W.T. Hornaday

William T. Hornaday checking bison

William Temple Hornaday, Sc.D. (December 1, 1854 – March 6, 1937) was an American zoologist, conservationist, taxidermist, hunter, and author. He served as the first director of the New York Zoological Park, known today as the Bronx Zoo, and he was a pioneer in the conservation movement in the United States. He was the President of a conservation group called the Campfire Club in 1905 as well as the President of the American Bison Society from 1907-10


Greatest Wild, Animal Man in the Country.  WILLIAM T. HORNADAY
“There goes the man who knows more about wild animals than anybody else in America, and probably more than anybody else in the world.”

The speaker pointed to a powerfully-set, clear-eyed, bearded man who was superintending the removal of some wolves from one den to another at the New York Zoological Park.

 “Yes,” continued the speaker; “that is William T. Hornaday, the greatest wild animal-man in this country. He knows the mind and the temper of tigers and wolves better than you or I know the mind and temper of our children. He has spent his life studying wild beasts in their native Jungles, shooting them to get their skeletons for museums, collecting them alive, training them and writing about them. He has built up more zoos and zoological museums, I suppose, than any other living American.”

William T. Hornaday is an example of; the success which comes from lifelong devotion to a steady purpose. In boyhood he determined to know more about wild animals than other people; now he stands at the top of his profession. He is the director of the New York zoological park, and he is known to zoologists all over the world.

He was born forty-nine years ago in what were then the backwoods of Indiana. “I belong to that rare and disappearing species known as the native American,” he says; “and I was farm bred and farm reared. My father and brothers were keen sportsmen, good shots and ardent lovers of nature, and I inherited the same tastes. I can’t remember the time when I didn’t love to be among wild animals. Fortunately, my boyhood was spent in places where animal life was abundant in the forests of central Indiana and the prairies of Iowa. Those forests and prairies have since been eaten up by the march of civilization, and one has to go farther afield to find wild life nowadays.”

Student of Natural History.
Mr. Hornaday was educated in Iowa colleges, and there read Audubon and learned that it was possible to make a livelihood out of those practical natural history studies which he loved. On leaving college he went to an establishment which supplies museums and zoological gardens with their specimens, and will even turn out an entire museum or zoological garden to order as calmly as a grocer sells a pound of butter. At this establishment Mr. Hornaday received a thorough practical training as a collecting naturalist and taxidermist preparatory to being sent “on the road,” for the great animal dealers send out travelers ‘ all over the world to all kinds of zoological specimens, from elephants to bats, just as manufacturing firms send out their “drummers” to hunt up trade.
Mr. Hornaday was sent to Florida to collect zoological specimens. He won his spurs there, while still a beardless youth, by discovering and sending up north the first specimen of the Florida crocodile which ever came out of the country. That crocodile is now one of the treasured possessions of the National Museum at Washington.

Mr. Hornaday, with a companion, tracked the crocodile to a creek running out of the Everglades. They hid in the early morning near the beast’s home, and, after waiting for hours, managed to get a shot at it. Mr. Hornaday sent a bullet through its eye, which, contrary to the general belief of hunters, did not kill it, but simply made it crazy. It had its strength left, but could not see and did not know what to do. Wallowing in the blood-tinged water of the creek, champing its jaws and threshing its tail in frantic impotency, the crocodile was a ghastly sight; but it clung to life so tenaciously that seven bullets had to be fired into its thick hide before it finally gave up the ghost.

Hunting Big Game.
Having begun to make his reputation by this Florida trip, Mr. Hornaday was sent off to Cuba, where he hobnobbed with both the Spaniards and the Cubans during the insurrection of 1875. and then to South America. In 1876 he was sent to the East Indies on his greatest trip, to spend two years roaming at will through the jungles of India, Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo.

It was on this trip that Mr. Hornaday made for himself a reputation among big game hunters. Few men have shot so many ferocious beasts as he did during those two years. Elephants, Indian bison, tigers, leopards, crocodiles, orang-outangs, chimpanzees, gibbons and bears fell to his gun by the score, to say nothing of hundreds of antelopes, oxis deer, gazelles, monkeys and such like small fry. His bag of orang-outang alone numbered forty-three.

During these two years he had adventures enough to provide material for half a dozen boys books had he cared to write them. Many a time he narrowly escaped death from the wild beasts which he hunted. He lived on terms of intimacy with the head hunters of Borneo, and formed such a high opinion of their manners and morals that he now holds them up as the superiors of civilized man.

When he is asked which of his many exciting adventures during those two years he regards as being his “closest shave.” Mr. Hornaday usually tells how he was charged by a huge old female elephant in an Indian forest belonging to the Rajah of Kulunyud.

A Thrilling Elephant Hunt.
While tramping through the jungle, he came upon a herd of elephants which included this female and her smooth, shiny calf, about three feet high. “I never saw a more demure and cute looking animal than that absurd little elephant,” said Hornaday, “and I fairly ached to steal up and grab hold of its trunk and have a tussle with him.”

But he had to keep quiet because the rajah, who owned the forest, had only permitted him to shoot male elephants. Lying hidden in the dense undergrowth, he watched the herd for over half an hour. Presently the baby elephant wandered off, and Mr. Hornaday tried to creep noiselessly through the jungle after It. But he was heard and before he could realize his peril the branches which screened the herd parted suddenly, and the huge old female elephant was upon him.

It was a terrible moment, and Mr. Hornaday always waxes eloquent in describing It

“She had sufficient distance to get under full headway,” he says, “and although my breath stopped and my heart stood still with sheer fright, I yet realized she was the grandest living object I ever saw, and the most terrible. Her head was held high and her trunk curled up under her mouth, to be uncoiled when within reach of me, I suppose. Her ears seemed to stand out straight from her head with the tips curled forward, and the strides of her massive legs were enormous.

 “Luckily she came on in dead silence, or I should have been frightened out of my wits. As it was, I felt as if I was going to be run over by a locomotive. I knew it was useless folly to run, for in a few strides she would have been upon me.

“When I saw her coming I stood up quickly and faced her, threw my gun up to my shoulder and fired both barrels at the base of her coiled-up trunk, in the direction of the brain. She was within fifteen paces of me when I fired, but the thundering report, the smoke and two zinc balls crashing into her skull close to her brain stopped her charge. She sheered off suddenly and rushed into the forest, trumpeting shrilly once or twice. Directly, there was a grand crash and a rush in the thicket as the herd broke away and started off, and that was the last we saw or cared to see of it.

“Then I had time to reflect on what might have been had my caps failed to explode or my powder been damp.

“Once, when walking on a railway track in a snowstorm, I was very nearly run over by a locomotive coming down a grade in muffled silence, and my sensations then were precisely the same as when that old female elephant came charging down that grassy slope. The approach of the powerful machine and the living monster seemed exactly alike.”

A Bear Hunt.
A few days after this exciting experience the hunter fell in suddenly with three black bears. He shot one, a female, left her for dead, and chased the others. After a hot pursuit, a second bear was shot and apparently killed. Bear No. 3 was then pursued, but got away.

Mr. Hornaday returned to the spot where he had left bear No. 2, but to his surprise found no bear there. “I suppose he concluded,” said the hunter, “that he wasn’t dead enough to skin, so he picked himself up and went about his business.”

After trying In vain to find him, Mr. Hornaday and his native beaters went back to the place where they had killed the first of the three bears. By a remarkable coincidence, that bear was gone also. She hadn’t been dead either, and had gone off, dragging her wounded hind-quarters after her.

 Mr. Hornaday and one of his beaters followed her bloody trail, and came suddenly within twenty feet of her before they knew it

“She saw us first,” Mr. Hornaday said. Wm. T. HornadayHornaday

 “She wheeled around and came charging at us, dragging her hind-quarters after her. Her jaws were wide set and her eyes glistened fiercely, while her angry growls told us that she was desperate and meant mischief. My beater shouted a warning and then vanished, but I stood still until she got within ten feet of me, and then fired at the center of a yellow crescent on her breast. That shot finished her.”

Fishing for Crocodiles.
When on the seacoast of Selangore, East Indies, Mr. Hornaday did a new “stunt” as a fisherman, which gained for him some local reputation. With a hook and line he caught a crocodile twelve feet long and weighing four hundred and fifteen pounds. Needless to say, it was not an ordinary hook and line. The hook was a piece of tough green wood, ten inches long and sharpened at both ends, so affixed to the line that it would be swallowed point foremost, but at the slightest tug would fix itself crosswise in the crocodile’s interior. The line was made of tough green bark, which could defy even a crocodile’s sharp teeth, and the bait was the body of a sting ray.

Naturally, there was trouble when the crocodile found himself hooked. He rushed to and fro in the narrow, muddy creek in which he had been caught, plunged violently, threshing the water into huge waves, and nearly upset the small canoe from which Mr. Hornaday was fishing. The creek was alive with other crocodiles, and the fisherman would have had but a small chance of life had he been overturned into it. Luckily, he was not. Presently the crocodile gave up the fight and suffered himself to be dragged toward shore by a number of willing natives. He tried in vain to escape by diving, until at last a well-aimed bullet cut his spinal marrow and ended his sufferings. Few fishermen have ever made a bigger, catch.

 But it is not as a hunter of big game that Mr. Hornaday is chiefly known. As a trainer of wild animals, and a writer on animal subjects, he is a recognized expert. “No, we don’t have much serious trouble with the animals,” he replied the other day to an inquiry put to him at the Bronx Zoo of New York. “They rarely, or never, escape. There has only been one bad accident from an escaped animal at this institution.

“Do you see these two fingers?” indicating the third finger and little finger of his left hand. “They are as useless to me as if they were amputated. An escaped bear bit through them. That is one of the unpleasant little things liable to happen to a man in my line of work.”

 Mr. Hornaday thinks nothing of going into a tiger’s cage to inquire about the poor beast’s toothache, or into the den of a lioness to see if she is treating her cubs properly. He is a man of iron nerve and indomitable will. There is not an animal among the thousands under his charge which does not, on occasion, recognize his mastery.


Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester, New York April 28 1879

William T. Hornaday, a Rochester gentleman who has been hutting for scientific purposes in India, Ceylon, Borneo, etc. , for two years and a half, has reached San Francisco, and after remaining sometime in the west, will return to Rochester. Professor Ward says that with the exception of the famous Gordon Cummings, Mr. Hornaday has killed and preserved more game than any other man in the world. Mr. Hornaday’s letters have been published in the Democrat and Chronicle, and have been read with great interest.


The Des Moines Register
Des Moines, Iowa  April 30,1879

Mr. Hornaday- Before the Academy of Sciences. Mr. William T. Hornaday, the Naturalist of whom we spoke recently, and who has just reached Iowa on his return from a scientific trip around the world, will be tendered a reception by the Des Moines Academy of Natural Sciences on Thursday evening of this week. Mr. Hornaday is worthy of this honor, and it is fitting that it be extended to him by the Capital City of his native State. It is probable he will tell something of the wonderful story of science that his voyage around the world has made possible.

We would urge upon the Academy that it ought to take steps at once to secure the location of the Hornaday Collection here. Thursday night would be a good night to start the good work.

In early 1886 Dr. G. Brown Goode, had asked Hornaday to do an inventory of the museums inventory the museum’s specimen collection of Bison americanus, the American bison, once one of the greatest glories of the continent. But when Hornaday looked into the matter, peering into dim cabinets and specimen drawers, he was appalled to discover that, as he later wrote, “the American people’s own official museum was absolutely destitute of good bison specimens of every kind.” He could find only a few dusty old skins and skeletons—sad, neglected relics, like discarded overcoats whose owners would never return. 

He had then undertaken a census of the bison in North America, writing to ranchers, hunters, army officers, and zookeepers across the American West and in Canada as far north as the Great Slave Lake in an attempt to come up with some estimate as to the numbers that still might be alive in 1886. 


Block Quotes Credit : How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife – Hornaday’s War “Mr. Hornaday’s War” by Stefan Bechtel Copyright © Stefan Bechtel Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston

Although no man, white or red, would ever know for certain how many buffalo had once roamed the plains of North America, the estimates ranged up to 60 million or more (though more recent estimates have reduced this number to something closer to 30 million). But whatever the actual numbers were, buffalo were the largest herds of quadrupeds ever to walk the face of the earth, including the epic migrations of Africa. But, as the news came back from all these far-flung correspondents, the true story of what had happened to the millions of bison became heartbreakingly apparent.
Based on the best firsthand accounts he could find, Hornaday estimated that as recently as 1867, only about twenty years earlier, the total number of wild bison in the trans-Missouri West was about 15 million. But what had happened to these last representatives of a mighty race during the subsequent two decades was a testament to astounding human greed and short-sightedness, as well as the shiny new efficiencies of capitalism. The same ingenious interlocking mechanisms that mass-produced washing machines, farm implements, and, later, the Model T Ford, and then marketed and distributed them worldwide, had been put to use exterminating the American bison, and with breathtaking haste. The slaughter became mechanized, streamlined, and eerily calm, with armies of hunters (who were paid by the carcass) killing and butchering bison by the tens of thousands and then loading their hides by the bale onto eastbound trains.
The fact that there was, in all of this, a ghost in the machine—an end to it all—went largely unnoticed. Even the hide hunters themselves did not notice what was happening. In retrospect, Hornaday later wrote, it appeared that the last of the great herds disappeared in 1883–84, but the hide hunters prepared for another season nonetheless, laying in Sharps rifles, cases of ammunition, skinning and butchering tools, tents, commissary supplies, tons of feed for the horses, and all the rest of it, not realizing that they were preparing to hunt for ghosts.

“In March, 1886,” Hornaday later wrote in his unpublished autobiography, “I received a severe shock, as if by a blow on the head from a well-directed mallet. I awoke, dazed and stunned, to a sudden realization of the fact that the buffalo-hide hunters of the United States had practically finished their work.”

Hornaday hurried a letter off to Dr. Goode:

by extensive correspondence it was ascertained that in the United States the extermination of all the large herds of buffalo is already an accomplished fact. While it was supposed that at least some thousands remained in the more remote regions of the Northwest, it was found that the total number is estimated at less than five hundred.”

Goode called him into his office and was unhappy with the letter. He didn’t want to kill any bison for specimens, (exceedingly unpleasant) but felt he had no choice. Thinking that no one would ever see a true American bison in a museum again. Hornaday felt that he could gain the peoples support to save wildlife once they could see it. 

Hornaday it’s said “begged him” for a small expedition to Montana in search of the few remaining bison that he had been told about earlier when he sent off letters to the locals in the area where bison had been rumored to be. 

Goode agreed. 

“You see, with us at the Smithsonian, it was what a cowboy would call “a groundhog case,” we were out of buffalo, and we had “got to get’em,” before they were all gone. As one of my chums remarked, it was “the most perfunctory buffalo hunt on record,” The buffalo were going, going, and “gone” had already been called when we awoke one fine morning to a realization of the fact that we were caught “short” on buffalo, and there were none in the market. We hadn’t a series of specimens, nor even good ones of any kind, whereas it was our duty to have the finest series in the world. Could we expect that the American people would be satisfied with anything short of the best in their National Museum? By no means. When we thought of how we would be blessed by future generations if we should fail now to secure a fine series of specimens, we (e.g. the editorial “we”) actually trembled in our boots. The trouble was, we had lately been so deeply interested in mounting foreign mammals that we had failed to watch the disappearance of the bison, and we had been thinking all along that whenever we wanted a fine lot of buffalo we could get them. Judge then, of our surprise, and even consternation, when my numerous letters of inquiry all, save one, elicited the same response: “The buffalo are all gone, and I cannot tell you where you can find any.”

But Professor Baird was equal to this emergency, as to all others. He said: “Go at once and search of buffalo, and secure a series of specimens for the National Museum at all hazards.” Although the spring was then well advanced, and there was very little hope of finding buffalo before their shedding should have begun, the difficulty of finding any at all bid fair to be so great it was decided that we should start at once, and search for buffalo until some were found, even though it took all summer. One of our correspondents, Dr. J. C. Merrill, of the army, reported that there were rumors of the presence of buffalo in four localities in the northwest, and we decided that Miles City, Montana, was the key to this situation. Accompanied by my old friend, George H. Hedley, of Medina, and Mr. A. H. Forney, one of my regular laboratory assistants, we left Washington on May 13, 1886, on what was in fact, as well as in name, a Smithsonian exploration for buffalo. As a parting send-off, Captain J —, lately returned from Montana, triumphantly offered to wager that we would not get more than one or two buffalo, all told.

I am sure no hunter ever started out with a longer face than I did, and then nearer we got to Montana the longer it grew. When we reached Miles City and were told by hunters, stockmen, army officers and finally a noted fur buyer that were positively “no buffalo in the country anywhere.” I know it would have measured nearly a yard. While moodily debating whether to go up to the Bear Paw mountains or the Panhandle of Texas prospecting. I had the good luck to meet Mr. Henry R. Phillips, a ranchman from the Little Dry, seventy miles northwest of Miles City. Now, I had been advised that a ranchman will never tell a hunter of the presence of game near his ranch, because he wants it reserved and preserved for his own rifle. Mr. Phillips was not that kind of a man. He said in a very quiet, but very convincing way:

“There are a few buffalo and the bad lands west of my range, for one of my cowboys killed a cow on Sand Creek on the 11th of this month, and about thirty-five head have been seen. If you go up there and hunt them, and stick to it, you’re almost certain to get some in the end.”

That was enough. The very next day we rolled out across the Yellowstone, bound for the country at the head of the Little Dry. The weather was then hot and water was very scarce, but the grass was good, and in due time we pitched our camp in what was supposed to be the buffalo country. Three days after reaching our hunting ground we caught a buffalo calf in the bad lands, alive, and within two miles of our camp. It was about two weeks old, but by hard traveling it had become so weak it could not keep up with its mother, and she coolly abandoned it. We carried it to camp across horse, hurried it off to the ranch where there was a milch cow, and eventually got it to the Smithsonian in fine condition.

We hunted diligently for three weeks, and finally got two solitary old bull buffalo. One had said half of his winter coat, and the other all of it — his body being quite bare. We took their heads and skeletons, and, being well satisfied that there were more buffalo in that country, hastened back to Washington with all speed, same as little as possible about our find. I plan to return in the fall and collect at least twenty specimens.” W.T. Hornaday -1887

The chances of you fellas finding any buffalo, anywhere in the territories—at least, any buffalo that are still alive—are next to nothing.

In fact, he told Hornaday, leaning across the table with a butter knife in one hand and a fork in the other, I’d be willing to bet you cash money you won’t find a single buffalo in the Montana Territory, or anywhere else for that matter.

Hornaday was also “obsessive, unbuckling, and stubborn beyond words,” writes historian Douglas Brinkley.

It was a months long expedition as they finally returned home along with

“Sandy” an orphan bison calf.

Hornaday with Sandy
Smithsonian Institution Archives. Image # 79-13252

The spindly legged, sandy-blonde buffalo calf, Sandy, rode in a railroad baggage car when Hornaday, Hedley, and Forney returned to Washington. Hornaday tenderly raised him on cow’s milk through that spring and summer of 1886, but one day in July, Sandy ate an enormous amount of damp clover, and before anyone discovered it, he had curled up on the ground and died. Hornaday was anguished by the calf’s death. The only hopeful note in this sad end was that at the time of his death, Sandy was three months old, weighed 120 pounds, and stood two feet nine inches high at the shoulder. He’d at least been nurtured, in captivity, past infancy. In letters to friends, Hornaday expressed so much sorrow over the death of Sandy that at least one historian has suggested that the death of the little calf may have inspired one of his greatest creations: the National Zoo at the Smithsonian. If Hornaday could not save the untold millions that were already gone, at least he might be able to preserve the legacy of one small, frightened foundling.


In September of 1886 and “Last Buffalo Hunt” began. Hoping to gather at least twenty specimens on this trip. 

In his autobiography, written forty-eight years after these events had faded into memory, Hornaday acknowledged his own misgivings over what the museum party was about to do—and begged the forgiveness of future generations for what could arguably be called a crime. But to Hornaday’s way of thinking, he was there only to remedy the atrocities committed by a criminal enterprise—the million individual crimes of the buffalo-killing industry that grew up in the West in the mid- to late 1800s, and the “criminal indifference” of the government that allowed it to happen.
“If the reader now should feel doubtful about the ethical propriety of our last buffalo hunt, and the killing that we had to do in order that our National Museum might secure a few good wild skins out of the wreck of the millions, let him feel assured that our task was by no means a pleasant one,” he wrote, continuing,
At the same time, remember that the author has made atonement to Bison americanus by the efforts that he put forth since 1889 for the saving and the restoration of that species. Never since Juan Cabeza de Vaca killed the first buffalo on the Texas plains did any man ever set forth bison hunting with a heart as heavy, or as much oppressed by doubt, as that carried westward by the writer in 1886

It was late November when they had decided to pack it up. The last bull that Hornaday was able to obtain is the one that was mounted and on display all these years at the Smithsonian. This bull was also the model that appeared on the ten dollar note of 1901. 

” I returned to Montana in the autumn, and then the hunt came off. This time I took unto myself three Montana cowboys, who knew the country, two soldiers from Fort Keogh, and W. Harvey Brown, my right bower, came from the senior class of the Kansas State university. I had the swiftest cowboys, the best assistant, the most faithful cook and the best horses that ever hunter had, I do believe. It was a jolly crowd, though a hard-working one, and in spite of the toll and hardships, – for that hunt was no picnic. I assure you, for we earned all we got– there are others besides myself who declare they never had so much fun a hunting and all their lives as we had then.

For two months we had glorious weather, but for the third we had a rather rough time of it. To crown all, however, we had what the boys called “elegant luck.” We fairly astonished the natives by the number of buffalo we found and killed, and ours was pronounced by old hunters “the luckiest outfit that ever hunted buffalo in Montana.” We got all that we went after, if not, rather more than we bargained for — and if you want a bill of particulars, meet me in this cozy corner every Sunday for the next few weeks, and I’ll tell you all about it, with great pleasure.” W.T. HORNADAY 1887

Despite the hunt’s lingering sorrow, it had been hugely successful, producing twenty-two fresh buffalo skins, forty-four skulls, eleven skeletons, and various other skins and bones collected along the way. Hornaday reported to Secretary Baird that it was “the finest and most complete series of buffalo skins ever collected by a museum.” The buffalo, of all ages and sexes, would be an extremely valuable addition to the Smithsonian collection, with enough left over to distribute to other museums.
Even so, Hornaday’s grim prediction, in 1889, that all the wild buffalo would be gone within ten years proved prophetic. In the winter of 1893–94, poachers killed 114 of the last band of wild buffalo cowering in the newly created Yellowstone National Park. And in 1897, the last four free-roaming buffalo were found in a high mountain valley in Colorado and shot. The hunters must have been exultant. They had succeeded in killing off the very last wild buffalo on the planet. It was only because there were a few animals still sheltered in private reserves or zoos, which would later be used to seed new herds that the buffalo survived at all.



Written for The Evening Star
The End of a Bloody and Relentless Persecution – A Search for Specimens.

I am obliged to confess that I have been guilty of taking part in the extermination of the buffalo. Were it at all to my credit I could even boast of having just killed a greater number in proportion to the whole number now alive than any other man in this country except Jim Mc Nancy. Between my three cowboys and I, we killed about one-tenth of all the buffalo in the United States outside of protective limits. But I blush to own it, and had it not been to save to science and the public their skins and skeletons from total loss at the hands of reckless, care-for-naught cowboys, who now kill for the empty honor of slaughter, those buffalo of ours would now be alive (if not frozen to death), and facing the Montana blizzards. And yet, since the cowboys are killing them as fast as they can, regardless of the dictates of sense and humanity, and leaving them to decay where they fall, was it not our sworn duty to step in ahead of them and save something from the wreck? It certainly was; therefore, curse me no curses for what we did. Bad luck to the rifles that have swept the buffalo away. Maybe dreams of the buffalo slayers be haunted as mine are now, by buffalo. I shall never get over the death of my last one. To me he was the last of his race, and he seemed to feel it as much as I. But for the absolute certainty that some wild cowboy would kill him on the next round-up, and leave him to rot where he fell, I swear I would gladly have let him go in peace, and with my blessing, too. But it was no time for sentiment. The Philistines were upon him, and to save him from total annihilation, to make him live again and stand forever in all his magnificence in the mammal hall of the National Museum, I slew him.

It is a sad thing to say, but the great American bison is practically gone forever. The Pacific railroad, the Sharp’s rifle and man’s insatiable destructiveness have done their work, and the noblest ruminant of them all has gone down before them. The leaden hall of their breech-loader has swept the millions of buffalo from the face of the earth before a single strong hand has been raised to stop the merciless slaughter. To look back upon the buffalo as they were a few years ago only adds to our regret for their fate; but it may serve to point a moral very strongly in the direction of our few remaining elk, deer, antelope and mountain sheep. Here, then, is the history, in brief, of the extermination of our grandest and most valuable American mammal:

Twenty years ago buffalo swarmed in countless thousands over the whole of the great pasture region of the west — from the Saskatchewan to Southern Texas, and eastward from the Rocky mountains to the borders of civilization. Their number was estimated variously at from six to ten millions, and later figures have proven that the former was by no means above the actual fact. Within the memory of man or the limits of history, so far as I know, no other species of quadruped has ever existed on earth in such mighty multitudes as did Bos Americanus twenty years ago. Often and often have plainsman said to me, in speaking of former times.” The whole country was a literally black with buffalo as far as the eye could see! Every hill was covered and every hollow was full.” There were thousands of square miles of them, and when a big herd was encountered traveling it seemed actually interminable. One that I knew of was five hours in passing a given point in a solid column, ten to twenty abreast, “on a dead run.” Trains on the first railways built across the plains were sometimes stopped for hours at a time by thousands of buffalo swarming on the track, and travelers have gone over hundred and twenty miles of territory through an almost unbroken herd. In all that we have read of the marvelous abundance of wild animals on the plains of South Central Africa, even the most exaggerated accounts fall far below what we actually know of the presence of the buffalo in the United States.

When the men of the west saw the level plains of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and the Indian territory and the rolling uplands of Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana actually swarming with buffalo, they said: “There will always be plenty of buffalo: it is impossible to kill them all off.” So at them they went, first in the blind fury of wanton destructiveness, but later in the more energetic and deadly warfare of killing for money. No one thought of protecting the buffalo, and had anyone spoken of it he would have been called “a crank.” But see what the deadly breech-loader accomplished in eleven short years.

The building of the Union Pacific railroad from Omaha to Cheyenne in 1866-7 cut through the very center of the great buffalo range, and from this railway was a base of supplies and means of shipment the buffalo hunters scattered north and south, killing great numbers. Thus was the great herd cut in twain, never to be reunited save in death, and the two portions were from that time known respectively as the northern and southern herds. The staked plains of Texas was the geographical center of the great southern herd and the town of Glendive, Montana, was the center of the other. In a short time the building of that Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, the Kansas Pacific and the Northern Pacific railways enabled the hunters to attack both the northern and southern herds in front, flank and rear.

That sealed the fate of the buffalo. In the years 1872-3 and 4 the A. T. & S. F. road carried out 459,463 buffalo hides, and Col. Dodge considers it quite certain that it’s two rivals each carried an equal, if not greater number, making a grand total of 1,378,389 hides.

But Col. Dodge declares that up to 1873 so wasteful were the methods of hide hunters that one hide delivered represented three buffalo killed. From 1874 onward the hunters took more care with skins, since they were getting scarce, so that every 100 marketed represented only one hundred and twenty-five buffaloes. Taking the lower estimate for the three years,72-3 and 4, based on the hides actually shipped it is found that the total number of buffaloes killed by the hide hunters was 3,158,730. To this number must be added the buffalo killed by the Indians during the same period. This number was about 1,215,000, making when added to the white hunters’ record a grand total of 4,373,730 buffalo killed in the southwest in three years. The remnant of the southern herd fled to that great barren waste known as the Staked Plain, and thither a few hide hunters followed them until as late as 1880, when their numbers had so decreased that hunting them for profit ceased entirely. It is really saddening to know that these noble animals were slaughtered by wholesale for their hides, when those from the bulls sold (in 1875) for only $1.15, wild cow robes were worth only a paltry pittance of 65 cents each.

In 1876 the northern herd was probably twenty times as large as the southern, and covered twenty times as much territory. It was estimated by the hunters and hide buyers that there were then over 500,000 buffalo within the radius of 150 miles of Miles City, Montana, alone, and that all told the northern herd contained over a million head.

The Northern Pacific railway was opened for traffic from Glendive eastward in 1881. I am told by the hide buyers that that year it carried 100,000 buffalo hides out of the country, and an equal number the year following. The number shipped by steamers on the Missouri river is at present unknown. In 1883 the number of hides shipped fell to 25,000, and the catch of the next season amounted to but one car-load of hides, which were shipped from Dickinson, Dakota, by J. N. Davis. In 1885 not a single hide was in the market, and the buyers announced that the end had come.

It was, then, the years 1881-2 and 3 which saw the complete destruction of the great northern herd, or about ten years after the southern herd went down, and the thoroughness of its extermination (almost) is perfectly surprising. To-day, what remains of the millions of twenty years ago? Two or three little bands of trembling, terror-stricken fugitives, faintly endeavoring to find shelter from blood-thirsty man in the wildest and most desolate country, pursued hither and thither and shot at by every cowboy whose glance falls upon them, and to be pursued with increasing vigor and recklessness until the last one falls. Yes, there are other remains, tens of thousands of the cane carcasses and bleaching skeletons, thousands of them with the hide still on, showing that they were killed for their tongues only, or by foreign and native “sportsmen” for “sport.”

As a result of careful investigation I am convinced that there are now not more than 200 buffalo alive in our country, outside of the Yellowstone Park. Of this number there are, as before stated, about 100 or less in the panhandle of Texas, there are about 30 more in the country where are collecting was done, and perhaps 75 more in the neighborhood of the Bear Paw mountains, Montana. Strange as it may seem there are still half a dozen head in south Western Dakota, and I am told there are a few straggling bison in the Clarks Fork region, near the National park. In the latter reservation there are between 100 and 125 head, and they are increasing at the rate of 10 per cent annually. On all sides, however, the unprotected buffalo are being crowded out of existence by the cattle raisers, and in two years more they will all be gone.

Thus has gone the great American bison, and let me tell you our elk, our deer, are antelope and mountain sheep are all fast going the same way! Shall we enact laws for their protection which will protect, now, before it is too late, or shall we dilly-dally about it as we did with the buffalo! The necessity and desirability of protecting the remnant of our game is conceded by all, save the market hunters, Betty in providing the necessary protection we are feeble and witless. Our protection doesn’t always protect. Now, if our legislators throughout the country are not smart enough to frame adequate laws, lettuce import a few foreigners to do it for us. Somehow, the English can protect any kind of game on that land, or fish in the sea, for that matter, that is found in their territory, and do it with a vengeance, too. Since it seems we are not smart enough to do the like in the game regions of the great west, led as import a few Englishmen to help us out. The first thing a Britishisher would say to the game butcher would be: “Two hundred dollars fine or six months in the penitentiary for the first offense, and double that for the second.”


Respectfully referred to Professor Langley, Secretary SI.
G. Brown Goode
Please return to GBG
Noted and acted on. S.P.L.
Washington, Dec 2, 1887
Prof. G. Brown Goode.
Assistant Secretary Smithsonian Institution
In charge of the National Museum
Sir: —
I desire to respectfully call your attention to the fact that the United States Government has thus far taken no special measures whatever for the preservation of the Great American Bison, either in confinement or on a public reservation. Until very recently we have had reason to believe that the band of buffaloes known to be in the Yellowstone Park was adequately protected, and that the animals composing it were breeding in real security. From the reports that have been published we have been led to believe that there are between 100 and 125 head of buffaloes in the Park.
While recently in the vicinity of the National Park I learned from competent and reliable sources that the buffaloes in the Park have been killed off as they wandered out or were drive out of the Park limits, until now it is the general belief amongst those most interested that not over twenty head remain! It is a well known fact that a number of hunters, some of whom distinguished themselves in past years in the slaughter of buffalo, have been, and are now living along the Park boundaries on the East and South for the purpose of killing buffaloes and other game that wanders out of the reservation, or can be safely frightened out. In Mandan, Dak. I saw the heads of two Park Buffaloes, and in Helena, Montana three out of a lot of six more, that had been killed by those worthies, some of whom I could name. The six heads in Helena had been hidden in the snow all winter, in order to keep them from the eyes of law officers, and had been mutilated by coyotes.
The fact that the game in the Park is not adequately protected, is notorious. While there is no doubt that the troop charged with police duty is vigilant and active, and well directed, the force is entirely too small, and not sufficiently provided with posts of rendezvous to cover the ground which should be covered. In winter the men all retreat to the hotels, which are the only winter quarters provided, and the best game districts of the park are thus left entirely without protection, and for quite a long period. It would seem that a wire fence eight feet high is imperatively needed around the entire park. and I respectfully submit the question whether it is not the duty of the Smithsonian Institution to memorialize Congress on this point at the next session. With the entire park so enclosed, it would be a comparatively easy matter to make of it the greatest game preserve in the world.
In view of the fact that thus far this government has done nothing to preserve alive any specimens of the American Bison, the most striking and conspicuous species on this continent, I have the honor to propose that the Smithsonian Institution, or the National Museum, one or both, take immediate steps to procure either by gift or purchase, as may be necessary, the nucleus of a herd of live buffaloes. Having been spared the misfortune, thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, of being left without a series of skins and skeletons of the species suitable for the wants of the National Museum, it now seems necessary for us to assume the responsibility of forming and preserving a herd of live buffaloes which may, in a small measure, atone for the national disgrace that attaches to the heartless and senseless extermination of the species in a wild state.
There are quite a number of buffaloes alive in captivity in the hands of private individuals, and a few more in publics parks and gardens. Those in the hands of private owners are in many instances being allowed to cross with domestic breeds, and it is to be feared that it will soon become a difficult matter to find a buffalo of absolutely pure breed. Is it not only desirable but imperative that we should have a herd fit to be shown as one belonging to the National Government, and one not to be equaled by that of any private individual? It is unnecessary for me to do more than refer to the painstaking and severe manner in which the last surviving herds of Aurochs has for years been protected in the forest of Bialowskza, in Lithuania, by the Emperor of Russia, to prove the degree of interest which other governments manifest in such questions as that now before us.
It seems to me that we should have from six to ten buffaloes as a nucleus for a herd worthy of the name, and also that the animals should be procured immediately. I have ascertained by correspondence the various prices at which private parties would sell some of their stock, and I submit a few letters herewith which will serve well to show the high value already set on these animals. While several parties ask $500 each for buffaloes, and some refuse to sell females at any price, I believe that by prompt action it will be possible to secure what we need at about $100. per head, plus the expenses of transportation. But the price is steadily & very rapidly advancing, and in another year it may be impossible to find a buffalo of any size for sale at less than double its present price.
In view of all the foregoing facts, I now respectfully urge that immediate steps be taken in the matter. I am ready to undertake the task of procuring the animals needed, and providing for them here, if called upon, and provided with the funds that will be necessary.
I think it might prove profitable, in case anything can be done, to engage Mr. M.C. Rousseau (see letter) at once, at a maximum cost of $15. to visit the man mentioned in his letter and ascertain the lowest price at which ten head of buffaloes can be bought on the spot. In order to definitely present the matter, I have the honor to enclose a requisition for the services of Mr. Rosseau immediately.

Respectfully submitted
W. T. Hornaday 

Evening Star
Washington, District of Columbia 14 Nov 1903

Greatest Wild, Animal Man in the Country.
Some Thrilling Experiences While Hunting Big Game in Many Parts of the World.

“There goes the man who knows more about wild animals than anybody else in America, and probably more than anybody else in the world.”
The speaker pointed to a powerfully set, clear-eyed, bearded man who was superintending the removal of some wolves from one den to another at the New York Zoological Park.

 “Yes,” continued the speaker; “that is William T. Hornaday, the greatest wild animal-man in this country. He knows the mind and the temper of tigers and wolves better than you or I know the mind and temper of our children. He has spent his life studying wild beasts in their native Jungles, shooting them to get their skeletons for museums, collecting them alive, training them and writing about them. He has built up more zoos and zoological museums, I suppose than any other living American.”

William T. Hornaday is an example of; success which comes from lifelong devotion to a steady purpose. In boyhood he determined to know more about wild animals than other people; now he stands at the top of his profession. He is the director of the New York zoological park, and he is known to zoologists all over the world.

He was born forty-nine years ago in what were then the backwoods of Indiana. “I belong to that rare and disappearing species known as the native American,” he says; “and I was farm bred and farm reared. My father and brothers were keen sportsmen, good shots, and ardent lovers of nature, and I inherited the same tastes. I can’t remember the time when I didn’t love to be among wild animals. Fortunately, my boyhood was spent in places where animal life was abundant in the forests of central Indiana and the prairies of Iowa. Those forests and prairies have since been eaten up by the march of civilization, and one has to go farther afield to find wild life nowadays.”


White House, Washington.
Oyster Bay, N. Y., Sept. 16, 1904.
My dear Mr. Baynes:
I am much impressed with your letter, and I agree with every word you say. I remember you well. I have written Secretary Wilson, sending him your letter and requesting him to take the matter up with me, and I shall treat of it in my annual message.
With great regard, Sincerely yours,
Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. Ernest Harold Baynes,
Cornish Flat, N. H.
Then followed a series of some forty articles on the Buffalo, some illustrated and published in the magazines, but most of them syndicated and printed simultaneously in about twenty of the leading newspapers in different parts of the country. The press was sympathetic and generous, and these articles were the subjects of many editorials favorable to the cause of Bison preservation.
On Jan. 18, 1905. Mr. Baynes delivered before the Boston Society of Natural History an illustrated lecture entitled “The American Buffalo—A Plea for His Preservation.” On the day after the lecture several gentlemen who had become interested met informally and discussed plans for the organization of a society which should have for its object the preservation of the Buffalo. Most of
those present are now members of the American Bison Society, and some of them are among its most active workers.
The above lecture was repeated before the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, the Camp-Fire Club of America, the Harvard Travelers’ Club, the Boone and Crockett Club, and many other organizations. At the Camp-Fire Club Mr. Baynes talked over with its President, Mr. William T. Hornaday, the advisability of organizing the proposed society, and Mr. Hornaday agreed that if the society were organized he would accept its presidency. Later, President Roosevelt was invited to become the Honorary President, and, on his acceptance, arrangements were made for organization, A meeting was called for the 8th of December, 1905, and notices were sent to about two hundred persons known to be interested in the fate of the Buffalo. Of these, fourteen assembled in the Lion House of the New York Zoological Park, and organized The American Bison Society.

A special meeting of the American Bison Society was held at the New York Zoological Park, in the office of Director W. T. Hornaday, on the 2d of February, 1906. President Hornaday was in the chair.



W.T. Hornada william temple hornaday
Smithsonian Mounts 1887

One day in 1957, workers undertaking a major, much-needed refurbishment of the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum discovered a metal box embedded in the base of an antiquated display of American buffalo. Inside was a note dated March 7, 1888, written by naturalist, hunter and conservationist William Temple Hornaday. Chief taxidermist at the National Museum from 1882 to 1890, director at various times of both the Institution’s first zoo and the New York Zoological Park, and president of the American Bison Society, Hornaday was one of the best-known naturalists of his time.

The Buffalo Group, created as an exhibit between 1887 and 1888, was among the earliest products of Hornaday’s wide and varied career as a taxidermist, writer, and activist. The note Hornaday had enclosed within the Buffalo Group’s case read:

My Illustrious Successor, Dear Sir:
Enclosed please find a brief and truthful account of the capture of the specimens which compose this group. The Old Bull, the young cow and the yearling calf were killed by yours truly. When I am dust and ashes I beg you to protect these specimens from deterioration and destruction….

W.T. Hornaday, Chief Taxidermist