1887


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Los Angeles Times, Nov 14 1887

EXTINCTION OF THE BUFFALO

The War of Extermination Complete

……The time was when a buffalo hunter would have scorned the idea of gathering up dry bones for a living. Indeed, if often happened that his royal highness would not even deign to skin the buffalo that his own rifle brought down. But, thanks to his own reckless improvidence, “Othello’s occupation’s gone.” The buffalo are all dead, and he must choose between punching cows and picking up bones. To this extent the slain buffalo is his own avenger.
……At various points along the line of the Northern Pacific Railway westward from Jamestown, Dak., buffalo bones lay piled in great heaps beside the track, waiting for shipment. They are the only monuments that remain to the American bison, which, to quote the great original observation of every tenderfoot, “once roamed in vast herds over these boundless prairies.” In a short time even the bones will be all gathered up, and nothing whatever remain to mark the presence upon this earth of 8,000,000 bison at one time, save what can be found in the museums, the zoologic gardens or the tertiary deposits of the earth itself. Could any war of extermination be more complete or far-reaching in its results?
……From the Red Buttes onward you see where the millions are gone. This was once a famous buffalo range, and now the bleaching skeletons lie scattered thickly all along the trail. Like ghastly monuments of slaughter, these ugly excrescences stand out in bold relief on the smooth, hard surface of the prairie from the huge bull skeletons, lying close beside the wagon trail to those far back in the bad lands, where they are merely dark specks in the distance. They lie to-day precisely as they fell four years ago, except that the flesh is no longer upon the. The head stretches far forward, as if for its last gasp, and the legs lie helplessly upon the turf with precisely the same curves as when they moved for the last time.
……Now and then you come to a place where the hunter got a “stand” on a “bunch” and from this hiding-place in the head of a gully or among his 10-120 Sharpe’s rifle, at the rate of a shot every two or three minutes, until every buffalo of the bunch had fallen. Here you can count seventeen skeletons on a little more than an acre, and near by are fourteen more that evidently fell at the same time. The powerful; effects of the strong, parching winds and the intense dry heat of the summer has literally stripped the flesh from the bones, but the skeletons lie precisely as they fell. The bones are still held together by a few dried up ligaments, but are bleached as white as snow. Sometimes we found immense skeletons that were absolutely perfect, even to the tiny carpal and tarsal bones, the size of a hazel nut. Of these dry skeletons we selected eight of the finest and largest, and they are now cached in the storage rooms of the National Museum against the great famine for bison that will soon set in.
……Beyond the Red Buttes we are seldom out of sight of bleaching skeletons and often forty and fifty were in sight at one time. The skinners always left the heads of the bulls unskinned, and the thick hide has dried down upon the skulls harder that the bone itself, holding the tangled masses of the shaggy frontlet firmly in place until it bleaches brown in the sunshine, and is finally worn away by wind and weather. Many of these heads are so perfectly preserved, and with their thick masses of wavy brown hair are so fresh looking that the slaughter of the millions is brought right down to the present, and it seems to have been the work of yesterday. We can endure the sight of the bones reasonably well, for we expect it; but those great hairy heads make us feel our loss most keenly. At first it is impossible to look at one without a sigh, and each group of skeletons brings back the old thought, What a pity!” – Cosmopolitan.

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This photo was printed in the London Paper

Pile of bison skulls

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Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 running buffalo images

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GALLOPING BUFFALO
Sixteen frames of famed photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 running buffalo images were sequenced together to create this animation.
Muybridge is known for creating such sequences of still images, originally done as
locomotion studies, that eventually became motion picture films.

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