After spending Christmas in Buffalo, New York, Tsar Alexander II’s fourth son Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia started heading out to the American Old West. After stopping at several American cities, Alexei finally arrived in Omaha, Nebraska on 12 January 1872. Preparations for the hunt were extensive and had been carried out under the command of General Joel Palmer. The Grand Duke arrived at Fort McPherson the next day, by a special train provided by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. They were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, headed by William Frederick Cody (known as Buffalo Bill). After speeches, the Duke’s party set out for the hunting grounds.
Cody had discussed the hunt with Spotted Tail, chief of the Brulé Lakota, who had agreed to meet the “great chief from across the water who was coming there to visit him.” About 600 warriors of different Sioux tribes, led by Spotted Tail, War Bonnet, Black Hat, Red Leaf, Whistler and Pawnee Killer, assembled to greet the grand duke at the hunting camp. They had been provided with ten thousand rations of flour, sugar, coffee, and 1,000 pounds of tobacco for their trouble - twenty-five wagon loads in all. At the start of the party, Spotted Tail, dressed in a suit, which didn’t fit him, with an army belt upside down and an extremely awkward look was introduced to the Grand Duke. Then the Indian chief extended his hand, and greeted the Grand Duke with the customary “How.”
The big hunt took place on the Grand Duke’s 22nd birthday, 14 January 1872. For the hunt the Duke wore a jacket and trousers of heavy gray cloth, trimmed with green, the buttons bearing the Imperial Russian coat-of-arms. He wore his boots outside his trousers in the European way, which was unusual for his American hosts. Alexei carried a Russian hunting knife, and an American revolver, bearing the coats-of-arms of the United States and Russia on the handle, which he had recently received as a present.
The Grand Duke rode William Cody’s celebrated buffalo horse “Buckskin Joe”, which had been trained to ride at full gallop with a target so that the best shot could be made. Within a hundred yards of the fleeing buffalo, the Grand Duke, not accustomed to shooting from a running horse, fired, but missed. But when Alexei tried again, he brought down his game. The hide of the dead buffalo was carefully removed and dressed; the Grand Duke took it home as a souvenir of his hunt on the western plains. Twenty to thirty animals were killed on the first day of the hunt. The party returned early to camp, where there was a liberal supply of champagne and other beverages provided, and the evening was spent in frontier style.
General Custer became one of the Duke’s best friends. He accompanied the Duke and his entourage through Kansas, to St. Louis, New Orleans, and finally to Florida. They continued to correspond with one another up until Custer’s death. In the United States, the hunt is remembered as “The Great Royal Buffalo Hunt”. Starting from the year 2000, Hayes Center, Nebraska organizes each year the “Grand Duke Alexis Rendezvous” featuring a reenactment of the buffalo hunt.
Grand Duke Alexei received as a gift from chief Spotted Tail an Indian wigwam and a bow and arrows. The Grand Duke took them back to St. Petersburg. At present they are kept at the museum in Tver. In memory of his adventures in the America, the Grand Duke organized every year a special entertainment. The performance was supposed to give the attendance an image of the American Old West.