feature By: Leo J. Remiger | February, 21
Quite often, when researching the hide-hunting era, I run across items that just make me laugh out loud or scratch my head in amazement. This article is a very small collection of some of those very items. Enjoy.
“J.N. Dubois, a prominent hide buyer of Kansas City, told me at Buffalo, on the Kansas Pacific railroad, in 1874, that during ten months of that year 18,000 hides per day were marketed, with 500 outfits in the field, making thirty-six buffalo killed per day by each outfit.” This statement regarding J.N. Dubois was made by A. S. Burgher, who himself claimed; “We always aimed to kill all the bulls, as their hides were worth a dollar more than those of the cows, the average value of a bull hide in 1875 being $2.15. Forty bull hides made a good load. It cost us seven cents for ammunition every shot we fired, and when I say that I kept an account until I had used $2,200 worth of ammunition in killing 5,000 buffalo and other game, my readers may be incredulous.”1
Do I find that “incredulous?” I would have to admit that I certainly do! Two thousand, two hundred dollars at seven cents per shot equals 31,428 shots! Granted, he does say that he shot at “other game” as well as buffalo. Unfortunately, we don’t know what time frame he actually expended this ammunition, nor the duration of the hunt, nor, if the truth be known, where he hunted and what he considered “other game.” Even if we are conservative and say only half the cost of ammunition was used to harvest those hides – that’s still 15,714 shots required for those 5,000 buffalo or roughly three shots apiece. A.S. Burger was definitely not a member of the “one shot, one kill club.” On the other hand, he is probably a lot more truthful than it first appears.
George A. Hormel
“George A. Hormel, president of the pork packing plant of Geo. A. Hormel & Co., the leading industry in Austin, was born in Buffalo, N.Y. on 4 December, 1860, son of John G. and Susan (Decker) Hormel. He was educated in the public schools of Toledo, Ohio, and in early youth went to work for his father in the sheepskin tanning business. In 1876 he went to Chicago and worked in the packing house market for a year, after which he returned home and worked in the Wabash shops. Subsequently he again returned to Chicago and re-entered the packing business. Soon after he became a traveling agent for J.N. Dubois, Kansas City, purchasing hides, wool and the like. Next he engaged with Oberne, Hosick & Co., in the same line of business, traveling out of Des Moines for seven years. He resigned and entered the retail meat business in Austin, with a partner, under the firm name of Friedrich & Hormel. This partnership dissolved in 1892 and the firm of George A. Hormel & Co. was formed.”2
Surely you have heard of Hormel Food Corporation, but you probably did not know of the humble beginnings of its founder George A. Hormel, tanner, packer and buffalo hide buyer.
W.C. Lobenstein v. Patrick McGraw
Leavenworth District Court.
“This was an action originally brought by McGraw before a justice of the peace, charging Lobenstein with negligence, and claiming damages therefore. The case was removed by appeal to the district court, and there tried at the December Term 1872. McGraw had judgment for $75 damages, and cost of suit – from which judgment plaintiff in error brought the case to this court. Kansas State Supreme Court has concurred with the decision of the district court. The facts are stated in the opinion.
“W.C. Lobenstein, To Patrick McGraw, Dr.:
To damages sustained by allowing a large pile of buffalo hides exposed on the said Lobenstein’s lot on the NE corner of Choctaw and Third streets, in Leavenworth city, on the 9th June 1872, thereby causing the said McGraw’s horse to run off, and thereby damaging said horse, and the said McGraw’s buggy to the amount of $100.00.”
“A more material question is as to the liability of the plaintiff in error for the injury. The facts are these: W.C. Lobenstein had been for a length of time in possession of the vacant lots on the corner of Third and Choctaw streets. These he was using for the purpose of curing, drying, packing and baling buffalo hides. They were not enclosed by any fence. Neither was anything done to protect the hides from exposure to the sight of passing animals. Several horses had been frightened by these hides, and Lobenstein had been notified of the danger. On the day in question McGraw’s horse, while being driven at an ordinary gait down Third Street, took fright at the hides and ran away, causing the damage complained of. The uniform testimony was, that as a general thing horses are frightened at the sight of hides, some witnesses saying that green hides would, through smell and sight, scare horses more than almost anything else.”3
I have read many stories about W.C. Lobenstein – this was one of the “laugh out loud” articles.
Robert L. Russell
“Kenneyville, Texas, Aug. 15, 1886
“Editors Switchmen’s Journal:
“I propose writing a series of sketches embracing incidents which I think will prove interesting…
“I was transferred to the Kansas Pacific, western division, at Greenville Station on the border of Kansas and Colorado. Here, in 1868, during the Indian War, we had some rich and racy occurrences. I had my office in a box-car seventy-five miles west of Fort Hays - Sheridan’s headquarters - and thirty-five miles east of Sheridan, Col., the then terminus of that road. I had as a guard twenty negro soldiers, under a negro sergeant, for protection against the wandering tribes of Sioux, Arrapahoes and Cheyennes, then on the war path.
“We diverted ourselves during the day in hunting the antelope and shooting buffalo, of which there was countless numbers roaming at will over the desert plains. I had a contract with a Leavenworth firm – Lobenstein & Co – to furnish them in Buffalo robes, Coyote and Wolf pelts – by which, during the eight months I was on the plains I cleared over two thousand dollars in cool cash. My plan was this: During the night my colored guard would, after cutting off the hind quarters and securing the robe from the buffalo, poison the entails with strychnine, leave it on the prairie, and in the morning we could find from ten to twenty large grey wolves and coyotes dead around it. The fur from these carcasses was worth from two to four dollars apiece, according to the length of wool. Four or five of these sewed together made up a most beautiful robe, far prettier and more salable than one from the hide of a buffalo. I paid these “troopers” in whisky and tobacco, at an average rate of seventy-five cents per pelt – thus giving me in addition to my salary as operator ($80 per month) enough for a pretty fair start in life.
“I left the plains for civilization again, but like other “gay and festive cusses,” (especially operators and railroad “boys” generally) after taking a leave of absence of about two months, and “doing” St. Louis, Kansas City, Lawrence and Leavenworth, I reported for duty to Colonel R.B. Gemmell, superintendent of telegraph, at Lawrence, with about twenty-five cents out of the $2,500 I drew from the company and Lobenstein & Co., when I took my two month’s vacation. The balance went in the way that the money of railroad men usually went in those days…
Robert L. Russell”4
I found this to be a nice, straight forward account of making easy money and throwing it all away on a short “spree.”
Wilcox Tanning Company
In the winter of 1871 to 1872, W.C. Lobenstein, hide buyer and fur dealer of Leavenworth, Kansas, received an order from English tanneries, through New York connections, for 500 buffalo hides. Lobenstein contacted Charles Rath, who in turn contacted J. Wright Mooar to subcontract a portion of the required hides. Mooar had been killing buffalo for meat and felt he could provide a portion of the required lot. The 500 hides were to bring $2.25 each and would be consigned to England for experiments to determine whether they could be tanned into useful leather.
Mooar supplied his quota to Rath and found he had an excess of 51 hides. Mooar was working for J.J. & J.M. Richards at the time. Their brother-in-law, John W. Combs, was working for a silk-importing firm at 81 Pine Street, New York City. Mooar wrote a letter to them to inform them that he was consigning 51 hides to their care and asked them to evaluate the market.
Either Mooar or Combs received the hides and proceeded to J.J. Bates & Co., one of the oldest hide houses in the country. The senior partner was an old man and had been in the hide business all his life, but when asked what buffalo hides were worth, he replied that he had never seen one and that such a thing as a flint buffalo hide had never before been on the market. Either Mooar or Combs had stored the hides at 91 Pine Street and advised the hide dealer that he could inspect them at his leisure.
When the hides arrived in New York City, they were hauled down Broadway in an open wagon and attracted much attention. A commercial tanner from Pennsylvania, who happened to be in New York on business saw the hides. He followed the wagon to Pine Street and made a cursory examination of them. He contacted a business associate and together they called on either Mooar or Combs and asked if they could make a more thorough examination of the hides. Satisfied that they might be able to tan these hides into useful leather, they offered to buy the hides at $3.50 per hide or .14 cents per pound for the entire lot.
Previous accounts would have us believe that Mooar consummated the deal with the Pennsylvania tanners, but a letter in the John W. Mooar papers, it clearly shows that it was Combs who accepted the offer and sent a certificate of deposit from the Metropolitan Bank to Mooar for payment of the hides. The number of hides received and paid for was 51. Mooar received $139.69 for these hides after paying freight, cartage, labor and commission to his brother-in-law. The future of hunting buffalo for hides was not exactly encouraging based on the sole sale of these hides. However, the hide market had already been established by this time. J.N. DuBois, a fur and hide dealer in Kansas City, filled an order and shipped several bales of buffalo hides to German tanners. By the time Combs sent his letter to Mooar, DuBois was already taking ads in western newspapers and circulating brochures all over western cities offering to buy hides at $2.25 for cow hides and $3.25 for bull hides, providing they used hide poison.
Of interest to us, regarding this article, is who was the Pennsylvania tanner that purchased that entire lot of 51 hides? We, of course, will never know for sure unless some receipt of the purchase surfaces besides Combs letter to Mooar. I am inclined to believe it was either an employee of the Wilcox Tanning Company or Maurice M. Schultz himself.
In 1890, J.H. Beers & Co., published “History of the Counties of McKean, Elk, Cameron, and Potter, Pennsylvania.” In it were biographical selections including this one on the Wilcox Tanning Company of Elk County, Pennsylvania.
On page 681 a brief history and description of the city of Wilcox, Pennsylvania:
“Wilcox, in 1870, claimed a population of 1,100, where three years before a little hamlet with a population of 100 existed. The tannery, completed in January, and in operation, employed 300 men, and the monster saw-mill employed about fifty men. Capt. Cleveland conducted the Wilcox House; James Malone, a jewelry store, and A.T. Aldrich, a general store. Six years later the Schultz well was drilled, and several oil ventures inaugurated.”
On page 680 a history and description of the Wilcox Tanning Company as it operated in 1890:
“The tannery at Wilcox was built in 1870 and rebuilt and enlarged in 1885. It employs 250 men inside and 50 outside. In the summer employment is given to 400 bark-peelers. It has 723 lay-away vats, and 6,000,000 pounds of leather are tanned yearly, which represents 333,000 sides [or 166,500 hides], over 1,000 sides of leather every working day of the year. The tannery consumes from 24,000 to 25,000 cords of bark yearly, which is peeled on the company’s own lands. A well-equipped broad-gauge railroad, which cars, engines and side-tracks, is among the judicious accoutrements that enable the firm to transport bark and material from the forests to and around the complicated siding that gridiron the property for six miles. As the supply of bark is one of the most urgent necessities of a tannery, the elder Schultz made liberal provision, to which the sons have made some very handsome additions, by way of increased acreage. They now own in fee and control the bark and lumber on 40,000 acres of land in the counties of Elk and McKean. It is lighted by electricity and gas, and so also is the town. Gas is used in the furnaces in connection with tan-bark for making steam. There are thirteen boilers, representing about 700 horse-power, which furnish steam for nine engines, eight large steam pumpers and five power pumpers. Some very large building, constructed entirely of lumber, occupy the major portion of the land used exclusively for the tannery, chief of which might be mentioned the three drying, washing, engine, polishing and vat-houses. Seven hundred and twenty-three vats, seven feet wide by nine feet long, and five and one-half feet deep, the actual capacity of the concern, make it pre-eminently the largest tannery in the world. This great industry was established by Maurice M. Schultz, who came into the wilderness about twenty-six years ago. Over $1,000,000 capital are invested in the tannery, in the town of Wilcox, in the railroad tracks and sidings and general paraphernalia, indispensable to the successful conduct of such a mammoth establishment. Employer and employees work in perfect harmony at Wilcox, a hamlet having a population of 1,200 people, who subsist, directly or indirectly, upon the prolific income of the business. Cozy two-story houses are provided for most of the tenants. A handsome residence is furnished the superintendent, A.A. Clearwater, who lives on elevated ground overlooking the hundred or more acres occupied by the town and tannery. The present owners are Norman and Irving Schultz. The former attends to the buying of hides and selling of leather in New York, while Irving resides at Wilcox, and looks after the management of the tannery and the extensive gas and oil interests of the company.”
While we will never know for sure who actually developed the first successful commercial procedure for tanning buffalo hides in the United States, there can be no doubt that the Wilcox Tanning Company of Elk County, Pennsylvania, tanned more buffalo hides than any other tannery in the United States.
The largest sole-leather tannery in the world, according to the Shoe and Leather Reporter’s Almanac for 1876, is the Wilcox Tannery, in Elk County, Pennsylvania, which for several years has manufactured about 200,000 sides of hemlock sole-leather per year. For the last two years it had tanned nearly all the bison-hides coming to New York…
The Secretary of Internal Affairs of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requested the various tanneries provide a brief summary of their operations. These summaries were to be included in an annual industry statistical report. This is the information provided by the Wilcox Tanning Company for the 1874 to 1875 report:
Wilcox Tanning Company, Wilcox, Elk County, Pa.
Production for the year 1875, 2,500,000 pounds of leather. Value $600,000. Whole number of person employed, 300. Wages per day – 3 foremen, at $3; 3 carpenters, at $2; 294 laborers, at $1.50. Average hours worked per day, eleven. In operation during the entire year
(Signed) Wilcox Tanning Company5
The following description of the Wilcox Tanning Company will provide some idea of the immense size of their operation in 1875 to 1876:
Wilcox Tanning Company – Post office address, Wilcox, Pa.
Production, hemlock sole leather; annual product in lbs., 4,000,000; value of same, $1,000,000; number of persons employed, 210; cords of hemlock bark used, 22,000; value of same, $110,000; domestic hides tanned, 5,500; value of same, $30,000; foreign hides tanned, 100,000; value of same, $550,000; total domestic and foreign, 105,500; total value of same, $580,000; wages per day paid employees – tanner (foreman,) $3.30; beam hands, $1.50; yard hands, $1.50; rollers and spongers, $1.50; bark grinders, $1.25; laborers, $1.25.
Remarks. – In operation during the entire year. In addition to the above employees 200 bark peelers were employed four months of the year, and received each $2. per day for the time employed. The above is the actual working of the tannery from February 1, 1875, to February 1, 1876, in round numbers.6
Three things should attract your attention when you have finished reading the above two paragraphs:
1. Domestic and Foreign – does domestic mean Pennsylvania or U.S. hides?
2. Does foreign mean non-Pennsylvania hides (i.e. buffalo) or non U.S. hides?
3. What does 22,000 cords of hemlock bark equate to? In Pennsylvania, the tannin used to tan hides was extracted from hemlock bark. A firm doing extensive business in Maine during the 1875 to 1876 time frame estimated that the bark of the hemlock, within their knowledge, yields three cords to the acre; that four to six trees will make a cord of bark and 1,000 feet of lumber.
It is just my speculation that the Wilcox Tanning Company is the tannery that purchased the initial load of hides from Mooar. It is based on the premise that a new tannery (built in 1870) was looking for cheap hides to process and buffalo hides provided that source of leather. The tannery was certainly run by an experienced tanner – Maurice M. Schultz. He was born in Delaware County, New York, February 11, 1827, and died at Wilcox, Elk County, Pennsylvania, on 18 May, 1884. At the age of 16, he embarked on a whaling ship for the Arctic seas, and returned to his native land after a voyage of four years. After his return from the sea, he became a tanner and engaged extensively in that business up to the time of his death. He operated a tannery at Sparrow Bush, New York, from 1860 to 1866 and accumulated a goodly fortune. He disposed of the tannery and embarked on a pleasure trip to Europe for a year’s duration. On his return, he formed the Wilcox Tanning Company and remained at the head of the firm until his death.
Our final tidbit regarding the Wilcox Tanning Company is this article from the “Annual History of Science and Industry for 1876” edited by Spencer F. Baird:
of the Buffalo
Some idea of the extent to which the extermination of the buffalo is going on at the present time may be learned from the fact that the Wilkox [Wilcox] Tanning Company, of Elk County, Pennsylvania, said to be the largest of the kind in the world, and which is especially engaged in tanning buffalo-skins, received in the spring of 1875 120,000 bull-buffalo hides. These were all taken within a few months previous to the time of shipment, and constituted only a small portion of the entire number destroyed, which may be safely estimated at half a million. One thousand pounds of very heavy bullets were picked out, partly imbedded in the skin or matted hair of this stock of hides. Several of these bullets were sent to the Smithsonian Institution, and were exhibited at the Centennial display, illustrating the useful products of the United States as derived from the animal kingdom.7
Think about this for a second – 1,000 pounds of very heavy bullets! These hides would have been taken in the fall and winter of 1874, and the spring of 1875. The predominant Sharps rifle calibers used for hide-hunting during those years were:
The .40–2 5⁄8 BN with 370-grain bullet.
The .44-2 ¼ BN with a 380-grain bullet.
The .44-2 5⁄8 BN with either 450 or 500-grain bullets.
The .45-2 1⁄10 SS (.45-70 Government) with either a 293-grain express bullet, a 400 or 412-grain grease groove bullet, and 400, 420, 500 and 520-grain paper patch bullets. The standard load was with the 420-grain paper patch or the 400-grain grease groove bullet.
The .50-1¾ SS (.50-70 Government) with either a 457-grain grease groove bullet or a 500-grain paper patched bullet.
The .50-2 SS with 335-grain express bullet, 425 or 457-grain grease groove bullet or the 473 and 500-grain paper patch bullet.
The .50-2½ SS with 425 or 473-grain paper patch bullet.
The article said “very heavy” bullets, so if we presume that the 500-grain paper patch bullet was the most common bullet used, that equates to 14,000 bullets being found in those 120,000 hides. If we use the 450-grain bullets for our base sample that equates to 15,556 bullets.
That certainly makes me scratch my head in amazement!
1. Hunting Buffalo on the Great Plains, A.S. Burgher, Pioneer History of Custer County, and Short Sketches of Early Days in Nebraska, Solomon D. Butcher and Ephraim S. Finch, Broken Bow, Nebraska, The Merchants Publishing Co., Denver, Colorado, 1901, Page 86
2. History of Mower County, Minnesota, Edited by Franklyn Curtis-Wedge, H.C. Cooper, Jr., & Co., Chicago, 1911, Page 814
3. W.C. Lobenstein v. Patrick McGraw, July Term, 1873, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the supreme Court of the State of Kansas, W.C. Webb, Reporter, Vol. XI, Geo. W. Martin, Public Printer, Topeka, Kansas, 1874, PP 645, 648, 649
4. Switchmen’s Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5, September 1886, Room 19, 164 Washington St., Chicago, Ill., PP 226-227
5. “Wilcox Tanning Company,” Annual Report of the Secretary of Internal Affair of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 1874-5, Part III, Industrial Statistics, Vol. 3, B.F. Meyers, State Printer, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1876, Page 552
6. “Wilcox Tanning Company,” Internal Affairs – Industrial Statistics, Tanneries - Elk County Annual Report of the Secretary of Internal Affairs of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Part III, Industrial Statistics Vol. IV, 1875-76, B.F. Meyers, State Printer, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1877, Page 752
7. “Rapid Destruction of the Buffalo,” Edited by Spencer F. Baird, Annual History of Science and Industry for 1876, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, New York, 1877, Page 302