George Causey: High plains pioneer

By Ruth Burns: Special to the CNJ

No story of the High Plains would be complete without mentioning T.L. “George” Causey, for whom Causey was named.

Causey was a rancher, freighter, and most famously, a buffalo hunter. It was his heavy wagons and ox teams hauling the hides to market that made the Portales Road more easily followed by travelers on the Llano Estacado.

In the 1860s George Causey had worked for the U.S. Government in Kansas hauling supplies to the Army outposts with a mule team. He soon formed a buffalo hunting outfit and began following the herds as they moved southward into Texas on their annual migration.

In the early days before the plains were settled, vast herds of buffalo, containing up to 5,000 animals, ranged the prairie from south Texas to Canada. They were hunted by the Hispanic explorers in the 1700s and were the main source of food for the Indian tribes. The Indians followed the buffalo as they migrated with the seasons and used every part of the animal — meat, hide, bone and sinew.

As the land along the Rio Grande was occupied, the Hispanic settlers from Las Vegas, N.M. and Fort Sumner made annual hunting trips to the plains to hunt the buffalo and antelope for their winter meat. After the meat was “jerked,” that is sliced and dried, it would keep indefinitely.

As the Civil War came to a conclusion in the East, the market for buffalo hides skyrocketed and hunters came increasingly to the plains of Texas. Many of these hunters were ex-soldiers looking for the excitement of living on the frontier and hoping to make a “stake.”

After finding a herd, the usual method of hunting was to set up a stand, as the grazing herd moved slowly and were not startled by occasional gunshots. By shooting from the stand, a hunter could kill a whole herd of animals without moving his position.

After a buffalo was killed, a skinner would come in and skin the animal, stretch the hide, and peg it to the ground to dry. After drying, the hides would be stacked and loaded into the wagons for hauling to a buyer.

Some hunters would salt and smoke the hams for sale to the army, but the meat was usually left to the wolves. Occasionally the tongue and hump would be taken, as they were considered delicacies.

According to John R. Cook in “The Border and The Buffalo,” at times, five to 25 groups of hunters would be strung out around a large herd within sound of each other’s rifle shots.

Every man carried an ammunition box containing a reloading outfit, consisting of bullet molds, primer extractor, swedge, tamper, patch-paper, and lubricator. The spent rifle shells would be collected and reloaded at night after supper by melting bar lead and adding powder and primers.

Each camp had a heavy two-wheeled cart pulled by six to eight mules or oxen. In addition, there were one or two lighter wagons which were pulled by horses, one containing the provisions and camp outfit.

The camp outfit usually consisted of a couple of Dutch ovens, several large frying pans, two coffee pots, camp kettles, bread pans, a coffee grinder, and tin plates, cups, cutlery, and the all-important sour dough crock. Another wagon carried bedrolls, tools, grindstone, ammunition, and extra guns.

The grub box usually contained coffee beans, flour, salt, navy beans, and bacon. The hunter’s diet was mostly the ever-present buffalo meat and was only occasionally supplemented by dried or canned fruit.

In the early 1870s, the Kiowa and Comanche Indian tribes roamed the country and made it hazardous for the buffalo hunters. But after the fight at Adobe Walls in 1874, Gen. Ranald McKenzie succeeded in rounding up the last of the tribes and taking them to a reservation at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Ruth Burns has taken her information from the research and interviews of her mother, Rose Powers “Mrs. Eddie” White and from the books: “Cowboy Life on the Llano Estacado” by V. W. Whitlock, “The Border and the Buffalo” by John R. Cook, and “Buffalo Days” by J. Wright Mooar. She may be contacted at rwburns11@gmail.com