The great Kerby Island Buffalo Hunt of 1890

It wasn’t uncommon in the 1890s’ to see cows grazing on Kerby Island on the Grand River in Brantford. Local farmers would wade their cows across the shallows to the always lush Kerby Island.

The Hawkins family were living on what is now known as Brant Ave and farmed a piece of land that did not back up to the river. It was a regular occurrence to see Hawkins driving his herd of cows on Brant Ave, down Church Street to the river and from there, across to the island.

The summer of 1897, Brantford hosted the world acclaimed Buffalo Bill’s Cody’s Wild West Show at what was then known as Agricultural Park, now known as Lorne Park. Among the large troop of performers, riggers and animals was the great Chief Sitting Bull, scratching out a living as a curiosity. A sad state for a once great leader.

If one thing is known about buffalo it is that they hate being penned up. On this specific night they broke through the temporary fencing put up around them and the beasts broke out. They went as a small herd to find fresh grazing land and forded the shallows onto Kerby Island and began to graze there joining the local grazing cattle. The next morning, Cody’s animal wranglers and performers set off to gather up the wayward Bison.

An account of the situation was recorded in the Expositor and was republished in Jean Wildie’s book, ‘Brant County – The Story of its People.’

“The cowboys on their mustangs crossed the old Lorne Bridge and went on up Brant Ave and down Church Street as far as the Herby Mill, thence crossed the river to the island where, after more than an hour of lassoing and rounding up, they finally succeeded in returning the herd to the show grounds.”

Cody had family ties in Ontario. Although born in Iowa, he lived for several years in his father’s hometown in Toronto before the family returned to the USA and settled in Kansas. Cody died on January 10th, 1917 and received a full Masonic funeral at the Elks Lodge Hall in Denver Colorado.  He became a Knights Templar in 1889 and received his 32nd degree in the Scottish Rite in 1894.

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