Buffalo Chips

“Having been the mainstay of the Indian for generations, the buffalo, at the last of their career, made one outstanding contribution to the white race. Practically speaking, they made emigration possible. It is hard to see how the overland journey could have been successful in the early years without them. In the Platte Valley, just where herds were thickest, there was a stretch of two hundred miles without one stick of timber—no dry grass, no sage, no anything that would serve as fuel except buffalo chips. Often nearly white with years of exposure, dry to handle, and light as feathers, this age-old deposit of the herds burned like charcoal with little blaze and less smoke. It boiled the night guard’s coffee, warmed the baby’s milk, heartened them all with hot meals night and morning. It was of such importance to the domestic economy of the emigrants that the canny mules learned to pull up and stop hopefully at any spot where the droppings were thick, and even the most finicky of the women vied with one another to collect the driest. . . .

[Emigrants], young and old, carried bags and, no matter what else the did on the long day’s walk, they industriously gathered fuel. Never was manna in the wilderness more truly a godsend than this remarkable substitute for wood, which providentially appeared only where wood was not.”