Wolfe Publishing Group

    Jim White

    Boss Buffalo Hunter

    Jim White Sculpture by Tom Hillis
    Jim White Sculpture by Tom Hillis
    Born in Illinois in approximately 1828, (Collinson mentions the date 1835, in his book, Life in the Saddle), Jim White led an adventurous life. Jim Wilson was his name until an encounter with authorities in Moro, New Mexico, but for the purposes of this article, we will refer to him as Jim White. In April, 1855, he was on the Cimarron River when the freighting outfit he worked for was attacked by Cheyenne Indians. Half the bullwhackers were killed in their beds, while the others were killed fighting. White and another man were night-herding the oxen and ran for some high bluffs along the river. Here they hid in a cave and ultimately were the only two who survived the battle.

    In Westport (Kansas City) he became Train Boss for an outfit of over 200-yoke of oxen. They hauled freight to Santa Fe, then loaded for Chihuahua, Mexico. From there they loaded up and hauled to Santa Fe, then returned to Chihuahua. After this trip they returned to Westport with a load of wool.

    During the Civil War he was a Wagon Boss and Forage Master. He was present at Fort Phil Kearny in December, 1866, during the Fetterman Massacre. He was an active participant in the Wagonbox Fight on August 2, 1867. In 1868, he assisted in the relocation of the Navajos from Fort Sumner to Fort Wingate. He was involved in a “serious social encounter” in Mora, New Mexico, which caused him to flee that part of the country and make for the buffalo range.

    He was at a dance hall when a fight broke out and a man was killed. After the altercation, some Mexican officers attempted to arrest him. He shot one through the head and killed a deputy. He hurried to his camp, found the teamster who had actually done the shooting he had been accused of. They armed themselves, saddled horses, and headed east. They camped east of Las Vegas and were on the trail again by daylight. Between Las Vegas and Wagon Mound they killed a calf, cooked some steaks, and rested.

    Suddenly a horse snorted, White looked up, saw a posse of Mexicans headed in their direction. He shot a deputy sheriff through the middle, his second shot killed another Mexican, and his last shot wounded a third. The remaining members of the posse retreated. White and his companion mounted up and rode over to one of the wounded Mexicans. They warned him to tell the others not to follow them any farther or they would be killed.

    In April, 1870, he signed on to drive 700 head of cattle from Fort Worth, Texas to Abilene, Kansas. The fall of 1870, found him in Kansas again, fresh from his second drive north. It is here the story of Jim White, the buffalo hunter, begins.

    Josiah Wright Mooar, Albert Vesper, John Lindley, Jim White and two unnamed individuals agreed to set up a partnership to hunt buffalo. Fully outfitted with one heavy, four-oxen wagon and two horse-drawn wagons, rifles, ammunition and provisions for a party of six men, they began buffalo hunting for meat.

    Their first season began in November, 1870, and encompassed the area along Pawnee Creek and the Smokey Hill River. A couple weeks after their start, while they were camped at a site later named “Freeze Out Hollow” by J.W. Mooar, they found themselves in a “norther”. The White outfit remained relatively comfortable through the use of buffalo hides and Jim White’s frontier experience, while other parties on the plains suffered considerably. A freighter named Snuffer was hauling cordwood from Big Timber Creek to Fort Hays, and during this storm seven of his outfit of nine men froze to death. Snuffer, himself, eventually died from frostbite. When he arrived at Billy Dixon’s road ranch on the Smoky Hill River, his feet, hands, ears, and parts of his face were frozen, he took the time to dictate his will to the man running the ranch and then died.

    During this period, they obtained only three cents a pound for meat. The hides were cut up and used to protect the meat from dirt and flies until it could be salted down. The flint hide market began in 1871, and thus the ultimate destruction of the buffalo. The White and Mooar partnership dissolved that winter. Jim White had made enough money to purchase his own outfit. He and Thomas C. Nixon partnered up and they operated on the Arkansas River out of Dodge City, Kansas. They later made their way toward the Cimarron and were camped by Crooked Creek on March 6th. Along with buffalo they found many antelope, deer, wild turkey, quail, grouse, and plover. The country abounded in game. Among the men who worked for the White/Nixon outfit are names which became legend throughout the West in later years; men such as the Masterson brothers, Ed, Bat, and Jim, Levi Richardson, and Henry Raymond.

    Nixon sold his interest to a stout Missourian named “Windy Bill” Russell and went into the saloon business with Orlando A. Bond. The White/Russell outfit hunted out of Dodge City until the spring of 1874.

    The month of September of 1873, found Jim White and Mike O’Brien in Fort Griffin scouting the ranges for buffalo sign. The area around Dodge City had seen a considerable decline in buffalo and large-scale hunting was no longer profitable. Their trip was a success as they saw thousands of buffalo; they decided to move south after they finished the last season up north in Kansas.

    The White/Russell outfit commenced hunting the Fort Griffin area in the fall of 1874, in proximity to other outfits such as John Goff, Mike O’Brien and the Mooar brothers. The White/Russell outfit located on Kiowa Creek, in Haskell County, and had increased the size of their operation to such an extent that their outfit consisted of 25-yoke of oxen, six mules, heavy hide wagons, lighter wagons and supplies, which included four 25-pound kegs of powder, 400 pounds of lead and assorted camp equipment and provisions. Their shelters were made of buffalo hides.

    At Fort Griffin, White is reported to have shot a man named “Hurricane Bill” through the fleshy part of his arm, a wound that didn’t amount to much, according to Frank Collinson.

    Collinson bought out Russell’s interest in the buffalo range for the sum of $1,500 and became Jim White’s next partner. Russell had become restless with the monotony of poisoning wolves and eventually decided to return to his family in Missouri.

    Collinson left us with a very vivid description of Jim White from this time period:

    “This man White was about forty-five, a tall, raw-boned man. He was over six feet, square-shouldered, about 180 pounds. He had one of those toothbrush mustaches, rather inclined to be Roman nosed. He was always dressed in the cowpuncher manner: pants stuck in his boots (never the high-heeled type), the old time Stetson hat, grey or blue shirt. The old Army shirt was like the present one, only blue, some were double-breasted. He was an uneducated man, yet spoke good English because of his association with army men. He abhorred colloquial expressions like “thar” and “whar” and would not permit them to be used in his camp. White was a tough hombre if he had to be, otherwise very peaceable.”

    In the spring of 1875, before the hunting started, White and Collinson followed the Mackenzie Trail to the head of Red River to look over the country. They rode through Tule Canyon. This was the site where General Mackenzie’s troops killed 1,400 horses belonging to the Comanche Indians. They saw skeletons of what appeared to be young stock and mares bleaching in the sun. From here they proceeded to Palo Duro Canyon, near Canyon, Texas.

    They then followed an old Mexican buffalo hunter’s trail down the north side of Palo Duro to the crossing of Mulberry and Spring Creek and from there to their camp on Kiowa Creek. During this trip, thousands of buffalo were in sight.

    In the summer of 1875, the Fort Griffin Vigilante Committee appeared in the White/Collinson camp with George Causey and two or three other prisoners. They asked White to identify Causey and he did. The Committee members had been tracking horse thieves and found them in Causey’s camp and decided to take the entire outfit in. Causey was invited by White to spend the night and bring his outfit over in the morning. White, Collinson, and Causey then became partners for approximately two years.

    Causey brought his outfit over and it was a good one consisting of mules, saddle horses, and two wagons. During the time the three hunted together, they were very successful. In the spring of 1877, they sold 11,000 hides, 6,000 buffalo tongues, and 45,000 pounds of dried, salted buffalo meat. They could have cured more, but salt cost five cents a pound and the problem of hauling the meat to market did not provide the profit margin they were looking for.

    In April, 1877, roving bands of Indians were causing untold trouble for the buffalo hunters. A year’s worth of hides might be found slashed or set on fire, stock stolen, or camps set ablaze. Something had to be done. A congregation of hunters located at Lee, Reynolds and Rath (Rath City) decided to set out after the hostiles and punish them. They asked Jim White to captain the hunters.

    There are many versions of what happened next, at any rate, White considered the proposal and declined. He figured there would be considerable drinking and the effectiveness of the party diminished in direct proportion to the amount of whiskey consumed. He advised his partner not to go, but Collinson did not heed his advice.

    During his stay at Rath City, on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River, White reportedly shot a quarrelsome hunter. Skelton Glenn remembered that “Spotted Jack” Dean, so named because of freckles, was shot by White while at Rath City. He shot him through the shoulder. He is also reported to have attempted to shoot a mulatto named “Skipper” at the same place.

    During the Fourth of July, 1877, in Dodge City, Kansas, White and some of his outfit were involved in a saloon brawl that almost claimed Whites’ life. The altercation occurred in the Lone Star dance hall. A cowboy named Wess Adams was insulted by a big, long-haired hunter named Jim White. Adams talked his friend, Charlie Siringo, into going back into the saloon and teaching those “killers of buffalo” that they were not in the same class as cowboys.

    Adams received a knife wound in his back and Jim White fell to the floor, apparently dead, after being knocked over the head with a pistol by one of the cowboys. By candlelight, Siringo sewed up Adams’ wound with a needle, thread, and surgical plaster. They then rode 18 miles to their camp. Jim White recovered even though his skull was cracked in several places and a lot of sewing had to be done on his many wounds. It was one of White’s men who knifed Adams.

    By 1878, the “Big Fifties” had just about “rubbed out” the southern herd. They sold their hides to Goldstein and Company. Jim Carlisle paid them by check and they went north to Dodge City to cash it.

    After a spree in Dodge City, they hauled northwest to the Powder River country and were stopped by the United States Government. All that country was under martial law and this prompted them to head south once more.

    They pulled back to Texas by way of Denver, Deartrail, and Granada. From there they crossed over to Tascosa, then to where Amarillo is now located and down to the Mulberry River, across the Red River and finally to Bridle Creek. Here they found the first buffalo since leaving the Powder River country.

    In a week’s time, they killed a herd of 200 animals, mostly cows and calves and some yearlings. They each had a wagon and two skinners. The little calves would lie by the dead cows or follow the hide wagons to the hide yards. They would be gone the following morning, back to the plains where they would starve to death or be hunted down by packs of wolves.

    Collinson located and killed the last small bunch of buffalo, about 25 cows and calves and a few yearlings, east of where they were camped. White heard the shooting and brought a wagon and some skinners and finished off the last of the buffalo they killed in Motley County. From here White and Collinson rode to Las Linguas in the Quitaque range.

    White then had a similar experience as did George Causey, his one-time partner. W.S. Glenn narrated the incident as follows:

    “Jim White, a big Irishman, was running an outfit on the Kitiquay [Quitaque] River near the foot of the plains. One evening an outfit similar in size pulled in near him. Jim was out early the next morning and had succeeded in getting a stand on a bunch of cows, and had just commenced to kill them, having some five or six dead on the ground. All at once they stampeded and no wonder. There was a band of one hundred Mexicans surrounding this bunch of cattle, and as the ground was somewhat broken, they were forcing them to a more open ground, as they wanted a level ground to lance on. Seeing the Mexicans were the cause of his losing his stand, for when he had a stand, he considered them all his, and as he termed it, knocked him out of $150, it made him very angry, and he soon decided how he would get revenge. Some of them were in range of his gun and he had been shooting for years and was a good shot, his eye was quick in telling him the distance, and with the first shot he unsaddled a rider, and thus continued till he had shot three horses down. The Mexicans well knew from whence came the shots, and quite a group gathered on a knoll nearly a mile away. On seeing them there he decided that they were deciding what to do for revenge, thinking themselves safe at that distance. Jim threw his sights to the top of the notch, set down his rest stick, made something like a pair of blacksmith’s tongs, setting his gun in the rest stick with his left hand to hold it steady, he pulled the trigger and saw another horse fall. To his surprise the whole band broke, and he ran to a high point to see if there were any more in sight. When he did not see anyone, and seeing that the buffalo were moving for miles away, he saw it was useless to hunt any more that day so proceeded to camp and fortify himself as all his belongings were there. Every minute he looked for an attack, as they were overwhelming in numbers. He had not long to wait when he saw the whole bunch pulling out, and the last he saw of them they were going toward old Mexico and looking back to see if they were followed. After that “White Jim”, as the Mexicans called him, met some other hunters. There were no other Mexicans in that locality that winter, all going to other quarters to hunt buffalo and from that on he was dubbed White Jim.”

    Sometime later, White and Collinson loaded up, hides on one wagon, camp equipment on the other. They pulled for Ballard Springs, where Henry Hamburgh bought their last hides.

    White and Collinson hunted together until 1878. White was considered by Collinson to be the most outstanding hunter and frontiersman of his acquaintance. No better shot ever touched the trigger of a Sharps rifle. He got his buffalo on the average of three shots an animal. Collinson once saw him kill 46 buffalo on Duck Creek with 47 shots.

    A few days later, White and Collinson shook hands on the Tongue River and said, “Adios.” White headed for Las Vegas to sell meat to railroad construction camps. Collinson rode out to Lincoln County where rumor had it that anyone who could use a Sharps rifle or fire a cannon could make $3.50 a day.

    The White/Collinson outfit dissolved their partnership in June, 1878. Their dog, Lobo, a part mastiff and gray wolf mixture, was owned in partnership by both men. Both wanted the dog and since neither would let the other have him, they let Lobo decide by pulling out and whom ever the dog followed, he then became the sole owner. Lobo watched White’s wagon roll off, then turned, and trotted after Collinson.

    Late August, or early September, 1878, found White in partnership with Oliver P. Hanna. O.P. Hanna had a contract to furnish 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of meat to the construction crews at Fort McKinney on Clear Creek. White was a welcome addition, as Hanna needed an experienced hunter. When White showed up with two mule teams, five kegs of powder, 700 pounds of lead, a skinner, and three heavy 16-pound Sharps rifles, Hanna knew he had the man he needed.

    When the Outfit broke up, Lobo the dog chose Collinson.
    When the Outfit broke up, Lobo the dog chose Collinson.
    With two men hired to drive wagons, butcher carcasses, and deliver the meat to the fort, White and Hanna began operations. Hanna was considered a good shot, but in White he met a true master of the rifle. White instructed him:

    “Throw that little pop gun of yours in the wagon, use one of my big guns and practice shooting at a long distance and in a short time you can kill them at 500 yards as easily as you can kill at 200 yards. Being so far away they can’t see you and run away.”

    Game was so plentiful that both wagons could be filled in half a day. In an afternoon, 50 pounds of fish could be caught. Eventually the meat contract ran out and White scouted north for buffalo sign. In October, White wrote to Hanna that he had found a promising spot on the divide between the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers at the head of Sunday Creek, 50 to 55 miles from Miles City. White sent for Hanna and the two began to hunt in earnest.

    When Hanna arrived in late December, or early January, he found White and three men building a shelter out of buffalo hides. White had made a dugout on the slope of a hill, with buffalo hides inside and out, a fireplace chimney through the hill and hides serving as rugs and bedding. It was bleak country, wood was scarce, but a vein of lignite near their camp, when mixed with buffalo suet, made a satisfactory fuel. They hired six skinners to skin and peg hides, while White and Hanna hunted afoot. They only killed what the skinners could skin in a day. Leaving the carcasses overnight would make them freeze and nearly impossible to skin. In two months, they had roughly 2,600 hides ready for shipment to Miles City.

    Near an area named Dry House Springs, which was located 22 miles northeast of Miles City on North Sunday Creek, Jim White made one of his most famous stands - killing 120 buffalo in less than two hours. The herds were storm-driven, while intense cold and a heavy blanket of snow furnished ideal conditions for a successful stand.

    Hanna and White cured buffalo meat for sale at “end of track” and the steamboat landings. The method used was the same as used in Texas, 10 years earlier. Pits were dug in the ground, lined with green hides forming vats. Meat was then pickled in these vats and then dried and smoked. L.A. Huffman mentions that it was pretty tough meat, bull buffalo being used because they yielded more meat and seemed easier to kill. The hunters selected cow for their cookpots and Huffman noted:

    “If there was ever a sweeter, finer morsel of flesh than those well marbled strips from the hump of a fat, barren cow, I have failed to find it”.

    Indian depredations caused the loss of their stock and the ever-present threat of Indians kept them close to camp the balance of the winter. In spring they were able to hire freight outfits to haul their winters kill of 5,000 hides to market in Miles City. During the summer, Hanna went sport hunting with some Englishmen and White returned to his claim on Soldier Creek.

    In the fall of 1880, the White/Hanna outfit crossed over to the Big Horn Basin by way of Pryor’s Gap and set up a small camp on the mouth of Shell Canyon. White was now 52 years old.

    In October, 1880, Hanna returned to his claim on Hanna Creek. When he returned to the White/Hanna camp he found the place deserted. The cabin was stripped; guns, provisions, hides, furs, pelts, everything had disappeared. Excavation of a mound of freshly turned earth revealed the body of Jim White, wrapped in a buffalo robe and shot in the back of the head.

    Hanna always suspected a man named Miller. He had been working for White and when he drank heavily, he would turn violent. Of course, there were also the three hard-cases who had camped just below the White/Hanna camp prior to Hanna’s leaving for his claim on Hanna Creek.

    A man of White’s experience, could be ambushed in such a manner, leads one to suspect the shooting was done by someone he was familiar with. White was not a man to be trifled with, as evidenced by his history of shooting scrapes. In 1868, at Mora, New Mexico – White killed two Mexican officials and while he was pursued by authorities, near Las Vegas, he shot an additional three pursuing posse members. At Fort Griffin, he shot Bill Tilghman’s partner, William A. “Hurricane Bill” Martin through the fleshy part of his arm. He attempted to shoot a quarrelsome hunter named “Spotted Jack” Dean through the shoulder and attempted to shoot a mulatto named “Skipper” at Rath City. His encounter with Mexican Ciboleros left four unsaddled from their horses. One horse dropped at sufficient distance to intimidate over 100 Ciboleros into leaving that portion of the range occupied by Jim White’s outfit. Jim White, who had shot over 16,000 buffalo with his .50 caliber, 16-pound Sharps rifles, died as suddenly as the victims of his stands.

    Jim White’s story does not end here. O.P. Hanna buried White in a buffalo robe on a low sage brush covered bench, just above the campsite. In 1974, the original old log cabin was donated to the Old Trail Town museum by Irvy and Trina Davis. The Davis’ owned and operated the ranch where White and Hanna had their hunting camp.

    Four years later, in the fall of 1978, Bob Edgar visited with the Davis’s about White’s grave, which was in their cornfield. The grave was marked only with a half dozen limestone cobbles. Irvy told how his grandfather, Al Kershner, had come to the Shell Creek valley in 1887, and worked for the Mason-Lovell ranch as a cowboy. In 1889, Kershner took up a homestead on Shell Creek.

    The existing log cabin that had been built by White and Hanna, became the first living quarters on the ranch. Al Kershner was aware of Whites grave and always protected it. When he plowed the bench where White’s grave was, he was always careful to plow around the few stones that marked the grave.

    It was fortunate that after nearly 100 years of plowing the field, White’s grave had not been plowed over and lost. Irvy Davis had been concerned about the grave for a number of years. Davis had made an appeal to both the Wyoming Travel Commission and the Greybull Chamber of Commerce to, at least, put up a historical marker near the site. However, there was little interest shown.

    During the visit with the Davis’, Edgar decided that, if they couldn’t get any local support by the following spring, it might be a good idea to move the grave to the historical cemetery at Old Trail Town. There a monument could be built with a bronze statue of Jim White at the head of the grave. At the foot could be a plaque with White’s history.

    By spring, it was decided that the best thing to do was to relocate the grave at Old Trail Town. After getting the necessary legal work done through a local funeral home, Edgar was ready to see if he could find the body of Jim White, the buffalo hunter.

    Tom Hillis, who has helped on a number of projects at Old Trail Town, built an old-style wooden coffin. They took this with them to Shell Creek, in mid-April of 1979, to use if they were actually able to locate White’s body.

    It was a nice sunny morning when Bob Edgar, Sherri Edgar, Jack Turnell, the Hillis family, and the Davis family gathered at the site that had been protected for so many years. They did not know exactly where the body was lying, so they laid out a four-foot by eight-foot excavation running east and west, in about the middle of the scattered stones. After excavating down about the five-foot level, they began to wonder if they had missed White entirely. However, at six feet below the surface the trowel exposed the leather toe of a shoe, in the northeast corner of the excavation. They had dug down almost directly on Jim White. The famous buffalo hunter was found.

    With some careful work with a trowel and brush the perfectly preserved skeleton of Jim White was uncovered. A dark line in the red soil outlined the body. This appeared to be what was left of the buffalo robe that White was buried in. White was lying on his back with his hands folded on his chest.

    The skeleton, as it lay in the ground, measured six feet, two inches from the bottom of the heel to the top of the skull. There were a few dark colored buttons among the bones, a dark horn handled folding knife lying against White’s right leg, where the pocket of his pants would have been, and a pair of moccasin-like shoes were still partly intact on his feet.

    The .50 caliber bullet hole in the skull showed that death had been instantaneous. The bullet had been fired from above from a rather sharp angle. It entered the head above and slightly in front of the left ear and came out below and behind the right ear. The entry hole was .53 caliber and the exit hole was about two inches. The skull was fractured all the way around the forehead.

    White could have been scuffling on the ground with an assailant and shot by a third party who was standing. Possibly, White might have been shot in his bed or he may have been shot by someone sitting on a horse while he was standing on the ground. We will probably never know the exact circumstances of Jim White’s death. The story has long since been lost to the mountain wind.

    White’s remains were transferred into the new coffin and taken to Old Trail Town. A few days later a full burial service was held for White at the Trail Town cemetery. A large crowd of historians and interested people came to pay their respects. At the end of the ceremony a salute was fired over his coffin with Sharps rifles.

    Jim White now lies between two other frontiersmen of the Old West. “Liver Eating” Johnson is to his left and Jack Stilwell, of Beecher Island fame, is to his right.

    On July 12, 1985, a three-quarter life size bronze statue of Jim White shooting a 16-pound Sharps rifle with cross sticks, was dedicated to his grave monument. The bronze was sculpted by Tom Hillis and donated to the monument. Also, at the same ceremony, the heavy-barreled Sharps rifle that is believed to be the gun that White gave O.P. Hanna in 1878, was presented by Miles Gilbert to the Museum of the Old West at Trail Town. The rifle was presented on behalf of Charles Carter, of Corona, California, who inherited the rifle from his grandfather, Oliver Perry Hanna — White’s last hunting partner.

    Jim White, the White/Hanna cabin, and the White/Hanna rifle are all back together again. Visitors that pass the monument can now learn the story of one of the most famous buffalo hunters of the western plains. S


    1. The Great Buffalo Hunt, Wayne Gard, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1960, PP 87, 114, 191, 199, 201, 241, 254, 256, 260-265, 267.

    2. Life in the Saddle, Frank Collinson, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 1963, PP 46-59, 67-68, 102-103. Boss Hunter, R.K. DeArment, True West, April 1989, PP 20-27.

    3. The Frontier Years, Mark H. Brown and W.R. Felton, Bramhall Press, NY, 1955, PP 66-68.

    4. “Jim White’s Grave,” Edgar, Bob, correspondence with Miles Gilbert, PP 1-7.

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