Mountain Bison bison haningtoni (extinct)

These bison were classified as Bison bison haningtoni, an extinct subspecies.

1875-The mountain bison, so often referred to by hunters and mountaineers as a variety or perhaps a distinct species, seems to agree in all essential particulars with the so-called wood bison of the region farther north.
The same characters of larger size, darker, shorter, and softer pelage, are usually attributed to it, but one meets with such different, exaggerated, and contradictory accounts of its distinctive features from different observers, that it is almost impossible to believe in its existence, except in the imaginations of the hunter and adventurer. I have found
that those actually conversant with it, and whose opinions in general matters are most entitled to respect, regard it as but slightly or not at all different from the bison of the plains. Others who know it only from hearsay, and whose notions of it are consequently vague, generally magnify its supposed differences, till some do not hesitate to declare
their belief in it as a specifically distinct animal from the common bison of the plains.t Dr. Cooper, speaking of the bisons found formerly in the mountain valleys about the sources of the Snake River, says he ” saw no difference in the skulls, indicating a different species, or ‘ mountain buffalo’ of hunters.”* The bisons formerly living in the
parks and valleys of the central portion of the Rocky Mountain chain doubtless did often grow to a larger size than those of the plains, with rather larger horns, and, being less subjected to the bleaching effects of the elements in their partially wooded retreats, would naturally have a darker and perhaps softer pelage. The weathered bison skulls I met with in 1871 m the upper part of South Park and in the vicinity of the tree limit in the Snowy Range of Colorado were certainly larger, in the average, by actual measurement, than those of the Kansas plains. The small i%!nds now lingering here and there in the mountains, and now currently known as the mountain buffalo, may in part the remnants of a former larger mountain form, but certainly, a part of them are actually recent migrants from the plains. In 1871 I was able to trace the migration of a small band up the valley of the South Platte and
across South Park to the vicinity of the so-called Buffalo Spring, situated considerably to the southward of Fairplay. Specimens of the ” mountain bison” sent in a fresh state from Colorado to the Smithsonian Institution during the present winter (December 1875) certainly presented no appreciable differences from winter specimens from the Plains.
 The mountain race of the bison was apparently a little larger than the buffalo of the Plains, and doubtless was nearly identical with the race known farther northward as the ” wood buffalo.” Their more sheltered and in some other respects somewhat different habitat would tend to develop just the differences claimed to distinguish the mountain and northern woodland race.


The Weekly Gazette 19 Mar 1881

A herd of Mountain Bison recently went into the North Park


1892 – Roott and State Game Warden Gordon lately received the information that a party of hunters were killing off all the buffalo in Lost Park, a national reservation in Park County. The news was confirmed today by the receipt of a telegram from  Kenosha which says :
“A prospector by the name of Boeher, Just in from Lost Park, reports meeting a party of hunters in that place who are slaughtering the few remaining bison in the State. He knew one of the hunters named Foley, with whom he had bunted buffalo on tho plains years ago, and from him learned that the party consisted of several hunters and two taxidermists, who were to prepare the frames for future mounting and that they had so far killed thirteen buffalo, and it was their intention to remain long enough to load a pack train of thirty-five or forty jacks, which they had hired for the occasion. Boeher saw evidence of their work, but was unable to locate thelr camp, but offered to go back with anyone and hunt them.”

The Governor Immediately sent the State Game Wardes. with a posse, to arrest the hunters, while a posse goes to-day from Kenosha. The penalty in Colorado for killing bison is very severe, and if these men are captured they will be made an example of.

The herd in Loat Park la probably the largest now running wild In the United States outside of the Yellowstone National Park. It consists of about twenty-five mature animals, which have been slowly increasing, as evidenced by the number of calves seen during the past Summer. If as reported, these hunters have already killed thirteen they have no doubt made the species almost extinct, as numbers would be wounded and wander away. Lost Park was set aside as a national reservation, but no provision has been made for protecting the game in it from such men as those hunters appear to be. Four years ago a buffalo was killed there and the authorities endeavored for weeks to catch the offender but failed to do so. He was supposed to be an Eastern man.

Big Park, comprising about 100.000 acres in Rio Blanco and Garfield Counties, has also been also been set aside as a National Reservation, but its limits have not been accurately defined.  Depredation against protected game there have been so common that, as a last refuge, a petition has been placed in circulation to send troops from Fort Logan there to secure federal protection. The petition has received the signatures of nearly every prominent man in the State. Should it be favorably considered at Washington, the Governor should use his influence to send a company of soldiers to Lost Park.


As late as 1897, a small herd of wild buffalo, numbering between twenty and thirty animals, ranged in Lost Park near Bison Peak, Park County, Colorado. They had been protected by ranch and cattlemen, but occasionally some unprincipled person would kill one, and the increase was less than the loss.
Through the work of these vandals, the herd dwindled until there were but four left; two bulls, one cow, and one calf. These are believed to be the last wild buffalo killed in the United States. Garretson (1938)

The Weekly Gazette
Colorado Springs, Colorado  Sep 26, 1901

An interesting controversy is taking place between Sheriff Daniels of this place and State Game Warden Harris, relative to the disposition of three buffalo hides which were found in the hands of Bartlett Brothers recently. Frank and Charles Bartlett are at present out on bonds awaiting trial for having the hides in their possession unlawfully and Sheriff Daniels has the limes awaiting the decision of the trial. Warden Harris has used every means in his power to get possession of the hides, even going into the district court and making a petition that the hides be turned over to him and stating that the sheriff was not a fit person to keep the property and referring to Daniels as “the pretended sheriff” and “the supposed-to-be sheriff of Lake county.” The petition was denied by Judge Owers yesterday and it is probable that the sheriff will be allowed to retain possession of the hides in peace until the trial of the Bartletts which will be at the next term of the district court. 


Denver, March 14, 1902.
Sir: Your favor of February 3, and also a letter from Thomas Ryan, acting secretary, under date of the 5th instant, came duly to hand, and I regret that I have not had opportunity for replying at an earlier date. I beg leave to submit the following as my view concerning the buffalo or bison in the United States, and the steps that should be taken by the Government to preserve this species of animal from extinction. In the State of Colorado, we have 5 buffalo in Lost Park, Park County, consisting of 2 cows, 1 yearling heifer, a 2-year-old bull, and 1 bull of considerable age. In addition to these, there are between 40 and 50 bison in Routt County, near Rabbit Ear Range. These are all of the buffalo outside of captivity in the State. The only buffalo captivity in the State consists of 6 bison in the City Park, Denver.

I have devoted considerable thought and study as to the best means of preserving these bison from total destruction, which now seems certain in the very near future. The result of my observation and study is that the buffalo have been reduced to such small numbers, and the inbreeding has become so marked and so persistent, and for such a length of time, that the calves now born are weak and unable to stand the rigors of our winter, and quite a number of them die at the age of 6 or 7 years without any apparent. cause, unless it be the persistency of the breeding.

It would be possible for the Government to fence 30,000 or 40,000 acres near Rabbit Ear range, at probably a small expense, where these buffalo could be safely confined and yet have sufficient area to graze and obtain all the food and water they need. If in addition to this, the Government would exchange the different bulls from one herd to another, I believe that a material improvement would be noticed, both in the increase in the number of calves and in the vigor of the offspring when born. Unless some such steps are taken, I believe that the next few years will mark the passing away of the last bison.
Very truly, yours,
JAMES B. OrnRAN, Governor.
Hon. E. A. Hitchcock,
Secretary of the Interior, Washington, D. C.


A press despatch of March 20 announces the killing in Colorado of the last of the Lost Park herd of buffalo. The story. may be true or not, but even if not true, it foreshadows something that must shortly take place. It is sad to know that a great State whose territory for uncounted ages has been traversed by America’s greatest mammal, has lost its last wild specimen of that species. The little bunch of buffalo within the northwest corner of Colorado close to Wyoming has for years been known as the only wild herd of buffalo left in the United States. The Yellowstone Park buffalo are under the charge of guardians employed by the Government and so are in a sense domesticated animals. The little bunch on the head of Dry Fork and Porcupine rivers in central Montana is believed to have been utterly destroyed about six or eight years ago, by the Red River half-breeds, who made a systematic hunt for, them. But in the high mountains and among the dense timber of North Park, in Colorado, about Hahn’s Peak and Lost Park there has always been a bunch of buffalo, bison, mountain buffalo, strongwood buffalo—call them what we please—which have held their own bravely, though with constantly diminishing numbers. Every year or two we have read accounts of one, two, or three of these animals being killed and smuggled across the Wyoming line into that State, and now we are told the last one has gone! How inadequate is a $100 fine as the penalty for killing the last buffalo in Colorado. What does the man deserve who would commit such a deed?

In 1905 with the new game laws in effect of the new law making it a penitentiary offense to kill or attempt to kill buffalo, no violations of the law in this respect have occurred. There are at present twenty-one buffalo in the range of mountains between Egeria Park and Middle Park. These have been seen a number of times during the past two years. In Lost Park, there are nine buffalo and two calves.


1911 Bison – The buffalo was formerly present over much of the state, even ranging in summer to timberline in certain sections of the mountains, as is proved by the bleached and weathered skulls occasionally found at that elevation. While most numerous on the plains east of the mountains, they nevertheless must have been common in the higher mountain parks, especially on the sage plains of North Park, where the bleached skulls, now rapidly disintegrating after more than twenty years’ exposure may still be seen in considerable numbers. A favorite range of the buffalo was the extensive region of sage plains in western Routt County, where in sections least frequented by range cattle the deeply worn trails can still be distinguished …Cary M. North America Fauna


South Park Bison

Bison were once found throughout much of Colorado, including high-elevation basins such as South Park. These bison are from the Edwin Carter Collection, one of the Museum’s founding collections, and were the first mammals to be cataloged by the Museum.  Collected at 11,000 feet in late 1872 at the head of Rock Creek in Lost Park, in the northeast of South Park, they represent some of the last wild bison in Colorado as bison were extirpated in Colorado by the 1890s. Originally described in 1933 as Bison bison hanningtoni, they were on public display until 1993 but are now housed in the Avenir Collections Center. Given their age, they are in remarkable condition and only somewhat faded after almost 150 years.

COLLECTION NAME:Bison bison haningtoni-male
Image Archives

Record  File Name: IV.CI-ZM.2.jpg 
catalog number: CI-ZM.2
title: Bison bison haningtoni
creator: Richard M. Wicker
description: Bison adult male body mount, photographed out of storage. From the Edwin Carter collection which forms the basis of the original Museum vertebrate collections. Holotype, B.b. haningtoni
date: December 1872
date: November 2008
Rights: Denver Museum of Nature and Science


Bison bison haningtoni femaleCOLLECTION NAME: Image Archives
Record  File Name: IV.CI-ZM.5.jpg
catalog number:ZM.5
title:Bison bison Harington
creator:Richard M. Wicker
description:Immature bison female body mount, paratype, subspecies athabascae. Part of the Edwin Carter collection which forms the basis of the Museum’s vertabrate collections.
date:December 1872
location:USA, Colorado, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
rights:Denver Museum of Nature and Science

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science-IA.049-08-02-91.4.FF_.1-4-edited old zoology collections ledger


Two subspecies are generally recognized, the wood bison, B. b. athabascae of northern Canada, and the plains bison. B. b. bison, the great plains of southern Canada and the central United States.  Invalid synonyms include: americanus, athabascae, haningtoni, montanae, oregonus, pennsylvanicus, and septemtrionalis (Wilson and Reeder, 1993).

According to Figgins’ speciation, we conclude that the present Yellowstone bison is probably a hybrid of Bison bison bison from Texas, Bison bison septemtrionalis from Montana, and Bison bison haningtoni, possibly the mountain form. 


In 1892, news surfaced of a bison herd wandering freely in Colorado’s Lost Park National Reservation, located in Park County. This herd was considered to be the second-largest wild group after those in Yellowstone National Park. Despite the area’s status as a national reservation, there were no measures in place to safeguard the wildlife there. Local ranchers occasionally conducted headcounts of these bison, estimating a population of about 25 mature individuals as reported by the New York Times on October 3, 1892. Poaching was a significant threat due to inadequate enforcement, with only sporadic intervention by game wardens, and fines of $300 per bison as of 1898. Nevertheless, the Lost Park community took pride in their bison and actively dissuaded poaching, as highlighted in an August 6, 1902, Fort Collins Courier article.Mountain Bison bison haningtoni

In a notable incident in August 1901, Game Warden Harris apprehended three men in Buena Vista for poaching four bison. The evidence, including hides and bones, was found in the home of Charles Bartlett, who, along with Frank Bartlett and J.E. Webb, was arrested. Despite being warned, Frank Bartlett was caught after fleeing nine miles. Charles and Webb, both taxidermists, had tried to sell the bison through Outdoor Life magazine, leading to their exposure and arrest. Their trial in Leadville in October 1901 ended in dismissal due to a repealed statute, but they never reclaimed the bison hides. Subsequent sightings suggested that the Lost Park bison herd survived into the early 1900s, despite claims that these were the last wild bison killed in Colorado.

For years, the confiscated bison remains were stored in the Lake County jail vault until auctioned in 1910, as reported by the Herald Democrat on March 20, 1910. Peter Mulock of Leadville acquired them, and J.C. Miles of Denver mounted the bison. In 1928, Mulock offered the mounted bison to a planned municipal museum for $1,200, payable in four installments. Funds were raised, and on May 31, 1928, the bison were installed in the museum. The display, set against a backdrop painted by Robert Wesley Amick, featured natural elements from Cottonwood Creek to emulate the bison’s habitat. Over time, the display deteriorated until 2009 when restoration was undertaken by Jerry Vinnola, funded by the Friends of the Museum. The bison now stand proudly in the museum’s Amick Gallery, a testament to their history and legacy.

Robert Wesley Amick masterfully crafted the scenic backdrop featuring a bison exhibit, infusing it with aspen poles, bunch grass, pine, cedar boughs, and various other elements sourced from the vicinity of Cottonwood Creek, located 25 miles northwest of Cañon City, to enhance its authentic allure. For an extended period, the bison reigned supreme within their showcase, but as is the case with all things, the passage of time left its mark. In the year 2009, the bison benefitted from restoration efforts led by Jerry Vinnola, financed through the generosity of the Friends of the Museum, bestowing upon them a rejuvenated visage. Presently, the bison maintain their regal vigil over their realm from within the confines of the Amick Gallery in the museum.

Mountain Bison bison haningtoni

Bison bison haningtoni, sbsp. nov.

Type: C. M. N. H. No. 2 , adult male, taken by Edwin Carter at the head of Rock Creek, northeast South Park, Park County, Colorado, late December 1872. Altitude 10,500 ft . Co-type C. M. N. H. No. 1369, adult male, Alma, Park County, Colorado, skull only. See Plates VIII and IX.

Characters: All parts, notably the head, neck and forelimbs, very much lighter than in Bison bison bison and Bison bison septemtrionalis-the former parts being reddish brown; areas adjacent to nostrils and muzzle creamy-white, blending into pale golden brown and thence to the reddish brown of the head; chin similarly marked; hair on jaws, throat and forelimbs relatively short; two light, indistinct, paralleling bars begin at heads of humeri and proximal ends of ulnae and meet on the dorsal line, back of hump; coat of body long and shaggy, soft and relatively fine.

Skulls: Skulls of Bison bison haningtoni are recognized through their widespread and length of horns, the latter tapering uniformly from base to tips; line through axis of horncore bisects opposite orbital; occipital high and angular; nasals long and narrow; widest at intersection of frontals and lachrymals; spread and length of horncores exceeding those of Bison bison bison and more massive than in Bison bison septemtrionalis; entire frontal area, except between orbitals and horncores broader and shorter than in the above prairie forms; narrowness back of the orbitals supplementing the prominence of the latter; shortened frontal area of skull compensated for through greater length of nasals and other anterior elements.
Quoted from J. A. Allen, Bulletin of the Essex Institute, Vol. VI , 1874 .
Bison bison haningtoni is named in honor of Mr. C. H. Hanington, President of the Board of Trustees of the Colorado Museum of Natural History

Bison bison “haningtoni”  Figgins (1933, p. 30) called the woodland bison B. b. “haningtoni,” and presented a set of measurements for their horn-cores that was much larger than that for the plains bison. He compared his mountain bison with the plains form and apparently did not consider seriously the possibility of the Colorado
mountain bison’s belonging to the woodland forms of the north, from which it differs but little in size.

Average measurements of skulls of Bison bison haningtoni from Colorado:

Range: So far as is definitely known at the present time, the range of Bison bison haningtoni was restricted to the higher mountain parks of Colorado, although a skull from Spencer, Idaho, may very well be so recognized. The horncores of five adult male skulls from western Montana are also similar to those of haningtoni. In these examples, however, the cranial measurements average smaller than those of the last named race. A single skull at hand from Malheur Lake, Oregon, suggests that the western Montana skulls may be referable to the race lately described by Mr. Vernon Bailey, Bison bison oregonus. Their identification is not undertaken here. They cannot be referred to Bison bison septemtrionalis.

In his discussion of the mountain bison Dr. Allen referred to a small band ascending a branch of the South Platte River. This is in keeping with local accounts, wherein such movements are described, some of the last harassed prairie animals having sought security through resorting to the timbered areas of the foothills. Further evidence of this is found in the four mounted specimens in the museum at Canon City, Colorado, they being the last wild bison killed in the state ( 1897). In appearance they closely conform to the prairie bison. They were killed at a considerable altitude in Park County.

The writer is of the opinion that application of the modern refinements in taxonomy might very well result in the recognition of other races within the region here treated but throughout his studies he has observed a conservative course.
Vernon Bailey, Buffalo of the Malheur Valley, Proc . of the Biological Society, Washington, Vol. 45, pp. 47-48. 

“Stelabison” FIGGINS, 1933 

In 1933, Figgins (1933, pp. 17-21, pl. 1, figs. 1, 2) proposed a new bovid genus called “Stelabison,” the generic distinction being founded on the presence of small external
pillars on the M2 and M3. He stated: “A character so markedly at variance to its nearly total absence in other races of Bison makes advisable a new genus, in which to include all races having these pillars. It is therefore proposed that Stelabison, gen. nov., be recognized with Bison occidentalis as the type, the latter becoming Stelabison occidentalis.” Figgins, however, figured in the same report the molars of his new subspecies, Bison b. “haningtoni,” which also show external pillars. He explained their presence by calling them rudimentary, and he did not allocate his new subspecies to his new genus.

1933. Bison bison haningtoni Figgins, Proc. Colorado Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. 12, No. 4, p. 30, Dec. 5, 1933. (Head of Rock Creek, northeast South Park, Park County, Colo. Regarded as identical with athabascae by Skinner and Kaisen, Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat Hist, vol. 89, pp. 164-166, Oct. 31, 1947.)


Bison bison athabascae Rhoads* (woodland bison)
1898. Bison bison athabascae Rhoads, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, vol. 49 (1897) , p. 498, Jan. 18, 1898.
1932. Bison bison oregonus V. Baileyf, Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington, vol. 45,
p. 48, Apr. 2, 1932. (Malheur Lake, Harney County, Oreg. Regarded as identical with athabascae by Skinner and Kaisen, Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist.,
vol. 89, pp. 164, 166, Oct. 31, 1947.)
1933. Bison bison haningtoni Figgins, Proc. Colorado Mus. Nat. Hist., vol. 12,
No. 4, p. 30, Dec. 5, 1933. (Head of Rock Creek, northeast South Park, Park County, Colo. Regarded as identical with athabascae by Skinner and
Kaisen, Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat Hist, vol. 89, pp. 164-166, Oct. 31, 1947.)
Type Locality.—Within 50 miles southwest of Fort Resolution, Mackenzie District, Northwest Territories, Canada. Range.—Formerly distributed from
Seward Peninsula and Arctic coast of Alaska southward through Yukon, southwestern Mackenzie, northeastern British Columbia (Fort St. John region and
Liard River; Anderson, Nat. Mus. Canada Bull. 102 (1946), p. 183, Jan. 24, 1947), Alberta, western Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon, northeastern California
(Merriam, Journ. Mamm., vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 211-214, Aug. 9, 1926), northern Nevada, western Wyoming, Utah (Presnall, Journ. Mamm., vol. 19, No. 1, p. Ill,
Feb. 13, 1938), and western Colorado (Skinner and Kaisen, op. cit., p. 158, map 3)


1937 – In the pioneering venture of creating a national park, Congress overlooked the item of providing money for administration and protection; consequently for a period of five years no government funds were available and hunters had things pretty much their own way in Yellowstone. When money was first appropriated in 1877, the beginning of the end was in sight for the buffalo. At this time Superintendent Norris stated that thousands of hides had been taken out and that it was the practice of the hunters to poison the carcasses which were left as bait for wolf and wolverine. He predicted correctly that within the decade buffaloes would become extinct or exceedingly rare outside of this government area. It was estimated that there were three or four hundred head of the “curly, nearly black bison” (1) left in the park. They were described by Norris as being “smaller, of lighter color and with horns smaller and less spreading than those of the bison that formerly inhabited Colorado.” (1). Figgins described the mountain buffalo (Bison bison haningtoni) as being much lighter in color, “notably in the head, neck, and forelimbs” (2) than the plains buffalo (Bison bison bison). Grinnell stated that the “Mountain Buffalo” (3) was abundant in Yellowstone Park in 1875 and called attention to the terrible destruction of these animals for their hides alone. These mountain buffalo were considered to be more fleet and intelligent than the plains animals. Their hides were also more valuable as they were darker, finer, and more curly.