Tahoma and the Buffalo

Post by Charnell

With spring just around the corner, it will soon be time for backyard barbeques. What sounds good? Steak? Ribs? Chicken? How about a buffalo? A BUFFALO BARBEQUE?!! That’s exactly what Colonel Dale Bumstead served to Arizona’s finest at his luncheon a long, long time ago — January 4, 1951, to be precise.

Colonel Bumstead's Buffalo Barbeque menu

It seems that in the summer and fall of 1950, the good Colonel had his eye on two targets: hiring “that Indian artist” (Quincy Tahoma) to paint the wildlife on his sprawling ranch, Tal’-Wi-Wi, and bagging Arizona’s renegade king buffalo “Old Outlaw”, also known as “Big Grunt”.  And it was pretty well acknowledged that when Col. Bumstead set his sights on something, he didn’t miss.

So Tahoma moved out to Tal’-Wi-Wi and tooled around on a truck with the ranch foreman, Wilbur Bushong, on day trips to Alpine and St. John to watch the deer and the antelope play.  These frequent excursions allowed the artist to memorize the musculature and movements of various wild animals as they foraged for food, ran, played, fought and rested.  As Colonel Bumstead reported, “Tahoma has a remarkable photographic memory and the ability to accurately and rapidly record what he sees or dreams in his colorful paintings.”  In exchange for harnessing that talent, Bumstead provided the Navajo artist with a bit of adventure, his room and board, but no booze!

By now, you might be wondering whether Tahoma’s work and the buffalo barbeque ever came together.  They did indeed, but we’re only going to tell you part of the story in this post!

Quincy loved to paint buffalo and he took every opportunity to see them in action. So it was only natural that when Colonel Bumstead arranged a hunting party to go after the renegade buffalo, he invited Tahoma to tag along.  The octogenarian Bumstead had been an accomplished businessman and a military explosives expert before becoming a rancher, stockman and sportsman.  He knew how to plan, he knew about ammunition, he knew how to shoot, and he knew the temperament of buffalo.  While he had heard stories about this killer buffalo “Big Grunt”, he had yet to meet up with him.  The plan was to take a scouting party out for surveillance first, and after tracking down the renegade, they would regroup and come back the next day armed for the kill.

"Big Grunt" Photo by Jerry McLain

The party included Bumstead, his photographer friend Jerry McLain from Phoenix, Harold Pratt (superintendent of the House Rock Valley buffalo herd), ranch hand Ray Bell, and Tahoma.  According to a January 1951 article about the adventure, John Jay Broderick of the Arizona Wildlife-Sportsman told the harrowing story that unfolded after the five men’s strategy session.

“The next day, without guns, they piled into the pick-up and started across the plains in quest of a glimpse of the outlaw. Just before the sun was ready to hide for the night behind the vivid Vermillion Cliffs, Pratt spotted a lone bison several miles away.

As they approached, the animal’s tail shot straight over its back.  Prattt was certain they had located “Big Grunt”. The huge bison continued to graze while the light truck drew within 200 yeards of him, but he kept his head toward the approaching party.

McLain unslung his camera equipment for location shots, while Bumstead and Pratt left the vehicle to approach the reputed killer cautiously on foot.

Slowly “Big Grunt” lifted his head and gave the men full attention.  They froze in their tracks.  Minutes passed while the renegade pondered.  Then he made his decision.  He didn’t like the presence of his visitors.

In a sudden surge of wild power, the great bison pawed the earth like a fighting bull, emitting the gutteral grunts that had given him his name.  He buried completely one horn in the earth – a hardpan sufficient to turn the point of a pick.  He ripped it out with a savage twist and thrust the other horn in just as deep.

The men, without weapons, did not accept the challenge. They backed quickly toward the truck, in which the engine prudently had been left running. In less time than it takes to tell it, the big outlaw charged. The truck swung around to give McLain camera range.  When he realized he could not catch the truck, “Big Grunt” stopped, but each time it swung toward him, the chase was on again, the outlaw’s tail straight over his back as his signal of defiance.”


Quincy Tahoma at Tal'-Wi-Wi Photo by Jerry McLain

Jerry McLain got some photos, Quincy Tahoma got his mental images, and Colonel Dale Bumstead got a taste of the bulk of bone and muscle he would face the next day.  Nobody got much sleep that night!

Did Colonel Bumstead ever slay “Big Grunt”? Did Tahoma paint the buffalo? Was this huge renegade the same buffalo that was barbequed a few months later and what role did the Navajo artist play in the festivities?  Stay tuned for the next post…and possibly the next one after that!

We are deeply indebted to George Bell, the son of ranch hand Ken Bell, who sent us 1951 Tal’-Wi-Wi newsletters. a copy of the menu and copies of two articles about the renegade buffalo hunt. Thanks also to Shirley Bushong, Wilbur Bushong’s widow, for her recollections about Tahoma’s time spent at the ranch.

Special note to those who can get to Phoenix on Saturday, March 3:  

Vera Marie will be autographing our book, Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, at the Heard Museum Indian Market from 2:00-4:00 PM on Saturday, March 3.  While it will not be on display this weekend, the Heard Museum has an extensive collection of Quincy Tahoma’s art, including several scenes that were painted at Tal’-Wi-Wi for Col. Bumstead.



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4 Responses to Tahoma and the Buffalo

  1. Tom McGaw says:

    Col Dale Bumstead was my great grandfather and the family has some of the water color paintings Tahoma did while staying on Tal-Wi-Wi.

  2. Mark Cole says:

    I had an aunt and an uncle who worked for Col. and Mrs. Bumstead. I grew up hearing stories about the Col., and one story was about how he smuggled the highest quality of dates out of Arabia, where he was invited to visit. I can’t verify the story, however. Another piece of trivia that I was told is that Mrs. Bumstead was daughter of Mr. Winchester, maker of Winchester rifles. My uncle gave me an old brass match box with bullet impressions on it, which I still have. I much enjoyed this article, and I am now looking for part 2. I’ll bet my aunt and uncle were around when the “Tahoma Expedition” occurred. Thanks

  3. pen4hire says:

    Thanks for the stories, Mark. Love to hear from people who can add to ours.

  4. Hello, we would LOVE to hear the end PLEASE! We are begging, ha! 🙂 Thank you so much .

    Jocelyn Wadsworth

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