ROYAL BUFFALO HUNTLt. Col. George A. Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich & Chief Spotted Tail
Red Willow Creek - Nebraska - January 15, 1872
One of the diplomatic coups of President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration was a visit from the son of the Emperor of Russia, the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich. The Grand Duke had been appointed lieutenant of the Imperial Russian Navy and was sent to the United States as a good will ambassador. The Grand Duke met with President Grant on November 23, 1871 and expressed his desire to travel west and hunt buffalo. General Sheridan was tasked with the assignment, and the Grand Duke left on a luxurious train with Pullman railroad cars draped with American and Russian flags for the journey. Along the way there were tours of art galleries, shopping in New York, grand balls at the US Navy Yard, a visit to Smith and Wesson firearms factory in Massachusetts, Niagara Falls, and Quebec, Canada.
General Sheridan called on Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, Commander of the 7th Cavalry to be the Grand Marshal of the hunt because of his reputation as a skilled huntsman. Col. Custer met the party at Fort McPherson in Nebraska. The Grand Duke, knowing Col. Custer’s love for dogs, presented him with a huge Russian Wolf Hound. (Custer owned 40 rollicking hunting dogs, his favorites sleeping in the house with him and his wife Libby.)
The hunting party train arrived at the town of North Platte on the morning of January 13th and were greeted by the famous frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody, decked out in fur trimmed buckskin and beadwork. Cody had been hired to guide the expedition and knew the native Indian leaders in the area. Ten days earlier, Cody had delivered a request from the government for Brule’ Sioux Chief Spotted Tail and a number of his braves to attend the festivities at camp.
The next morning was the Grand Duke’s twenty-second birthday and Custer and Cody took him for his first buffalo hunt. The Grand Duke learned quickly from Custer how to approach and shoot from horseback, and soon the Grand Duke was given the honor of taking the first buffalo. The Grand Duke was thrilled with the hunt, taking four trophies. When the men returned to camp they were excited to find Chief Spotted Tail and four hundred warriors there. The festivities that night were not to be forgotten. The next morning, the Grand Duke, Custer, Cody, Chief Spotted Tail, and a number of others had a memorable hunting day with game taken for all in attendance. The story of the royal buffalo hunt would be retold across many a campfire.
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