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Table of contents

In addition to the American Bison, officially known as the Plains Bison , that inhabited much of the United States, the Wood bison Bison bison athabascae , a subspecies of the American Bison, inhabited the boreal forest regions of Alaska, Yukon, western Northwest Territories, northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and northwestern Saskatchewan. The American Bison is the largest mammal in North America with weights ranging between to 2, pounds to 1, kg.

The heaviest wild bull ever recorded weighed 2, pounds 1, kg and, in captivity, the largest bison weighed 3, pounds 1, kg. They can stand at 6 feet to the hump. Despite their massive size, they are incredibly agile able to run at speeds up to 40 mpg and jump 6 feet high from a standing position. It is estimated that as many as 60 million American bison roamed the grasslands and plains of North America during the 19th century.

The bison was not only a spiritual animal for the Native American people, particularly the Plains Indians, but Native Americans also depended upon these animals for their livelihood. Every part of the animal was utilized: the hides constructed shields, saddles, and moccasins; bison hair made sturdy ropes and stuffing for pillows, and warmth for robes. The brain was even used for the preparation of hides, which was then used for the construction of teepees.

The stomach lining made great cooking vessels and the contents were used for medicinal purposes. European explorers in North America saw the riches possible from bison fur and bison fur trading became a major industry with a fair number of trading posts appearing in the Great Plains.

Bison are back, and that benefits many other species on the Great Plains

Bison were hunted on foot, on horseback, and from trains for their tongues, hides, bones and little else. The tongue was and still is considered a delicacy. Hides were prepared and shipped to the east and Europe for processing into leather. The remaining carcasses were, for the most part, left to rot. When nothing nothing but bones remained, they were gathered and shipped via rail to eastern destinations for processing into industrial carbon and fertilizer.

Hearing of the amazing buffalo herds, wealthy hunters wanting to hunt the animals for themselves flocked to the Plains.

Some hunters would shoot from the train as it passed the herds. This shooting did not supply any meat — it was just for sport. But the fur trade and other commodities from the Bison is only a small part of the story. The American government encouraged elimination of the Plains Indians' primary food source, the bison.

America′s Plains Indians bring back bison to their lands | Global Ideas | DW |

The idea was to kill off the Buffalo to starve the Indians, force them into relatively small areas, or north into Canada — make their food source either scarce or non-existent. The results would be starvation and high infant mortality amongst the Indian populations that would pave the way west for European settlement and the start of the western beef industry.

Columbus Delano, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior said in the early 's, "Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone. In the 's, the railroad needed fresh meat every day to feed the 1, railroad workers and the vast buffalo herds supplied the meat. The infamous Buffalo Bill once bragged that he killed 4, bison in seventeen months to feed rail laborers.

Once the railways were built, large bison herds would sometimes cause lengthy train delays as the large herds crossed the tracks causing the rail companies to further promote the killing of the herds. The railways made it easy to devastate herd conditions and the railroad split the large bison herd into the southern and the northern herds. In just 40 years, from to, the southern herd was wiped out. In addition to the fur trade and paid hunters from the government and railways, European settlers and the beef industry caused the introduction of bovine diseases from domestic cattle, further devastating the bison herds.

By the early s there were only a few free ranging bison left. After the great slaughter of the American bison during the s, the number of bison remaining alive in all of North America declined to as low as , with as few as in the United States. During that period, a handful of ranchers gathered remnants of the existing herds to save the species from extinction.

Had it not been for a few private individuals working with tribes, states and the Interior Department, the bison would be extinct today. The genocide of the American Bison stopped and their recovery started in when William T. Theodore Roosevelt helped protect the remaining buffalo and accepted the position as the society's honorary president. Other than city zoos, along with a few private herds of ranchers, Yellowstone Park became the only refuge for the last remaining specimens in the United States, and there were only 23 bison left!

Today, the National Bison Association puts the American Bison population at , animals with the goal of reaching 1 million within the next few years. The United States Department of the Interior has been the primary national conservation steward of the American Bison herds on public lands and manages 17 bison herds -- or approximately 10, bison -- in 12 states, including Alaska.

Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the U.

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Although the original 23 remaining bison in Yellowstone were supplemented with approximately 25 bison from private Montana and Texas herds, Yellowstone's bison are the only pure descendants of early bison that roamed our country's grasslands. As of August , Yellowstone's bison population was estimated at 5, -- making it the largest bison population on public lands.

About the Majestic American Bison. Collected Bison skulls give evidence of the senseless slaughter Click for larger picture. Fur traders did their share to contribute to the Bison's demise. Click for larger picture. Massive amounts of Bison bones were loaded onto rail cars almost daily. The Yellowstone bison herd was estimated at 5, in August and included two sub-populations: the northern 3, to 4, animals and central 1, to 1, animals herds. Click for larger picture Source: National Park Service.

Original range of the North American Bison. Postcard from the 's bragging about the devastation of the Buffalo. Date Number of Bison 60 million 40 million 35,, 5,, , 5, , The Great Plains were whitened by the massive number of bones left from decaying bison carcasses. NPS Monograph No. Introduced cattle diseases and grazing competition with feral horses also impacted bison prior to direct impact by Euro-Americans.

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Native Americans market hunters concentrated on cow bison, because of their prime hides for trading. Many bison were killed to feed the railway crews and Army posts. During this time, Buffalo Bill Cody gains fame. In , the Idaho State Legislature passed the first law to protect the bison - after they were gone from the state. In , Charles Goodnight, at the request of his wife, captured a few free ranging bison calves and began a captive herd on his ranch in Texas.

The bison were sold shortly after, unbeknownst of Mr.


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Germany had developed a process to tan bison hides into fine leather. Homesteaders collected bones from carcasses left by hunters. Bison bones were used in refining sugar, and in making fertilizer and fine bone china.

Assuming that about skeletons were required to make one ton of bones, this represented the remains of more than 31 million bison. It became obvious in the 's that owning bison was profitable. More and more people were capturing free ranging bison to establish private herds.

American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison

The greatest slaughter took place along the railroads. One firm in St. Louis traded , hides this year. Demand for bison skins escalated as a Pennsylvania tannery began commercially tanning bison hides. With this newly discovered tanning process, bison were now hunted year round. Territorial delegate R. McCormick of Arizona introduced a bill that made it illegal for any person to kill a buffalo on public lands in the United States, except for food or preserving the robe.

Mysteriously, this document disappeared. Wyoming passed a law prohibiting the waste of bison meat. Retrieved from here. Freedman, E. American Indian Quarterly , 31 1 , Giago, T. White buffalo: A symbol of hope for lakota people. Indian Country Today. Hallowell, R. Horses, E. Did I Really Leave Home? Can I Really Return Home?. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 92 2 , Humphrey, K. Population growth, voting eligibility examined. Jewell, B. Lakota struggles for cultural survival: history, health, and reservation life. Nebraska anthropologist. Kent, J. Lakota language consortium holds inaugural workshop: Plans massive effort to preserve language — and culture.


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