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Where the Buffalo Once Roamed

I took the research students over to the dead coyote today.  The guys have quite a bit of experience, between their schooling, hunting and trapping, I thought they might know what had killed it.  They had no qualms about touching it (which I had as I am always wondering about diseases I might catch).  Since they touched it, turned it over, felt its coat–I did the same.  They also thought it looked really healthy, and said its coat was perfect.  The guys discussed the coyotes leg for a while and if that could have been made by a trap.  The upper part of the leg was exposed to the bone.  After much debate, the guys felt that neither a trap nor a snare could make that wound.  It was too high for a trap and too low for a snare.

T___ felt the coyotes’ ribcage and noticed several broken ribs on one side.  Since the coyote was lying next to a field where the elk come nightly in large numbers, he guessed the coyote, a male, might have been feeling especially hubristic, trotted through the crowd of elk, and got a good kick where he then bled internally.  The gnawing might have come after he was dead.

I took a walk with Koda in the afternoon up on Riddle flat.  The elk have been swarming around there–laying everywhere, eating everything.  Koda found several stray legs scattered around.  The other day on the flat, I bent down and picked up a buffalo horn, a smallish one, probably a calf’s.  Buffalo haven’t been in my valley in over 150 years.   The horn was so old it looked like layers of bark, peeling, with lichen on it.  But it has a point at the end and, being a landscaper, I know wood when I see it, and this ain’t wood! I thought that was just fine; an unexpected and wonderful rare find.  That was just 2 days ago.

Yet today I backtracked home across the other end of Riddle flat, bent down again and picked up another Bison horn, much more massive than the other one.  J___ was coming over for dinner.  His family homesteaded in this valley since 1915.  He was born on the mountain, his mother trying to get to Cody and never making it.  He’s even shown me the branch of the tree he was born under–he’s got it hanging in his home.  (Note:  Was I ever jealous of that.  I want a tree that I was born under!)  I got home just as J___was walking up to my door.  “I’ve got something to show you” I have to yell really loud when I speak to J__ because he’s 84 and hard of hearing.  I pulled the Bison horn out.  “That’s a Buffalo” he confirmed.  “I’ve found them all over.  They haven’t been here for a really long time.  I’ve even found whole skulls. I found one that had a bullet in it and one that was Indian killed.”  I asked how he knew the Buffalo skull he’d found had been killed by Indians.  “It was hit over the head.  They always took the brains out to eat.”

Bison Horns with matchbook for size

Finding that Bison horn, peeling, almost petrified, was like finding a little bit of left over magic–magic that might be called our North American Dreamtime.

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