<< Previous Next >>

The Winnipeg Tribune, Feb 14, 1925

The Return Of The Buffalo


Editors Note: The buffalo is coming back again. Those who feared that the splendid animals were becoming extinct are now reassured by the great increase in their numbers during the past few years. To this fact, responsibility may be placed on the great buffalo parks such as the one at Wainwright, Alberta. It is even believed by many that the buffalo hunts like those of the Indians in bygone days will someday be revived.

“Of all the quadrupeds that have lived upon the earth, probably no other species ever marshalled such in innumerable host as those of the American bison.”

This statement, written some years ago by Professor  W. T. Hornaday, a famous American scientist, is brought to mind by the despatches from Ottawa as to the Wainwright National Park, Alberta. Until these reports appeared few people in Canada knew that there were over 3,000 head of buffalo there. Fewer still outside of this country had such knowledge.1925 Winnipeg Buffalo Hunt Drawing

It is now suggested that the total of buffalo is far beyond that which could be supported at the Park in a year or more of the drouth and that a thousand or more of the young animals may be shipped to the Wood Buffalo Park Preserve in Northern Alberta. What a possibility that opens! It may result in the buffalo, practically restored to natural conditions, thriving to such an extent as to permit of hunting them, under license and strict regulations, in a fixed season of the year. Some old hunters fear that will never happen. Those who have seen the Wainwright herd grow from a few hundred to the thousands of today think that it will.

The Wainwright herd seems large to a generation that has no firsthand knowledge of the buffalo herds that once roamed the prairies of the North America continent. Their estimated numbers stagger the imagination, thirty million being the minimum and sixty the maximum. As late as 1870 the figures were as high as six million. The buffalo could have been saved then as a game animal and a source of revenue from licenses and robes, by allocating areas in which their protection would have been comparatively easy matter. But with the thoughtlessness and callousness that hardly has a parallel anywhere in the world, the war of extermination was continued until the prophecies of a few who had the hitherto raised their voices in vain, were found to be actualities – the buffalo had disappeared.

It took a few years to convince the buffalo slayers that they had done their work too well. In the buffalo areas of Canada and the republic, there was a firm conviction that it was a case of a new migration and that somewhere in Canada the buffalo had found new grounds whence in a season or two they would return to their haunts of other years.

Meantime some of the Indian tribes almost entirely dependent upon buffalo meat suffered in an acute physical manner for their share of the slaughter of the plains. Buffalo skins which in thousands of cases had not even been cut from the carcasses, and which had been so, and as to be almost despised, began to assume new values.

In the years that followed, the remnants of once mighty herds were encountered on occasion in the outpost of civilization. An officer of the Hudson Bay Company, writing from Fort Edmonton in 1887, said:” in our district of Athabasca, along the Salt River, there are still a few wood buffalo killed each year, but they are fast diminishing in numbers and are also becoming very shy.”

Of an earlier period, Professor John Macoun said in one of his publications: “in the winter of 1870 the last buffalo were killed North of the Peace River, but in 1875 about 1,000 head were still in existence between the Athabasca and Peace Rivers, north of Little Slave Lake. These are called wood  buffalo by the hunters, they differ only in size from those of the plains.”

When the Buffalo Disappeared

The early eighties saw the practical disappearance of the wild buffalo from both the United States and Canada. Here and there on private ranches or public reserves, a few survivors of the plains buffalo as distinguished from the somewhat lighter wood buffalo, lingered, mutely pathetic object lessons of what had once been vast herds, knowing no law or restraints except those which nature imposed.

In all the years between the myth of a great herd of buffalo somewhere in Canada, persisted. It had its origin with the hunters bygone days; nothing could kill it. It was revived by the aged and hailed with delight by a new race of hunters a few years ago when it became fairly well-established that wild buffalo had been seen in the Mackenzie River area. F. H. Kitto, a Government official, confirmed the news and came back from the district with some pictures of Wildwood buffalo taken under trying conditions, for the animals were shy, and it was a matter of difficulty to get within camera shot distance of them. A pitifully few hundreds of these would buffalo seem to have defied the onslaught of the civilization that wiped out their kindred of the plains. They are now under government enemies. But they and the buffalo, of course, guard them against every danger – hunters for whom the law has no meaning, wolves, and other enemies. But they had the buffalo from Wainwright Park it is proposed to turn loose in their territory, may do well in the next few years.

If there is a happy result of the attempt to bring back the buffalo, it will not be without its material benefits to the country. The last real hunt for buffalo in the United States took place on Buffalo Island, Great Salt Lake, where a privately owned herd of 250 animals were thinned out by the slaying of some of the older and wilder animals. Hundreds of big-game hunters from all over the country flocked to the scene and gladly paid $200 ahead for each bison they killed.

Not as a game animal alone would the propagation of the buffalo be of benefit to the country. For its fur and it’s meat the buffalo is also of value beyond that of which most people have any idea. The pioneer settlers of the West could tell many a tale of what buffalo meant to them for food and clothing too. It has truly been said that the buffalo can weather storms and outlive cold that would kill any domestic animal. That makes it more difficult to understand why the ruthless slaughtering was kept up as if the buffalo was a species of deadly Berman that must be wiped off the earth in the shortest possible time.

The records show that there are some qualifications to the fact that buffalo can defy the weather. In 1871 some explorers found buffalo in considerable numbers in a restricted territory in the southern shore of Great Slave Lake. But in a journey along one of the rivers in the district, they went for miles along old buffalo trails on which were many skulls and bones. In answer to inquiries, trappers and hunters told them that 40 or 50 years before there had been a terrific storm, during which snow fell to a depth of 14 feet on the level, and of course, piled to great heights in open ground. Thousands of buffaloes perished in that storm.

Tarre was a day when buffalo roamed around what is now the city of Winnipeg, but as far back as 1840, it is said that the species was practically unknown from the Red River to the Cheyenne.

Professor Hornaday and others say that in 1857 the Plains Crees, in the country around the headquarters of the Qu’Appelle River, 250 miles West from Winnipeg, seem to have some premonition of what was happening. They assembled in Council and determined that in consequence of the promises “often made and broken by the white men and half-breeds, and the rapid destruction by them of buffalo they fed on,” they would not allow them to hunt and their country, or to travel through it except for the purpose of trading there for dried buffalo meat, pemmican, skins and robes. Nothing was said at the Council, or if so it was not recorded, as to the part that Crees themselves were plain in depleting the herds.

Pemmican, the special preparation of buffalo meat, once sold as low as two pence (four cents) a pound in Winnipeg. But in 1883 the very small quantity which reached the city brought 16 cents a pound. It is claimed by some that this was the last pemmican made from wild plains buffalo, this is from animals not confined to private ranges. It has been made from beast slaughtered at the Wainwright reserve to keep the numbers there within reasonable bounds. It was once a greatly prized food or hunters, explorers and pioneers. To these not accustomed to it pemmican is as palatable as a piece of hardwood, but it filled no mean role in sustaining life for those who opened up the western and northern areas of Canada. The buffalo steaks served in recent years and a number of restaurants throughout the country also came from the annual depletion process at Wainwright, are good eating.

The head at Wainwright is the outcome of the purchase by the Dominion government about 1908, of a few hundred buffalo from Michael Pablo, a half-breed rancher in the valley of the Pend O’Reille River, on the Flathead Reservation across the line. They, in turn, were the descendants of a score or two of the original plains herds deliberately saved because it was thought they might be the only survivors of once mighty host. Pablo tried to sell them to the United States government and to private American interest, but without success. On his ranch, they roamed at large with his cattle, and the job of rounding them up after purchase by the Canadian government was as full of incident as any buffalo hunt of the past. A few escaped and some were accidentally killed, but most of the herd became Canadians. Their thousands are the best testimony to their present environment.


The Winnipeg Tribune
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada July 14, 1925

Is Wood buffalo In Danger?

WHEN experts disagree, said a French cynic, is the time for the common man to learn something.

Until the Dominion government decided to move a large number of the surplus buffalo from Wainwright to the wood bison reserve between the Peace River and Great Slave Lake, the average Canadian probably did not know that there are two quite distinct species of buffalo in this country, the plains buffalo, and the wood bison.

The government! decision has been attacked by a number of zoologists on the ground that such a policy will lead to the extermination of the wood bison, The dissimilarities of the two animals, authorities say, are very pronounced and for many reasons they should be kept apart.

The great herds of buffalo referred to by early travelers were confined to the prairies and treeless plains. This is the buffalo now in the Wainwrlght preserve, the species with which the public is more or less familiar. The forest-clad northern areas supported a different species the wood bison, in very small numbers. The difference between the two animals is described by a Canadian Zoologist” in the current issue of the Canadian Forum. The wood bison, says this writer. Is very much larger and heavier than his relative of the plains. The robe is of such silky texture that it can be readily distinguished from that of the plains buffalo. It is also darker in color. In temperament and habits, due to their different environment, they are in strong contrast

Owing to the surplus of plains buffalo at Wainwright it has become necessary, for the Dominion government to dispose of 2,000 every year. Plans have already been made to ship this number to the northern reserve to mix with the few wood bison who are already In possession. This policy has been sharply criticized by Mr. Francis Harper, a distinguished American zoologist. In the February issue of the Canadian Field Naturalist. Mr. Harper wrote:

“If the surplus stock of the Wainwright herd cannot be turned out in some of the thinly  settled districts of central Alberta, to be hunted under suitable restrictions, would it not be wiser to send them to the slaughter-house at once, rather than to undertake the enormously expensive and difficult job of transporting them to northern Alberta and leaving them there to work slow but sure havoc through Interbreeding with the superb wood buffalo? If a single importation of plains buffalo is made, could the effect ever be undone? Could it mean anything less than an unnatural change in the characteristics of practically the only representatives of the genus bison that are left in a perfectly wild and free state?”

Another zoologist writes even more strongly. By what principles of conservation,” he asks, “is the government prepared to defend the swamping of a magnificent nucleus of large, healthy animals by an overwhelming majority of inferior beasts of diseased ancestry? Never before in the annals of conservation have the last survivors of a unique race of animals been knowingly obliterated by a department of conservation.”

The Dominion government’s experts defend their policy by asserting that the northern reserve is very large and that the new arrivals would be shipped in at a point some distance from the present occupants. But their critics quote Ernest Thompson Seton’s estimate that the northern Alberta country is only capable of supporting five buffalo to the square mile. With an influx of 2.000 plains buffalo every year added to the natural increase of both species, it would not be long before they would be brought together in their search for food.

Up to the present, only a small part of the government’s program has been carried out, and critics of the scheme are urging that the balance should be deferred until the zoologists on either side have come to some agreement as to the right course to pursue.


The Montgomery Advertiser
Montgomery, Alabama March 26, 1925


In “The Thundering Herd,” to be shown at the Empire theater beginning next Wednesday are three of the principal players of the recent Paramount success, “North of 36,” an epic of American history in the winning and building of the west.

Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, and Noah Beery are the players, the virtue of whose work in “North of 36” demanded that they be east in the leading roles in another great epic picture to be produced.

“The Thundering Herd” is the picturization of the story by Zane Grey, a tale, of life on the plains and the slaughtering of the great buffalo herds that roamed the west.

Zane Grey was inspired in writing his story by, a trip made into the wild, regions of the west, and a friendship with the real savior of the American bison, one Buffalo Jones.

As in all his stories, there is a definite and thrilling plot to “The Thundering Herd,” that rivals even “The Wagon” and “North of 36.”


The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore, Maryland April 26, 1925


The buffalo, or “bison,’ has wool oning beast when he brings his enormous head close and looks upon man with a suspicious and belligerent eye. “They are just like wild bulls,” the keeper says. “Anyone who goes in has to watch them every minute, or they will lunge at him. They strike with their head and horns, and paw and trample any enemy that is down.”

The buffalo or “bison” has wool on his coat instead of hair, like the ox. It sheds in masses, while the coat of the ox sheds hair by hair. Strange likenesses and differences are shown in the varying species, keeping the classifiers arguing.


The Butte Miner
Butte, Montana Nov 12, 1925
Cow and Yak Crossed With American Bison to Increase Meat Supply.

Arctic explorers have been emphasizing for years that there is wealth in raising animals in the great northlands.

Now comes word that the Canadian government has appreciated the possibilities of its vast northern territories as stock lands and in Buffalo park at Wainwright. Alberta is carrying on a daring experiment of crossing the American bison, or buffalo, with domestic cattle. The result of the cross, says the Popular Science Monthly, is a valuable new breed of hardy cattle called the “catalo,” that will range wild in the north.

Feeding themselves, great herds of cattaloes, it is expected, will Increase at no expense, as long as the northern plains remain unsettled, repeating the history of our own prairie buffalo. It is too cold in the north for ordinary domestic cattle, unless shelters are provided for them and they are fed artificially. Buffaloes, however, will thrive in these regions, foraging for themselves and needing no shelter.

The experiments in Alberta seem to have resulted in an animal possessing the hardiness of the buffalo, yet carrying on its back a larger supply of meat. This is far more pleasing food, it is claimed, than the buffalo of pioneer days in America. Angus, Shorthorn, and Hereford cows were used In the first mating with the buffaloes.

Experiments now are being made, too, in crossing the buffalo with the yak, a draft animal from Asia. Yaks are splendid range animals capable of withstanding the effects of long, rigorous winters in the open, and at the same time, they are domesticated. Their meat, except that it is finer grained, is almost identical with beef. The natives of Asia have crossed the yak with domestic cattle successfully for many years. Now, this yak-cattle hybrid is being crossed in Canada with the bison.

Less than 20 years ago the Dominion of Canada had but a handful of buffalo and. as in the United States, it was feared these fine animals would become extinct. Today purposeful breeding has increased the number to more than 11,000. The government has spent $2,000,000 in its project to stock the plains with buffaloes. Its new scheme to set loose herds of cattaloes with valuable meat and hides will make up in a few years for this expense. It is thought and will assure an ever-growing source of revenue.


The Anaconda Standard
Anaconda, Montana Dec 17, 1925

Life of Adventure Brought to Close

TOM MAGUIRE Whose adventures ranged from pony express rider to Indian fighter, died in Anaconda yesterday. The taciturn Argonaut, who lived for 25 years near the city in which he died, hunted bison with Buffalo Bill and; Grand Duke-Alexis of Russia when he wasn’t helping to send redskins to the happy hunting ground or calling the bluffs of alleged bad men.