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Buffalo Heads from a Poacher’s Cache

When the U.S. Army took over administration of Yellowstone Park in 1886, one of it’s primary missions was prevention of the poaching that was decimating the wildlife. The soldiers worked hard to stop illegal hunting, but they lacked authority to anything other than apprehend poachers, escort them out of the Park and order them never to come back. Persistent poachers ignored the orders.

Finally, in 1894, a poacher was so brazen that he generated public attention and forced Congress to act. Here’s the Park Superintendent’s account of how Ed Howell’s poaching career ended.

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Sometime in February I sent a scouting party across the Yellowstone and into the Pelican Valley to look alter the herds of buffalo and elk that usually winter there. On the return of this party they reported to me that they had found an old snowshoe and toboggan trail, but that they were unable to follow it. It apparently headed in the direction of Cooke City.

While this party was still out, word came to me that Ed Howell, a notorious poacher of Cooke City, had passed the Soda Butte Station one stormy night and had gone on into Cooke for supplies, but that he had not carried any of his trophies with him. A few days after this the sergeant in charge of the Soda Butte Station reported the finding of a trail of this same party with his toboggan and followed it as far as the Park line.

I then determined on a plan which resulted in the capture of Howell. I waited until I thought it was about time for him to be back in the Pelican country, and then sent out a large search party, with Captain Scott in charge. This party arrived at the Lake Hotel on the evening of March 11. Next day Burgess and Sergeant Troike of the Sixth Cavalry went over into the country previously indicated by me, and made their camp.

On the morning of the 13th, very soon after starting, they came across some old snowshoe tracks which they could scarcely follow, but by continuing in the direction of them they soon came across a cache of six bison scalps suspended above the ground, in the limbs of a tree.

Securing these trophies, the party continued on down Astringent Creek to its mouth and then turned down the Pelican. They soon came across a newly-erected lodge, with evidences of occupation, and numerous snowshoe tracks in the vicinity.

Soon after this they were attracted by the sight of a man pursuing a herd of bison in the valley below them, followed by several shots from a rifle. After completing the killing, the culprit was seen to proceed with the removal of the scalps.

While thus occupied with the first one my scouting party ran upon him and made the capture. It turned out, as I had anticipated, to be Howell, who coolly remarked that if be had seen the party sooner they could never have captured him, meaning, of course, that he could have shot them before they were near enough to make effective the small pistol, which was the only weapon they carried. They brought him into this place as a prisoner, reaching here on the evening of the 16th of March.

I at once made full report of the affair and it was widely noted in the newspapers of the country. A suitable recognition, in the way ot a certificate, was made of the coolness and bravery of Burgess and Troike. The scalps, as far as they could be saved, were brought in and properly prepared by a competent taxidermist and placed at the disposal of the Department.

The feeling aroused in the minds of the public by this act of vandalism stirred Congress to prompt action, so that on May 7 an act for the protection of game in the Park received the President’s signature. In order that it may receive wider distribution, I inclose a copy to be printed with this report.

Howell denied having killed any bison but those found near him, but I feel sure that he did kill the six found in the cache, and it is quite probable that he killed others which we did not find. In one seuse it was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to the Park, for it was surely the means of securing a law so much needed aud so long striven for.

On April 25 Howell was released from confinement in the guardhouse by your order aud removed from the Park, and directed never again to return without proper permission. On the evening of July 28 I found him coolly sitting in the barber’s chair in the hotel at this point. I instantly arrested him and reconfined him in the guardhouse, had him reported to the U. S. attorney for this district, and on the evening of August 8 he received the first conviction under the law which he was instrumental in having passed. He was convicted before the ITS. commissioner of returning after expulsion, in violation of the tenth oi the Park regulations, and sentenced to confinement for one month and to a fine of 850.

With this conviction as a precedent and a strong determination to make other arrests under the new law whenever it is violated, I believe the days of poaching in the Park are nearly at an end.

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— Captain George S. Anderson,  Acting Superintendent of Yellowstone Park, Report of the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, 1895-1896.

— Photo, Pioneer Museum of Bozeman.

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