Springs was beautiful – someday I’ll do a post on the Cimarron Grasslands, but I don’t want to wear people out with Kansas. ;)

      Linda

  6. Very interesting. I watched a Dirty Jobs episode a couple of years ago when he worked in a shop that appeared to do the same as this one you showcased. The machines were old, unshielded, and super dangerous to be near. They could eat you alive before being shut off.

    I have two buffalo comments. While living near Fermilab west of Chicago, I often passed by their herd. It was started to symbolize the prairie that once thrived in that area long ago. https://www.fnal.gov/pub/about/campus/ecology/wildlife/bison.html

    Back about 20 years, we vacationed in the Black Hills. One morning early, we drove to the Custer Lodge for breakfast. As we drove out of the forest and into a big meadow we encountered hundreds of buffalo grazing in the early morning light on the moist dew-laden grasses. The road went through the center of the herd. We slowed to a crawl and got in the middle when they sort of crowded us to a halt. Our 5 yr old son was in the back with mouth open. We sat in amazement as they grunted and ambled on by. When the dark brown sea parted, we were on our way.

    1. Jim,

      I originally included some information about the machinery in the post, then removed it for the sake of length. It all came either from Germany or North Carolina, and any needed repairs are done in-shop. I didn’t see anything that looked quite as lethal as you describe, but it’s clear that you’d want to mind your hands (and arms, and perhaps even legs) when you were around some of that equipment. Lots of pullies and wheels and such there – although there were more looms than anything else.

      That’s a great article about the Fermilab herd, and it answered a question for me. The bison in Canada are woods bison – presumably, the buffalo that the city in New York was named for. Interesting, too, that across the lake at NASA, a herd of deer is kept. It’s good that they’re putting their land to use as something other than a safety barrier.

      That experience you had in the Black Hills is identical to experiences recorded by early travelers across the plains. The herds would part for the wagons, too, and then close in behind them, just like a parting of the seas. My dream now is to experience the same sort of free-roaming herd. Caprock Canyon is the closest, I suppose, but there are other places I’ve not been where there are bison on the land.

      What an experience for you all in the Black Hills, but especially for your son. Just wonderful.

      Linda

  7. The buffalo of the Great Plains is the equivalent of the Wildebeest of the Serengeti Plains of Africa. Their winter coat so well insulates them that snow falling on their backs does not melt, pretty amazing when you think of the amount of heat an animal that size would generate. (The sign of a poorly insulated roof is the snow melts.)

    1. WOL,

      One of my favorite photos of the Konza bison is this one, taken by Chod Hedinger. It shows that snow on the mountainous buffalo humps, and is just terrific — he’s used it on his business card, and it shows just as nicely there.

      I never thought about the reason the snow clings, but of course that makes sense. It’s been quite some time since I’ve thought about snow on rooftops, too, but you’re right about the insulation. When I was growing up in the midwest, roofs always were covered with snow. It wasn’t until I moved to the Land of Occasional Snow that I’d see those rooftops clearing off fast.

      Linda

  8. Another amazing part of the story. It’s so sad that people hunted the buffalo just for fun. The only real live buffalo I’ve seen was in a zoo, and he was in the middle of losing his fur. I’ve never seen a more bedraggled-looking creature!

    1. I suppose it was for fun and profit, Ruth, but I’ve also wondered if, at times, the sale of the hides and bones wasn’t an after-the-fact response to looking around at the dead creatures and thinking, “Well, now what?”

      The shedding bison call up a funny memory. My mother had an old (c.1940s) fur coat that she never wore after she reached 60 or so. She said it was just too bulky, too heavy. After her death, when I was cleaning things out, I found that coat, and still was in the process of wondering what to do with it when it almost literally starting falling apart in my hands. I didn’t keep those clumps of fur, though. We memory-hoarders have our limits.

      Linda

  9. Linda, thanks for taking me along on this journey. I’ve been fascinated by the American Bison ever since I saw my first one. Over the years I have stumbled across a number on ranches around the state.

    When I lived for a while with my grandparents in south Texas a neighboring rancher had acquired a breeding trio. Every time we would pass their pasture we would stop and watch for awhile. Seems we were never in too much of a hurry to get anywhere that we couldn’t kill a half hour or so to watch those magnificent animals. I am looking at a black and white photo I took back then from so close that I couldn’t even get the entire head of the bull in the frame.

    Thanks for pulling up the memories…

    1. Gary,

      It’s amazing, the way things like a herd of bison can stop us in our tracks. In some ways, watching a herd (or even a group, for all that) is like watching the ocean. It doesn’t really change from minute to minute, at least in its essence, but it’s never the same.

      You started me wondering how many herds of bison there might be in the state. What I discovered wasn’t a direct answer, but I did find the Texas State Bison Association. It looks like it’s essentially an analog to groups like the Texas Cattlemen’s Association, but it’s a bit of good news that it exists. This year’s conference is in Fredericksburg. I’m not sure I want to cough up the registration fee, but from the looks of the people in the photos, I have the right wardrobe.

      Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t have to rely only on black and white photos to remember these wonderful creatures?

      Linda

  10. What a perfect souvenir. Your comments about the fluff and lightness of the buffalo fur reminded me of when I plucked a tuft of wolf fur from the fence at Wolf Haven. I was astounded by how soft it was. I expected wolf fur to feel coarse, like gray hair.

    1. Rosemary, I went looking in your blog for Wolf Haven, but didn’t find it. I think this must be the place you’re referring to, since it’s in Washington. What a wonderful place to visit. We have coyotes, of course, but the gray wolf is nearly gone. When cattle and cattlemen arrived, the war was on – you can read that tale here, if you’re so inclined.

      A humorous note: when I opened the page for Wolf Haven, I couldn’t quite identify what I was hearing, or even where it was coming from. In a few seconds, I figured out it was wolf calls, from the website, but Dixie Rose was ahead of me. As soon as those wolf cries began, she roused out of her nap and was at full attention on the sofa. Even when it’s a house cat and a recorded cry, the natural impulses endure.

      Linda

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, nia. I wish I could have provided better (and more natural) photos of the bison, but there are plenty of photographs online, taken by people with far more skill. Maybe this spring I’ll go hunting buffalo again – but with my camera.

      Linda

  11. OK, so of course I want to know, is the buffalo fur hanging out with your tumbleweed now? I absolutely love the photos of the weaving. We had a neighbor with looms in her house, and for a while I had a little one of my own. I loved the way her shuttle zoomed back and forth, and the beautiful rugs and scarfs and all of that. I don’t know that I’d want to do it all day, but there is something meditative about it, sort of puts you in a “zone.” PS: Caprock Canyon is gorgeous!

    1. Susan,

      No, the tumbleweed found a perfect home high atop a bathroom cabinet. It’s a perfect fit, and is well out of the way of any kitties who might take a sudden urge to play. The buffalo fur’s in a little basket with the other treasures from the fall trip: bur oak acorns, a perfect cicada shell, a couple of snail shells, and a prairie primrose seed case. My place is slowing taking on the appearance of an alcove in the attic of a natural history museum. At least I keep the skulls outside.

      Actually, your description of loom work reminds me of the sanding I do. The vanishing requires too much focus, too much attentiveness, to allow for any other thought. But sanding great swaths of wood? You can think, or dream, of simply listen to the birds. It’s greatly refreshing.

      Caprock Canyon is absolutely stunning. Even outside the park there are wonderful vistas and particular formations that are reminiscent of New Mexico. I was sorry not to have time for Palo Duro on my trip, but that’s just a good excuse to go back.

      Linda

  12. This article was absolutely wonderful. Full of historical facts and great adventures. Loved it!

    1. It was a wonderful trip, and it’s given me great delight to recall and reshape it in order to share it with others.

      Thanks so much for your gracious words. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Linda

  13. I doubt anyone else could get me to read something with Puff, Fluff and Buffalo together in the title and I’m certain no one else could wrap up and deliver the package in the last paragraph.

    I mentioned “Buffalo Fluff” to my wife because she has been Felting for a few years and she said:
    “Didn’t you notice that there is a Buffalo Ranch near here? You drive past the sign every time you go to town.”
    They are only open a couple of Sundays each month and I will be going south this Sunday but someday I’ll visit:
    http://www.m-star.ca/index.html

    1. Ken,

      I really enjoyed exploring that site you linked. My sense of things is that even the commercial bison operations are doing their part to educate about the animal’s history and importance in the larger scheme of things.

      Has you wife ever done anything with buffalo fur? I went looking and discovered that Stetson has an extensive line of Western and Australian-style hats made from buffalo fur. I wouldn’t even have thought to look, except a pair of crafty girls over in England were blogging some time back about cat fur felt. I collected some of Dixie’s and gave it a go, but it’s nothing that I’d want to spend too much time on. It didn’t look as good as Stetson’s buffalo felt, either.

      I’ll tell you, after I set out to write this one, there were a few times I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get from Point A to Point B. I’ve heard the phrase “controlling the narrative” before, but I didn’t really have much idea what that meant. Now, I think I do. I’m glad you hung in!

      Linda

      1. I had wondered why I liked the Stetson more than the others – it just “felt” better.
        No, I have not seen any Buffalo fluff around the felting projects here yet but I was a week off with our departure date so we could check out the local Buffalo Ranch this Sunday.
        The lady we are going to see in Eugene is more or less the instigator:
        http://www.tylarmerrill.com/
        She may well appreciate some Buffalo Fluff if I can garner it.
        Our winters are mild compared to any prairie so I would not expect a buffalo’s winter coat produced around here would be especially tough but it might be easier to work with.

        1. That’s a fascinating site you linked. There’s always more than meets the eye to some of these arts/crafts, and that surely is true with hers. When I think of “felting”, I think of my mom knitting something and then throwing it in the washer and/or dryer. Clearly, there can be more to it than that.

          And I learned some new words, – like “nepp”.

          Something else I learned at Ingrid’s is that different qualities of fleece have different purposes – even if it comes from the same animal. For example, the longest, silkiest strand from the alpaca are used for yarn. Shorter and coarser fur ends up in the rugs.

          Have fun on your explorations!

  14. Thanks for this. Loved the photos, and especially the description of the buffalo puff!

    As you wrote of the grain elevators upon leaving Flint Hills, I was reminded of the Canadian prairies and the elevators there. These markers of local communities are pretty much all shut down now, with large agracorps centralizing grain distribution etc. Like the buffalo, these are disappearing, but I don’t hold forth hope for their reappearance. Here and there, communities have stopped their dismantling, but in the main they are slowly fading.

    1. Allen,

      I’ve decided that perhaps my bit of buffalo fur hasn’t been washed or cleaned yet. In the process of moving it around, taking photos and so on, I’ve discovered a very fine, gritty substance – like fine sand – falling out of it. Maybe I’ve got some buffalo wallow to go along with my fur.

      We still have rice elevators here in Texas, and probably more for other grains than I realize. In Kansas, many of the elevators I saw were Co-ops that not only stored grain, but also served as gas stations. I bought fuel at them a couple of times, and discovered they’re great places to meet local folks.

      There are changes, though. In some towns, there was corn stored in great, white “things” that looked for all the world like circus tents staked down to the ground. I don’t know if they simply were protecting overflow, or if it’s a new technology that’s been adopted.

      There’s nothing like an elevator on the horizon, though.Who needs a map or compass (ok — or a GPS) when you have grain elevators to navigate by? If you can get to an elevator, you’re not going to be far from coffee, and maybe even pie.

      Linda

  15. Your post is such a pleasant break from the current annoying politics and yelling.

    History told well is a story. I love all the old names of places – sign posts of our past. The Goodnight herd is genetically important. So thankful someone took in the orphans and managed the herd so well.

    Love the buffalo fluff! Take that, all you people who snort our buffies are mistreated – just look at their coats! Buffs shed like sheep and it’s not going to waste.

    You probably would make a weaver – I had a large loom made in Canada at one time, but ended working/sculpting off loom more that on – it’s confining. Made a few rugs and fabric for vests/coats/purses, but eventually passed it on to one more in tune with sitting and appreciating a steady rhythm. Loom rooms are fascinating – such sounds! Thanks for sharing the sights and sounds…ahhhhh

    1. phil,

      No yelling here – unless it might be an occasional Yee-HAW! in honor of the Livestock Show and Rodeo.

      Speaking of names, I just heard on the radio this evening about Buffalo Gap, Texas. I confess I’ve missed that one.It turns out that it’s just south of Abilene, where I stayed on my way through the Panhandle. And apparently they have a heck of a steakhouse there, named Perini’s, that has a huge metal armadillo out front. Of course the town was named for a gap the buffalo traveled through on their way to graze on the plains farther north. Start looking around, and those buffalo are everywhere.

      Speaking of buffalo fur not going to waste, I didn’t know until I mentioned to Ken, up above, that Stetson makes hats from buffalo fur – felts the stuff.

      One of my mother’s friends had a daughter who succumbed to the lure of the loom. She quit a nursing job, moved to Minnesota, bought some land, some sheep, a spinning wheel and a loom, and went to work. She taught herself the craft, and proceeded to make a living from it. Mom and her friend used to have long conversations about the two of us, that could be summed up as “What is WITH these kids of ours?”

      Didn’t you have a spinning wheel at one time? Or am I remembering the loom?

      Linda

  16. Oh, another piece I love! Oh, and I covet your buffalo fluff! What a great souvenir of your trip. Long ago, I visited some weavers up in the Smoky Mountains. I dreamed of doing that one day . . . . . on a smaller scale . . . and then I visited an alpaca farm and dreamed some more. Life is full of dreams. Thanks for another fantastic bit of travel journalism, Linda.

    1. Bayou Woman,

      Maybe we need to do some bartering – a little buffalo fluff for some beignets!

      I just barely remember the Smoky Mountains. I went there as a youngster with my folks, and I remember the “smoke” more than anything. Later, I learned more about Appalachia, the music and the crafts, and of course now it’s on the list of places I’d love to go – but as you say, life is full of dreams.

      I’m not sure how alpacas would do down there on the bayou. Do people have them? I can’t imagine that – it seems as though trapping is more the thing than farming. And weren’t the furs generally traded? Of course, I could be completely wrong about that. Always more questions!

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the tale. Pretty soon it ought to be time for you to be telling us more about fish tails!

      Linda

  17. Fascinating! Thank you for making us aware of the Texas State Bison Herd. Thank goodness for the vision of Mary and Charles Goodnight, that the bison herd is growing and there is another vision to expand the land where they roam from 300 to 1,000 acres.

    I can’t help but think that the information I sent you that comes from AZ about the buffalo, only captures information about cousins of the TX bison. Certainly, each herd has to be unique. Here, you make me wonder about the relation of the Wood Bison and Plains Bison to the auroch you wrote about last year. It’s a sad thought that once these animals that roamed the Northern Plains and Southern Plains probably blended as one, however today they roam in isolated pockets from one another..

    The bison was quite a commodity back in 1877. One can understand the slaughter but certainly not condone it. By shooting one, our Native Americans and buffalo hunters provided themselves with nourishment, clothing, home furnishings, tools, utensils, weapons…the list goes on. After Council Grove and the Last Chance Store, settlers were provided by the buffalo.

    Wonderful post! Reinhard gifted a puff of fluff to an appreciative admirer. Your image of a bison herd, lazy but not stationery, ever-changing is poetic. Yes, just as we dare not interfere with our national symbol, the American bald eagle, we must also, preserve the buffalo.

    Your photo of the blankets organized on wooden racks remind me so much of Mexican serape factories, or Ecuadorian poncho shops. Before there were political boundaries, there was the “juego de pelota” that extended from the Southern Americas into AZ, there was weaving that extended even further. This post is about space and time, too.

    1. Georgette,

      As it turns out, the Woods bison (“Bison bison athabascae”) is a subspecies of the Plains bison (Bison bison). I didn’t realize that it roamed Alaska at one time. It’s extinct there, but it was native to Canada and the northeastern U.S.

      Somewhere on one of the sites devoted to the Plains bison, I read that the railroad was primarily responsible for dividing the herds into north and south. That’s why the Texas bison are genetically different than those farther north. They got headed off at the pass, so to speak.

      From what I can tell, the auroch were ancestors of the European bison (Bison bonasus) or Wisent. It appears that there still are arguments over the proper classification and the exact relationship, but they are separate species.

      Interesting that you should bring up the overlaying of political boundaries over life. I just was talking with someone about Liberia, and the problems in Africa of imposing geopolitical boundaries across tribal lines. Language, cultural ties, traditions and beliefs are not so easily divided up by the logic of bureaucracies. Africa paid the price for generations.

      Which reminds me – many of the weavers who work at Ingrid’s are traditional weavers, Native Americans who have found a way to keep their traditional skills alive in this wonderful way.

      Thanks again for the additional information. I really appreciate it.

      Linda

  18. Oh wow again.I am late getting back to this post to comment. So many things to mention and I wanted to address as many as I could remember but I’m afraid I’ll have to settle for a few. I must as usual offer praise for this magnificient post with so much info about the buffalo, the prairie, the Pawnees, caprock, Stetson hats, weaving, the buffalo fluff and, oh my goodness I’m out of breath.

    The photos are excellent. I really like the antelope, the buffalo, and the photos of the shop that does the cording and weaving of alpaca and llama wool.

    There is a town in Oklahoma named Pawnee and I can’t remember from post no. 1, if you mentioned Buffalo, Texas which is in east Texas.

    All in all you had to have made copious notes and researched quite a bit for this post. I thank you, Linda for all your hard work. Your words and info are enlightening and refreshing.

    ~yvonne

    1. Yvonne,

      Nope, I missed both Buffalo and Buffalo Gap. But I’ve made it to Pawnee, Oklahoma. One thing’s for sure – as we learn a little more history, the town names become more understandable. Or, it can be reversed – start with a name, and learn the history as you figure out why in the world it was chosen.

      It really is true that the animals, the land, and the human history all are woven together, just like one of those rugs. Even the geology counts. One of the books I bought along the way is a geological guidebook to Kansas. You can pick a highway, find it in the book, and voila! All of the interesting cliffs, hills, watering holes, oil interests and general rocks are right there, mile by mile.

      I do need to learn to take better notes – or at least more complete. I was looking through one of my books, and came across several scraps of paper with “important stuff” written on them. I have no idea what I was thinking about, or why I wrote down what I did. Oh, well.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. You really would have enjoyed Paint Rock and Ingrid’s. It’s such an old, dusty town – one of those that has a marvelous, fancy courthouse built in its heydey. Today, other towns like Abilene and Amarillo have sucked a lot of the commercial life out of it. But it’s still pleasant, and very interesting.

      Linda

  19. What an interesting post. So many familar names from my years of reading: Council Grove, Charlie Goodnight, Pawnee Rock, General Kearney. It makes me want to re-read ‘Centenial’ again.

    The decimation of the bison herds was despicable. White hunters used to pride themselves on getting what they called a ‘stand.’ Most of the time the bison were shot by skinners but I’ve read that sometimes it was just for a total score. “How many can I drop before they spook?”

    http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dxb01

    http://www.livestockweekly.com/papers/99/08/26/whlbuffguns.asp

    The Native Americans subscribed to total use of an animal, predating the current ‘nose to tail’ movement by centuries. The Plains tribe’s entire lifestyle orbited the bison. Bison were revered.

    Moving on to happier subjects, I enjoyed reading about your tour through Ingrid’s. While I find weaving intriguing, I’d be a bit leery of getting too close to all that machinery!

    Do they sell a limited number of bison fur rugs and were just out or was that one just for display purposes?

    I’d have brought home a bit of bison fluff, though Hubby would grumble about the addition to my odd ‘bits and pieces’ in the house.

    1. Gué,

      I’ll have to forward to you the piece that Georgette sent to me. It has the most complete description I’ve ever seen of how the Indians used each part of the bison. Nearly everyone knows or can figure out meat, hide, clothing and so on, but it was far more complex than that.

      And in the same way, we learned in school that hunters decimated the herds, but I had no idea that it happened in such a short period of time. The simple truth is that once such resources (and marvels) are gone, they’re gone. Rainforest. Redwoods. Salmon. Etc., ad nauseum. But maybe we’re learning, just a bit. At least there are people now dedicated to bring back some of what was lost.

      There was more room at Ingrid’s than it appears from the photos – certainly there was plenty of room to move around the machinery. But beyond that, I suspect the people who work there do exactly what I do at work: focus. In twenty two years, I can remember tipping over two cans of varnish. Maybe three. But the whole time I’m working, I’m thinking, “Where’s that varnish can?” I really concentrated the first five years, and then it began to become second nature. I suppose the people at Ingrid’s know where that machinery is, too.

      They don’t sell any bison rugs at all. Much of their weaving is consignment, and all of the buffalo is. People who have the fur send it to them, they produce the rugs (or whatever) and send them back to the people who provided the raw material in the first place – with the appropriate charge for processing and weaving.
      It’s really a great business plan. They don’t have to worry about maintaining a herd, and can do much more weaving than if they were dependent solely on their own stock.

      You’d love the buffalo fluff. I’m not sure what Gus would think about it, though.

      Linda

  20. Oh Linda, this post is so rich and filled with so very much, I don’t even know where to begin — so I will start with what you probably would imagine I would — your great fortune to visit the rug store and get a tour! Oh, I’d be in seventh heaven seeing how all that is done. And then to have a very special “souvenir” of your visit to the region — the soft, lovely fur. That truly is a gift and I can imagine your face as you were presented with it! The rug is lovely but I want to see YOURS!

    I really love the historical bits you include in this post — they add such richness and also define so clearly the differences of traveling then and now. What a journey that must have been. Not my cuppa, I think, back then!

    And then the antelope — what a fabulous photo and how lucky you were to see such nature first hand. And Last Chance store — someone was witty! Yes, much to love here!

    1. Jeanie,

      You would have loved Ingrid’s. There’s so much to see, and the showroom was filled with rugs of all sizes and patterns. I’ll get a photo of my rug for you this weekend. It’s llama – and you should have seen Dixie when I brought it home. Apparently it still had a strong llama scent, and she just went crazy — rolling on it, biting it, yowling at it. It really was funny. It also suggested my decision not to bring another cat into the house may be the better part of wisdom.

      I was surprised to see so much wildlife. There were mule deer and pronghorns everywhere between Dodge City and the Cimarron Grasslands. Some fellows I met told me there are elk, too, but they tend to stay more to the woods and rivers.

      You might be surprised to read how some of the folks traveled back then. Susan Magoffin had her own carriage, her maidservant, a tent that was put up every night, and so on. It wasn’t her old Kentucky home, that’s true. But she wasn’t having to throw a bedroll on the ground every night, either.

      Just down the street and across from the Last Chance store, there was the Terwilliger home — the last house people on the trail saw when leaving Council Grove. It has quite a history, too, and I was lucky enough to have some long talks with the people who restored it. The fellow’s family has been in Council Grove or around there for many, many generations – since the initial settling of the land.

      Glad you enjoyed it. Now, we need to move on to “your post”, with your locks!

      Linda

  21. I can only imagine Private Robinson’s excitement to see his “first great herd of buffaloes.” Can you imagine the dust such a herd could kick up when on the move? It would be visible for miles. We can only read about those enormous herds.

    Aren’t you the lucky one to receive a personal tour of Ingrid’s Handwoven Rugs. I would have enjoyed that, too. What an operation. Great pics.

    1. Bella Rum,

      One of the things I keep thinking about is the sense of discovery that must have marked so much travel back then. People heard reports and rumors, and there were articles and illustrations in publications like “Harper’s Weekly”, but they just didn’t have a clue until they actually reached, say, Pawnee Rock, and climbed up to see for themselves.

      When the winds came through the Texas Panhandle day before yesterday, the phenomenon called a “haboob” took place. It’s an enormous dust storm. I thought about the buffalo when I saw the pics, like this. Clearly, the haboob beats the buffalo in terms of dust, but it’s still a reminder of what the passage of those large herds must have been like.

      Linda

  22. How brave these pioneer women were! Going into virtually unexplored territory, often with a man who was practically a stranger, must have been so frightening. To think that most of us came from such strong “stock” should inspire us to reach for the stars, too!

    1. Debbie,

      I’ve been thinking about this. I’m not sure the ones who truly were frightened ever hit the trail. I haven’t done much reading, but I’ve done some, and it seems to me that most of them were in the position of Susan Magoffin carving her name in the rock – they were a little ambivalent about what they were doing, they were aware of the dangers and cautious because of it, but they carried on.

      Sometimes I wonder if one of their great advantages wasn’t an understanding that life itself is unexplored territory. Staying home isn’t necessarily any more secure than hitting the trail! That surely applies to us, too – which is just another reason to admire the pioneers and think of them as role models.

      By the way – Susan had a dog who traveled with her. His name was Ring, and she described him as being white with brown spots and being of “noble descent.”

      Linda

    1. Bill, there’s no question that having that spinning wheel would be better than spinning my wheels. I’ve done entirely too much of that over the winter and now into “spring” — as have you.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the tale.

      Linda

  23. A perfect follow up to part one, Linda. A highly enjoyable read, and once again, some beautiful images. The Last Chance Store looks really quaint, and I love the name. Interesting, too, that they’re raising llamas and alpacas for the wool. They happen to be doing the same thing in Australia, too, by the way.

    1. Andrew,

      One of the great things about Kansas is that so many of the buildings were made of stone. Because of it, these historic places like the Last Chance Store still survive pretty much as they were in the mid-1800s. Seth Hays, a founder of Council Grove, built a large stone barn on his property that still is standing. It’s been adopted by the historically-minded folk now, so it will be around for a good long time. Many of the historic stone fences still are in place, too.

      Texas is just filled with llama ranches. I’m not sure about the alpacas, but they must be around, too. I think that the increasing demand for natural fiber has played into it, and I’ve heard that some people who are allergic to sheep’s wool can wear alpaca.

      It surprises me to hear about them being raised in Australia, but I’m learning how much I don’t know about both Australia and New Zealand, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

      Linda

  24. “…north winds swirl and complain around the Konza hills. Where sunlight slides across the face of Pawnee Rock, shadows play among the frozen ruts below, and the grasses bide their time.”

    I usually don’t like descriptions of landscape, and tend to skip past them. But you have a way of getting me to slow down, and read them two or three times.

    1. I have a hypothesis, Charles. For good or for ill, I have a tendency to anthropomorphize the world around us. Because of that, I tend to write about landscape as a living thing — a “complaining wind”, for example.

      Some descriptions of landscape tend toward passivity, as though the natural world is nothing more than a stage set, scenery for “the real action”. That can lead to a lot of “the sun was shining” or “the grasses were more red than usual.” That’s not as interesting to me as the thought of grasses biding their time, or winds that complain.

      In any event, knowing that I could hook you in for a re-read or two is wonderful.

      Linda

    1. Oh, my goodness, Gué. Of course I remember angora sweaters. And pearls. If you were wearing one of those sweaters, the odds are pretty good you’d be wearing a single strand of pearls, or a crystal drop, and you had a matching skirt.

      My favorite set was a deep, forest green. The skirt was some sort of nubby fabric, and I’d give anything to have it back now. Not that it would do me much good. As I recall, it was a size 7.

      Linda

  25. OH a sweet little puff of Buffalo fluff….a great memento. I am so glad there are some adults left who would keep such items just as a young child treasures natural mementos like that. Nice to never loose that sense or wonder or sentimentality over a tangible keepsake.

    I did want to say that the landscapes you captured are truly beautiful!!

    1. Judy,

      I rarely purchase souvenirs, although books and music are exceptions. Well, and the occasional photograph. I much prefer things that take me back to specific bits of land when I look at them. Seed cases, feathers, acorns, grasses — a tumbleweed! — connect me to those certain places and times far more than a tee shirt with a bit of art on it.

      The land was beautiful. I found myself wondering a time or two if its openness and that clean, spare horizon didn’t serve as encouragement to the pioneers. By the time I got past Dodge City, the urge to just keep going was nearly irresistable. The little matter of the Rocky Mountains would have been far easier for me, of course. I’m not quite sure how I would have felt if I’d confronted those for the first time in a wagon pulled by oxen.

      Linda

      1. I’d imagine even as travel weary as the pioneers must have been at times, that an expanse as beautiful and wild as the possibilities they were after, drew them onward!! Exciting times truly!

  26. Such an interesting part of the country Linda. You write a fascinating history, one which I have missed in my travels. You touched on so many points, one of which was the shedding of the buffalo and uses for its shed. I once bought a coat of fake “fur”: which became so ratty I called it my “dead buffalo coat”. I became a recognizably odd sight around the campus.

    1. Kayti,

      There was one of those coats drifting around our family at one time. It was raccoon, and I’m not even sure who it belonged to. It hung at my grandparents’ house for a while, and the it arrived at our house. Perhaps it was my dad’s, from his wild bachelor days. Who knows? Eventually, it fell apart, but not before reaching a point where it, too, could qualify as a “dead buffalo coat.”

      Actually, I imagine you as rather fetching in such a get-up. Besides, a trademark garment like that does make it easier for people to pick us out in a crowd!

      Linda

  27. Your posts always make me want to pack a bag and jump in the car. What an amazing visit to Reinhard’s store and impromptu tour. Something about seeing the whole creation process of something you’re about to purchase gives the object a certain richness.

    1. nikkipolani,

      The only thing I didn’t get to do was scratch the ears of the llama who provided the wool for my rug.

      The best thing about the tour was Reinhard himself. He has such enthusiasm for his work, even after so many years. I think he must be a natural marketing genuis, but it’s also true that the development of the internet has made working from a town like Paint Rock possible. It’s not exactly in the middle of Nowhere, but it’s not exactly a Destination, either.

      Like so many old Texas towns, it does have a terrific courthouse — both then and now.

      Linda

  28. 1985 blasted across the Konza? or some other KSU area prairie in a S10 pickup checking on some native grasses to perhaps cross up with some other small grain seeds. Was promised buffalo sighting but got prairie chickens instead. Dang I think I’ll drive out there again in about a month.

    1. Blu, the prairie chickens are as much of an attraction now as the bison. They have blinds built where you can watch the “booming”. The only thing is, you have to show up before dawn and commit to staying in the blind for something like two hours. I saw those blinds while I was there. They’re not built for comfort, that’s for sure.

      Still, there are plenty of attractions, and the herd’s bigger now. It might improve your chances on seeing bison. And don’t forget, the Tallgrass Prairie’s just south about an hour and a half or so. They’ve got a nice herd, too — and down in the bottomlands, there’s access to Fox Creek for fishing.

      Linda

  29. Linda, I read through the story, this is just amazing. I am so thankful you take time to research in detail, and write it up so beautifully with much passion!! Thank you so much. I am still looking forward to reading all comments and replies and checking out the links. Very excited to go out and learn more about buffalos.

    1. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Bee, I write for my own pleasure: out of curiosity, mostly, but also to preserve experiences for myself. The fact that other people seem to enjoy my prowling around through the land and through history is a plus. Everyone likes to share things they like with other people!

      A farm woman in Kansas whose blog I enjoy posted this video of her visit to the Tallgrass in spring. It’s a wonderful view of the babies frolicking in their natural environment.

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