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The Last Herd of Buffalo Seen

by Cora (Fertig) Hall

When I was a small girl, on Sunday afternood men gathered in our barn driveway to crack nuts, eat apples, drink cider, and tell of the past, gone but not forgotten.

When the FERTIGS came to Iowa ahead of an Indian massacre at Pine Bend, Minnesota, they found a settlement which now is north of Benton, Iowa.

As their animals were tired and the people were friendly, they decided to stay. With the help of the people, they soon had a house and barn built. At times, when wild animals destroyed their gardens, they had to forage for their food, such as: nuts, berries, and fish. With wild game, one could live off the land.

Salt was a necessity for the FERTIGS and their livestock. The only way they knew how to get salt was to go to a deer lick. The deer found salt by licking the ground. It was in the late summer and the trip to the deer lick was long and hard. They wanted to be home before the fall rains came. They used two wagons, taking extra horses, as the horses were easily cripple. The creeks were full of quicksand.

My father, William Henry FERTIG, just a young boy on a spotted Indian pony named Chief, rode ahead of the wagons. The trail they followed had been made by Indians and Buffalo. The trail often times had to be cleared of fallen trees and limbs. He had to check all the streams, as the late summer water was low. In places where the animals crossed the streams, there wouldn't be any quicksand, and it was safe to cross.

He had two guard dogs and the mother dog named "Balto" with the wagons. After the wagons were loaded, they started home with their heavy load. The wagons were heavy and the old trail was bad, and they had to cross the streams without getting the salt wet. While my father watched the horses graze, the men would sit on a log and read from the Bible.

Time was passing fast and they needed to get across swampy ground before the rains came. They had just gone a short distance when "Balto" warned of danger. They stopped and heard a low rumbling sound, and got off the trail just in time, as a small herd of buffalo passed them, coming from Canada, going to Kansas to winter.

At the end of the herd were two cows and two calves. The two calves were butchered for their winter meat. They loaded the meat and the kinds onto the wagons and sent my father ahead to get fresh horses and men. The men rode beside the wagons with rope to help pull the heavy load. The meat and salt was divided and all were happy.

The Buffalo which were the last to be seen, used the trail to Canada in the spring and returned to Kansas in the fall. They were the first and only buffalo seen by my father.

William Henry FERTIG was born in 1861 and died in 1950.

SOURCE: Benton Centennial book, Pp. 181-82.

Transcription & photograph by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2010


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