Famous Buffalo Hunter
Posted by Rick (+11) 19 years ago
The general perception that William F. Cody was the most famous buffalo hunter is in error. The most famous buffalo hunter of all time was a gentleman named Frank H. Mayer. Below is a brief history:

Frank H. Mayer was born in 1850 in New Orleans, La. In 1855 his entire family moved to Pennsylvania and settled in the Allegheny Mountains. As a youngster growing up he had access to hunting and fishing country that was unlimited. He had one major wish in life which was to see as many "gunshops" as possible! There in the heart of the mountains there were many riflemen and rifles with the latter outnumbering shotguns by, in his words "a hundred to one". Frank H. Mayer had numerous gunshops to visit including some of the most renown makers of the day. Names such as Golcher, Lehmans, Henrys, Billinghurst, Schalk, Rein, Miller, whose names today are world famous for expert craftsmanship. With ALL of the above, Frank H. Mayer was personally acquainted, most of which lived near where he and his family had homesteaded. In his words, "urged on by itchy feet, my people were constantly on the move, always hoping for social and financial betterment. This suited me fine, for that itch was, and is, hereditary, as my after years so proved to be"! Whenever he saw a mountain range, he was always constantly obsessed with a great desire to see what was on the other side.

Frank H. Mayers' personal experience with these "gems of guncraft" as he called the gunshops was at the early age of ten years when he traded his entire fur catch of two years work to the owner of a general goods store for a 120-to-the-pound, full-stocked Kentucky rifle with double set triggers and a 51" barrel. He kept and maintained this rifle for 74 years and had the worn rifling recut three times until the caliber was exactly .45. He never sold it. Using this rifle and in his words he stated "I shot against the cream of those nail-driving mountaineers, and was able to lick up a few drops of victory now and then, fairly holding my own in the goodly company"! By this time he was indissolubly wedded now to the rifle and his interest in its actual manufacture began to awaken and from this time on he became more or less a nuisance around the gunshops. The "smiths" soon discovered that he could not be driven away by anything short of a beating and the owners cannily proceeded to take advantage of his obsession and made him pay for his footing by keeping him busy by redding-up the shop and making himself useful. Apparently Frank Mayer was a very observant young man for his age and soon he became familiar with every facet and method of gun-making, from the raw iron, brass, and wood to the completed masterpiece. In time, he was actually permitted, without pay, to really help in the actual making of quality rifles. In the authors' opinion, there is no doubt whatsoever that Frank H. Mayer was until the very day that he died....a true, dyed-in-the-wool "GUN-CRANK"! By the time he was sixteen years of age he had graduated sufficiently in the art of gun making to the point whereby he could build, unassisted, accept for some invaluable advice by his peers, a rifle complete in all its appointments, from the purely American-sourced billet up to the globe and tang sights, and the checkered "flame" maple stock and Schuetzen buttplate. In addition, he also made the bullet mould, the cherry which cut the mould, a graduated-measure "honey-bull" powder horn, bullet pouch, and the patch-cutter....all of his own manufacture!


For those wishing to know more concerning Col. Frank H. Mayer I suggest reading "The Buffalo Harvest" available from Amazon.com.

As a side note, recently I was in Forsyth, Montana to shoot the Quigley Match which is held annually upon the ranch of Mr. A.G. Lee; a finer man never existed IMO! While there I had a chance to examine the Sharps rifle owned by Mr. Lee that belonged to Peter Jackson, the father of Miss Edith Finch, who in his own right was a buffalo hunter who took roughly 5000 buffalo around the Forsyth, Montana region.
Posted by Jack McRae (+362) 19 years ago
I recently purchased the book "The Champion Buffalo Hunter, The Frontieer Memoirs of Yellowstone Vic Smith" by Victor Grant Smith, edited by Jeanette Prodgers.

The back cover calls him "one of the most famous frontiersmen of the early West." The account was recently discovered in Harvard's Houghton Library by editor Jeanette Prodgers.

Trapper, dispatch rider, scout, trick shot, and buffalo hunter extraordinaire, Victor Grant Smith was also a great storyteller, and The Champion Buffalo Hunter is rich in the events of a life fully lived: encounters with notorious outlaw, buffalo and bear hunts, Indian fights, and natural disaster. In these pages, you'll also meet such notable westerners as John "X" Beidler, Liver-Eating Johnson, Yellowsotne Kelly, and the Marquis and Marquise de Mores.

Perhaps the most notorious exploit of this "champion buffalo hunter of the northern ranges" came when Smith tied the record for shooting the most buffalo in a single session: In the winter of 1881-82, he shot 107 bison within an hour by alternating two Sharps rifles as the barrels became too hot to handle and aim. That same winter, he reportedly killed 5,000 bison in southeastern Montana. Toward the end of his life, after the bison were all but extinct, Smith noted that he wished "that my aimm hadn't been so good."

The book was published in 1997 by The Globe Pequot Press.
Posted by Rick (+11) 19 years ago
I've read that one to. I still think of Frank H. Mayer as the greatest however simply because he hunted the "buffs" longer than any of the others and lived to tell about it! Born in 1850, same year as Billy Dixon, he lived until 1954! Killed him a buck deer at age 102 so he must have been quite "hardy" to say the least! He wrote several articles for the NRA back in the 30's and was quite adept at writing apparently. Probably the best marksman of his day and very well educated. He understood rifles and what makes them shoot. He told of an "old retired buffalo runner" that lived in Colorado who after retiring shot every day a ten shot group from 1000 yards using two 1874 Sharps rifle of .45 caliber and paper-patched bullets and never did any one group spread over 26" diameter. A different rifle was utilized each day; shot each on alternating days. Since he "retired" in Colorado and is buried there.....I have a feeling that the shooter was Col. Frank H. Mayer!

In reading of Victor Grant Smith's episodes, it seemed to me that he was more enthralled with going back east and putting on trick shooting events than he was of sticking to the plains and hunting buffalo like some of the rest of these old boys.
Posted by KELLY BABCOCK (+187) 19 years ago
Hi, Rick and Jack,
Rick; Thank you for the information on the book, "Crow Killer." Even at the time, I wrote my original post, "Crow Killer" was part of my library. I don't know why, when I had originally read it, the connections to sheriff Tom Irvine, and the Miles City area, didn't sink in, but they didn't. I was aware of Johnson's connections to other parts of Montana, but it caught me a bit off guard, when I read of his escapades, a little closer to home.
Jack; what a pleasure, to see one of my favorite characters, mentioned again. Luther S. {Yellowstone} Kelly, is really one of our unsung heroes. Because he lived in the shadow of such contemporaries as Cody and Hickock, we don't have the opportunity to read as much as we could about his life and times. It appears, as a civilian scout, he was far superior to Wild Bill. And for "color", one of his rifles was covered with the skin of a huge bull snake that he killed. And as a calling card to Gen. Miles, he sent the paw of a cinnamon bear, that he had killed. Autographed, of course.
I must get the book, you recomended. Somehow it has escaped my attentions, until now.
What was the purpose of slaughtering 107 buffalo, in a hours time? Just to see if it could be done? I've never been terribly impressed by any of the buffalo "hunters."
Maybe, just maybe, if they had killed, even half of that number, from the back of an unsaddled pony, with a spear, it might make an impression on me. But even then, if it had only been done, only to prove it could be done, I doubt it.
My best,
Posted by Kenny Vail (+118) 19 years ago
The most comprehensive work compilling biographical imformation on buffalo hunters is a four-volume series entitled "ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BUFFALO HUNTERS AND SKINNERS."
Volume I just hit the market recently and begins the coverage of 1100 buff hunters. Put together alphabetically this volume covers 'A' to 'D.' One of several noted buff hunters who surpassed Frank Mayers in hunting proficiency will be covered in this encyclopedic compilation. They will include James Wright Mooar, Tom Nixon, the Cator brothers and "Brick" Bond.

In Volume I, Olando A. "Brick" Bond is described as being the champion buff hunter of the plains in the years 1873 - 1875, having made a record kill of 125 in a single 'stand.'
From November 1874 to January 1875 Brick Bond and outfit recorded all the game that fell before his tripod-mounted "Big Fifty" buffalo guns from three camps:
1. Horseshoe Lake - 2,970 head
2. Worlie Lake - 1,913 head
3. Good Creek - 1,300 head.
That totals 6,183 head.
During this expedition Bond kept five skinners busy and turned buff hunting into big business. He did the killing but had as many as 15 men working in teams to rip the hides off by using the freighting animals and heavy ropes. The hides were then shipped by bull train to Dodge City using as many as seven 8-yoke ox teams going at one time. The hides brought from $1 to $3 each, depending upon the condition of the hair. Buffalo robes were at their best in October, November and December, but Bond's outfit hunted the year round.

During a two-month period from mid-October to mid-December 1876 Bond shot a total of 5,855, killing 300 in a single day. His average was 97 per day.

On his last hunting trip in 1878 Brick Bond headed deep into the Texas Panhandle. During another 60-day period he killed 5,575 more. Needless to say Orlando "Brick" Bond was deafened by the boom of his own big buffalo gun.

Kenny Vail
Posted by Kenny Vail (+118) 19 years ago
Compiments of Sharon Cunningham of Dixie Gun Works and co-author of "ENCYCLOPEDIA OF Buffalo Hunters and Skinners."

In an interview with Wyatt Earp a few years before his death, he had this to
say about Thomas C. Nixon:

"In my years on the plains the known record kill from a single stand was held by Tom Nixon, a famous shot who made headquarters at Dodge. He managed to knock over 120 animals without moving his rest sticks, but he ruined his
Sharps rifle in doing so. With the best of luck a single hunter might kill one hundred buffaloes in a day, from several stands. That would be all that four skinners could handle. I found that the average bunch would stampede by the time thirty or forty of their number had been killed."

One of the most successful hunters was sturdy, dark-haired Thomas Nixon, a former Nevada miner and Kansas freighter. From his sod house just outside the military reservation at Ft. Dodge, he sold shelled corn for the horses used in
laying the railroad line through Dodge City. Between hunting trips, Nixon found time to operate a blacksmith and repair shop at the edge of the new town. He also maintained a large corral where hunters could rest easy knowing
their stock was safe under the watchful eyes of Nixon's guards.

In June, 1872, Nixon and his hunting outfit were on the south side of the Arkansas River, eighteen miles west of where Dodge City was to be built. George Hoodoo Brown was hunting on the north side and for two days, he could
hear big caliber rifle fire from south of the river. Curious, he saddled up and rode over to find out who was doing the shooting. That was the first time he met Tom Nixon.

The winter of 1872-73 was a hard one; Nixon and his men were in a dugout near Dodge City. On the 23rd of December, Josiah Wright Mooar came close to being accidentally shot when two of Nixon's men were out looking for grouse.
Christmas Day was celebrated with a stag dance and fiddle music provided by Henry Raymond, one of Nixon's men.

In January, another blizzard struck the luckless hunters. The Mooar brothers and five of Nixon's men had hauled meat to Mulberry Creek from Kiowa Creek, continuing with their load toward Dodge City when a frightful gale struck
freezing ice on their eyebrows, eyelashes, and beards. The storm was so bad, the men could hardly see the mules in front of them. Levi Richardson was
driving the lead wagon while behind him in the other wagons were Pat Baker, Bat Masterson, John and Wright Mooar, and two other Nixon men.

After a time their advance was halted by the lead mules which refused to move any farther. Even the crack of whips could not obtain the desired result. Pat Baker worked his was to the front of the lead team, and while trying to induce them to move, discovered that they had reached Hunt's Ranch, their destination.

On March 6, 1873, Nixon's outfit, including Jim White, was bound for the Cimarron River country. They camped at Crooked Creek and the outfit traveled upstream about 15 miles to the springs and began shooting buffalo.
The Nixon camp was raided by Indians who managed to run off all of his horses and mules except one, and Tom was forced to make a trip to Dodge City for teams to haul in his hides.

On September 15, 1873, at the headwaters of Bluff Creek, in Meade County, Kansas, Nixon set a buffalo shooting record that has been a Dodge City legend and a source of controversy ever since. After picketing his horse in a ravine Nixon crept on foot, keeping out of sight until he was about four hundred fifty to five hundred yards from the herd. Selecting a large bull, Tom fired, then remained quiet. The boom of the big fifty Sharps startled the animals, and they surged uneasily for a few seconds, but as the hunter remained quiet, they resumed grazing. The bull,
shot through the lungs, stood quietly, chewing his cud for several minutes, then fell with a mighty bellow. The others rushed to the fallen bull and when they smelled the blood gushing from the wound, began to mill, making a terrific noise bellowing and pawing the earth.

This is what Nixon had been waiting for, and raising his gun fired again and again as fast as he could load and take aim, each shot bringing down a buffalo. The bewildered animals could not see the source of danger and milled
in a circle. When one fell the others rushed up, bellowing and pawing the earth, and sometimes butting the fallen one with their great shaggy heads. This confusion and noise drowned the crack of that deadly rifle. The slaughter
continued for exactly forty minutes, and at the end of that time 120 dead buffalo lay stretched on the plains, killed at the rate of three a minute, a record never equaled during the Western buffalo hunt.

Another account of the same killing reports that Nixon picketed his horse in a small ravine and crept toward a small herd and with two rifles he killed 120 buffalo in forty minutes. When one rifle got too hot, he threw the breech block down, ran a wet rag through it and used the second gun while the first cooled. From that day on through October 20, he killed 2,173 buffalo.

On another occasion, Nixon killed 204 buffalo at one stand, but it required more than forty minutes. Nixon hunted with five two-horse teams and fifteen men. About thirty-five miles southeast of Dodge City at the head of Rattlesnake Creek he killed 3,200 buffalo in thirty-five days, a large herd passed his camp and he used his two
guns to good advantage. He always carried a bottle of water for the sole purpose of cleaning and cooling his guns when he hunted.

The Ford County Globe of September 7, 1879 recorded:
Mr. Thomas Nixon, in charge of the freighting train of Charles Rath, arrived in the city loaded to the guards with buffalo bones. After the herds thinned, Nixon and Orlando A. (Brick) Bond operated a dance hall and saloon in the old Lady Gay building during Dodge City's cowtown period. Nixon also served as assistant marshal of Dodge City from April 4 to July 21, 1884. His term displaced David "Mysterious Dave" H. Mather. Mysterious Dave blamed his old enemy, Tom Nixon, when Dodge City authorities
rejected Mather's plans to convert his saloon, on the second floor of Kelly's Opera House, into a dance hall. On July 18, 1884, at around nine o'clock in the evening, Nixon and Mather began quarreling outside the Opera House. Nixon,
on the ground, took a shot at Dave, who was at the top of the stairs, and missed, his shot hitting the woodwork and spraying Mather with wood splinters. Nixon claimed that he shot only after Mather drew his gun - Dave claimed
Three days later, at ten o'clock p.m., while on patrol duty at the corner of Front Street and First Avenue, just outside the Opera House, Nixon heard someone call his name. Turning toward the entrance to Mather1s saloon, he was
met by "Mysterious Dave" who commenced shooting at him. Dave fired four shots, two of them striking Nixon in the right side, one in the left side, and one passing through the left nipple, killing him instantly. After the shooting,
just before his arrest, Dave Mather callously remarked,
"I ought to have killed him six months ago."

Despite the testimony of witnesses who saw Nixon make no attempt to draw his revolver, Mysterious Dave Mather was acquitted and released.

Kenny Vail
Posted by Rick (+11) 19 years ago
Often times I have wondered how a buff hunter could make a stand and kill so many but once upon a time I was pulling targets for a buddy who was shooting a Sharps back at the 300 yard range. Remmember....this is beyond the range...with his load at any rate...that the bullet was subsonic and all I could hear going overhead was a slight buzzzzz; no supersonic crack like with a supersonic projectile! couple this with the fact that any buff hunter worth his salt always tried to approach the animals from the downwind side and it can be understood that this fact reduced the noise level generated at muzzle blast. The day I was pulling targets the day was very still; no wind and even then from 300 yards the noise was almost zilch! The buff had no idea what was taking place!

Yes...it's a shame that all the bison went....but when one thinks about it.....there was no room for them if cattle and farming were the coming thing! Their doom was determined by the Almighty Dollar! Some call it "progress"; I call it the pits! We've witnessed so much spoilage today in the name of "progress" that it makes me sick to my stomach. Recently I came back down the eastern slope of the Rockies; down through Denver and Colorado Springs and the powers that be there are using huge earth movers to remove the tops of mountains to build what......more condos....all which look just exactly alike with not enough room between them to throw a cat! When I was there in the '60s' this was a very serene and peaceful place but there isn't enough $$$$ to make me chose it now as a place to live! Total ruination I call it! All...in the name of progress! If you folks in Montana are smart....do whatever you can to keep your place of quietness and ultimate beauty!

God Speed!
Posted by Ellen Compton (+5) 19 years ago
My relative, William Frederick Schmalsle, was a buffalo hunter, Indian guide, scout, and courier to Lieutenant Baldwin and General Miles. He was in the Red River Wars and helped rescue the German sisters. I would like to get information about his buffalo hunting days. I have loads of information as to his other activities but I still find even more. If anyone finds information on Schmalsle, please e-mail me at [email protected] Thanks.
Posted by Heath H (+643) 19 years ago
You may be correct about Mr Victor Grant Smith AKA Yellowstone Vic Smith and his trick shooting aspirations.

A few years back I acquired a Colt SAA revolver that, according to Colt factory records, was actually ordered by and shipped to Vic Smith in the mid 1880's.

The revolver is very unique in that it is a .22, full size frame SAA with a target site and a factory alteration to the triggerguard of the gun that allows a short flat piece of steel to be wedged into the triggerguard and against the trigger to keep the trigger pushed (or in the pulled back position). This feature allows for fanning of the hammer without the shooter having to pull the trigger each time or hold the trigger down with a finger. A very unusual item for anyone other than a serious trick shooter of the times because of the special factory order.

No "kitchen table gunsmithing" was appropriate for Yellowstone Vic in this instance, the .22 revolver he ordered was, according to R.L. Wilson (Colt Firearms Historian) "The FIRST .22 standard frame Single Action Army" to be produced by Colt. I have often wondered what Smith paid for his special order Colt in 1882. Other special order Colt revolvers by more famous men of the times (Bat Masterson, etc.) commanded princely sums.

Since the book by Prodgers in 1997 about Yellowstone Vic Smith I have been in search of more information about his life. While searching I have found a few books that have mentioned Yellowstone Vic Smith and many Buffalo hunting bretheren. Among them, THE BUFFALO HUNTERS by Mari Sandoz (Hastings House, New York 1954) and another, PLAINSMEN OF THE YELLOWSTONE by an author not remembered by me here. Both of the above mentioned books give snippets of information on Vic's hunting accomplishments and mention nothing of his trick-shooting abilities. I am planning a visit to Anaconda, Montana and the Hearst Free Library there to hopefully find more about Vic Smith and will be back here to share it with all.
Posted by Dave Roberts (+1507) 19 years ago
I just posted a scan of a stereo-view card of buffalo hunting in Montana to my neglected webspace.

I dunno if he's a famous buffalo hunter or not.

It's probably an un-credited Haynes picture as the collector who has a ton of Huffman shots also collects Haynes and has one of these with Haynes' mark on it.

The overall view is here:


A 600 dpi zoom on the left side is here: (beware on dial up, it's 5MB+)


That's a Sharps? It looks like he's cavalry, almost, maybe a packer or guide?. The saddle doesn't look like a cavalry saddle to me.
Posted by Kenny Vail (+118) 19 years ago

Thanks a load for posting the photos. A real treat. Any chance there is a particular year associated with the pics?

Posted by Dave Roberts (+1507) 19 years ago
There is no date on the card that I have. There may be one on the original Haynes card though.

I've got plans to stop and see the owner of the marked card sometime this week, so I'll see if I can check it then.

1886 sticks in my head as being the last of the buffalo, so it's a pretty old picture.

I'd love to find out who the hunter is.
Posted by Heath H (+643) 18 years ago
Hello all,
Been thinking much about Victor Grant Smith, "Champion Buffalo Hunter" lately and would like to propose a handsome reward for new information about "Yellowstone" Vic Smith not published by Prodgers. He may have traveled with P.T. Barnum and is purported to have done some trickshooting for that concern.

[This message has been edited by Heath H (edited 2/16/2004).]
Posted by Ellen Compton (+44) 9 years ago
My e-mail address has changed, it is [email protected] As to Sharon Cunningham's book, I am looking up information on my relative, William F. Schmalsle. So far, I can't find out any information on his buffalo hunting.
Ellen K. Compton