“Bison, known also as buffalo and Illinois cattle, were plentiful in the 1600s and 1700s,” according to the Illinois State Museum. “The last reported bison kill in Illinois took place in 1808.”
Well, sort of. Five were killed in southern Hillsboro Township on Feb. 21, 1975.
There are many here who still remember “The Great Cobetto Buffalo Hunt of 1975,” as attorney Steve Cullison called it when earlier this spring he furnished copy of the court order authorizing the hunt.
John Cobetto, who passed on April 25, 1996, “was well known in the area for the menagerie he kept on his farm south of Taylor Springs,” according to his obituary. He lived most of his life in T.S. where he was a distributor for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for about 30 years. He also farmed and was by most accounts a unique character.
His “menagerie,” in its heyday in the early 60s was also referred to as the Cobetto zoo, abounding with “bears, apes, antelope, alligators and other creatures,” according to a story in The Montgomery County News story in 1975 by Carolyn Millhorn. “The zoo diminished through the years down to a couple of bears and monkeys, the latter which could often be seen riding in the back of Cobetto’s pickup truck. The bears terrorized neighbors now and then when they got loose from the farm. One of the giant bears was considered a special pet of the owner and followed him around like a puppy. The bear was well known for his ability to down a bottle of beer like the best of the two-legged boozers.”
By the mid-70s the zoo had diminished to a herd of nine buffalo, and “The Great Cobetto Buffalo Hunt” began after the animals’ owner had to go away to serve a sentence, and shaggy beasts were left to the care of hired hands. In early February 1975, a buyer for the herd came forward, “but in rounding them up the animals bolted and made a run for the woods,” according to the newspaper account. “In their roamings they tore up fences, scattered livestock and overturned fields, increasing their unpopularity with area farmers. A couple of times the sheriff had to be called when the beasts roamed onto Route 127.”
Conservation Officer David Watson tried to find zoo homes for the buffalo, but there were no takers.
Finally, State’s Attorney Kelly Long petitioned the court to take action. Because of the damage to croplands, fences, domestic animals, and danger to people living in the area as well as highway traffic, and “said buffalo are incapable of being corralled and all attempts to do so have failed and any further attempt to impound said buffalo could result in serious bodily harm or death to any persons attempting to do so,” a court order was issued on Feb. 21, 1975, that if the buffalo could not be rounded up, “that the sheriff of Montgomery County destroy said animal instanter.”
That day, Sheriff Claude Carlock, along with deputies, Conservation Officer Watson, and farmers went on the hunt. Five buffalo were killed, one made its way back to the Cobetto farm, and most of the remaining herd was found hiding in dense woods.