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The Imperial Buffalo Hunter

On January 14, 1872, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia set of on a buffalo hunt on the Nebraska prairies with Buffalo Bill and Texas well as a whole host of military brass and foreign dignitaries. We'll explore Jack's part of the hunt later, but this piece from the New York Herald newspaper shows just how much exposure this event was giving to Buffalo Bill at the beginning of the year. By year's end, the pair of scouts would turn that exposure into stardom.

Stereogram view of the Grand Duke's party with members of Spotted Tail's band in Nebraska.

From the January 16, 1872, issue of the New York Daily Herald:



General Sheridan and the Grand Duke on the Prairies.


Buffalo Bill as Guide, Tutor, and Entertaining Agent.


The Hunting Party and Camp—The Creek and Surroundings—The Escort and Amusements—The First Herd of Buffalo and the Equipment, Start, and Appearance of the Hunters.

Alexis Kills the First "Horned Monster" and Telegraphs the News to the Czar at St. Petersburg.


Camp Alexis

Red Willow Creek, Neb.,

Jan. 14, 1872.

After a dash of thirty miles on horseback over the Western prairie His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Alexis and the whole distinguished hunting party have returned to camp, bringing their trophies and their honors with them. The Grand Duke has shown himself to be a thorough and successful sportsman. His noble bearing, his splendid horsemanship, and his battle with the buffalo on the first day's hunt have won for him the unbounded admiration or every member of the select and gallant company who witnessed them. His Imperial Highness has been looking forward to this occasion with special interest, and his anticipations have thus far been fully realized.


More sport, however, awaits him. Tomorrow is to be the grand chase, in which all are impatient to participate; and with the Grand Duke and Sheridan und Custer in lull gallop at the head, followed by the other guests who compose this imperial banting party, as well as by Spotted Tall, Pawnee Killer, Red Leaf, Whistler, and other less celebrated chiefs, with their bands of ambitious Indian bevies, will constitute a scene such as never has been witnessed in these broad, unbroken prairies.


But already the ambition of the imperial sportsman has been partially gratified; And the special carrier, who carries this dispatch for the HERALD to the nearest telegraph station, also bears a cable telegram from Alexis to his father, the Emperor, in Saint Petersburg, announcing that he had killed the first wild horned monster that met his eye on the plains of North America.


After we left the railroad station at North Platte yesterday morning for the boundaries of the Red Willow, where we are now encamped, we made a swift and splendid run over the frozen prairies to this place, with no road to mark the way, but only with "Buffalo Bill" as guide.

Buffalo Bill Cody


Buffalo Bill is a famous western scout, employed by Sheridan for Indian service, and one who is efficient and reliable. Bill is about 30 years of age, is over six feet in height and with other proportions. He has a pleasing face and fine address, and would have been prominent in other walks of life had not circumstances made him famous as a western hunter. The tales that are told of Buffalo Bill’s hunting experiences since he was old enough to ride a horse—for Bill was born and brought up on the Plains—are truly wonderful to hear related, as they are, around our blazing campfires, and in the presence of all the paraphernalia of frontier life upon the Plains. bill was dressed in a buckskin suit, trimmed with fur, his long hair hanging in ringlets down his shoulders.


As he dashed out from the railroad station he was followed closely by the Grand Duke and general Sheridan in an open wagon, drawn by four powerful horses, which carried the two distinguished representatives of two powerful nations at a fearful rate of speed over the rugged prairies. The remainder of the party, in army ambulances, kept hard after Sheridan and Alexis, and all had an excellent opportunity of appreciating, to some extent, the style of traveling here and the days of the old overland stagecoaches before the continent was spanned with iron rails, and Princess and generals and other people of high degree came out in silver palace cars to go sporting on the plains.

General Sheridan


A halt was made at the Medicine River, where horses were changed and a light lunch of sandwiches and champagne was speedily dispatched. Soon, however, when we resumed our run, the speed with which we were proceeding produced such effects as broken springs and spokeless wheels. Our course was a little southwest, and the distance over fifty miles. Just before the sun had sunk below the distant hills, and as we ascended some rising ground, we came in full view of a splendid military camp.


The Stars and Stripes were seen flying from towering flagstaff on a broad plateau on the bank of Red Willow Creek. A cheer arose from every member of our party as this scene burst upon our sight. A few moments more and the band of the United States cavalry was playing the Russian hymn, While Sheridan assisted to alight the honored guest of this magnificent camp, which bears his imperial name. It was not long before most of the remainder of the party had alighted and formed a picturesque group around the blazing, bright fire, which was burning in the center of the camp as we came in. A few of the party were missing, however, and nearly an hour passed and they were missing still.


General Ord, commanding the department of the platte; general Palmer, commanding the cavalry escort and the camp; general Custer, one of the celebrated cavalry heroes of our late war, and Lieutenant Starlegoff, of the Russian Navy, had not yet come into camp. Sheridan was just about sending out a party to look after them, when Custer, carrying his Buffalo rifle on his shoulder, came striding down the hill, followed presently by the others, Palmer being the only missing man who did not finally come in afoot. Their wagon had broken down five miles from here, and the only way they could get here was to tramp through the snow. This, however, sharpened their appetite for the splendid dinner which was announced just as they arrived.


The party consists of His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Alexis, His Excellency Vice Admiral Possiet, His Excellency W.F. Machin, High Councilor of State; Count Obzeffeff, Mr. Bodisco, Consul General of Russia to the United States; Dr. Coudrin and Lieutenants Tudr and Starlegeff, of the Imperial Navy. These are the Russians, and they are accompanied by Mr. Frank Thompson, who manages all their railroad transportation and telegraphic business. The American gentleman are Lieutenant General Phillip H Sheridan, General E Ord, General Palmer, General G.A. Custer, General Sweetzer and General Forsyth, Colonel Forsyth, Colonel Sheridan and Dr. Asch, of the Lieutenant General’s staff, together with the HERALD correspondent. The officers of the cavalry companies present were Captain Egan and Lieutenants Fowler and Allison, of company K, and Lieutenants Stevens and Thomas of company E. Lieutenant Hays, of the Fifth cavalry, attended to all the quartermaster business in camp and Lieutenant Clark accompanied General Palmer.

Grand Duke Alexis (front right) with his party on a stop in Lowell, Mass, the month before his hunt in Nebraska.


The dining room of our camp is formed out of two large marquese, and is very handsomely festooned inside with flags. A sumptuous banquet was presented before the guests, after all had reached the ground, last evening. The meat included different varieties of game to be found on the western prairies. Choice wines were served with the different courses. On the run to the Red Willow, Custer killed a Prairie chicken with a rifle ball, and the Grand Duke was so delighted at the shot—it took off the chicken’s head—that he wanted a slice of it for his dinner. Accordingly, after we came into camp, and the Duke relished it exceedingly.


After dinner, some songs were sung and yarns spun over the blazing campfire, and one by one the members of the party retired to their tents to sleep, perchance to dream of the expected Buffalo hunt on the morrow. Spotted Tail and his Indians had received notice to come up, and interpreters were sent off to hurry them.


The splendid sunset of the previous evening was quite surpassed by the brilliant coloring of the clouds that hung over the horizon at dawn of the succeeding morning. The sun, however, soon dispelled the floating vapors, and the sky presented nothing but the sun itself in an unbroken field of blue. The weather here is wonderful for this season of the year; the day has been warm and beautiful. Overcoats have been quite unnecessary, and some who brought them found them cumbersome.


Very early in the morning, Buffalo Bill went out to see what the prospects were. Before 10:00 o'clock he returned with tidings that about 15 miles distant there was a herd of Buffalo browsing on the grass that grows on the divide between the Red Willow and the Medicine. This was pleasing news to the Grand Duke and all the other sportsmen. Orders were given at once to make the necessary preparations to follow and find them.


Accordingly, soon after breakfast, the hunters in our party, armed to the teeth, were snugly in their saddles. General Sheridan, being slightly indisposed, did not come out with us in the morning, but we found in Custer, who was assigned the duty of the initiation of His Imperial Highness into the mysteries of Buffalo hunting, the most dashing cavalry officer in the service, next to General Sheridan.

Custer (left) and the Grand Duke in hunting attire.


The Grand Duke's hunting dress was very appropriate and simple. It consisted of jacket and trousers, of heavy gray cloth, trimmed with green, the buttons bearing the Imperial Russian coat of arms; he wore his boots outside his trousers; his cap was an Australian turban, with cloth top. He carried a Russian hunting knife and the Smith & Wesson revolver recently presented to him and bearing the coat of arms of the United States and of Russia on the handle.


General Custer appeared in his well-known frontier buckskin hunting costume, and if instead of the comical sealskin hat he wore he had only had feathers fastened in his flowing hair, he would have passed at a distance for a great Indian chief. Buffalo Bills dress with something similar to Custer’s.

When the three started off from camp together the Duke, Custer and Bill—all large and powerful and all hardy hunters—they attracted the attention and admiration of everyone. Most of the members of the imperial party went along and all staff officers in camp.


The face of the country was very much broken up and the snow in some spots was 18 inches deep. The Grand Duke availed himself of Custer’s experience, asked many questions, and practiced running and shooting at imaginary buffaloes as he went. Bill let us up and down and round ravines and over rolling lands—and sometimes within sight of howling wolves—a distance of nearly 15 miles, when, just as we galloped up the rugged slope to the divide, we came close up on part of the herd that we had seen.


The Duke and Custer charged together, but what seemed singular to the hunters the Buffalo did not run; they stood at bay, as if they had been expecting the imperial party, and as if to say “Come on;” but Custer charged through an open space and scattered them. He kept his eye close on a big bull that was waiting “to go for” the Grand Duke. Alexis, however, rode close up to the animal and put a couple of pistol shots in him, when he started down the ravine, the Duke and Custer after him. Another pop from the pistol and he fell, when a shot from a rifle finished him.


A cheer rose from the company. When the Duke had got his game, out came his hunting knife and off went the tail of the Buffalo, which he brought into camp as a trophy. Meanwhile the remainder of the few that were near enough were “gone for” by the other members of the party, and four Buffalo were killed in all. One of them led


A distance of three miles, but they finally brought him down. Count Olzonffeff secured his in gallant style, though the victory over the animal was not easily won. he who killed the other shall be nameless, but it is one of the incidents of the day that he secured his game.


Two years ago to the day the grand Duke was hunting with his father, and killed his first Russian bear. It delighted his imperial Highness immensely to mention the incident that he killed his first Buffalo on the anniversary of that day.

“Another bond of union between Russia and America,” said a member of the imperial party, while all joined in congratulations to the Duke.

Emperor Alexander II, father of Grand Duke Alexis


It was now getting late in the afternoon, and by unanimous consent it was concluded that we had better gallop back to camp before dark, and leave the larger herd beyond for the next day's sport.

In the best of spirits we now turned our horses heads toward our camp on the Red Willow Creek. As we came within sight of it just at sundown we announced our return and our success in Indian style, with yells, which were responded to from camp.

During our absence “Spotted Tail” with his braves had come in from Blackwood and camped on the other side of Red Willow Creek close to our own. they will accompany us on our hunt tomorrow.

Spotted Tail


There was some hard writing during the day, and the ground was both slippery and rough. General Sweetzer and Mr. Starlegoff, When chasing a Buffalo, came into collision, and both went to the ground together, and their horses also. Neither was hurt,but Mr. Starlegoff lost his pistol and his hat. Sweetzer had a fall all to himself afterwards while galloping down a precipitous place. The gallant Admiral went over once, but was soon sailing with even keel again. Mr. Machin’s Horse ran away with him, but slacked his pace when he got with the advanced party. Colonel Forsyth’s fell on him; but Forsyth has had more wonderful escapes than that.

Lieutenant Hays went scouting on his own account and could not be found by the mounted soldiers sent in all directions after him. While we were at dinner he came in and was received with cheers. He had given chase to a band of elk, and had killed two buffaloes on the trip.

Take it all together we have had satisfactory sport today and no serious accidents. We hope for no worse luck tomorrow.

Preparing for the second hunt.

Camp Alexis, Red Willow Creek, Neb.

January 15, 1872

The morning opens with the promise of a splendid day. Reveille is sounded and the orders are that we make as early a start as possible, for the Buffalo are supposed to be from 15 to 20 miles away unless perchance we should come across a herd on another trail.

The Indians will accompany us. General Sheridan will be along. If there are any Buffalo within 20 miles of here we will surely find them.

At night after we come in we are to have Indian war dances. The next day the imperial party start for Denver.

Custom time card for the Grand Duke train on the Union Pacific Railroad.

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