Articles of wearing apparel made of buffalo’s hair are interesting as curiosities, for their rarity makes them so, but that is the only end they can ever serve so long as there is a sheep living.
In the National Museum, in the section of animal products, there is displayed a pair of stockings made in Canada from the finest buffalo wool, from the body of the animal. They are thick, heavy, and full of the coarse, straight hairs, which it seems can never be entirely separated from the fine wool. In general texture they are as coarse as the coarsest sheep’s wool would produce.
With the above are also displayed a rope-like lariat, made by the Comanche Indians, and a smaller braided lasso, seemingly a sample more than a full-grown lariat, made by the Otoe Indians of Nebraska. Both of the above are made of the long, dark-brown hair of the head and shoulders, and in spite of the fact that they have been twisted as hard as possible, the ends of the hairs protrude so persistently that the surface of each rope is extremely hairy.
Buffalo chips.—Last, but by no means least in value to the traveler on the treeless plains, are the droppings of the buffalo, universally known as “buffalo chips.” When over one year old and thoroughly dry, this material makes excellent fuel. Usually it occurs only where fire-wood is unobtainable, and thousands of frontiersmen have a million times found it of priceless value. When dry, it catches easily, burns readily, and makes a hot fire with but very little smoke, although it is rapidly consumed. Although not as good for a fire as even the poorest timber it is infinitely better than sage-brush, which, in the absence of chips, is often the traveler’s last resort.
It usually happens that chips are most-abundant in the sheltered creek-bottoms and near the water-holes, the very situations which travelers naturally select for their camps. In these spots the herds have gathered either for shelter in winter or for water in summer, and remained in a body for some hours. And now, when the cowboy on the round-up, the surveyor, or hunter, who must camp out, pitches his tent in the grassy coulée or narrow creek-bottom, his first care is to start out with his largest gunning bag to “rustle some buffalo chips” for a campfire. He, at least, when he returns well laden with the spoil of his humble chase, still has good reason to remember the departed herd with feelings of gratitude. Thus even the last remains of this most useful animal are utilized by man in providing for his own imperative wants.
IX. THE PRESENT VALUE OF THE BISON TO CATTLE-GROWERS.
The bison in captivity and domestication.—Almost from time immemorial it has been known that the American bison takes kindly to captivity, herds contentedly with domestic cattle, and crosses with them with the utmost readiness. It was formerly believed, and indeed the tradition prevails even now to quite an extent, that on account of the hump on the shoulders a domestic cow could not give birth to a half-breed calf. This belief is entirely without foundation, and is due to theories rather than facts.