After the Big Creek raid on August 1, a Capt. George A. Armes set out from Fort Hays with 34 men from the black Tenth Cavalry. Cody wrote in his 1879 autobiogra¬phy that he was the scout and made an enter¬taining story of the pursuit, but he didn’t make himself a hero—he rarely did. The Army, however, did not record his presence; possibly he only heard about the episode. But his telling does agree with the Army account that the regiment survived being surrounded by hundreds of Indians, only to be laid low by cholera. Bill wondered which was the greater danger, fighting Indians or cholera: “The former was decidedly more in¬viting.” Western movies notwithstanding,disease claimed far more white lives than Indians ever did.
That fall something yet more inviting turned up. Bill was offered the exorbitant sum of $500 a month for 12 buffalo a day to feed the 1,200 railroad workers camped near Hays. He had learned to shoot animals out of a running herd, starting at the rear.
“It was at this time that the very appro¬priate name of ‘Buffalo Bill’ was conferred upon me by the road hands,” Cody later wrote. “I have never been ashamed of it.”
0 LMOST DEPLETED BY 1900, buffa¬lo today roam the nation in growing private and public herds, estimated at more than 40,000 head. One herd lives well in the custody of Larry Kerr, who carefully superintends a 3,600-acre sand¬sage-prairie state game refuge south of Garden City, Kansas.
After a spine-jarring pickup ride, we found 40 females with a dozen calves block¬ing an abandoned rail grade, looking im¬mense and defiant. Larry’s weathered face creased deeper in amusement as he recalled uninformed buyers who came to purchase surplus animals: “That was before we had auctions. One lady showed up with a leash to claim hers. She took one look and went home empty-handed.”
We watched a 1,000-pound cow sink to her knees and roll to scratch. Dust flew as a wallow formed. Larry frowned. “Wallows are a real problem on our limited range. Too many and grass won’t grow.”
Growing grass is a main concern here. Larry leaned over to point out: “Forbes—buffalo utilize that for protein. Sage—they eat for roughage in winter. Big bluestem¬that’s ice cream to a buffalo.”
Suddenly the herd was in motion. One animal lumbered off, and two by two, cow and calf fell into line, as if obeying a hand signal from a cavalry officer.
“There you see why the buffalo were so vulnerable,” Larry said. “They don’t dis¬perse. They follow the leader.”