The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

During the early settlement of Upper White River hundreds of buffalo were discovered grazing on the tender grass. Many of the calves were captured and a large number of the old ones were shot. When Paton Keesee settled on Little North Fork in 1823 he met several small herds on this stream where he captured and killed a few. This man Keesee used to relate an amusing account of how he attempted to capture a buffalo calf once and was foiled by the little animal. Keesee had gone up North Fork 1 ½ miles above his cabin to hunt for a bear when he noticed a buffalo calf butting a bank and otherwise playing. The little fellow seemed quite frisky and frolicsome as it pushed its head against the dirt. The calf was standing in the bed of a hollow near the mouth. The little animal appeared to be near three months old and was fat.

"I looked in every direction," said Mr. Keesee, "to see if its mother or other buffalo were in sight, but seeing none I made up my mind to capture the calf alive and make a pet of it. I had two trained dogs with me, but I was afraid they would cripple it if I allowed them to catch it. So laying my gun down and leaving the dogs to guard it I crept around and approached the top of the bank where the young buffalo was standing and leaped down and caught it before it was aware of my presence. The beast’s strength surprised me. I found in a moment that I was not able to control it. The calf kicked, bellowed and butted me against the bank. Little nubs of horns were just putting out on its head and it used its head with such force against my body and legs that I was compelled to release it at once and the contrary little beast ran off out of sight as fast as it could go. It was lucky for me that the mother of the calf was not in hearing distance or there might have been a worse row than was. Sometime after this," continued Mr. Keesee, "met a young buffalo calf near my residence which was younger than the one I failed to capture and after a scramble with it I overpowered and carried it to the house and made a pet of it. It thrived and became very docile. I kept it ten years and it made a big fine buffalo. I then sold it to Jake Wolf who lived at the mouth of Big North Fork." Mr. Keesee also said that it was common among the early residents that after killing a buffalo they would pluck off the wool and carry it home and knit socks out of it.

In the early days when Crooked Creek with its numerous bubbling springs of living water afforded excellent grazing grounds for the herds of buffalo that fed in the Broken Prairie hollows, hunters from other parts of the now famous Ozark hills passed many happy days in chasing and killing buffalo on this famed water course. But as the emigrants pushed their way up this stream seeking desirable locations the buffalo were forced to retreat westward until there were none left here to crop the fine grass and drink of the pure flowing water, and the daring hunters had to seek elsewhere for their buffalo meat. Paton Keesee was one of the numbers that made several incursions here among these animals and captured a few calves and shot a number of the old ones, but we will have to confine ourselves to only one account of his raids on these animals on Crooked Creek, the story of which was given me by Elias and Peter Keesee, sons of Uncle Paton. They said that one fine afternoon their father left home on Little North Fork and remained all night with a hunter who lived in the river bottom near the mouth of Little North Fork. "They had arranged to go to Crooked Creek to capture buffalo calves. On the following morning with their usual camp equipage and a lariat rope each they mounted their horses and struck out through the then wild region of hills. As they were not seeking the fat bear nor fine bucks they took no dogs with them. They might interfere with their sport of catching the young calves, for capturing calves was the only object of their trip. This was about 1826 and we will pass over what father said about seeing herds of deer. A few bear and other wild animals as they rode along that day. it was nearing sunset when they pitched their camp on the bank of Crooked Creek at the mouth of a prairie hollow. A few scattering trees fringed the bank of the creek where the hunters camped and a few saplings stood here and there. The water in the creek bottom was as clear as crystal. Their camping place was a picturesque spot. They allowed their wearied horses to graze on the tender grass until bedtime, when they brought them to camp and tied them securely to the trees. Then the hunters retired to rest on a bed composed of the skins of wild beasts. Early the following morning they were up and turned their horses loose to fill up on grass while they prepared their morning fare. Soon after the sun had risen above the hilltops, the men had mounted and were ready to hunt for the buffalo and chase them. It was a warm morning. The stones were "sweating", the air was humid with a fresh southeast wind. A few scud clouds flew with the wind as the day advanced the wind increased in velocity. It was not a good day to be out hunting for buffalo, but the hunters went on. In a short while they discovered fresh buffalo signs where a small herd had been feeding. The men followed the trail and soon overhauled them. Among the bunch were four or five cows with calves following them. It was a grand sight to view this little herd of buffalo with their heads down in the grass feeding. Two of the calves were playing while the others were quiet. The men were more than a quarter of a mile from the herd. As they sat on their horses and watched the old ones graze they saw one of them raise his head and look toward them and there was a commotion among them and the herd started off on a brisk run. The one that raised his head was one of those ever-watchful bulls and he had given the herd the signal of danger and his companions had heeded him and they were soon gone. The hunters urged their horses into a gallop and sped on after them. It was a lively race and grew more exciting as the herd was pursued across prairie hollows and over wooded hills until the men got in advance of two of the calves which being very young had given out on the chase. The herd seemed to be too much frightened to turn back and protect them but went on helter skelter until they passed from view over a hill. The men soon captured the calves without injuring them and tied the ropes around their necks. As soon as the exhausted calves had rested a short spell the men fastened the ropes to their saddles and began training the little fellows to lead, which they stubbornly refused at first by jumping around, pulling backward and bellowing. The hunters now expected the herd to rush back to rescue the calves and were prepared to retreat, but the old ones, not even the cows made their appearance and finally after some hard struggles the calves gradually gave up and followed the horses, but they would sull at times and give the men trouble before arriving at camp. It was in the afternoon when the two men reached their stopping place on the creek. The almost worn out captives, horses and riders were glad of a rest. They tied the calves fast to a sapling that stood 20 yards or more from camp and after turning their horses out to graze the buffalo hunters partook of a cold lunch and laid down on their couched to rest. By sunset the scud clouds had disappeared and a bank of leaden colored clouds had risen above the western horizon. The men knew a storm was brewing and with a few forks and poles they erected a frame and covered it with the skins of animals they had brought with them. They now had a rude shelter to protect them from the drenching rain. As darkness settled down bright flashes of lightning lit up the beautiful valley at short intervals. Low rumbling thunder was heard as frequent as the lightning was seen to flash. Later on the elements showed greater anger and the men realized that it was not an ordinary thunder storm. As the dark roaring cloud approached nearer the lightning grew brighter. The crashes of thunder were deafening. It was a fearful night. Then the storm broke. The rain poured down for a few moments and slacked up followed by a wind of almost hurricane force. The shelter was swept away. The storm was terrible. The men and horses were in imminent danger of being killed or wounded by the flying limbs wrenched off of the scattering trees along the bank of the creek. Father’s companion was a come and go religious fellow who when there was no danger in sight was a wicked man. "But when he thought there was a chance to lose his life he was the humblest man I ever saw," said father. He would change at a moment’s notice and went according to the danger existing at the present. When the tempest was raging, the wind blowing with great force and peal after peal of thunder was following the flashes of lightning in quick succession, and the shelter gone, this man thought his time was up and began to pray. It was a frightful hour and the man was very humble. He did not stand and pray like some do now to save their pride and clothes but he got right down on his knees in the water and wet grass. His prayer was loud and it was undoubtedly an earnest one. His form could be seen dimly in the dark and very plain when a flash of lightning occurred. His voice was heard above the sound of the raging storm. As the roaring wind continued to blow it seemed that we would be swept from the face of the earth, but as I held to a small bush I was amused at my companion praying so fervently while he was holding to a bunch of grass in two or three feet of me. I did not make sport of the man for praying but I well knew his humble devotion would last no longer than the storm would. He begged the Lord to save him from the thunder and wind and went on with his prayer until the storm abated and perceiving no further danger he quit praying and rose to his feet and became interested about the safety of the buffalo calves. He was afraid they were killed. He now started to the sapling where they were tied and soon came in contact with the head end of one of the calves and the next thing my companion know he was lying down in the wet grass. He quickly rose up and swore at the calf. The calf which had plenty of slack rope did not give the man much time to utter but a few wicked words before it went for him again by butting him down the second time. This put the man in an awful rage and he cursed the calf as long and loud as he had been praying. The calf was all right and it had proved it to him. The other calf was all right too, but the fellow did not bother them any more till daylight. Soon after the calf had taught the praying and swearing man a lesson, the air became calm. The storm cloud passed eastward and left a clear sky and the beautiful stars showed their little light, but the man with his wet clothes on had to stand up and make the best of it during the balance of the night. Soon after sunrise they left for home but it was nearly two days before they reached White River with their calves. My companion kept one of the calves and I the other. I taken mine home. My companion where he lived on the river had a small clearing in the bottom that was fenced and also owned two milk cows and he soon taught the little buffalo calf to share the milk with the other calves, but the former did not seem anxious to take up with the other calves in a friendly way, but appeared to like its human friends the best and stayed in the yard. One day during the following fall after its capture while the man was gone from home on a hunt and had left his wife and three children alone, a bear paid the family a visit. He was some 20 yards from the cabin when the woman saw him coming. She was milking at the time but lost no time in getting into the house. Closing the door shutter she raised a puncheon and put the children into the cellar. Then she got down where the children were and put the puncheon in its place and waited. The poor woman trembled with fear and excitement. The children cried out and the mother was not able to quiet them until she made them understand the peril they were in and they hushed up. It seemed that the bear paid no attention to the cows, calves, but went on to the cabin and the woman heard it press the door open and come into the cabin. The woman when she rushed into the house put the milk pail down on the floor as it contained milk. Bruin concluded he would test it by first smelling in the vessel. The flavor of the milk seemed to suit him and he lapped his tongue in the milk and did not cease drinking until the vessel was empty. Then the beast began to walk around on the floor inspecting everything in sight. Then he lowered his head and thrust his nose in the opening between the puncheon directly over the cellar. He had treed the woman and children and sniffed and smelled several seconds. The poor woman gave up for lost. She believed herself and darling babes would soon be destroyed by the merciless bear. Ah, that her man would return and save her and her helpless children. The beast would soon uncover her retreat by raising the puncheon with its claws and kill them all. Ah, if she had protection, but none were in sight. Her husband would not be apt to be at home until night. By that time she would need no help for the mangled forms of herself and precious children would be found in the cellar or in the cabin or in the yard. These thoughts were horrible. The despairing woman was about to scream out in terror, but smothered it down and listened. The bear had raised its head. Something had called its attention and it turned around and passed out of the cabin and the woman heard the bear catch and kill the buffalo calf which by this time was larger and stouter. The bear made a meal of the poor calf near the door. After his bearship had finished his meal, he was slow about leaving the premises, but finally walked back into the cane and disappeared. An hour or so after it was gone the woman ventured out into the yard and found that all that was left of the calf was its hide and bones. The young buffalo had saved herself and children by showing itself to the bear."

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