Bison Meat

The Campsite and Processing Area

USDA Bison Market Reports

From the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Bison Meat Processing Area
Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

The flat area immediately below the kill site was where the hunters camped while they finished butchering the buffalo. A few tipi rings, the stones used to anchor tipis against the wind, can still be seen on the prairie level. It was here that meat was sliced into thin strips and hung on racks to dry in the sun. Large leg bones were smashed to remove the nutritious marrow, and the numerous boiling pits excavated by archaeologists in this area indicate these broken bones were also boiled to render grease. Boiling was done by throwing red-hot rocks into hide-lined pits filled with water.

Much of the meat obtained from the buffalo carcasses were used to make pemmican. In order to make pemmican, grease and marrow and sometimes berries were pounded together with dried meat. Pemmican was a very nutritious staple food that could be preserved for years.

Artifacts found in this area include stone scrapers, knives, choppers, drills, broken arrowheads, pottery, bone awls, and occasionally ornaments such as bone beads. Also in this area were found tons of fire-cracked boiling stones.

In 1750’s half dressed deer skins averaged  2 to 2.5 lbs and sold for 40 cents a pound, roughly a dollar per hide. It was not uncommon for a buffalo hide to sell for 10 livres (franks). Winter elk , bear and buffalo hides were not sought after, as they were considered too bulky to deal with. But there was value in the buffalo meat and tallow. In 1761 some was sold at Fort Pitt for 3.00/lbs.

1832

When buffaloes are plentiful, the Indians commonly select only the choicest parts, and during the season when they killed for their skins they rarely save any portion of the meat. Caitlin relates an incident that came under his notice in may, 1832, near the mouth of the Teton river, which forcibly illustrates their improvidence. A party of five or six hundred mounted Sioux Indians crossed the river at mid-day, for an attack upon a herd of buffaloes in sight on the other side. After spending a few hours among them, they recrossed the river at nightfall, and came into the Fur Companies Fort with fourteen hundred fresh buffalo tongues, which were thrown down in a mass, and for which they required but a few gallons of whiskey– not as skin nor a pound of meat, besides the tongues, being saved.

1868

When the hump is nicely cut in steaks and properly broiled, or when cooked in the Indian style, by sewing up the meat in the hide and baking in an earth oven underneath the surface of the ground, it is ranked among the most delicate of American dishes.

1870, Buffalo Tongues sold in butcher shops and placed in newspaper ads.

Many Indians and whites considered buffalo tongues to be a great delicacy; western soldiers craved them. In 1870, General John Pope, new commander of the Department of the Missouri, wrote to his old West Point chum, Lieutenant Colonel Richard I. Dodge, in command at Fort Dodge, requesting twelve dozen buffalo tongues. Dodge quickly obliged by detailing a sergeant and a squad of marksmen to scour the Kansas plains for the shaggy beasts. In three days they returned with a wagon filled with more tongues than were ordered. To kill over 144 buffalo, animals that could weigh over 2000 pounds each, solely for their tongues, which weighed an average of two pounds apiece, was perfectly justifiable to those frontier soldiers who believed the herds were expendable.

Richard Henry Pratt, Battlefield and Classroom: F our Decades with the American Indian, 1867-1904 (New Haven, 1964), 63.

In the 1870’s many officers at Fort Concho and their families recorded in their journals and letters participating in the buffalo hunts in the area. Several hunters were given contracts to provide bison meat to the fort or for other functions.

1871

BUFFALO MEAT. The other day a refrigerator car passed through Harrisburg with buffalo meat, brought from the plains and on the way to New York or Philadelphia. The car was ornamented with the fierce looking head of a buffalo.

Buffalo Meat 5 cents/lb

BUFFALO BEEF IN NEW YORK A year or so ago a piece of Buffalo in New York was a curiosity. About half a dozen haunches found their way here, and were considered gastronomic curiosities. This winter the business of receiving and selling buffalo meat has assumed large proportions, and already over 125,000 pounds have been disposed of. At first the epicures looked at it with some prejudice; but a single trial, as the filmmakers say, having convinced them of its excellent, popular taste has become eager for it, so that the supply is hardly equal to the demand. Perhaps the condition of the meat, with the hide on, it somewhat takes away from its appearance; but when we recollect that it is a game animal, and has to be hunted and killed just where it is found, the artistic work of the butcher must clearly be left out of the question. Besides, the fur of the peace is an undoubted proof that it is the genuine article. Buffalo meat coming to this city is almost entirely consigned to a meeting provision house in Washington Market; and Ellis City, of Kansas , as taken upon itself the credible task of supplying New York with most excellent food, a Mr. W. S. Rankin, of that place – a mighty hunter, no doubt – having assumed the responsible position of purveyor of bison. Nothing but that cows and yearlings are hunted and killed. Buffalo bull is an impossible food – it is about as palatable as a harness trace. A quarter of a cow will average about 90 pounds, a yearling somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred. The full-grown bull is sometimes killed weighing gross 2,200 pounds. Only the hind quarters are sent to this market, the fore quarters being left on the plains, sometimes sprinkled with strychnine as a bait for the wolves, which are very destructive to the Buffalo calves. There is the peculiar quality of the meat frequently mentioned, which even transportation to are less pure atmosphere does not destroy, and it is that it remains fresh and sweet for almost an unlimited period. The buffalo reaching this market is usually nine days on its way, and may have been shot three weeks or a month ago; but it arrives in just as great perfection as if it had been slaughtered the day before, whereas beef kept the same length of time would lose much of its taste and quality, if it did not become decomposed. The meat is sold at a lower price than even inferior beef, and when we consider the heavy freight paid on a car load, $364 for twenty two thousand pounds, the price it retails for, eighteen cents, seems to be quite reasonable. The hump, the choicest portion of the buffalo does not reach our market. St. Louis monopolizes that morsel, and her Gore man’s, no doubt, chuckle as they taste its delicious succulents, and laugh at our ignorance. If our best hotels and restaurants have not yet given it their approval, we suppose it is from their ignorance of its great merits. Perhaps the condition of the meat, with the hide on, it somewhat takes away from its appearance; but when we recollect that it is a game animal, and has to be hunted and killed just where it is found, the artistic work of the butcher must clearly be left out of the question. Besides, the fur of the peace is an undoubted proof that it is the genuine article. The buffalo are not slaughtered entirely for pleasure. Even up here the hides are worth from $2 to $7, and hundreds, yes, thousands of persons, are supported through the winter is selling and exchanging bison meat for other necessary articles. This meat is found on every table in all forms – dried, boiled, cold, sliced, & etc., and, if not told it was buffalo, many would not suspect it. When farming is dull, a squad of men go off, and, in from four to eight days returned with as much meat as they have teams to draw- this be the principal limit.

1872

5000- a small estimate- shot by a tourist and killed by the Indians to supply meat to the people on the frontier, and we have a sum total of 30,000 as the victims for a single month.

Certainly lovers of good eating would be glad to be able to order of their butcher buffalo meat for breakfast or dinner as they now do in the matter of more familiar but less juicy animals.

Dodge City, on the A.T. & S.F. road, is a principal point of shipment of buffalo meat and hides in Kansas. In fact, the trade of the town, apart from its traffic with camp supplies, consists in the outfitting of hunters and exchange of their game. The town is scarcely four months old and has in that time attained considerable notoriety for its liveliness. While the bison lasts, there will be “meat in the house” in the Arkansas valley. The terrible arithmetic of his destruction would indicate that this flush season cannot last long. The railroad reached Dodge on 23d Sept. 1872,  and the following is the record of shipments of hides and meat during that time:

Shipments of hides from September 23, 1872, to December 31, 43,039. Shipment of meat, 71 cars, or 1,436,290 pounds.

Each hide counts a buffalo slain, and 43,000 hides in three months convey an idea of magnificent butchery that forecasts the speedy extinction of the prairie denizen. The buffaloes that are killed in summer or in early autumn in wanton cruelty miscalled sport, and for food for the front tier residents, are not taken into this account.

The bulk of this meat has been shipped to Kansas City, though considerable consignments have been made to St. Louis, Chicago, and Indianapolis. The raw hides of the buffalo which are sent East are tanned and dressed by a much more rapid, but less perfect and effectual process than that in vogue among the Indians, and are not nearly so valuable. It is necessary to kill them in winter, or the robes have no value whatever. The meat market is not open until the middle of November when the weather is cold enough for its transportation. The above figures, though indicating an immense slaughter, do not represent the total of the seasons’ hunt. The horse disease has interfered seriously with the transportation of hides and meats from the hunting grounds to the line of road. The disappearance of the disease has put the trade briskly on its feet again; the weather has moderated, and the returns for the month of January will exceed those of the preceding months by 150 per cent., making a grand total of killing around the station of Fort Dodge and the neighborhood for the last season of 1872-73 over 100,000 buffaloes.

1875

The bison hides average some 36 pounds each, of which 6 pounds go to glue stock and 6 pounds for hair, leaving 24 pounds of hide.

1876

There seems to be no difficulty in securing forage in the North during the winter, for buffalo killed in January are as fat as any other season, while the meat is much better in winter than in summer.

1877

It is estimated that not less than forty tons of dried buffalo meat was destroyed. Alfred H. Terry, Brigadier General

Pemmican – How it was made and used.

1878

THE MARKET FOR BUFFALO MEAT

Graham says that he sold 100 buffalo hides at Sherman for $140. This was his first hunt. On the following where he went up into the Cedar Mountains, about sixty miles southwest of Fort Griffin, and “killed for meat.”  The meat was cured and afterwards sold in Dallas. Only the hams are taken. The rest of the carcasses is left to the wolves and ravens. The hams, when cut up and thoroughly cured, will not average more than eighty pounds apiece. In two months Graham killed and salted down hundred 113 buffalo. He hunted the beast up to the winter of 1877. Long before that the brawny Missouri and Kansas professionals had swept down into the country with their “prairie shooters.” Graham says the slaughter was terrific. Long, of Fort Griffin, killed 3000 in one winter, and big Jim White, of Kansas, 800 in a month. Jim is said to have killed thirty-one buffalo in thirty-two consecutive shots. All these beast were killed for their hides. The flesh, horns and hoofs were wasted. Thousands of tons of meat as good as beef rotted on the prairies while hundreds of persons were starving in Eastern cities. “Enough was wasted,” said Graham, “to have made the siege of Paris as long as the siege of Troy.”

The hunt is kept up during the entire year. The hides are sent to market – some of the meat is cured and sold, though the principal part is thrown away. The number killed annually amounts to hundreds of thousands. There should be some legislation to prevent this wholesale slaughter and waste.

Buffalo Jones was well invested in selling anything buffalo, you can see his page as to what he sold, when and how much.

The Wahpeton Times
Wahpeton North Dakota Dec 26 1912
What is a buffalo?

The once mighty buffalo now is neither game or domestic beef. Just what he is will be determined by the government authorities in Washington as the result of a request for such a decision made by a live stock agent here today. The case under consideration is the shipment of seven buffalo from the ranch of C. M. (Buffalo) Jones, near Las Vegas, N. M. to a local packing house for slaughter. Government authorities at the packing house said the buffalo could not be inspected by them as they were not domestic beef animals. The animals cannot be slaughtered without the government’s inspection stamp.

The Buffalo Enquirer Buffalo New York Mar 14, 1919

In Omaha you can buy “buffalo steak,” which is bison meat, for $1 a pound. A while since you could buy an entire bison out west for a dollar. Buffalo Bill shot many a hundred in one day for workmen- that built the railroads to the Pacific. Since the war began men have eaten whales, mules, horses, dogs and cats. They pack in tins the long arms of the devilfish, which turn red after they are boiled, and sell them for lobsters. You cannot tell the difference.

Willmar Tribune Willmar Minnesota Dec 31, 1919
DO YOU WANT A BISON ROAST —BETTER GET A HUMP ON YOU

Ackerman Will Sell You a Hunk of Venison and Send You a “Buffalo Bill.”

Literally speaking C. Ackerman & Co., has got us all “buffaloed.” No use denying that fact. Inside the front window of the Ackerman Meat Market with his legs sprawling and his “in’ards” gone there has been on exhibit a fallen monarch of the plains —a fine specimen of the once proud, now nearly extinct, king of the western prairie—the buffalo.

Yes, if you want a fine juicy bison steak or a buffalo hump roast now is the chance of your life time.

This buffalo is one from the famous Philips herd at Fort Pierre, S. Dak., and was shipped in by our butchers for the purpose of giving those who wished the novelty of a taste of real bison meat. The butchered animal is attracting a crowd of spectators every hour of the day. It is a steer four years old, weighs 1100 pounds dressed, and will be cut up in time for the New Year’s table.

The Wichita Daily Eagle Wichita Kansas June 28, 1922 BISON MEAT

It is more than probable that bison steaks and roasts and stews will become standard food in the United States within the next twenty-five years. The American bison, more commonly called the buffalo is staging a great come-back, under the careful supervision of the Canadian and United States governments.

The Des Moines Register Des Moines, Iowa Dec 12, 1922 (extract)

Early settler, too, ate bison meat frequently, and until a few years ago some of the bison in the larger private herds were killed at intervals and their meat sold. The meat is not particularly appetizing, more like horse meat than like beef. There is no reason except, a sentimental one for keeping the bison alive, yet most persons will be glad to learn that the bison in the Alberta herd are living and increasing in number Probably no species was ever so nearly destroyed in a few years as was the American bison during the last part of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries on our middle western prairies.

1924 Bison meat prices vs other meats
The Missoulian Montana Jan 5 1924 Bison Meat Ad vs Other Meats
The Amarillo Globe Jan 22 1937 ad for Goodnight Buffalo Meat Furr Food PigglyWiggly
The Amarillo Globe Jan 22 1937 ad for Goodnight Buffalo- Meat Furr Food- Piggly Wiggly

The Cameron Herald Cameron Texas Dec 23, 1943 Buffalo Meat on War Menus

Buffalo meat, now offered “fill in” for wartime shortage, was a food staple of west ward expanding America, says the National Geographic Society.

Regardless of public taste, there are not enough bison to figure importantly in the meat situation. Before the advent of the white man, the bison herds totaled possibly 60 million head, almost hall’ as many as the present human population. Now there are only about 5,000 bison, Even this low figure is at least 4.000 in excess of the bison census of 1900 when it was feared the bison would become extinct.

The years from 1850 were the period of the great bison carnage on the western plains. Travelers killed these 2,000-pound animals for a single meal, often taking only the tongue Even when bison were killed to feed railroad building gangs only the choicest parts were used. “Buffalo Bill” Cody killed 4,280 animals during his tenure as “buffalo killer” for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. On a wager, he once shot 38 buffalo in one day.