National Geographic : 1981 Jul
disease claimed far more white lives than Indians ever did. That fall something yet more inviting turned up. Bill was offered the exorbitant sum of $500 a month for 12 buffalo a day to feed the 1,200 railroad workers camped near Hays. He had learned to shoot animals out of a running herd, starting at the rear. "It was at this time that the very appro priate name of 'Buffalo Bill' was conferred upon me by the road hands," Cody later wrote. "I have never been ashamed of it." ALMOST DEPLETED BY 1900, buffa lo today roam the nation in growing private and public herds, estimated at more than 40,000 head. One herd lives well in the custody of Larry Kerr, who carefully superintends a 3,600-acre sand sage-prairie state game refuge south of Garden City, Kansas. After a spine-jarring pickup ride, we found 40 females with a dozen calves block ing an abandoned rail grade, looking im mense and defiant. Larry's weathered face creased deeper in amusement as he recalled uninformed buyers who came to purchase surplus animals: "That was before we had auctions. One lady showed up with a leash to claim hers. She took one look and went home empty-handed." We watched a 1,000-pound cow sink to her knees and roll to scratch. Dust flew as a wallow formed. Larry frowned. "Wallows are a real problem on our limited range. Too many and grass won't grow." Growing grass is a main concern here. Larry leaned over to point out: "Forbes buffalo utilize that for protein. Sage-they eat for roughage in winter. Big bluestem that's ice cream to a buffalo." Suddenly the herd was in motion. One animal lumbered off, and two by two, cow and calf fell into line, as if obeying a hand signal from a cavalry officer. "There you see why the buffalo were so Defying nature, a buffalo named Cody overcomes fear of fire on the rodeo circuit. His trainer,Bunky Boger, says that most spectators today have never seen the wild animal that Buffalo Bill helped make a symbol of the American West.