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Jack McNaney

AIR #60
January 28 & 31, 1965

Glendive's Jack McNaney is the only son of one of the most colorful and illustrious pioneers of eastern Montana, James McNaney. Jim McNaney was born in Philadelphia, June 22, 1860. He was employed by the United States government as a teamster, and in this capacity he came to the Custer Battlefield the year following the Custer massacre, working with others to clear the carnage from the field. He spent the next winter in Denver, then went to Laramie Plains, Nebraska, where he joined a trail herd coming up from Texas and helped bring them on to Montana. Those first years in Montana he lived mostly in the vicinity of Miles City, working on various ranches in the area. At one time he was under-sheriff of Custer County. Later he also operated a ferry across the Yellowstone near Miles City.

Tenderfoot Goes Hunting

Miles City, in the halcyon days of its youth, had many visitors. It was then the new west. Buffalo roamed the plains. Deer grazed on the succulent grasses in the valleys. As the menace of roving bands of hostile Indians decreased, so increased the number who would go out and exterminate the wild game. One autumn a young student from one of the leading colleges in the east came west to Miles City. He was well informed in the old dime novel literature of that day. Apparently he was eager to perform some 'heavy' act in the western wilds that would give him a place in history along side of Buffalo Bill, or some other famous frontier character.

After spending a few days in the city to become familiar with the conditions this young man arranged for Mr. McNaney to accompany him and his party on a buffalo hunting trip. They arrived up in the Big Dry Creek country. Off in the distance they caught sight of a band of buffalo. Maneuvering in order to approach the band with the wind the hunters came within striking distance. Addressing the young easterner, McNaney said: "Young man, there is one kid looking right at you. Shoot him in the head and when he falls run quickly and cut his throat."

The young man raised his gun and fired. The quarry went down and remained stunned long enough to allow the highly tensioned tenderfoot to get to him. A surprise awaited him. Instead of being pierced by the bullet from the rifle of the young man, the animal recovered from the impact and arose to his feet. A run for life ensued in which the hunter became the recipient of several snow baths. The race was settled in favor of the easterner by a well-directed bullet behind the left fore shoulder from McNaney's high-powered rifle.

James McNaney was a very close friend of W.T. Hornaday of New York City, with whom he traveled in 1886, at which time Mr. Hornaday was gathering specimens for the Smithsonian Institute."

Hornaday in his book, A Wild Animal Roundup, devoted considerable space to Mr. McNaney. In this book, Hornaday explains that when he realized, with a shock, that the bison millions were not only going but gone, he promptly contacted his superiors at the Smithsonian Institute and was instructed to arrange immediately an expedition to the West to see if somewhere there might still be some unkilled bands from which specimens might be taken and preserved for the museum for future generations.

The Smithsonian would meet the expenses and would also ask the Secretary of War for all help possible from the nearest Army post. Some preliminary fieldwork in May and June of 1886 convinced them the bison specimens might be obtained in the area north of Miles City so they returned in late September to the Big Dry country for the actual hunt (shedding animals in the spring were not suitable for mounting).

Hornaday had engaged Irvin Boyd as 'foreman' of the expedition, and Boyd in turn had engaged Jim McNaney and L.S. Russell to help with the hunting. They planned, if possible, to obtain "twenty skins of males, females and young, ten or fifteen skeletons, and pick up about 50 skulls." By the end of October they had killed ten of the desired twenty.

"Jim McNaney" (writes Hornaday) "is a splendid shot and a genuine Buffalo hunter with a record of about three thousand three hundred head, slain for their hides in three years, killed five of the ten head." At the close of the hunt he wrote, "Jim was the best shot and champion hunter of our outfit, and he killed as many buffalo as all the rest of us together, just half of the whole number."

In a later chapter Hornaday wrote, "Jim McNaney was with me on the historic Smithsonian buffalo hunt of 1886, even unto the day when we found and killed the big bull whose lordly portrait now adorns and illumines the face of our new ten-dollar bill. There is little question that that is the same buffalo that appears on the buffalo nickel."


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