North American bison and westward expansion
November, 10, 2013
North American bison and westward expansion
The North American bison, more commonly known as the American buffalo, is the largest land animal in North America. Bison are on average more than six feet tall and weigh in at over a ton. These proud and majestic animals were once the dominant species of the North American continent, covering an astonishing majority of the continent from northern Canada to northern Mexico and from what is now western New York to what is now eastern Washington. It is estimated by today’s scientists that there were over 30 million bison in North America prior to the arrival of European settlers. “Even in South Central Africa, which has always been exceedingly prolific in great herds of game, it is probable that all its quadrupeds taken together on an equal area would never have more than equaled the total number of buffalo in this country forty years ago.” (Hornady, 1889, p387). This great animal was the life’s blood of the Native American people and was used for everything from food to clothing and tools for just about any everyday job. Although North American Bison were hunted by Native Americans for centuries, western expansion in the 1800s brought the bison to near extinction. The great herd
It is a well- known fact that Native Americans hunted the bison for thousands of years with what seemed to be no impact on the enormous population of the great herd. Archeological studies have uncovered proof that Native Americans used virtually every part of the bison for almost all aspects of everyday life, from clothing to shelter and tools, even for jewelry. Despite the fact that bison were hunted by these native peoples, the massive herd of the plains bison not only continued to survive, but also seemed to grow. According to William T. Hornady, Superintendent of The National Zoological Park in 1889, estimating the number of bison in North America prior to 1870, would be like trying to count the number of leaves in the forest. (Hornady, 387, 1889). According to numerous eye-witness reports recorded by early explorers and settlers, these majestic animals of the North American plains seemed to be inexhaustible and the extreme size of the heard was an awe striking sight. One such eye-witness report from a letter sent to William Hornady by Colonel R. I. Dodge, which Hornady included in a report to The National Museum, gives a striking description of the vast size of the bison herd at that time. "The great herd on the Arkansas through which I passed could not have averaged, at rest, over fifteen or twenty individuals to the acre, but was, from my own observation, not less than 25 miles wide, and from reports of hunters and others it was about five days in passing a given point, or not less than 50 miles deep” (Hornady, 1889, p. 390). To think of the vast size of the herd described by the early explorers and settlers, it is hard to believe how quickly those numbers were reduced.
Decline in population begins
One could say that the first threat to the population of the great bison herd could be indirectly related to the introduction of the horse and the firearm by European settlers. With the horse and the firearm obtained from trading with the settlers, the Native Americans could hunt the bison with more ease, and in larger numbers. Considering the natives still held to their beliefs of not taking more game than they could use, the mere increase in the amount of bison taken by Native Americans was only a small factor in the decline in the size of the herd. Other factors did begin to have an effect on the number of bison as well. European settlers were not all content with living together in small settlements, and some began to explore this new and uncharted world. With the ever growing presence of hunters and farmers, the bison herd began to decrease in size. Less land and more hunters
As European settlers slowly...
References: Hornady, W. (1889). The extermination of the American bison. Retrieved from http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/consrvbib:@FIELD(NUMBER(vr02)).
Moloney, C. J. (2011). Death wind for my people: The societal response to the slaughter of the north american bison. (Order No. 1497089, The George Washington University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 132. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/884793845?accountid=458. (884793845).
Portman, J. (2013). Need to know on PBS. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/five-things/the-great-american-bison/8950/
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