Once upon a time, long, long ago… one hundred and twenty-five years ago to be more precise… when Alexander II was Czar of Russia and when thousands of Buffalo wintered in the Republican Valley, the Czar’s fourth son, the Grand Duke Alexis, General Phil Sheridan, Buffalo Bill Cody, General George Armstrong Custer, and Chief Spotted Tail gathered on the Red Willow in Hayes County for the last great buffalo hunt.
A special train provided by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company arrived at Fort McPherson, Nebraska on January 12, 1872 with the Grand Duke, General Sheridan and their entourage. The Duke and General Sheridan rode in an open carriage, drawn by four horses. Buffalo Bill escorted the party with five or six ambulances, fifteen to twenty extra saddle horses and a company of cavalry with buffalo soldiers, across the South Platte to the Medicine Creek for lunch and a change of horses and then on to Camp Alexis on the Willow for the hunt.
Preparations for the hunt had been extensive. Spotted Tail and his camp of Indian warriors were in place and had been provided with ten thousand rations of flour, sugar, coffee, and 1,000 pounds of tobacco for their trouble – twenty-five wagon loads in all. Two hospital tents and ten wall tens were provided for the party. “A” tents for the servants and soldiers. Three of the wall tents were floored and the Duke’s was carpeted with oriental rugs. Box stoves and Sibley stoves were provided for the hospital and wall tents. The hospital tents were used as dining tents and they included an extensive culinary outfit. The 2d Calvary band was in place and in tune; “Hail to the Chief” was played when the Grand Duke arrived.
That afternoon and evening the party was entertained by Spotted Tail and his Brule Sioux with riding and fighting exhibitions and a war dance around the great camp fire which was so realistic that it ran “shivers down the spines of the scouts and soldiers present.” Colonel Cody reports that General Custer carried on a mild flirtation with one of Spotted Tail’s daughters, and it was also noticed that Duke Alexis paid considerable attention to another handsome Indian maiden.
Early the next morning the hunting party approached a fine buffalo herd several miles up the Willow. The Grand Duke rode Buffalo Bill’s celebrated buffalo horse “Buckskin Joe”, which had been trained to ride at full gallop with a target so that the best shot could be made. Even though the party was cautioned to keep out of sight until the “charge” command was given, Colonel Cody had to restrain the excited Duke to prevent a premature direct charge toward the buffalo. The party moved to the windward behind the sandhills, and gradually approached the herd. “Now is your time!” commanded Cody: “Ride as fast as your horse will go! Don’t shoot until you get a good opportunity!”
Away they went, tearing down the hill and throwing up a sandstorm in the rear, leaving the Duke’s retinue far behind. Within a hundred yards of the fleeing buffalo, the Duke fired, but missed. He was not accustomed to shooting from a running horse. Cody rode up close beside the Duke and advised him, “Don’t fire until you are on the flank of the buffalo. “The sport is in the chase.” They dashed off together and ran their horses on either flank of a large bull, against the side of which the Duke thrust his gun and fired a fatal shot.
The Duke celebrated his success, taking off his cap and waving it vehemently; shouting to those who were fully a mile in the rear. When his retinue came up, there were congratulations, and everyone drank to his good health with overflowing glasses of champagne. The hide of the dead buffalo was carefully removed and dressed. Cody reports that, “the royal traveler in his journeys over the world has no doubt often rested himself on his trophy from the plains of America….”
Twenty to thirty animals were killed on the first day of the hunt. The next day the Duke killed two buffalo; the Indians eight; General Sheridan two in two straight shots; “Shorty”, one of the scouts, three; Lt. Stevens, one; Buffalo Bill and the other members of the party killed 40, making about 56 for the day. Two Lance, one of Spotted Tail’s chiefs, demonstrated his skill for the Duke, by killing a large animal with one arrow which passed entirely through the body of the running buffa-lo. The Duke killed a buffalo at a distance of 100 yards with a heavy navy revolver. Buffalo Bill ranked this shot as a “marvelous scratch.”