General Custer Leads Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on Buffalo Hunt in 1872

By Mike Bowen

Co-author, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

General Custer, General Sheridan, Buffalo Bill, and others went on a buffalo hunt in January 1872 to entertain the Grand Duke of Russia, Alexis. They left Denver and arrived at Kit Carson by a special train of Pullman palace cars with about 150 people (Rocky Mountain News Weekly, January 24, 1872). The hunt took place between Sand Creek and Rush Creek, and some say they went to the battleground site (Otero, My Life on the Frontier). General Custer led Alexis on this hunt, and it makes sense he would want to see the location of Black Kettle’s village at Sand Creek. Four years before the buffalo hunt, in 1868, Custer led troops at the Battle of Washita where Black Kettle was killed.

Buffalo Bill

Just a few months before the buffalo hunt, a fire burned down much of the town of Kit Carson, according to the Rocky Mountain News. It’s interesting to note, we didn’t find any mention of it in any newspaper reports about the Grand Duke’s visit and buffalo hunt, just in this piece from November 1871:  

“The report became current upon the streets last night that a destructive conflagration had visited the city of Kit Carson and destroyed the entire place (The Rocky Mountain News (Weekly), Volume 13, November 22, 1871). “The passenger and freight houses of the Kansas Pacific railway company caught fire at least twenty times and were only saved by the most persistent and exhausting labors.” 

The Rocky Mountain News published an article a week before the hunt that stated a great number of buffalo were located between Kit Carson and Kiowa Springs, near present-day Eads.

The Rocky Mountain News (Daily), Volume 13, January 13, 1872

“The buffalo abound in thousands, stretching away in dense masses over the plains as far as the eye can reach” (Rocky Mountain News, (Daily), Volume 13, January 13, 1872). 

It makes sense the buffalo hunt group was expecting a large amount to hunt. According to the article below, they had success. 

The following is from the Rocky Mountain News Weekly, January 24, 1872: 

Buffalo Hunt near Kit Carson 1872 with General Custer and Grand Duke Alexis.

KIT CARSON, Colorado, January 20,— The Grand Duke Alexis and suite, with General Sheridan and staff, arrived here at 8 o’clock this morning in their special train of Pullman palace cars. They are accompanied by General Custer, General Forsyth, Frank Thomson, their manager of transportation, and General E. S. Bowen, Colonel C. W. Fisher and T. F. Oakes, officers of the Kansas Pacific railway, and Dan Casement, of the Union Pacific. 

For the buffalo hunt previous arrangements had been fully made. Cavalry horses had been ordered and arrived last night from Fort Wallace, and a large number of the citizens of the place had prepared horses, ambulances, wagons, etc., to participate in the hunt. 

The morning was cold and cloudy and threatened snow, but about 10 a.m. the clouds cleared away and the day has been as fine as could be desired. Within a few miles of Carson the train had passed a large herd of buffalo. Upon their arrival the buffalo were in sight of town and the grand duke was impatient for the chase. At 11 a.m. everything was in readiness and the grand duke, General Sheridan, General Custar (Custer), and some thirty other, on horses, made an eager, and rapid start for the main buffalo range, and were followed by a number of ambulances and wagons loaded with men armed for the hunt. The grand duke was dressed in grey, and Custar (Custer) in a complete suit of buckskin. 

The duke took the lead in the chase Alexis makes a magnificent appearance on horseback, General Custer says he never knew a man of the grand duke’s proportions to be so fine a horse man as he is. 

The buffalo were soon reached, when Alexis, in great excitement, pronged into the midst of them in advance of the whole party, and shot down the first buffalo—an enormous bull. He immediately dismounted and General Custer was at his side instantly. The grand duke cheered, and in his great delight clasped his arms around General Custer and kissed him. The chase was at once resumed and continued some hours. About fifty buffalo in all were killed. Alexis shot five, General Custer three, and General Sheridan two. 

Returning, the party arrived here at 6 p.m. all in the highest spirits after the greatest enjoyment of a glorious day’s hunt. The imperial buffalo hunt was a grand success. 

The party leave here to-morrow morning, and will reach Topeka Monday at 10 a.m. and be entertained by the governor and legislature of Kansas and the citizens of Topeka. 

Rocky Mountain News Weekly, January 24, 1872

We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible Custer visited the location of Black Kettle’s village. We believe we found where Black Kettle was camped, based on artifacts. Multiple eyewitness accounts say that some of the Indians that didn’t flee the village tried to take shelter at Black Kettle’s tipi. Many tipi sites were found on the Bowen family ranch, but only one had a lot of bullets. There wasn’t much fighting in the village, so it’s likely that’s where he camped. 

Check out photos of artifacts here:

There are over 100 photos of photos and maps in our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

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