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Bison in History
……As I research historical accounts of bison, most of which I located from Newspapers.com, new information and articles are being added almost daily. It’s a long process, but a mission worthy of my time-investment, and I hope; worthy of your time spent reading the articles. I have re-typed the historical news articles, word-for-word, so as to capture the spirit and essence intended by the authors. If you see “____”, this means I cannot transcribe a word for reasons of legibility.
Note: You may notice conflicting information as you read. This is not unusual when researching history. We offer no theses or biased conclusions, only the words written by observers of the time-period.
……We hope that like us, you become excited and interested in the historical news reports and accounts that are all-about-bison. We also hope that our readers will contribute with trails to historic news about bison to the benefit all.
……“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves”.
The Morning Post North Carolina Dec 27 1899
HOW BISON PERISHED
……One of the most extraordinary events that has characterized the last half of the present century is the extermination, the wiping out of the American bison. There is little use in restoring to invective or endeavoring to stigmatize those who are guilty of this crime, but it would be well if the acts could be held up in a bright light that those who committed them might be excoriated in the crime to come, when a few bones and pictures will alone tell the story of a mighty race swept from the face of the earth by civilized people of the 19th century.
……“In 1870, and later” said an Army officer to the writer “the planes were alive with bison, and in crossing at places I had difficulty in avoiding them, so vast where the herds. If anyone had told me then that in 20 or 30 years they would have become almost entirely extinct, I should have regarded the statement as that of an insane person.”
That so many of these animals could have been killed in mere wantonness seems incredible when their vast numbers are realized. We first hear of the bison from Cortez and his followers in 1521. Montezuma had one in a zoological garden, the specimen, in all probability, having been caught in Coahuila. In 1530 Cabeza saw them in Texas; and in 1542 Coronado found a herd in what is now the Indian Territory; one of his officers describing them as horrible beast that demoralized the horses. In 1612 Sir Samuel Argoll observed herds of bison near the national capital, and, in all probability 287 years ago herds of bison grazed on the site of the capital building out Washington. In 1678 Father Hennepin observed them in what is now northern Illinois, and in October 1729 Col. W Bird saw herds and North Carolina and Virginia.
……These and other facts have provided data by which the early geographical distribution of the bison has been determined, and it is known that this grand animal, that is today represented by a few individuals, formally arranged in millions from the Atlantic seaboard to the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to the Great Slave Lake, and as far west as Central Nevada. As to their numbers, they were like the sands of the seashore, and the accounts given by those who hunted them 20 or 30 years ago, today seem like vagaries of a disordered imagination. Mr. Hornaday, who has hunted in South and Central Africa, where game is remarkably plentiful, states that the bison of this country previous to 1870 exceeded, in all probability, all the African game of every kind. An Army officer in service on the plains in 1867 stated to the writer that on one occasion he was surrounded by buffaloes, and that from the top of a small hill he could see nothing but a black mass of their bodies. It was impossible to estimate their numbers, and the party were in great fear lest they should be caught in a stampede, the rush being irresistible. Col. Dodge in his memoirs, states that on one occasion he rode 25 miles in Arkansas, always being in a herd of buffalo’s, or many small herds, but with one small separating strip between them. The animals paid but little attention to him, merely moving slowly out of the way or advancing, bringing the whole herd of thousands down on him with the roar of an avalanche. This he meant by standing fast and firing when they came within short range, the shot causing them to divide. In one day Col. Dodge killed 26 bison from his wagon; not in sport, but as a protection. Otherwise they would have run him down and crushed man, horses and wagon.
……This herd observed by Col. Dodge was later found to be 50 miles wide and to occupy five days in passing a given point on its way north. From a high rock, from which points 10 miles distance could be seen in every direction, the earth seemed to be covered with bison. To make an accurate estimate of the numbers seen would be impossible, but Mr. Hornaday, by a conservative calculation, estimates that Col. Dodge must have seen 480,000, and that the herd comprised half a million buffaloes. A trained on the Kansas Pacific Road in that state in 1868 pass between the towns of Ellsworth and Sheridan hundred and 120 miles through a continuous herd of buffaloes. They were packed so that the earth was black, and more than once the train was stopped, the surging mass becoming a menace to human safety.
……“You cannot believe the facts as they existed in the days of 1871 to 1872” said an Army officer. “I was at that time on duty in the pay department, which made it necessary for me to travel on the Atkinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. One day the train entered a large herd, which scattered in seemed to go wild at the shrieking of the whistle and the ringing of the bell. As we went on the thicker they became until the very earth appeared to be a rolling mass of humps so far as we could see. Suddenly some of the animals nearest us turned and charged; others fell in behind, and down on us they came like an avalanche. The engineer stop the engine, let off steam and whistled to stop them, while we fired from the platforms and windows with rifles and revolvers, but it was like trying to stay a tidal wave. We stood in the center of the car to await the crash, some of the men going to the rear. On that day came, the earth trembling and plunged heads down into us. Some were wedged in between the cars, others beneath; and so great was the crushed that face toppled three cars over and actually scrambled over them, one buffalo becoming bogged by having his legs caught in the window. Such accidents occurred several times, and twice in one week were trains derailed by charging buffaloes, whose numbers it was impossible to compute. Hunters have heard the roaring of buffaloes at a distance of from 3 to 5 miles, and that the earth trembled when they charged we can well imagine when the large bulls are known to weigh 2000 pounds, the cows 1200 pounds. The question of interest today is how was it possible to destroy so many animals and so short a time and what methods were employed. The natural fatalities were few compared to the enormous numbers. The cow bison displays little affection for her young, and many calves were lost every year; but, all in all, the conditions were extremely favorable to them, and their increase was enormous. Many were destroyed by stampeding over precipices. In 1867, 2000 buffaloes, or half a herd, became entangled in the quicksands of the Platte River. At another time a herd was lost by breaking through the ice of Lac ui Parle in Minnesota. The cold winters sometimes killed many that remained in the far north, but these dangers were as nothing compared to man. Man soon found that the buffaloes had a value. The Indians slaughtered them by the thousands for their skins, bone and for food; they killed 100 oftentimes to secure five, and waste and prodigality were the rule. Yet so vast were their numbers that doubtless the Indians inroads upon them had little effect so far as extermination is concerned. But with the white man it was different. Some wish to make records, and killed for sport; some killed for the hides and heads; some became professional buffalo butchers to provide the gangs of the railroad men with meat, slaughtering a magnificent animal for its tongue alone. It has been estimated that previous to 1870 nearly ¾ of 1 million buffaloes could have been killed yearly and the herds Contact; how many were killed and wasted will never be known. Each animal, however, had a value at this time estimated by Hornaday at $5.00; the robe, $2.50; the tongue, $.25; hind quarter meat. $2.00; bones, horn in hoofs, 25 cents; and this was sufficient to attract an army of destroyers. The hides were the greatest feature, and one firm in New York between 1876 and 1884 paid the killers nearly 1,000,000 or, to be exact $923,070 for the Robeson hides, which represents the final extinction of the animal. The government never interfered, owing to protest of interested legislators and that neglect of higher officials. Another firm paid 216,004 roads and skins, and there were scores of private traders in the field. The word went out to kill everything in sight, and from 1876 there was a price on the head of every buffalo. It is a dark and disagreeable subject to probe, but it is interesting to note some of the methods of these national calamity makers. A band of half breeds into hunts, according to Ross, killed 47,770 buffaloes, 620 men being engaged in the sport, out of which about 30,000 animals were wasted or partly eaten. Hornaday estimates that 1820 1825 five buffalo expeditions went out, composed of 610 carts each, killing 118,950 buffaloes. From 1825 to 1835 expeditions of 750 carts each, killed hundred and 46,250 buffaloes. From 1830 1875 six expeditions, of 895 carts, killed 171,528,000 animals. From 1835 to 1840 54 expeditions of 1090 carts each, killed 212,530,000 buffaloes. Total number killed by the Red River half breeds alone in 20 years, 652,275, value at three dollars, 261, 375,000. An interesting table has been furnished the government by the firm handled 246,175 skins, costing 924,790. In 1878 they received 41,268 robes; in 1883 5000; in 1884 nine. The end had come, and the buffalo was a memory. Another dealer, Joseph Ullman, states that in 1881 he handled 41,000 robes, at $3.50 and 12,000 at $7.50. In 1882 he purchased 40,000 hides at $3.50 and 10,000 robes at $8.50. The prices hunters received were; cowhide $3.00: bull hide $2.50: yearling 1.50: calves 50 cents. The expense of transportation brought the hide up to $3.50 in New York. This dealer in four years paid out $310,000 to these men, who killed buffaloes by the tens of thousands for $2.50 a head. Both of the above mentioned dealers and eight years paid out $1,233,070 to the exterminators.
……That the real extermination of the buffalo was caused by the demands of trade there can be no doubt, aided and abetted by sportsmen, Indians, and others; but the blame really lies with the government that in all these years permitted a few ignorant Congressman to block the legislature in favor of the protection of the bison, so that all the efforts of humanitarians were defeated and the bills when passed pigeonholed.
……There were many methods of extermination that are graphically illustrated by paintings and models in the Smithsonian Institution. The still hunter was the most insidious enemy of the, buffalo, and a single man by sneaking up on a herd has been known to kill 1000 in a single season. One Capt. Jack Bridges, of Kansas, has the honorable (?) Record of having killed 1142 buffaloes in six weeks. He took the contract to that affect and bagged his game. Up to 1870 there were undoubtedly several millions of buffaloes alive, but the just for blood was on and soon came the demand for Robeson hides from the dealers, and men could not make a living at anything else went out to kill buffaloes. In the different states there were regular killing outfits that cost, in rifles, horses, carts, etc. from $2000 to $5000. Such methods developed some famous charters. Buffalo Bill was one. He contracted with the Kansas Pacific Railroad to furnish them with all the buffalo the men could eat as the road was built; and, according to Mr. Cody’s statement they ate 4,280 buffaloes in 18 months, for which he received $500 per month the price he paid for his title.
……Many buffaloes were killed by running them down: this was the popular method among the Indians who shot them with rifle or bow and arrow, or chase them over precipices. The great herds north of the Missouri were mostly exterminated by the Indians of the Manitoba Red River settlement, who hunted them in a regular army. One division of such an army or exterminators consisted of 603 cards, 700 half breeds, 200 Indians, 600 horses, 200 oxen, and 400 dogs. The movements against the buffaloes in Nebraska were often made by 3000 people, and each man killed at least 10, 30,000 buffaloes bit the dust. In this way Indians as above killed, it is estimated, 652,000 buffaloes.
……The completion of the Western railroads divided the buffaloes into two herds, northern and southern. In 1871 the southern herd was composed of an estimated 3 million and from now on the animals dropped the waves so rapidly that it was estimated that 3000 or 4000 a day were killed; it became evident that they were doomed and appeals were made to the government by hundreds. From 1872 to 1874 there were 1,780,461 buffaloes killed and wasted;3,158,780 in all killed by white people and the skins shipped east over the Atkinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe road. During the same time the Indians 390,000; besides these settlers and mounted Indians killed 150,000, so that the grand sum total for these years was 3,698,780. In the following year, 1875, the deed was done. The southern herd had been swept from the face of the year; the northern herd it went in the same way. In 1882 it was believed that there were 1000-0 buffaloes alive in the herd, but there were at least 5000 white hunters in the field shooting them down at every point. Such a merciless war of extermination was never before witnessed in a civilized land. Then came 1883; thousands took the field this year and Sitting Bull and some whites had the honor of killing the last 10,000. There were living at the last government census, made eight years ago, 236 pure blooded buffaloes in captivity, the last of the untold millions that covered this continent during the past.
Bison in History
3000 Bison bison appears
1500’s An estimated 30 to 60 million bison living in North America.
A. D. 1520 Horses brought to America
1600 60 million buffalo roam North America
1690 On the Canadian prairies, Henry Kelsey, reported that the Cree called these noble animals Thatanka, which the English of his day called “buffillo.” More appropriately, “buffillo” were actually bison, but since first sighted by Europeans, the name buffalo stuck in common parlance.
1700-50: Horse reaches the Great Plains.
1700’s- 1800’s As Euro-Americans settled the country, moving westward from the east coast, they brought changes to native habitat through plowing and farming. Introduced cattle diseases and grazing competition with feral horses also impacted bison prior to direct impact by Euro-Americans.
1720s: Comanches establish hunting territories in southern Plains.
1730 (As early as ) buffalo calves had frequently been taken by the settlers, and brought up among the domestic cattle; being, however, mainly as objects of curiosity. According to Gallatin, a mixed breed was quite common ninty years ago( 1786) in some of the north-western counties of Virginia; but they gradually became merged into the common domestic herd, through lack of fresh supply of wild blood.
1770’s No bison were seen in the West Branch Valley of Pennsylvania
1780-82: Epidemics shift power from villagers to nomads.
1802 Bison gone from Ohio, pushed out by pioneers and settlers.
1802 Bison slaughter of 350 head at Middle Creek, Penn. “Old Logan” (Thought to be more Wood Bison , than Plains)
1802 and 1803 The Cork Mercantile ad, Ireland
sale ads ran for buffalo robes
1804-06: Lewis and Clark expedition travels the upper Missouri River.
1816 April 2, The Evening Post 24 bales of buffalo skins for sale.
Oct 1 The Pittsburgh Gazette 500 Buffalo Robes just received & for sale Bosler & Co.
1817 Jan 28th the Pittsburgh Gazette Buffalo Robes for sale
1818 Nov 17th 70 bales of Buffalo Robes for sale Bosler & Co.
1819 Dec 6 1000 Buffalo Robes for sale George Astor
Dec 13 400 Buffalo Robes for sale Halsey & Ebbets
1820: Bison extinct east of the Mississippi River. Native Americans tribes, forced off land in the east, bring horses and guns to the Great Plains and increased pressure on bison.
1820s: Robe market begins (trade on the Northern Plains from 1820-80).
1821 Dec 17 The Evening Post 2500 Buffalo Robes for sale Dilworth & Voorhees (ad ran Oct Nov & Dec)
1822 May 31 The London Times , Beautiful Buffalo Cow and Calf for sale
1823 & 1824 Pittsburgh Advertiser Buffalo Robes for sale Robert Lindell & Co.
1824 The Evening Post, Public Auction 10,000 Buffalo Robes, The American Fur Co.
1826 The Evening Post Public Auction 9500 Buffalo Robes, The American Fur Co.
1827 The Evening Post 327 Buffalo Hides and a Few Horns for sale by N.L.& G Griswold
The Evening Post 9500 Buffalo Hides for sale at Auction at the store of Joseph Howard, Salem Massachusetts
The Evening Post Buffalo Robes by the bale or single skin, for sale by Munn
1828: Fort Union established at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers (North Dakota).
1828 July 1st Capt Thomas Anthony writes: Twenty-seven of our Creek Indians have been on a buffalo hunt, and after absence of twenty days, returned with the meat of 24 buffalos, which they killed. They saw about 600 buffalo and an immense number of deer, whilst out, and would have killed more, but had not the means of bringing the meat home, every horse having as much as he could carry. A second party will go out next month, when they anticipate much sport. All the Indians are delighted with this country, which is rich and well calculated for our people, who can live well by agriculture and hunting.
1830 Mass destruction of the once great herds of bison began.
1832: The artist George Catlin says, “The buffalo’s doom is sealed.”
1840’s West of the Rocky Mountains, bison (never in large numbers) disappeared. Native Americans market hunters concentrated on cow bison, because of their prime hides for trading.
1844 This may have been the peak year for the Hudson’s Bay Company as 75,000 bison robes were traded to posts in Canada.
1846 May 5th Milwaukee Daily Gazette 333 No 1& 2 Buffalo Robes for sale
1849 Cattlalo calves shipped from Wainwright Buffalo Park to Bain, near Manyberries, Alberta , Ca.
1850 April 25th Milwaukee Daily Sentinel sale ads for Buffalo Robes
Cattalo shipped from Wainwright Buffalo Park to Bain near Manyberries, Alberta, Ca.
1859 General Randolph B. Marcy himself had journeyed from Fort Randall on the lower Missouri to Fort Laramie without seeing a single buffalo.The
experience had convinced him that the animals were “rapidly disappearing, and a few years will, at the present rate of destruction, be sufficient to exterminate the species.”
1864 Idaho State Legislature passed the first law to protect the bison – after they were gone from the state.
1866 Charles Goodnight, captured 6 ranging bison calves and tried to start a captive herd on his Elk Creek Ranch, Throckmorton County, Texas. The bison were sold shortly after, unbeknownst of Mr. Goodnight. 1886-1867 Charles was not married and he was driving cattle up north with Loving.)
1866 July 6th, Brooklyn, New York
A St Paul paper publishes some facts which indicate that the cattle disease is raging among the buffalo on the Northwestern prairies, numbers of these animals having been found dead, with no marks to account for the cause of death. Many cattle also have been attacked, and died at Pembina, with what is supposed to be disease identical with that now spreading through Europe.
1867 “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” said by Colonel Dodge
1860’s Railroads built across the Great Plains during this period divided the bison into two main herds – the southern and the northern. Many bison were killed to feed the railway crews and Army posts. During this time, A Buffalo Bill Cody gains fame.
1860s-80s: Railroad divides bison into northern and southern herds.
1868 Things start ramping up, triple the ads and articles reported in newspapers.
1868 Gen. Sherman wrote to his friend and comrade-in-arms General Sheridan, “as long as Buffalo are upon the Republican the Indians will go there. I think it would be wise to invite all the sportsmen of England and America there this fall for a Grand Buffalo hunt, and make one grand sweep of them all. Until the Buffalo and consequent[ly] Indians are out [from between] the Roads we will have collisions and trouble.” February 1868. Lieutenant Colonel Luther P. Bradley “Private Journal,” Bradley described his mission: “Ordered to the forks of the Republican to make permanent camp: to kill all the buffalo we find, and drive the Arapahoes and Cheyennes south, and the Sioux north.” Bradley carried out his orders energetically, but his troops were able to find and kill comparatively few buffalo.
1870 An estimated two million bison were killed this year on the southern plains. 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. Bison bones brought from $2.50 to $15.00 a ton. Based on an average price of $8 per ton they brought 2.5 million dollars into Kansas alone between 1868 and 1881. Assuming that about 100 skeletons were required to make one ton of bones, this represented the remains of more than 31 million bison.
1870’s It became obvious that owning bison was profitable. More and more people were capturing free ranging bison to establish private herds.
(Early 1870’s) Henry Bergh,president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He was then engaged in a campaign to gain support for congressional legislation to protect the buffalo from white hunters
In 1870-71 two young brothers, Bill Alloway and Charlie Alloway, came to Winnipeg as privates in the Wolseley expedition from Hamilton, Ontario where their father was a Queen’s Own Rifles captain. Charlie became a keen hunter and horseman. Often he roamed the Prairies trading and hunting with Métis and Indians. A description of one of his adventures appears in Wild West magazine of January 1972. On a trip to the Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan, his party was warned by Indians to move camp, which moments later was plowed to pulp by a “brown river of buffalo” while “for 24 hours men watched the steadily loping herd go by at the rate of about 10 a second” Alloway estimated that over a million bison passed by. Charlie, who took over the amateur veterinary practice Bill began and added a trading post, saw the handwriting in 1873 after buying 21,000 buffalo hides at $3-$4 each from a single brigade. He turned his attention, instead, to trying to stop the senseless slaughter of these fine animals.
1871: Appearance of hide market with railroads penetrating Kansas; new tanning technologies; hunting all year.
This year marked the beginning of the end of the southern herd. The greatest slaughter took place along the railroads. One firm in St. Louis traded 250,000 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.C. 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. The bill indicated that the fine be $100 for each buffalo killed. Mysteriously, this document disappeared.
Wyoming passed a law prohibiting the waste of bison meat. Since such laws were not enforced, they did little to protect the bison.
1871. William F Cody recounted how the army assisted a party of prominent businessmen who visited Fort McPherson in 1871 as Sheridan’s guests. Many officers accompanied the party, and two companies of the Fifth Cavalry provided an escort. Cody remarked that any guest “who wished could use army guns.” In fact, the Springfield army rifle was initially the favorite weapon of the hide hunters. The party killed over six hundred buffalo on the hunt, keeping only the tongues and the choice cuts, but leaving the rest of the carcasses to rot on the plains
1872 It was reported: That for many years have been extinct in regions east of the Mississippi river and highly probable to be entirely extinct in the next thirty years. In May, 25,000 bison have been killed south of the Kansas Pacific railroad for the sake of their hides alone, which were sold for 2.00 a piece for shipment to the East. in addition it was estimated that about 5000 bison were killed by the Indians to supply people on the frontier with meat, so at least 30,000 bison have been killed in one month in the Southwestern territories.
1872: Yellowstone National Park established. Sharp’s .50 caliber rifle developed.
During this year and the next two, an average of 5,000 bison were killed each day, every day of the year, as ten thousand hunters poured onto the plains. One railroad shipped over a million pounds of bison bones. Bison hunting became a popular sport among the wealthy.
The Kansas legislature passed a law prohibiting the wasting of bison meat, but the Governor vetoed it.
Colorado passed a law prohibiting the wasting of bison meat; it was not enforced.
The legislation creating Yellowstone National Park provided against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found in said park. Staffing and funding were not provided to enforce this law.
1872 Columbus Delano said in his annual report, “The rapid disappearance of game from the former hunting-grounds must operate largely in favor of our efforts to confine the Indians to smaller areas, and compel them to abandon their nomadic customs.”
1872 General Sheridan and his military entourage joined Alexis (3rd son of the Czar of Russia) and his attendants in Omaha
Speacial accomidation were made on a train headed for North Platte, Nebraska. In five days of exuberant hunting the party slaughtered
hundreds of buffalo.
1872 Jan 2 Colonel William B. Hazen, not usually one to respect Indian rights, wrote to Bergh (president of the ABS prevention of cruelty to animals): The theory that the buffalo should be killed to deprive the Indians of food is a fallacy, as these people are becoming harmless under a rule of justice. I earnestly request that you bring this subject before Congress with the intention of having such steps taken as will prevent this wicked and wanton waste, both in the lives of God’s creatures and of the valuable food they furnish.
1872 or 3 With the aid of his wife Sabine, Walking Coyote, a Pend Oreille Indian, acquired some bison calves, bringing them into the Flathead Valley with the intent of starting a bison herd.
In Canada, west of Winnipeg, James McKay acquired five bison and established a small herd.
1873 On the southern plains, slaughter reached its peak. One railroad shipped nearly three million pounds of bones. Hides sold for $1.25 each, tongues brought 25 cents a piece – most of the bison was left to rot. A railway engineer said it was possible to walk A100 miles along the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way by stepping from one bison carcass to another.
Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior, under President Grant, wrote in his 1873 report, AI would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in the effect upon the Indians. I would regard it rather as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.
1874 Terms like “roamed” “once” being used for the bison population. 3,160,000 ponds of buffalo bones were shipped over the Kansas Pacific Railway and it’s connections. In the same year the following is the shipment buffalo products over the Atchinson, Topeka, Sante Fe Railroad: bones 6,914,950 pounds; of hides, 3,114,300 pounds; of meat, 632,800 pounds. This shows how fast the American Bison is passing away.
1874: Buffalo runners left Fort Dodge, crossed the “dead line,” and opened a base of operations in the Texas Panhandle at Adobe Walls on the north fork of the Canadian River. Several hundred enraged Comanches and Cheyennes attacked that outpost on 27 June 1874
This year marked the seeming end of the great southern herd. Auctions in Fort Worth, Texas were moving 200,000 hides every day or two. One railroad shipped nearly 7 million pounds of buffalo bones. Congress advanced their efforts to save the bison. Both the House and Senate passed a bill that protected female bison and did away with wanton destruction. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tried to intervene on their behalf—legislation was introduced in Congress by Republican Rep. Greenburg Fort of Illinois in 1874 that would have made it, “unlawful for any person who is not an Indian to kill, wound, or in any manner destroy any female buffalo, of any age, found at large within the boundaries of any of the Territories of the United States.” ) However, President Grant refused to sign the bill.
Around this time, William and Charles Alloway of Manitoba, Canada, with the aid of a milk cow, captured three bison calves to start their own herd.
1874-80: Bison decimated in Texas and Oklahoma.
1870s-80s: Cattle increase greatly on Great Plains. Drought in northern Plains.
1872, 1873 and 1874 the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe (Rail) road carried out 459,463 buffalo hides, and Colonel Dodge considers it quite certain that its two rivals (Kansas Pacific and Northern Pacific, and Union Pacific railroads) carried an equal if not greater number, making a grand total of 1,378,389 hides.”
1871-75: Southern Herd: c. 4 million bison killed to ship 1.4 million hides from Dodge City, Kansas.
1875 The term “bison” is being used more than “buffalo.”
1875 Despite the danger of Indians, however, the hide hunters returned to Texas to continue their bloody work. In response, conservation-minded men in the state legislature introduced a buffalo protection bill. Few bison remained in Texas when the state legislature moved to protect the bison. However, General Phil Sheridan appeared before the assembly and suggested that every hunter be given a medal with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged Indian on the other. He added that once the animals were exterminated, the Indians would be controlled and civilization could advance.
1876 The estimated three to four million bison of the southern plains were now dead. The Northern Pacific Railroad, anxious to advance, ignored tribal treaties and sent in a survey party. Native Americans killed some of the men, and General George Custer was sent to investigate, making history with the Battle at Little Big Horn.
1876, July31 the Free Press reported that between 40,000 to 50,000 buffalo hides were shipped from Alberta to Montana and another 6,000 were sent to Winnipeg. “These numbers represent a slaughter of about 120,000 buffalo. (not every buffalo killed, gave up their hide easily, some reports, every 3 killed, gave one hide)
1877 A few remaining free roaming bison were discovered in Texas and were killed.
A law was passed in Canada that forbade the use of pounds (corrals), wanton destruction, killing of buffalo under 2 years of age, and the killing of cows during a closed season.
Lt. Col. Samuel Bedson of Stoney Mountain, Manitoba (Canada) purchased bison from the Alloway herd, the McKay herd and from some Native Americans.
1877 Bison were crossed on short-horn dairy cattle and produced successfully 14 quarts of very rich milk, per day.
1878 Bison in Canada were disappearing rapidly. Canada repealed the 1877 law.
1879 Charles Goodnight started a herd. Indians and whites a like were killing off the migratory herds and he conceived the idea of saving some for preservation and future propagation. So he caught a few young ones, which were the beginning of the herd, he is now (1906) willing to place in a national preserve. With the many-sided assistance of the frontier army, the buffalo runners managed
to destroy virtually the entire southern herd by 1879
1880 Slaughter of the northern herd had begun. New Mexico passed a law to protect the bison; unfortunately the bison were already gone from this state.
1881 This years winter marked the largest slaughter of the northern herd. One county in Montana shipped 180,000 buffalo skins. Robes brought $2.50 to $4.00 each. Around this time, the Glidden and the Dupree herds (of the Dakotas) were established.
1882 Over 10,000 bison were taken during one hunt of a few days length in Dakota Territory in September.
The fate of the northern herd had been determined. A herd appeared on the northern side of the Yellowstone where a high plateau overlooked Miles City and Fort Keogh in the valley below. Fifth Infantrymen sent from the post killed so many animals that their meat filled a half-dozen four-mule team wagons. General Hugh Scott remembered that soldiers had no trouble keeping a six-mule team wagon carrying fresh buffalo meat into Fort
Meade “all the time,” early in 1883. Hunters thought that the bison had moved north to Canada, but they hadn’t. They had simply been eliminated.
1880-83: Northern herd reduced to less than 100 animals – plus 200 in Yellowstone.
1883 Nov. One forlorn bull was seen grazing in the outskirts of Souris, the last representative in Manitoba of the wild herds that had by the thousands wandered freely across the province’s prairie land. As with his kin that proceeded him, the bull soon after being sighted wondered off never to be seen again.
1883 By mid-year nearly all the bison in the United States were gone. The Dakota Territorial Legislature enacted a law to protect bison; it was not enforced. In Oklahoma, the McCoy brothers and J.W. Summers caught a pair of bison calves, 2 of very few left on the southern plains.
1883 in the U.S., the number of hides shipped, fell to a mere 25,000, a single car load shipped from Dickinson, Dakota Territory, by J.N. Davis
1884 There were around 325 wild bison left in the United States – including 25 in Yellowstone. Congress gives the Army the task of enforcing laws in Yellowstone National Park in an effort to protect the final few wild bison from poachers. Michel Pablo and Charles Allard of Montana purchased 10 bison from Walking Coyote for $2500.00 in greenbacks (see article in history, also written in Head, Hides & Horns pub 1985.) Another source says they purchased Walking Coyotes herd for $2000.00 in gold coin (The Buffalo by F Haines pub 1970)
1885 C.J. Jones purchased a few bison from Charles Goodnight, along with capturing 13 bison from southern Texas, starting his own private herd.
1885, wrote Hornaday, “not a single hide was on the market, and the buyers announced the end had come.”
1886 The Smithsonian Institute sent an expedition out to obtain bison specimens for the National Museum. After a lengthy search, some were found near the LU Bar Ranch in Montana. Twenty-five were collected for mounting and scientific study. (The original mounted specimens were brought to the Fort Benton (MT) Museum of the Upper Missouri in the mid-1990’s, close to where the original bison were taken.)
1887 The American Museum of Natural History (New York), wishing to obtain their own bison specimens for an exhibit, mounted an exhibition to Montana. They found no bison.
One of the last lots of bison robes sold in Texas for $10 per robe.
1888 Austin Corbin established a herd of bison on New Hampshire’s Blue Mountain Game Preserve.
1889 William Hornaday estimated total bison population to be just over 1000 animals – 85 free ranging, 200 in the federal herd (Yellowstone NP), 550 at Great Slave Lake (Canada) and 256 in zoos and private herds. Last commercial shipments of hides anywhere in United States.
1889-1901: Yellowstone herd reduced from 200 to 25.
1892, Recorded: First time a Cutting Horse is used to work bison. (“Buffalo” Jones)
Late 1800s: Establishment of private captive herds. Herds owned by James McKay, Charles Alloway, Charles Goodnight, Walking Coyote, Frederick Dupree, and Charles J. Jones are source of most surviving bison. Other important player was Scottie Phillips in SD.
1895: New York Zoological Society (NYZS) established at the Bronx Zoo.
1896 The Pablo/Allard herd in the Flathead Valley totaled about 300. Allard died, and his widow sold her portion to Charles Conrad of Kalispell, MT.
1899: Bison herd established at the Bronx Zoo.
In 1901, Congress placed 61,500 acres within the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Indian Reservation under control of the Department of the Interior establishing the Wichita Forest Reserve. Four years later, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the area a game preserve as well as a forest reserve and transferred it to the Department of Agriculture. Designated “the Wichita Forest and Game Preserve,” plans immediately began to relocate buffalo to the land which had once been their natural habitat. Dr. W. T. Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park and President of the American Bison Society, offered animals from the zoo to begin a herd. Mr. Charles Johnson started to prepare for the arrival of the animals by overseeing the installment of a buffalo-proof fence for over 8,000 acres (which ultimately cost $15,000).
1902: Congressman Curtis of Kansas intorduced a bill this winter , entitled ” A bill to set apart a perserve for the American bison and other purposes” in New Mexico.
Bison restoration begins in Yellowstone National Park with sources from Colonel Goodnight in Texas and the Pablo-Allard ranch in western Montana. There were 700 bison in private herds. The Yellowstone herd was estimated at 23 animals
“Buffalo” Jones is appointed warden of Yellowstone nat’l Park. by the President.
1904: Ernest Harold Baynes moves into house in Corbin’s game reserve in New Hampshire with captive bison herd. Baynes believes that the only way to save the bison from extinction is to put under government control the existing herds on private lands. Buffalo Jones resigns from Yellowstone Park , as manager.
1905: American Bison Society founded on December 8th at the Bronx Zoo. Bison offered by NYZS for Wichita Preserve, J. Alden Loring, engaged by NYZS, surveys site in Oklahoma for preserve.2 Government bison herds held about 100 animals (Yellowstone NP and the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC). The American Bison Society founded by private citizens to protect and restore bison. Ernest Harold Baynes, founder; William T. Hornaday, president; Theodore Roosevelt, honorary president.
Hornaday (director of NY Zoological Park) gifted 12 of their bison to Wichita National Forest Preserve. This became the first gift of bison to establish/increase government herds.
1906-1912 Pablo sold his bison herd to Canada, after Congress turned down funding for purchase for the United States. After 7 years of rounding up, a total of 695 animals were shipped to Canada. Pablo received $170,000.
The National Bison Society donated 6 bison to the Fort Niobrara Game Preserve.
1907: Bronx Zoo ships 15 bison by railroad to the new Wichita Reserve Bison Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma.3
In 1907, Mr. Frank Rush began his long tenure as superintendent of the Wichita Forest Preserve. That same year, the name of the facility was changed to Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve. Mr. Rush received the first shipment of 15 bison on October 9, 1907 from the Bronx Zoo. The herd thrived, doubling in size in five years and obtaining a six-fold increase in ten years. In 1921, Supervisor Rush recommended distribution of twenty bull buffalo, noting that there was no longer any danger of the species becoming extinct. Subsequently, annual programs to improve the herd and maintain it at an optimum size resulted in donations and sales of many hundreds of bison.
1908 National Bison Range established for A..a permanent … Range for the herd of bison to be presented by the American Bison Society.
1909: Montana National Bison Reserve established by USGO after lobbying by NYZS, ABS, and others. $10,560.50 raised by ABS to buy nucleus herd for Montana National Bison Reserve.
Thirty-four bison purchased from the Conrad herd (Kalispell, MT) by the American Bison Society, donated and release on National Bison Range.
1910 The American Bison Society Census estimated 2,108 bison in North American (1,076 in Canada and 1,032 in the U.S.). Bison in public herds in the U.S. totaled 151.
1911: Hornaday declares bison no longer in danger of extinction.4
1913: Six bison introduced to Niobrara reserve, Nebraska. NYZS gives 14 bison to Wind Cave National Game Preserve, S.D.
1915: American Bison Society feels it has achieved its goal of preserving bison through the establishment of four federally sponsored bison preserves.5,6
1919 Estimated population of North American bison at 12,521.
1924 The National Bison Range donates 218 bison from a herd total of 675 to other public herds. This is the first of many donations and sales of live bison.
1934-35: Sioux (Pine Ridge) and Crow establish herds in South Dakota and Montana.
1935: Last meeting of American Bison Society. Because of the secure populations of bison in public herds, the American Bison Society votes itself out of existence.
1966: National Bison Society established as National Buffalo Association.
1990’s An estimated 20,000-25,000 bison were in public herds in North America.
At least 250,000 bison in private herds by end of decade. Private bison herds on the rise. Many bison raised for eventual slaughter – selling point of bison meat is it leanness and low levels of cholesterol. Many Native American Tribes reintroducing bison to their lands through the effort of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative and donations from federal herds.
1991 Tim & Rhonda Frasier got their first calf
2002: More than 232,000 bison in private herds in U.S.; 150,000 bison are being raised in Canada.
2005: Wildlife Conservation Society re-establishes American Bison Society.
2006: Bison Summit is held in Denver to plot out bison’s ecological future.
2008: Meeting on “Building Blocks for Bison Ecological Restoration” held in Rapid City, S. D. Wood bison from Elk Island National Park in Canada arrived at their temporary new home at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on June 19, 2008.
2009 YNP, the population is estimated to be 3,300 bison. The estimate is based on a series of aerial surveys conducted in June and July.
The Copper River herd originated from 17 animals taken from the Delta Herd in 1950. Over the years, the herd size has ranged from 51 bison in 1967 to a high of 143 in 2009. The Chitina River herd at last count, in 2009, was 41 animals and the herd is slowly increasing.
2010 51 escaped bison head were shot in King Co. Texas, by a neighboring rancher
2011 Bison Meat Sales Top $278 Million
2012 To celebrate the bison’s central place in the history and culture of the United States, conservationists, bison producers, sportsmen, and Native American tribes came together this spring to craft and advance the National Bison Legacy Act.
2013 Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 174 , May 10. The measure was authored by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Reps. Charles Anderson, R-Waco; Charles Perry, R-Lubbock; and Dan Flynn, R-Van. Both the Senate and the House voted unanimously for the bill.
2016, May 9th The president signs bill, declaring bison as the national mammal.
Buffalo hunt — twice-annual hunt involved hundreds of Métis from Red River and White Horse Plains http://www.winnipegrealtors.ca/Resources/Article/?sysid=1333 by Bruce Cherney(Compiled from: Isenberg 2000; Lueck 2002; National Bison Society website; S. Johnson unpublished from WCS.)
This is a compilation of information attained from the Internet, videos, books, and articles. If there are discrepancies, please contact:
US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Bison Range, 132 Bison Range Road, Moiese, Montana, 59824.
Heads, Hides, and Horns Larry Barsness
Time of the Buffalo Tom McHugh
The Buffalo Book David Dary
Death Wind on the Plains Big Sky Western Heritage Productions
Discovering Lewis and Clark http://www.lewis-clark.org
The Missoulian Missoula, MT newspaper
National Bison Range Annual Reports
1 For bison population estimate as of January 1, 1889, see map on the extermination of the bison, published as part of William Hornaday’s monograph, The Extermination of the American Bison, with a Sketch of its Discovery and Life History (Smithsonian Institution, 1889).
2 J. Alden Loring surveys site in Oklahoma for preserve, November 1905, Tenth Annual Report of the New York Zoological Society, for the year 1905, pages 181-200.
3 Hornaday, William T. The founding of the Wichita Bison Herd, pp. 55-69 in First Annual Report of American Bison Society.
4 After resigning as president of the American Bison Society and accepting honorary membership, he wrote: “The American Bison Society is a splendid organization. It will go from strength to strength, until the time comes that it is no longer necessary to consider movements for the saving of the bison. Then I predict your energies will be directed to saving other species of wild life that presently may be as much threatened with extinction as the bison was three or four years ago.” (Annual report of the American Bison Society for the year 1911, p. 32.)
5 The four reserves established by 1915 in connection with American Bison Society were: Wichita Bison Reserve (1907), Montana National Bison Reserve (1909), Wind Cave National Game Preserve (1913), and Fort Niobrara (1913). The count of eight reserves found in some accounts includes the herds at Yellowstone National Park and the National Zoo, founded many years prior to the American Bison Society, and the herds at Sully Hill and Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, founded after 1915 and ultimately unsuccessful.
6 Future of the American Bison Society discussed, “whether it will be best to continue the Society as a separate organization or to combine with some similar organization and turn over the membership and the good will to them.” Eighth and Ninth Annual Reports of the American Bison Society, 1915-1916, published 1916, pages 22-23. (Note: Cover title says “Tenth annual report,” corrected in Hornaday’s handwriting.)
7 Last meeting. Bronx Zoo Press release, January 25, 1935, regarding meeting of January 24, 1935. No records of later meetings could be located. Dues: Lueck gives 1935 and 1936, variously, as date last dues collected, citing Coder and Dary’s Buffalo Book. I have been unable to trace this fact to a primary document, published or unpublished.
8 National Bison Association website, history and mission page. In 1995, the National Buffalo Association merged with the American Bison Association (founded in 1975) to form the National Bison Association.
Hutton, Sheridana nd His Army, 213-14; Cody, “Famous Hunting Parties,”
Sherman to Sheridan, 10 May 1868, The Paperso f PhilipH . Sheridan microfilm reel no. 17, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress,Washington, DC (here after Sheridan Papers).
Sheridan to Sherman, 15 October 1868, Sheridan Papers, microfilm reel number 86;13 September 1868 entry in Luther P. Bradley’s” Private Journal,”Box 1, Luther P. Bradley Papers,
United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks P, A.
Theodore R. Davis, “The BuffaloRange,”Harper’sNew MonthlyMagazine 3 8 (January1869): 153; Colonel R. B. Marcy, Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border (1866; reprint, Philadelphia,