Taking and Being Taken

Illustration by Henry Worrall, from Buffalo Land, 1873

Taking and Being Taken

The explanation of this plate in W.E. Webb’s (fictional) Buffalo Land is fascinating.

One incident of our trip into Colorado deserves especial mention from having been the first, as it will, probably prove the last, attempt to photograph a buffalo in his native wilderness, at close quarters. The idea was suggested in a letter in which the Professor received from his Eastern friends, who thought that actual photographs of animals inhabiting the plains would be a valuable addition to the ordinary facilities for the study of natural history. As good fortune would have it, there happened to be at Sheridan an artist, just arrived from Hays, then prospecting for a location, and him we properly engaged. The second day out, two old buffaloes, near our road, were selected as good subjects for our first views. One of these was soon killed, the other making its escape up a ravine near by. Although we had good reason to suspect that the latter had been wounded, we did not pursue him, since it was now near noon, and our artist, moreover, being of a somewhat timid disposition, had expressly stipulated that we should keep near him, not so much, he repeatedly assured us, as a bodyguard for himself, as for the protection of his new camera and outfit.

The dead bull we propped into position with our guns and other supports, and while the artist carefully adjusted his instrument, Shamus began to make preparations for lunch, and Mr. Colon and Semi set out for a few minutes pastime in catching bugs. They had been gone a full half hour, and we were just remarking on their prolonged absence somewhat impatiently, when a loud cry from the nearer bank of the ravine fell on our ears, and looking around we beheld Colon senior, and ditto junior, making toward us at a tremendous rate of speed.

“Buffalo!” was all that we could catch of Semi’s wild shouts, and he led the chaise directly toward us, his father having lost several seconds in securing one of the specimen-cases, and on the instant the old bull that we had wounded an hour before hove in sight in full charge upon the flying entomologists. As buffalo charges are short ones, he would have stopped, no doubt, in a moment or so, had not Muggs and I, the only members of our party who happened to have their guns at hand, opened fire on him, and planted another bullet between his ribs. The effect seemed to infuriate the old fellow tenfold, and down he came careering toward us, with what I then thought the most vicious expression of countenance I had ever seen on a buffalo’s physiognomy.

The attack was so sudden, and the surprise so complete, that we were most ingloriously stampeded, and fell back in hot haste upon our reserves, the guide and teamsters, who, we knew, would be provided with weapons and in good shape to cover our retreat. The sitting for which we had made such elaborate preparations was abruptly terminated in the manner shown in the accompanying engraving.

Fortunately for the artist, the blow originally intended for him was delivered upon his instrument. His assailant being at length dispatched, the poor fellow proceeded to pick out the ruins of his property what remained that might again be useful. He stated that his stock, as well as the subject of buffalo photographing, was “rather mixed,” and that if we would pay him for the damage done he would return. Next morning he left us, and thus it was that science lost the projected series of valuable photographic views.