|Paper||Canyon Country Zephyr|
|Rights||In Copyright (InC)|
|Rights Holder||Tonya Auden Stiles, Moab, Utah|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
|Paper||Canyon Country Zephyr|
WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAMED There were millions of them. We couldn't kill them fast enough to cause their extinction. But we came VERY close. By Jim Stiles Tt was an ungodly silence. Across the wide expanse of prairie for a thousand miles, only the sound of the wind rustling remnants of the tall grass betrayed the overwhelming and absolute stillness. Inconceivable to most, the great rolling thunder had simply been scoured clean from the plains. The stripped carcasses, left to rot in the hot summer sun, were gone. Old men who remembered the way it had been could scarcely believe their ears and eyes. They wandered into the bluestem and mesquite grass and could only find the occasional desiccated bleached bone to remind them it had not just been a dream. For even the bones had been gathered up and shipped east. Even the bones... Soon we saw a cloud of dust rising in the east, and the rumbling grew louder and I think it was about a half hour when the front of the herd came fairly into view. From an observation with our field glasses, we judged the herd to be 5 or 6 (some said 8 or 10) miles wide, and the herd was more than an hour passing us at a gallop, about 12 miles an hour...the whole space, say 5 miles by 12 miles, as far as we could see, was a seemingly solid mass of buffaloes. Nathaniel Langford circa 1870 In the short but shameful history of the misery inflicted upon this planet (and on each other) by human beings, there is no chapter more shocking or tragic than the reckless and brutal near-extinction of the American Bison---what we will forever incorrectly call the Buffalo. In the short span of three decades in the last half of the 19th century, white hunters and entrepreneurs, encouraged and promoted by the U.S. Army, slaughtered the once Reports by early explorers and trappers of the huge buffalo herds never adequately prepared the newly arrived white men and women for what they were about to witness. One settler noted: "There is such a quantity of them that I do not know what to compare them with, except the fish in the sea." Or this observation: "The plains were black and appeared as if in motion.” There were literally millions of them and no one could massive herds. It is estimated that in 1840, as many as 60 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains, from Canada to north Texas, an area that covered more than a million square miles; almost from the beginning, advancement across the prairie by white settlers, gold seekers imagine any act, natural or man-made, that could affect their awesome numbers. Yet, < In 1840 as many as 60 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains, from Canada to north Texas, an area that covered more than a million square miles. By 1886 one scientific survey could find fewer than a hundred free-roaming buffalo in the United States by 1886 one scientific survey could find fewer than a hundred free-roaming buffalo in the United States. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset. Crowfoot Blackfoot Indian About 20,000 years ago, ancestors of the bison made their way across the Bering Strait land bridge during the latter stages of the last Ice Age. Moving south through Alaska, these huge beasts reached the more temperate climates of North America in the Great Plains country, and there they flourished. Not far behind them came our own human ancestors, or more specifically, the humans who would eventually meet the boats at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. And for the next 10,000 years, until the invasion of white people from across the Atlantic, humans and buffaloes co-existed in a way unimaginable to their cousins from Europe. What developed on the Great Plains of North America was a culture inextricably linking the Native American tribes and the buffalo. This massive beast that could weigh as much as 2200 pounds meant not just survival but a happy and flourishing life to the people who depended on it. The buffalo meant everything to them. It meant food, of course, the staple of the Plains Indian tribes. As the zoologist and writer Tom McHugh noted, "from bile to bones to brains, few parts of the buffalo escaped the Indians’ culinary experimentation." But it also meant clothing and shelter material for their tipis. The rawhide was fashioned into cups, knife sheaths, kettles, cradles, cages, bridles and bags, drumheads, boats and armor. The dung burned well as fuel on the treeless prairie. Even their elegant ornaments and jewelry were often fashioned from bone and horn. But the fact that the Plains Indians were almost totally dependent upon the buffalo for their survival was not lost on them. As McHugh writes, "The tribes became as much a part of the plains community as the grasses, the pronghorn, the prairie dogs, and the buffalo | themselves, for they learned how to belong to the land as well as take from it. The buffalo with whom they shared their domain became linked with them in a unique physical and spiritual kinship." It could have stayed like that forever. bound for California, and the U.S. Army disrupted the herds. While most wagon trains depended on the buffalo as a reliable food source, they also found the huge herds a nuisance; the buffalo often churned the ground along their trails into bottomless meadows of mud and sometimes caused the wagons to detour around the immovable mass. Even now, the slaughter began. The men would shoot indiscriminately into the herds hoping to scatter them from the trail. The "sport" of buffalo hunting was first made popular by a rich Irish nobleman named St. George Gore, who came West to experience "the wild delights of the chase." Gore and his entourage spent almost three years on the plains. By the time he grew weary of "the chase," he and his companions had killed more than two thousand buffalo. It was just the beginning. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and radical improvements in tanning processes led to the first of the large scale kills by buffalo hunters in 1871. Buffalo leather had gained a reputation for being more durable and elastic than cowhide and was in great demand in the United States and Europe. As the market expanded and tanneries increased their demand for hides, a new economy was created. Thousands of would-be hunters went west on the railroad with dreams of instant riches. This was better than gold, they thought. The buffalo were easy to find and they were in limitless numbers. The slaughter began in earnest. The hide hunters will do more in the next few years to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last 30 years. For the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then the prairies can be covered with the speckled cattle and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as the forerunner of civilization. General Philip Sheridan US. Army Although it has never been proven that Sheridan’s comments reflected official government policy, it became obvious to Washington politicians and generals that the extermination of the buffalo would almost certainly lead to the extinction of the Native American tribes. The completion of the transcontinental railroad had split the huge North American herd in half and by 1873, the southern herd had been all but destroyed.