A-Hunting We Will Go

This 1867 Harper's Weekly illustration, "Buffalo Hunting on the Plains by Officers of the United States Army," shows the kind of hunting that took place at Fort Larned.  Image Courtesy Fort Larned Old Guard.

This 1867 Harper’s Weekly illustration, “Buffalo Hunting on the Plains by Officers of the United States Army,” shows the kind of hunting that took place at Fort Larned. Image Courtesy Fort Larned Old Guard.

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

Today, Kansas enjoys a reputation for having some of the best hunting in the country. Tales of plentiful pheasants and “monster bucks” lure hunters eager to test their mettle against Kansas wildlife.

When Fort Larned was established in the late 1850s, though, bucks were small potatoes.

In those days, it was all about the buffalo, said Ellen Jones, Fort Larned Old Guard’s Hometown Teams Partner Site Project Director.

The various Native American tribes in the area had long hunted buffalo as a source of food and skins. But when officers stationed at the new outpost saw the herds of buffalo stampeding across the plains, they envisioned hunting for sport

For the most part, it was the elite officer class who formed the hunting parties: Captain Albert Barnitz of the 7th Cavalry, stationed at Larned, wrote to his wife in 1867 that officers from his unit “had engaged in competition to see who of two parties could kill the most buffalo in one day.”

Barnitz’s wife didn’t take part in the hunt, but other officers’ wives certainly did, both at Fort Larned and in other army outposts in Kansas.

Elizabeth Custer, wife of General George Armstrong Custer, encouraged other women to join her in camp activities, including buffalo hunting. She even claimed to have been the first woman on a buffalo hunt in Kansas!

But it wasn’t all fun and games. As herds dwindled due to over-hunting, tensions increased between local Native Americans, who depended on the buffalo for survival, and whites stationed at Fort Larned.

Fort Larned’s exhibit will explore these aspects of sport hunting and more.

As Jones pointed out, hunting is still a huge part of local culture and recreation. She thinks focusing the exhibit on a topic people already care about will help stimulate interest in the history of the area.

“If you can tie your local history to the things people like to do anyway, you’re pretty set,” she added.

The exhibit will be on display at the Fort Larned Visitor Center and Museum from April 24 to November 30. For more information, contact (620) 285-6911.