Photo courtesy South Dakota Magazine

American Buffalo vs. Mexican Fighting Bulls

This is part two of a three part series.
We left off last week with the US buffalo, Pierre, lying in the warm sunshine in the center of the bull ring in Juarez, Mexico. Then, with a reverberating roar, into the arena shot the finest, fastest-stepping bull in all of Mexico, a handsome red fighting bull, lean of flank and long of horn. As he came through the gate, a Mexican, concealed above, jabbed darts into his withers as is done in a bull fight. The bull was mad, and wanted to execute vengeance upon the first thing he saw, Pierre. Giving a snort, he advanced, lowered his head, and bellowed. Pierre, enjoying the warmth and sunshine, didn't like the way his host was acting, so he slowly arose, studying the thick necked, elegant creature. The Mexican bull began to paw, throwing dirt aloft as he bellowed a challenge. Pierre shook the hair out of his eyes and looked again. Never had he seen an animal act like this. Wanting to do the socially correct thing, he pawed, too.
Suddenly the Mexican bull raised his tail aloft, a sign that action was starting. It wasn't much of a tail, but the bull’s horns were long and sharp. Pierre had thick, short, stumpy horns, but he had something the Mexican bull didn't…… a magnificent, heavily matted growth of hair around his throat and forequarters, a protection against wolves and coyotes, plus a tremendously thick skull. The bull came straight at him. Pierre gave a few stiff forward steps, and they met head-on. The collision of the thick skulls produced an awful, sickening thud that reverberated throughout the arena, echoing for blocks, and silencing the crowd.
The fighting bull got the shock of his life, as the impact literally knocked him to his knees. As he got up and shook his head, there stood Pierre looking puzzled. The bull walked slowly around, surveying this new kind of opponent, realizing that Pierre didn't have horns comparable to his own. Well, he would shove his horns into Pierre's ribs. Slowly circling, with no pawing or bellowing, it was to be blood for blood. This was the craftiest, deadliest trick known to Mexican fighting bulls, a side attack in the flanks.
Though Pierre might look dull, cumbersome and awkward, nature had provided him with self-defense. His ancestors protected themselves for thousands of years on the plains. When a bull has occasion to pivot, he pivots on his powerful hind legs. But it is entirely different for a buffalo, with his great weight over his front legs. When a buffalo is pivoting in a fight, he does it on his front legs, swinging his lighter hind quarters away, guarding his throat from his enemy, the wolf. So, as this bull charged the buffalo, it seemed certain to the Mexicans, and apparently to the bull, that in an instant, the buffalo would be fearfully, if not fatally, gored in the flank.   
The Mexican bull came in fast for Pierre's flank while the buffalo stood still. At the last possible moment, with incredible speed, the buffalo pivoted towards the incomer, swung out his rear legs, lowered his bone-padded skull, and drove it into the bull 's forehead.  After going to his knees, the bull got up and circled the buffalo very craftily. This new enemy had a head as thick as an adobe wall. Whereas bulls use forward momentum and their hind legs to drive into opponents, buffalo rely on gravity and their front legs for power. They kick out their small hindquarters to allow gravity and their foreleg muscles to ram their dense skull and horns. Turning on a dime, they don't need to run to build momentum.  A Mexican bull is a fighter, trained for generations. He circled again, and came back fast, for another flank attack. Again the buffalo whirled, and again the bull crashed into that immovable meat mountain. The crowd was horrified. Having never seen such a thing, they booed and screamed with rage. But everywhere the bull went, there was the buffalo. The bull had been the aggressor throughout, and the buffalo had waged only defensive war. (Remember that the buffalo had traveled from a cold to a warm climate, and was in strange surroundings. He had been cooped up in a box car for seven days, and had injured his fetlock during the journey.)  
Refusing to let the match end so soon, the crowd grew angry and began to boo, forcing the manager to order an attendant into the ring to goad the buffalo into attacking the bull. Pierre was poked in the side with a pole, and did angrily rise to his feet. But instead of rushing the bull, he went after the guy who’d poked him with a stick. The sight of the charging one-ton animal sent the man running to the side of the arena. Just as he climbed over the fence, one of Pierre 's horns pierced his side. Thankfully, he dropped to safety before the buffalo could do serious damage.
Meanwhile, the fighting bull regained his composure, and as soon as Pierre turned away from the fence, he found himself face to face with the bull. The animals collided, locking horns and twisting their heads in a struggle for domination. Horns dragged across flesh, opening wounds. Minutes passed before the two animals found separation. Once free, the bloody and battered bull lined up for another charge. Pierre reared up, looking uninjured, and met his opponent with his most forceful head butt yet. The bull collapsed. Realizing he 'd been bested, the bull returned to his feet and fled.
The sight of the retreating bull changed Pierre, making him more aggressive. No longer content to remain on defense, the large bison chased down his opponent, thrusting his horns into his flesh. It was not just one blow, but a series of gashes. Accounts differ on the severity of the wounds, but one newspaper indicated that they were so substantial that blood covered the arena. Women fainted. Men turned their heads.
Eventually the bull escaped Pierre 's assault, fled to the other end of the arena, and began 'bellowing like a spoiled child.' Unwilling and unable to fight longer, Pierre snorted and stomped his feet defiantly, but left the bull alone. The Americans in the audience cheered.
Although the bull had no fight left in him, and the buffalo was the clear winner, the manager announced that the match was a draw because both animals were still alive. Under traditional bullfighting rules, victory meant the loser died in the ring. Americans wanting Pierre declared the winner grew angry over the decision. Mexicans, used to seeing bullfights end in death, wanted more goading of the animals to fight again.
The bullring manager came up with a way to keep both nationalities happy. He'd put another bull in the arena with Pierre. None of his remaining bulls was as big and tough as the one who'd just fought, but perhaps they 'd be able to capitalize on the bison's exhaustion and put up an entertaining fight. When he offered the Americans more money if he could carry through with his plan, George Philip replied, “turn in all the bulls you wish, just so you give that buffalo room to turn around.”  The second, and then the third bulls in the ring proved no match for the now aggressive Pierre. By the end of the afternoon, three panicky bulls careened around the ring, doing their best to stay as far away from the buffalo as possible, while the bullfighters tried to get the bulls to put up some semblance of a fight.  
After briefly chasing the animals, Pierre lay down in the center of the ring and took a nap. That seemed to arouse the enthusiasm of the crowd, and they lustily cheered the buffalo, which was now nonchalantly resting. Soon the gate to the pens was opened, and the bulls disappeared through the gate, followed by Pierre as he lazily headed out, amid cheers from the audience. So ended the first formal contest between bull and buffalo.
The Dakota men were happy with their first day in Juarez. They 'd already made more money than the trip had cost, and they'd redeemed the reputation of the American buffalo. The bull ring manager had lost money on his bets, but he’d sold out the bull ring for the first time in its history, and ticket sales far outweighed his gambling losses.
Why not try again? The following Sunday another gala slate of fights was advertised, calling for four bull fights and then a man, the Matador, would fight the smaller of the South Dakota buffalo, Pierre. Jr., possibly to the death. Would it be the buffalo or the Matador who would emerge victorious?
See next week’s paper to see how the young buffalo did while fighting the matador with his cape and sparkling sword.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
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