Jim Caspion and Sam Tillman were neighbors and best friends in nearby Eastern Kansas back in 1870. When they heard that a bull buffalo hide was bringing $3.50 at Kansas City, they decided to head west and hunt buffalo.

They set up camp near the Kansas-Colorado border, and began having moderate success at killing and skinning buffalo.

They set out early one October morning and the hours passed slowly without seeing any buffalo. They broke for lunch and decided to split up for the afternoon search, but would stay close enough to be in sight of each other so they could at least signal back and forth. Without any better afternoon luck, Caspion, about to give up, decided to take one last look over a long ridge up ahead. Upon reaching the top, he saw hundreds, perhaps thousands of buffalo grazing in the wide valley below. As his eyes scanned the scene, he focused on one spot. He had spotted a pure white bull buffalo grazing in the middle of the dull brown shaggies around him. A white buffalo hide could bring as much as $1,000.

When he turned to signal Tillman he saw the man riding for his life about a mile away. About 50 Cheyenne warriors on horseback were hot on his tail. The chase was a short one, because the Cheyenne shot the horse out from under him, then moments later, with Tillman’s scalp borne aloft on a lance, the warriors turned and started his way.

At that moment, Caspion forgot about the white buffalo and high tailed it. As he scanned his escape route, he decided that he couldn’t ride left or right without the warriors cutting him off, so he headed his saddle horse straight for the buffalo herd.

As Caspion bore down on the buffalo, they stampeded down the valley. In a mere flash the horse and rider was swallowed up by the massive beasts and down the valley they went in a mad rush, crowding, jostling, and hanging on for dear life. Caspion turned loose the reins and let the animal hold his own among the pushing and shoving buffalo. The sun soon set, but the dust was so thick he could see nothing and didn’t realize it was getting dark.

As they reached the end of the valley, the herd seemed to thin out and slow down as they started up into the hills. Suddenly, to his right, was a deep ravine and the crowding buffalo began forcing some of the herd off the edge, but Caspion’s horse managed to squeeze through safely. He could hear the loud thuds and painful bellows of buffalo crashing to their death down below. Once past the deep gorge, the pathway opened up and Caspion managed to grab hold of the reins and guide his horse off to the side. He dismounted and both the horse and rider dropped to the ground out of sheer exhaustion. He probably dozed off for the rest of the night, but he slowly got to his feet as dawn broke and walked back to the ravine to check out the dead buffalo. Many were indeed dead and some just wounded, but leaning against a bank was that white buffalo with a broken leg. Caspion climbed down and put the beast out of his misery, then skinned him. With his prize in hand he headed back to civilization.

For five years Caspion kept the robe, showing it off and believing as the Indians did, that it would bring good luck. It did for a while, but one night while on a drinking spree at Fort Lyon, he sold the robe for $100. Shortly afterward, he was killed by a Comanche down in New Mexico.

Reference: “True Tales of Old-Time Kansas” by David Dary.

Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.

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