Most of the stories I found were neither humorous nor particularly interesting. You can only read so many tales of horses bravely racing through the slush before you slouch into despair. The World War I era definitely needed more offbeat sports blogs.
But then, somehow, I stumbled into a 1910 story reprinted in The Post from the Kansas City Journal. With “Star Wars” now all the rage, and with too many of us living in crummy facsimiles of Hoth, and with “The Revenant” also playing homage to the idea of sheltering inside of dead animals, I figured you would probably want to read about it.
The original 1910 Post headline was “Crawled Inside of a Buffalo; Hunter’s Remarkable Method of Saving Himself From Freezing to Death.”
The un-bylined story begins with W.E. Davis, assistant Kansas State Auditor, retelling famous hunting tales. Assistant Insurance Commissioner “Ike” Lewis then chimed in with his own story about Elijah Williamson of Stafford County, “the most remarkable shot in all that country,” and a man with the greatest patience in the world. Let’s let Lewis to continue the saga, which I have not much fact-checked.
It was in the regular fall hunting season, and a number of hunters from that section of Stafford County had established a camp out on the prairies. They were planning for a several weeks’ stay, and got as far away from habitation as possible to find the best hunting. The weather was very fine, and for several days the hunting was of the gilt-edged variety. Many buffaloes were slain and the meat and skins secured. As usual, Williamson was delegated to do the shooting, and, of course, worked on ahead of the party.
One nice, warm afternoon, when the air was very balmy, and even ordinary coats were uncomfortable, Williams struck out to do some shooting along a certain ridge, telling the party that it could follow late that evening or early the next morning. The rest of the crowd was busy, anyway, with the morning’s bag from Williamson’s rifle.
Williamson also wished to do some reconnoitering for the next day’s hunt. He decided that he could take a long ride and return by moonlight, for the weather was very warm and he anticipated no trouble. Along about 4 o’clock in the afternoon he was about 20 miles fro the cap and still going on farther. He came to a ridge, and turned his well-trained pony loose to graze, and climbed up on the ridge to look around.
[Heavens this author was long-winded. Had they never heard of tl;dr? The long and short of it: the weather got colder, gray clouds presaged a storm, the wind began to blow, sleet began to fall, and Williamson’s panicked pony ran off.]
Williamson struck out toward the camp as fast as he could go. But after wandering for about half an hour he saw he was lost. He was not dressed for a blizzard, and the darkness and blinding snow made the situation desperate. He was becoming thoroughly chilled.
All efforts to locate himself failed. His feet and hands were getting numb, and it was only sheer will power that kept him going forward. It would have been fatal to stop for even a few minutes.
He stumbled and fell, and getting up examined what had caused him to fall. It was a buffalo path. In traveling from one draw to another the buffalo always used the same path, stamping and pounding it down until it left a little ridge on either side. It was one of these ridges that threw him.
So he decided to stay in that buffalo path, hoping that it might lead him to the shelter of some friendly hill. He had to keep walking anyway, and this path was better than the rough prairie.
[And so on. Was newsprint free back then? Anyhow, Williamson, as you’ve guessed, soon found a buffalo, “and sent a bullet crashing into its frame, and followed it with two more, to make certain that the animal would drop in its tracks." Getting good, now.]
He pulled out his big hunting knife and expertly set to work on the side of that big buffalo bull. He ripped open a slit from rump to shoulder and then feverishly tore away at the entrails of the big animal, pulling them out with an energy born of desperation. He simply ‘hulled’ that buffalo. And then he crawled inside, and “pulled the hole in after him.”
His quarters were very crowded and exceedingly uncomfortable, but they were shelter, and the animal heat of the buffalo’s body soon had a warming effect on Williamson’s numbed arms and legs. The wind whistled and howled about him, but he was sheltered and cosy (sic), and his life was saved.
All night he lay inside the carcass. By morning the animal was frozen hard and stiff, but its natural heat had remained long enough to thoroughly warm its occupant, and by vigorous kicking and twisting and moving he kept his own circulation going and saved himself from being frozen to death.
By daybreak the storm had spent its fury and the wind had gone down, though it was still very cold. He was busily engaged in getting on the outside of the buffalo when a shout reached his ears. His party had come out to rescue him, expecting, however, to find him dead, for his pony had come home without him. They had trailed him by a number of buffaloes he had killed along the way and were just in sight of the animal which Williamson had used for a hotel that night. He was a strange sight as he clambered from the carcass — bloody from head to foot — his clothes decorated with crimson icicles. But he was alive and happy — and so were his friends. The robe of that buffalo was one of Williamson’s most-cherished possessions.
“It seems almost impossible,” said one rather incredulous listener.
“It’s true,” said Lewis. “There is plenty of verification for it in Stafford County. Mr. Williamson told me the story himself.”
Plus, it appeared in the newspaper, so it has to be true. For further reading, see Science Proves Luke Skywalker Should Have Died in the Tauntaun’s Belly, and also the Cutting Open an Animal and Crawling Inside to Survive a Storm in the Wild blog, and also Can You Really Survive the Cold by Sleeping Inside an Animal Carcass.