Wood Bison

Most all Wood Bison are in Canada  (Bison bison athabascae)
[Changed to Bos bison athabascae from Bison bison athabascae to align with Nature Serve 2005]


In 1772, when Samuel Hearne became the first European to travel into the subarctic region southeast of Great Slave Lake, probably 150,000 or more wood buffalo inhabited the boreal forest to the south and west.

 The relative isolation of the district and the small number of interlopers discouraged radical change there. How, then, is one to account for the near extinction of the wood buffalo? 

During severe winters of deep snow, exacerbated by cyclical thawing and freezing, many buffalo starved to death. Extant records make it clear that there were many such winters in the subarctic, particularly after 1860. The reduced mobility of the heavy animals in such conditions also made them liable to increased predatory attack, especially by wolves. On the human side, the heavy provisioning requirements of the fur trade posts, the subsistence demands of the local natives, and the less significant depredations of sport hunters all took a toll. The extent of human destruction is yet to be determined, but preliminary investigation has revealed that no more than 100 buffalo were killed for the posts per year. Such a figure seems small, almost inconsequential, but clearly in desperate years it could dramatically upset the population dynamics of the herds. Parks Canada History


This story was published in three different newspapers in 1969

Tragic End for Buffalo Calf After Innovative City Surgery: A buffalo calf, who underwent a unique neck surgery last week, sadly passed away on Saturday.

This rare wood buffalo was part of Elk Island Park’s herd and one of the two female calves born this spring. After a daring charge into a post, she suffered two fractured vertebrae.

A team of experts, including a surgeon from the Royal Alexandra Hospital and vets from a city veterinary hospital, conducted the surgery – the first ever of its kind at the facility.



The skeleton of Charlie the Wood Bison, discovered in 1973 along the Glenmore Reservoir, has been relocated to the Royal Alberta Museum.
Ryan White –CTVNewsCalgary.ca Senior Digital Journalist/Producer

Alberta Museum
Alberta Museum
Royal Alberta Museum

Decades after being discovered by a 12-year-old boy along the banks of the Glenmore Reservoir, the remains of ‘Charlie the Bison’ have made their way to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.

The nearly complete, 4,600-year-old bison skeleton has been a fixture of the Sunlife Plaza atrium in downtown Calgary for years following its excavation by 12-year-old Nicholas Jones and his two best friends in 1973. The provincial government permitted the excavation and the process was conducted under the watch of Nicholas’ father.

“It was exciting times because for three years we learned every bone in the human body from this experience,” recalled Nicholas Jones. “We learned geology. We learned paleontology. There was no internet back then so we wrote to all of the paleontologists around the world asking the what to do (and) how to preserve it.”

The skeleton, named Charlie by the children, was preserved in boxes for more than 20 years before Jones noticed plans to renovate the atrium of Sunlife Plaza. Jones’ startup art studio submitted a proposal and was selected to create an art installation he called ‘Shelter From The Storm’ that displayed Charlie’s skeleton encased in a makeshift ice block.

After 22 years in the lobby of the building, the bison has relocated to Edmonton where paleontologists will study its remains before exhibiting the skeleton within the museum.

Charlie was a unique find as ancient wood bison were a source of food for the First Nations People and their skeletons are seldom discovered intact.

“A lot of the specimens from this time frame are from archaeological sites and they tend to be more fragmented, ” said Christina Barron-Ortiz, assistant curator at the Royal Alberta Museum. “They tend to be more fragmented, nothing as complete as what we see here with Charlie.”

With files from CTV’s Bill Macfarlane



Population survey shows that Alaska’s Wood bison herd is healthy and growing.  by 
The herd was started in 2015 with the transplant of 130 animals from Alberta, Canada. The bison suffered significant losses in 2018 and 2020 due to heavy snows, winter rains, and late springs, but better weather over the last two years has seen a rebound with record and near-record calf production.

“The minimum count of bison out there was about 150, so the population grew about 45% in this last year, and about 19% of that was just from natural growth from having a good calf crop and really good survival of yearlings and adults,” he said. (Tom Seaton) 
Seaton says the other 26% of growth is from the introduction of 28-yearlings, again imported from Canada.  (source) KTOO.org and KUAC – Fairbanks


February 14, 2019 Notice to the Wildlife Import Export Community (F&WS)
Subject: Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae)
Background: At the most recent Conference of the Parties (CoP 17), held in Johannesburg, South Africa, September 24 – October 4, 2016. A proposal by Canada to delist the Wood bison from CITES was adopted and came into effect on January 2, 2017. Therefore no CITES documents are required for this species as of January 2, 2017.

Wood Bison
Canada 1981 35¢ stamp- Wood Bison

However, the Wood bison is protected and listed as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Action: Wood bison (trophies, products, etc.) imported into, or exported from, the United States on or after January 2, 2017 are required to have an accompanying Threatened species permit issued by the USFWS Division of Management Authority upon import or export.

Elk Island has played a big role in bison conservation in Canada specifically but also North America as a whole, as it’s the only site that has conservation herds of both North American sub-species. Aside from the herds in and around Wood Buffalo NP and the MacKenzie River Bison Sanctuary, all Wood bison herds today are descended from the Wood bison at Elk Island, and Elk Island has transferred over 2,500 bison throughout North America and beyond. Most plains bison in Canada are descended from EINP’s herd, and there are herds throughout the US (particularly in Montana) that are descendants of EINP bison. Elk Island is a little park with a big impact in terms of bison conservation history.

Interpretation Officer / Coordinator III
Prince Albert National Park
Parks Canada / Government of Canada~Lauren Markewicz, M.A. author of “Like Distant Thunder”  (great read)

Greater Wood Buffalo Park   3,164-4,226
Most populations have been founded either directly or indirectly from Wood Buffalo National Park, which contains the highest level of genetic diversity of all Wood bison populations in the world, it is also the largest free-roaming, self-regulating Wood bison herd left in the world with about three thousand head.

Elk Island National Park (AB) Keeps around 300 head (2019)
Wood Bison populations in Elk Island are primarily reduced through live transfers to other conservation sites world wide, Indigenous communities or to private herds through auction.

Mackenzie (NT)  From the initial release north of Fort Providence in 1963, the population grew rapidly until it reached an estimated 2,400 animals in 1989. Numbers declined and fluctuated around 1,850-2,000 then declined. In the summer of 2012, a large anthrax outbreak killed at least 450 bison. The population was estimated at about 850  animals in 2016.

Harvesting of this population has been closed since the fall of 2012 in response to a major anthrax outbreak in the summer.

In June 1980, 28 Wood bison were moved from Elk Island National Park and released in the vicinity of Nahanni Butte. Another 12 Wood bison were released near Nahanni Butte in March 1989. In 1998, 59 animals were released north of Fort Liard. Nahanni Wood bison are found throughout the Liard River Valley in the Northwest Territories, the lower reaches of the Liard and Beaver Rivers in British Columbia, and into the Yukon.

Aerial population surveys conducted in 2004 and 2011 and the estimates of 403 and 431, respectively, were similar. A 2017 population  estimate of 960 bison in this population. Sex- and age-classification surveys have been conducted since 2002. Surveys are carried out by boat each July when bison can be found on sand bars along the Liard River. This herd if free of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis.

An annual harvest quota of two males was introduced in 1998; one each for the communities of Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte. Today, the quota is seven.

Aishihik – Yukon 1,200-1,500 hundred head – 170 were reintroduced to the Haines Junction, Yukon area through a federally supported project between between 1988 and 1992. 141 came directly from  Elk Island National Park. The remaining animals were from zoos and private facilities, although all animals can trace their lineage back to the Elk Island Herd

Norquis (tBC) 200-250,  2010
Etthithun (BC & AB) 200-300, 2011
Hay-Zama (AB) 626, 2016
Chitek Lake (MB) 250-300,  2011
Mackenzie 851+209, 2016
Slate River Lowlands 622-175, 2016
Wenzel Lake 199, 2015
Ronald Lake -200, 2013
Wabasca herds 20-40,  2010
Saulteaux First Nations (since 2016 25 Wood were received)
Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russian Federation  (120 were imported since 2006) 212, 2019

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has 28 mature Wood adults with four babies born last spring. 2021. Plus, Yukon herd at last count has 103 head with 26 new calves. (see below)

Yukon-Innoko herd
Yukon-Innoko herd

The lower Yukon-Innoko herd  Biologists completed the annual Wood bison photocensus survey on June 23rd, 2021. There was an all-time high of 26 calves with the herd this year. Overall, the herd has grown by more than 10% since the 2020 photocensus to a total of 103 bison, making this a productive year for the herd. Since the release of the Lower Innoko-Yukon Rivers herd in 2015, it has grown in four out of six years. The two years of decline are likely attributed to ice layers forming in the snowpack from winter rainstorms and warming events. Bison are adept at foraging and surviving in deep, soft snow. Wood bison access their food in winter by sweeping the snow aside with their massive heads. Ice layers within the snowpack make this process more difficult. In late winter 2021, there was deep snow, but no ice layers. With any luck, we will not have rain-on-snow events in the coming years and this herd will have a chance to grow to a larger number.


Wood Bison: recovery strategy in Canada 2018 
Includes Populations, Threats, Species Information, Habitat, Progress and Plans, etc..

There are also an estimated 45-60 commercial herds of Wood Bison in Canada containing approximately 500-700 animals (Gates et al. 2001b). Privately‑owned commercial production herds are not considered within the scope of this recovery strategy, nor are they part of recovery programs. There are also approximately 50 Wood Bison in zoos and wildlife parks in Canada, which are also not considered within the scope of this recovery strategy.


Wood Bison Bull
Wood Bison Bull by Wes Olson

The Wood Bison is the largest North American terrestrial mammal. It is dark brown, with a massive head, a high hump on its large shoulders, and long shaggy hair on its shoulders but short hair on the beard and front legs. The short legs end in rounded hooves. The short and black horns are massive on bulls and females can often have a pronounced recurved horns. There are two moults every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The males are larger than the females; an adult male measures 3.04 to 3.8 m in length and 1.67 to 1.82 m in height at the shoulder and weighs between 800 and 1100 kgs. (800 Kilograms =1,763 Pounds to 2,425lbs)

Wood Bison are generally taller and less stocky than Plains Bison. Both Wood and Plains Bison are considered by some to be subspecies of the American Bison, but their actual systematic status is unclear and controversial.


The Wood Bison is a long-lived species, living up to 40 years. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at 2-4 years of age, but males usually mate at about 6 years of age or older – when they can compete with larger bulls for females. The rut is in July and August. After a gestation period of 270 to 300 days, cows give birth to a single red calf in May; twins are rare. Females usually give birth twice in three years. Wood Bison feed mainly on sedges and grasses, but also on the leaves and bark of trees and shrubs (primarily willow) and lichens. The wolf is the bison’s main predator (other than humans), but newborn calves can be taken by bears.  Wildlife Species Canada Great site to check in with for conservation efforts and status. 

When I decided to dive deeper into the Wood bison, after doing Plains and European Wisent, I was shocked at all the different opinions, both from hunters, professional and scientist. I have never been one to be all in on the DNA, because my feelings are, we were left with remnants of once was a huge population, therefore we only have what we have and I feel we all have been trying our best to do right by the species, preserving and studying for the future bison generations to come. Each species, if you will, are great in their own right. Each look different from each other and they are just cool, and I am happy with that.

My sources revealed that aggressive work is being done towards more testing with the Plains and Wood Bison. In the meantime if you would like to read the latest;

Development of SNP-Based Genomic Tools for the Canadian Bison Industry: Parentage Verification and Subspecies Composition

The old DNA test (New coming) reveals there was more difference in Plains vs Plains, than Plains vs Wood. While we cant yet agree on weather they are a Sub-species, we can agree there is a visual difference. Is the difference genetic or environmental? Take for example the description of the beard. It is said that the Wood bison has a more pointed beard, where Plain has a well rounded beard. Sounds environmental to me, they do rub their heads everywhere. The ideal Plains bison does have a nice long well rounded beard. But, in looking through old photos and my own herd, I can see both.  (A little fun fact DNA history, the idea first came in the 1860’s, who knew. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that I think they started real testing. Its amazing what we can do and still how far we can go. Exciting and scary, which is why I don’t post much about it, its always changing. ) 

Plains can wear their beards down to almost nothing. 

“The last of the Canadian buffaloes. Photo No. 580.” 1902
“The last of the Canadian buffaloes. Photo No. 580.” 1902
1931 Nic Bronx Zoo
1931 Nic Bronx Zoo








With tails, I see some of the same thing. While the two previous images show a short tails , this Montana bull

Early 1900 Montana Bison Bull ABS
1900s Montana Plains Bison Bull-ABS

image shows a much longer tail in the foreground and the background they look shorter. When I see a long tail I usually notice, because it is not the norm and I do see them from time to time within the Plains bison herds.  My point being these “differences” cannot be used alone. The biggest difference is the hump placement. There is no denying it exist.

Woods bison hump is much closer to the neck and pointed at the top, while the Plains highest point is above their front legs and slopes to the rear. Mountain vs Hill if you will.  See the point of the hump, it is clearly foreword of the front legs. Where the Montana bull is rounded and over his front legs. But also noticed the tail length and beards.

Wood Bison
Wood Bison Bull in Germany

Just about everyone says they are larger than the Plains and on average, Are they right?  We have some very large Plains bison up in our northern

Creative Commons by Outriggr
Creative Commons by Outriggr Wood Bison

states and less in our more southern states. (personal experience, so…I have not met them all)  But in general it appears they are larger if their average weight of bulls is 2k lbs. The cows most definitely. Woods average (from what I have read) from 12-1400lbs, while the Plains may be 800 to 1,000lbs average. We do have some larger cows , but they are not the norm.  You can take look at some of the Plains bulls on Legendary Bison. Its believed that “Old Logan” was a Wood Bison. He was a grown bull in the account of 1799 winter. 

In 1979 there was a paper written, that conveyed the results of Comparison of blood characteristics in Plains, Wood, and their Hybrids. Using herds in Canada and the U.S. They said; “Wood bison were recorded as being larger than Plains bison” and later the opposite was said by others.  “Although data are lacking for wood bison, body size is highly variable in plains bison, with the average weight for a mature bull being 727 kg (National Buffalo Association, personal communication) At more than twice this weight, the largest known individual of either subspecies was a plains bull of 1518 kg (Anonymous 1972).” 
727kg = 1602.76lbs  –  1518kg=3346.617lbs   
In 1970 Plains bison census Shaw and Meagher report 30,000 head. Wonder what they’d find if they asked today? 1600lbs seems small to me. 

Woods Bison
Wood Bison in Germany

Its a little harder to tell on cows vs the bulls, especially with their head down but, on the young ones…even harder as their hump is not as prominent.  Their hair is much softer and finer. If you can look closely at this cow laying down you can see how soft her ‘hair’ looks, more silky.

Reading through all these articles and quotes, you’ll find conflicting statements by all walks of life, from scientist vs scientist to hunters vs Army. But you can see the images and physical characteristics for yourself. There is a difference.  

“Compared with that of Bison antiquus, the thoracic limb of Bison bison became elongated relative to the pelvic limb, and limb length increased relative to skull size. Relative to the norm in Bison antiquus, these traits diverged further in the Wood bison. Bison bison athabascae, than in the plains bison. Bison bison bison. The patterns of pelage development and social behavior in Bison bison bison, however, are more distant from parallel patterns postulated for Bison antiquus antiquus than are patterns of pelage development and social behavior in Bison bison athabascae.”  – Bison antiquus from Kenora, Ontario, and Notes on the Evolution of North American Holocene Bison, Jerry N. McDonald and George E. Lammers   **This is a great read if you get the chance!

Scientifically I think this has been put on hold until further research can be proven either way. 2021

General Lawton pic by Natl Forest Service
General Lawton pic by Natl Forest Service b.1904 Long foretop and wooly sides. (Plains Bull)

Below is more information I have gathered from history. 

SPECIES Bison bison 
Author: Linnaeus, 1758.
Citation: Syst. Nat., 10th ed., 1: 72.
Common Name: American Bison
Type Locality: “Habitat in Mexico, Florida”; identified as “Mexico” by Thomas (1911a:154); restricted to USA, C Kansas, “Quivera” by Hershkovitz (1957b); redesignated as USA, E New Mexico, Canadian River valley by McDonald (1981:62).

Distribution: Formerly NW and Canada, south through USA, to Chihuahua, Coahuila (Mexico). Exterminated in the wild except in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming (USA) and Wood Buffalo Park, (Canada). Reintroduced widely within native range and in Alaska.

Status: CITES – Appendix II as B. b. athabascae; U.S. ESA – Endangered in Canada as Bbathabascae; IUCN – Lower Risk (cd).

Comments: Reviewed by Meagher (1986, Mammalian Species, 266). Bison bison athabascae treated as a distinct taxon by Geist and Karsten (1977) and Van Zyll de Jong (1986), and assigned to †B. priscus by Flerov (1979), but regarded as an ecotype by Geist (1991).

” It is difficult to distinguish the larger members of a B. (Bison) bison bison population from most members of B. (Bison) bison athabascae and the smallest observed fossil variants of B. (Bison) occidentalis which immediately preceded the living species in geological time. It hardly seems advisable to add further confusion to Bison nomenclature by including other subspecies based on slight size differences and having no other taxonomic distinction.” – The Fossil Bison of Alaska and Preliminary Revisions of the Genus by Morris F. Skinner and Ove C. Kaisen 1947.

Krumbiegel in 1980 recognized three species:
Bison bison athabascae (Wood),
Bison bison montanac, (Northern Plains) and
Bison bison bison (Southern Plains)

Genus: Bison …………….Species: Bison latifrons (extinct Long-horned Bison)
…………….Species: Bison antiquus (extinct Ancient Bison) 
…………….Species: Bison bison American Bison 
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bison bison (American Plains Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bison athabascae (American Wood Bison)

Bos bison Linnaeus, 1758  (Ungulate Taxonomy By Colin Groves, Peter Grubb) JHU 
 American bison (buffalo” in North America)

1758 Bos bison Linnaeus C. Kansas (fixed by Hershkovitz, 1957)
1898 Bison bison athabascae Rhoads –

Source from  https://a100.gov.bc.ca/

Scientific Name:Bos bison athabascae Rhoads, 1898
Scientific Name Synonyms:Bison bison athabascae
English Name:Wood Bison
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name – Concept Reference:Hall, E. R. 1981a. The Mammals of North America, second edition. Vols. I & II. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York. 1181 pp.
Classification Level:Subspecies
Taxonomy Comments:Changed to Bos bison athabascae from Bison bison athabascae to align with Nature Serve (Feb 21, 2005 DDW).

Nature Serve Explorer -There has been some difference of opinion as to whether B. b bison and B. b. athabascae are worthy of recognition; different types of data suggest different conclusions (see Bork et al. 1991). van Zyll de Jong (1986) found that cranial and post-cranial skeletal data indicate a phenotypic discontinuity between grassland and woodland populations and concluded that recognition of the subspecies B. b. bison and B. b. athabascae is fully justified. External phenotypic data support this distinction as well (van Zyll de Jong et al. 1995). Geist (1990, 1991), however, summarizes the evidence that there are no taxonomically valid differences between the two forms. MtDNA data (Polziehn et al. 1996) indicate that both the plains bison (subspecies bison) and the wood bison (subspecies athabascae) form polyphyletic groups; neither is a well-defined taxon. Gates et al. (2001), however, argue that MtDNA data are not appropriate to study the relationship between the two groups. Wilson and Strobeck (1999) investigated variability in 11 microsatellite loci of bison genomic DNA, and concluded that the genetic clustering of wood bison indicates that they are functioning as a genetic entity separate from plains bison.


1899 Bison occidentalis Lucas. St. Michael, Alaska
? 1915 Bison americanus pennsylvanicus Shoemaker, nom. Nud.
1932 Bison bison oregonus Bailey, Malheur Lake, 43° 5°N, 119°W Oregon.
1933 Bison bison haningtoni  Figgins. Rock Creek, NE of South Park, Colorado
1933 Bison bison septentripnalis Figgins, Near Palmer Merrick, Nebraska
1980 Bison bison montanac Krumbiegel, Montana

J. A. Allen Notes
The number of Wood Bison estimated to exist at different times during the last ten years may be summarized as follows:
Hornaday, I889………. 550.
Russell, I894………. a few hundred.
Jarvis, 1897………….about 300.
Moberly, I897……… 250-300.
Stone, 1899 ……………..50.

Places where recorded samples have been taken or found: (early 1900’s)

Smith Landing, 55 Mi S, Alberta, Canada
Fort Smith, W, Mackenzie District, Northwest Territories, Canada
Wood Buffalo Park, Ft. Fitzgerald, Gov’t.-Hay Camp, Northwest Territories, Canada
Fort Providence, 15 mi from, Mackenzie District, Northwest Territories, Canada

Tanana River Valley, Gosna River, 30 Mi N, Mouth Of Tanana River, Alaska
Jarvin Creek Range, Alaska

Lower 48:
St. Mary River, Upper, Near Babb, Montana
Yellowstone National Park, Gardiner River, Montana
Moiese, National Bison Range, Montana
Moiese, Montana
Dixon, Bison Range, Montana
St. Mary River, Upper, Near Babb, Montana
Bitter Root National Forest, S Fork, Shakaho Creek, Corvallis District; Ravalli County, Montana
Izee, Grant County, Oregon
Malheur Lake, Dry Lake Bed Near Mouth, Silvies River, Oregon
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming
Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming
Canyon Creek, Gunneson, Utah

From the notes of Allen and Hornaday and samples taken, it looks like the living Wood Bison were in northern New Mexico straight up through Utah and Colorado on up into Alaska. 


The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati, Ohio May 22, 1862

The race of the buffalo hunt at the Cincinnati Trotting Park to-day will afford rare amusement, and we will have no doubt but that the attendance will be immense. The horses are closely matched, and the race will be strongly and tenaciously contested. The buffalo hunt will be a great feature in the day’s entertainment. The animal is a wild mountain bison, the capture of which is believed to be impossibility, and yet a number of horsemen, including two Mexicans, have entered the list to lasso him, either by the horns or leg, and obtain the prizes. The running of the buffalo exceeds that of the fleetest horses, and only by taking advantages can the pursuing steeds come within lassoing distance of the beast. The sport will be great to-day, and none should fail to attend. Superintendent MaLaren will run out a special train to and from the Race-course, to accommodate the crowds which are expected to be present, leaving the depot at 2:30, railroad time, which is seven minutes faster than city time.


The Montana Post
Virginia City, Montana Aug 24 1867

From Dr. James Dunlevy,  Surgeon of Montana Vols. We glean the following items concerning the headwaters of the Yellowstone river, supposed by so many to be a continuation of the Mauvais Terres or Bad Lands that exist at its mouth.

He reports the country filled with game of all kinds, including mountain bison, and reports mining in three different gulches on the eastern side of the river, including Bear and Emigrant gulches.


The Kansas Chief
Troy, Kansas Nov. 26 1874

A long the banks of the Madison, which winds like a serpent through the central portion of the basin, we saw the tracks of the mountain bison a small species of buffalo, that never roam at large on the plains, but hide themselves away in seclusion.


History of the American Bison 1877
Dept. of the Interior, Untied States Geological Survey , F.V. Hayden U.S. Geologist-in-Charge

By Joel Asaph Allen (J. A. Allen)
[extract from the ninth annual report of the survey, for the year 1875.]  Such a great read!

Varieties.-There are two commonly recognized varieties of Buffalo, known respectively as the Wood Buffalo and the mountain Buffalo. The Wood Buffalo is described by Hind as larger than the common bison of the plains, with very short soft pelage and soft short uncuried mane, thus more resembling in these points the Lithuanian bison or aurochs. It is said to be very scarce, and to be found only north of the Saskatchewan and along the flanks of the Rocky Mountains, and to never venture into the plains. A supposed variety of the bison, referred to by some of the northern voyageurs as occurring north of Great Slave Lake, and known only from vague rumors current among the natives, is in all probability the musk ox. (Ovibos moschatus)
The mountain bison, so often referred to by hunters and mountaineers as a variety or perhaps of 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. Dr. Cooper, speaking of the bisons found formally 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 in 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 bands now lingering here and there in the mountains, and now currently known as the mountain buffalo, maybe 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 66 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. [see Long’s Expedition to the Rocky Mnts- Hind (H.Y.) Nar. of Canadian Red River Explor. Exped. 1860. Bulletin Essex Institute.]

(545) The range of the buffalo, as previously remarked, formerly extended continuously from the plains of the United States northward to Great Slave Lake, in latitude 62° to 64° north, being apparently almost as numerous over the plains of the Red River, the Assinniboine, Qu’appelle, both branches of the Saskatchewan , and the Peace River, as over the plains of the Missouri. Franklin, in 1820, met with a few at Slave Point, on the north side of Great Slave Lake, * and Dr. Richardson states that in 1829 they had recently, according to the testimony of the natives, wandered to the vicinity of Great Marten Lake, in latitude 63 ° or 640. In respect to the distribution of the buffalo in the “Fur Countries,” Dr. Richardson speaks as follows: ” As far as I have been able to ascertain, the limestone and sandstone formations lying between the great Rocky Mountain ridge and the lower eastern chain of primitive rocks, are the only districts in the fur countries that are frequented by the bison. In these comparatively level tracts there is much prairie -land, on which they find good grass in the summer; and also many marshes overgrown with bulrushes and carices, which supply them with winter food. Salt springs and lakes also abound on the confines of the limestone, and there are several well -known salt-licks, where bison are sure to be found at all seasons of the year. They do not frequent any of the districts formed of primitive rocks, and the limits of their range to the eastward within the Hudson Bay Company’s territories may be correctly marked on the map by a line commencing in longitude 970 on the Red River which flows into the south -end of Lake Winnipeg, crossing the Saskatchewan to the westward of the Basquian hill, and running thence by the Athapescow to the east end of Great Slave Lake. Their migrations to the westward were formerly limited by the Rocky Mountain range, and they are still unknown in New Caledonia and on the shores of the Pacific to the north of the Columbia River; but of late years they have found out a passage across the mountains near the sources of the Saskatchewan, and their numbers to the westward are said to be annually increasing. The range of the buffalo in British America was hence co- extensive with the prairies, meeting the range of the musk- ox on the north, and the prairies and plains of the United States on the south. It was not, however, exclusively confined to the plains, and apparently less so at the northward than toward the south. Besides positively forsaking the more exposed portions of the northern plains and seeking refuge in the woods during the severer periods of cold in winter, they are said to frequent, at all seasons, the timber adjoining the prairie districts. In a later work Dr. Richardson refers to the range of this animal as follows: “The bison, though inhabiting the prairies in vast bands, frequents also the wooded country, and once, I believe, almost all parts of it down to the coasts of the Atlantic; but it had not until lately crossed the Rocky Mountain range, nor is it now known on the Pacific Slope, except in a very few places. Its most northern limit is the Horn Mountain ( in latitude 62].” † To the northward of the Saskatchewan, the prairie country is confined to limited areas, and there buffaloes range extensively through the open woods. The habitat of the bison north of the United States, at the beginning of the present century, hence embraced a triangular area, extending through about seventeen degrees of longitude (from 96° to 113 °) on the northern boundary of the United States, decreasing in breadth northward to a narrow point at Great Slave Lake. At present, however, they are confined within much narrower limits than formerly, and are quite absent over large areas that once were among their favorite resorts.¡

The following abstracts and quotations embrace the more important references to the range and extermination of the buffalo in British North America, and are arranged nearly in a chronological order. In 1790 Mackenzie found buffaloes in considerable numbers on Peace River, along which they extended westward to the base of the Rocky Mountains. * At this time they abounded also on the plains between the Assinniboine, Red, and Missouri Rivers, as well as on both branches of the Saskatchewan and their tributaries. †

Ross Coxe, in June, 1812, also found the buffalo in small numbers on the head-waters of the Assiniboine River and its tributaries, † but from all this region they have now nearly or quite disappeared. Hind reports finding bones and horns of buffaloes on the Assiniboine River, between Fort Garry and Prairie Portage, in 1857, but makes no mention of the occurrence of the animals themselves there at that date, but says they were still found on the sage plains further north. The Red River hunters at this time, he says went part to the plains of the Saskatchewan, and part to the Yellowstone and Coteau de Missouri for their buffaloes. ¡ Alexander Ross, writing at about the same date, also says, “formally all this part of the country [Red River Plains] was overrun by wild buffalo, even as late as 1810”; but adds, “Of late years the field of Chase has been far distant from the Pembina Plains.” ¡¡

Simpson reports that buffaloes were abundant on the plains south of the Saskatchewan in the winter of 1836, and that the country about Carlton House was completely intersected with their deeply-worn trails, and strewed with their skeletons; from this region they had been temporarily driven by the autumnal fires. He also met with a few buffaloes on the Clear Water River, a little above its junction with the Athabasca. In January 1840, they were also extremely abundant about Carlton House. ¶

Respecting the range and the migrations of buffalo within the British Possessions about the year 1858, Hind observes as follows: “Red River hunters recognized to grand divisions of buffalo, those of the Grand Coteau and Red River, and those of the Saskatchewan. ………The northwestern buffalo ranges are as follows: The bands belonging to the Red River Range winter on the Little Souris, and southeasterly toward and beyond Devil’s Lake, and thence on to Red River and the Shayenne. Here, too, they are found in the spring. Their course then lies west towards the Grand Coteau de Missouri until the mouth of June, when they turn north, and revisit the Little Souris from the west, winding round the flank of Turtle Mountain to Devil’s Lake, and by the main river (Red River), to the Shayenne again. In the memory of many Red River hunters the buffalo were accustomed to visit the prairies of the Assiniboine as far as Lake Manitobah, where in fact their skulls and bones are now to be seen; their skulls are also seen on the east side of the Red River of the North, in Minnesota, but the living animal is very rarely to be met with. A few years ago they were accustomed to pass on the east side of Turtle Mountain, through the Blue Hills of the Souris, but of late years their wanderings in this direction have ceased; experience teaching them that their enemies, the half breeds, have approached too near their haunts in that direction.

“The country about the west side of Turtle Mountain, in June 1858, was scored with their tracks out one of the crossing places on the Little Souris, as if deep parallel rats had been artificially cut down the hill- sides. These rugs, often one foot deep and sixteen inches broad, would converge from the Prairie for many miles to a favorite crossing or drinking place; and they are often seen in regions and which the buffalo is no longer a visitor.

“The great western herds winter between the south and north branches of the Saskatchewan, south of the Touchwood Hills, and beyond the north Saskatchewan in the valley of the Athabasca; they cross the South Branch in June and July, visit the prairies on the south side of the Touchwood Hill range, and cross the Qu’appelle valley anywhere between the Elbow of the South Branch and a few miles west of Fort Ellice, on the Assiniboine. They then strike out for the Grand Coteau. They then proceed across the Missouri up the Yellow Stone, and returned to the Saskatchewan and Athabasca as winter approaches, by the flanks of the Rocky Mountains. We saw many small herds, the longing to the western bands, cross the Qu’appelle valley and proceed in single file towards the Grand Coteau de Missouri in July, 1858. The eastern bands, which we had expected to find on the Little Souris, were on the main river (Red River is so termed by the half-breeds hunting in this quarter). They had preceded earlier thither, far to the south of their usual track, in consequence of the devastating fires which swept the plains from the Rocky Mountains to Red River in the autumn of 1857. We met bulls all moving south, when approaching Fort Ellice’s; they had come from their winter quarters near the Touchwood Hill range. As a general rule the Saskatchewan bands of buffalo go north during the autumn and south during the summer. The Little Souris and main river bands go northwest in summer and southeast in autumn.”* Hind also states that the buffaloes still frequented the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains. †

The Earl of Southesk, in his recently published narrative of his sporting adventures in British North America in 1859 †† makes but few references to the buffalo, and adds nothing of much importance to our knowledge of its distribution. He speaks, however, of their occurrence on the plains west of Fort Ellice, and of meeting with large herds between the north and south branches of the Saskatchewan. He also met with their recent remains near Old Bow Fort, on the South Saskatchewan, at the base of the Rocky Mountains. “The plains,” he says, are all strewn with skulls and other vestiges of the buffalo, which came up this river last year in great numbers. They were once common in the mountains. At the Kootanie Plain I observed some of their wallowing places, and even so high as a secluded little lake near where the horses were taken up to the ice bank I saw traces of them. They are now rapidly disappearing everywhere. ” A few were also seen near the Touchwood Hills, west of Fort Pelly, in November, which was about the most easterly point at which they were seen. *

Mr. B. R. Ross, in speaking of the range of the buffalo in the far north in 1861, says that the “strong Wood variety comes so far north and east as about twenty miles from the mouth of Little Buffalo River, near Fort Resolution, Great Slave Lake.” He adds that it is found “most numerously in the vicinity of the salt plains of Salt River. It is unknown throughout the country inhabited by any of the Sclave tribes, and the point mentioned above may be considered as its farthest limits. It is of larger size than the plain variety, of darker color, and more thickly furred. The Chipewyaus eat its flesh, and make robes and parchment from the hides.” From its scarcity, however, he adds that it does not contribute materially to their needs. †

Captain Butler crossed the plains from Fort Ellice in a northwest direction to Fort Carlton (Carlton House), and journeyed thence up the North Saskatchewan River to the base of the Rocky Mountains, but he seems not to have met with any living buffalo throughout his journey. He again refers to the vast diminution the buffalo has undergone, and mentions the host cell slaughter formally practice by the Cree Indians on the plains of the Saskatchewan, and describes a hot he himself participated in on the plains of Nebraska. Referring to the rapidity with which the buffalo is vanishing from the “great central prairie land,” he says: “Far in the northern forest of the Athabasca a few buffaloes may for a time bid defiance to man, but they, too, must disappear, and nothing be left of this giant beast save the bones that for so many and age will whiten the prairies over which the great herds roamed at well and times before the white man came.” ¡

Captain Butler, and later work, refers to the existence of buffaloes near the forks of the Athabasca River, and thence northward to the eastern end of Athabasca Lake. At Fort Chipewyan Captain Butler, on inquiry as to the amount of game destroyed by a good hunter in a season, was informed that an Indian named Chripo had killed, among other game, ten Wood buffalo during the previous winter, showing the buffalo to be far from rare in the vicinity of Fort Chipewyan “The Wood buffalo and the moose, ” he further adds, ” are yet numerous on the northwest and southwest shores ” of Athabasca Lake, but are not found further to the eastward. They are, however, scarce, he affirms, in comparison with the numbers found there by Hearne. He also states that further westward their northward range extends to within a day’s journey of Fort Vermilion is, on the Peace River, and that ” there are scattered herds, even now (1873 and), on the banks of the Liard River, as far as sixty- one degrees of north latitude.” *

Mr. Huyshe, writing in 1871 of the region about Fort Garry, says: “Buffalo are no longer found nearer than three hundred miles west of Fort Garry, and are gradually being driven further and further west by the advancing stream of civilization.” †

In a valuable communication respecting the present and former range of the Buffalo in the British Possessions, kindly sent me by Mr. J. W. Taylor, U.S. consul at Winnipeg, Mr. Taylor, under date of “United States Consulate, Winnipeg, B. N. A., April 26, 1873,” writes as follows: “In preparing this reply to your note requesting information respecting the comparative numbers and present range of the buffalo, I have consulted Mr. Andrew McDermott, and old and intelligent resident of Selkirk Settlement, now known as the province of Manitoba. This gentleman, when a very young man, was in the service of the Hudson Bay Company, – from 1812 to 1821,- and has since been a successful trader. His position in the country is attested by his recent appointment as the Manitoba director of that Canada Pacific Railway Company.

“My informant, in 1818, was in the midst of a large herd, only two miles West of Fort Garry, where I am writing. His party stood for an hour in the midst of a black moving mass, with difficulty preventing themselves, by the constant discharge of fire-arms, from being trampled to death. Now, in 1873, the nearest point where the animal is found is at Woody Hills, upon the International frontier, three hundred miles southwestearderly, while you must go five hundred miles west to meet large bands. Formally of variety called the Wood buffalo was very numerous in the forest surrounding Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba, the last survivor having been killed only two years ago, on Sturgeon Creek,  ten miles West of Fort Garry. The Wood buffalo is smaller than its congener of the plains, with finer and darker wool, and a superior quality of flesh. It more resembles the ‘bison’ of naturalists.

“The Saskatchewan plains near the Rocky Mountains, have always been a great resort of the buffalo, and although the traditions of their immense multitudes fifty years ago have hardly been sustained of late, yet I am inclined to the opinion that the extension of settlements in Dakota and Montana, the navigation of the Missouri by steamers, and the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad are concentrating the herds which had previously retreated northward from the great overland route now traversed by the Union Pacific Railroad upon the tributaries of the Saskatchewan. Quite recently, a party of hunters in the district adjoining the country of the Blackfoot Indians, in longitude 110°, and latitude 51°, was seven days in passing through a herd. The Saskatchewan district sent 17,930 buffalo robes through Minnesota to market during the year ending September 30, 1872, while an equal number was either consumed in the country or despatched to Europe by vessels from York Factory, on Hudson’s Bay. ” *

During the summer of 1873, Mr. A.R.C. Selwyn made a journey from Manitoba to Rocky Mountain House, in describing which he says not a single Buffalo was met with on the whole journey, although the region he traversed was “swarming” with them not many years before. He saw only their ‘skulls white been on the plains, and their deep worn and grass grown tracks” – evidences of their former recent existence. †

Respecting the present range of the Buffalo and Portion of the British possessions immediately north of the United States line, I have been favored, through principal J. W. Dawson of McGill College, Montréal with the following important communication from Prof. George M. Dawson, geologist with the British and United States boundary survey, dated McGill College, Montréal, June 3, 1875: “Understanding from Principal Dawson they you wish to collect information as to the range of the buffalo in British North America, I have marked on the inclosed portion of the map the range of the animal on the forty-ninth parallel, of which alone I can speak from personal knowledge. During the last sixteen years it would appear that the buffaloes have been driven back over two hundred miles on the forty-nine parallel, and now do not extend in any force beyond White Mud River, or Frenchman’s Creek  (longitude 107° 30’). They reach this point when we arrived there late in June of last summer, and were going north and great herds, followed by the Sioux Indians. This migration seems to have ceased before about 20th of July, when they were confined to the limits stated on the map. † and remained so till we left the country, in September. The Sweet Grass Hills from their centre in the vicinity of the Line. The pasture is good, and the region is besides a sort of neutral ground among the Indian tribes. We saw abundant traces of the passage of great herds in spring on the upper branches of Milk River, and they come into the foot of the Rocky Mountains. I do not think they ever crossed the mountains in the vicinity of the forty-ninth parallel, though I have seen their bones as far up the South Kootanie Pass as the last grassy meadow.”

On the map referred to in the above-given letter, a line drawn along the Frenchman’s Creek or White Mud River is given as the eastern limit of the present range of the buffalo, while the region a little to the west of this line is marked as the district where “great herds” were seen “going north in June.” The line drawn parallel to the Little Souris River, and about forty miles to the westward of it, following the Coteau de Missouri, is given as the “approximate eastern limit of ‘buffalo chips.’”

In addition to the information contained in Prof. Dawson’s letter, I find the following in his recent “Report on the Geology and Resources of the Region in the Vicinity of the Forty-ninth Parallel,” etc.: From what I could learn,” says Professor Dawson, “I believe that; at the present rate of extermination, twelve to fourteen years will see the destruction of what now remains of the great Northern band of Buffalo, and the termination of the trade in robes and pemmican, in so far as regards the country north of the Missouri River.”*

Several Western newspapers have frequently given accounts of “buffaloes moving eastward.” The following, in substance (here copied from the New York Daily Graphic, October, 1876), has been often republished by the daily press: “ The Winnipeg Free Press notices the arrival of immense herds of buffaloes within eight miles of Red River, after ten years of total absence. From all accounts the herds are migrating eastward. The Sioux Indians, residing at Devils Lake, in Dakota, have already been on a great hunt, and have returned to their homes with an abundance of buffalo-meat and numbers of robes. Travelers from the northwest, who lately came into Winnipeg, report very large numbers of buffalo very much further east then heretofore, and the Free Press urges the importance of legislation to prevent their wanton extermination.”

Present range of the Northern Herd.- From the foregoing it appears that what may be termed the great Northern herd of buffaloes ranges from the principal southern tributaries of the Yellowstone northward over a large part of Montana, far into British North America, extending northward to the wooded region of the Liard, Athabasca, and Peace Rivers. To the westward, north of the United States, buffaloes still range to the base of the Rocky Mountains, though doubtless somewhat irregularly, and usually only in small numbers; while there eastern limit does not appear to extend beyond the longitude of Carlton House, or to the eastward of the one hundred and sixth meridian. They have thus, within the last thirty years, become exterminated over more than half of the more fertile portion of the region north of the United States formally occupied by them, including the whole of the vast prairie region drained by the Assiniboine and Qu’appelle Rivers, and are now confined principally to the arid plains between the two forks of the Saskatchewan, where, as Prof. Dawson believes, they cannot survive for many years longer. The extent of their range north of the North Saskatchewan seems not to have become greatly restricted since Richardson, Hearne, and Franklin visited this region; but they doubtless occur there in far smaller numbers than formerly.


The New York Times
New York, Aug 2 1877


                From the Chicago Tribune, July 29 (extract)

Any persons interested in zoology should call on the General for a detailed description. Of course, all kinds of game were killed, including black-tailed deer, mountain sheep, mountain bison, and two bears. Of the latter Gen. Sheridan killed one and Crook the other. The Generals were in luck. The bison is a species much smaller that the buffalo, as fleet almost as a deer, and as sure-footed as a Big Horn sheep.


The Daily Inter-Ocean
Chicago, Illinois Oct 28 1878

Interesting Interview with Sir Gordon Cumming, a Scottish Hunter of Prominence

The Tale of a Man Whose Sport is Confined Largely to the Elephant, Lion, Tiger and Rhinoceros.

Sir Gordon Cumming, a nephew of the distinguished Scotch huntsman, arrived in this city Saturday, direct from the Rocky Mountains, and left for Virginia last evening. A reporter for the Inter-Ocean had a chat with him at the rooms of the Chicago Club yesterday afternoon, gleaning from the modest Nimrod some points about his last hunt, and also a few incidents of his incursions into India and Africa. (Skip text)

Good Shooting All The Time
From there I crossed over the range to Hot Sulpher Springs, lying just between Middle Park and North Park. In that region I passed most of my time, and especially around Whitely Peak. The game was very abundant indeed. There was any quantity of elk, a few bears, and plenty of deer and mountain sheep. My chief trophy however, was a mountain bison, which however, bears very little resemblance to the buffalo of the plains. The old chap was one of a large herd that we saw feeding way up on the steep, but they were bad to get at.


Helena Weekly Herald May 21, 1885  

A Veteran hunter . Mr. Oldham, just back from one of his rifle tramps,  reports having encountered a mountain bison while crossing the upper divide separating Grizzle gulch from Ten Mile. The animal, first seen at rest, was mistaken for a Galloway bull. On closer approach and when near enough for distant view, the animal jumped to its feet and loped lumbering away, shortly disappearing from sight. It was a fine specimen of the bison species, says Mr. Oldham, and while he might easily have brought him down, he preferred to allow it to escape unhurt. It would be a blessed boon if all other hunters were as considerate as the Nimrod Oldham. The mountain bison is a nearly extinct animal,  and few of the many thousands of former times now remain in the 



The Cook County Herald – LOC
Grand Marais, Minnesota Jan 19 1901
Like Their Kin of the States They Seem Destined to Extinction.

The Wood bison, as the buffalo of British North America is known, appears to lie doomed to extinction. J. A. Allen of the American Museum of Natural History in his notes on the wood bison summarizes the number of these buffalo estimated to exist during the last ten years as follows: Estimate in 1889 of Professor Hornaday, now director of the New York Zoological society, 550; Russell, 1894, a few hundred; Jarvis, 1897, about 300; Moberly, 1897, 250 to 300, and Stone, 1899, 50. The home of the Wood bison has been in the neighborhood of the Great Slave lake in the northwest territory. Within the last six years these bison seem to have worked northward, and Mr. Allen says: “It is pretty safe to assume that they have been exterminated entirely from their former range south of the Peace river, and that a few years more will suffice for their complete extermination.” Frank Russell, who hunted the wood bison in 1894, wrote of them in 1898, saying: “The herd at present consists of a few hundred only. They are so wary that only one effective shot can be fired, when they betake themselves to instant flight, and, as with the moose, pursuit is altogether futile. They cannot be hunted in summer, as the country which they inhabit is mosquito infested and a wooded swamp at this season. They can only be killed by stalking in midwinter, when their pelage is at its best. The Indians along the Peace and Slave rivers make occasional trips into the buffalo country with dog teams to establish lines of marten traps. When they discover a band of buffaloes, they, of course, kill as many as they can, but they have not made systematic efforts to hunt them for their robes, as they have the musk ox. Fortunately the officers of the company have exerted their influence toward the preservation of the buffalo, not trading for the robes until the recent advent of rival traders. During the winter of 1892-93 forty buffaloes were killed, the largest number that had been secured for several years. I saw most of these robes, which were very dark, the hair thick and curled, making a robe superior to that of either musk ox or plains buffalo. They were so large that the Indians had to cut many of them in half for convenience in hauling on the sleds. From $10 to $50 is paid for the robes.”

1901– Up in British Columbia, in the basin of the Red River of the North, there is a herd of 25 or 30 Wood bison left.The New Enterprise FL Sep 8 1904 Canadian Woods Bison

1904 Dr. Grinnell,  A small number of the animals, which from long habitat in a timber country have come to be called the Wood bison or buffalo, are found in the remote corners of the wilderness to the eastward of the Canadian Rockies.

1911– The Pennsylvania bison were more closely allied to the Wood bison of Canada Northwest, then to the buffaloes which once roamed our western plains.

I find the above statement interesting in the way speculations have been made that  Old Logan was of Woods’ origin. 


Wichita Falls, Texas Jan 14 1913
New Herd of Bison of Interest to Scientists

WASHINGTON –Government scientists in Washington displayed real interest in a dispatch from1913 Bison History Winnipeg a few days ago, announcing that Harry V Radford, the American explorer had discovered more than 350 (? 850) wild buffalo in the Slave lake district of the Hudson Bay country.

The wild buffalo of the American plains are gone and nothing remains of them save a few museum and zoological park specimens.

Outside of the national zoological park in Washington, the Bronx Zoo, in New York; Yellowstone National park, and a few other collections of domesticated bison there are no known living specimens of the buffalo in this country, and the last wild herd in the United States is believed to have been exterminated. For many years reports have come out of the Hudson Bay country concerning the existence of a new and distinct species of buffalo, but only within the last ten years have scientists agreed that this species is a different variety from the American bison.

“We are very much interested in interest to Scientists Mr. Radford’s discovery,” said Dr. Richard Rathbun, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in charge of the United States national museum. “We know this explorer very well. The object of his expedition was to visit the home of the Wood bison in the almost unknown region of northwestern Canada, west of the Slave river, and north of the lower Peace River. This expedition started in 1909 and has included track surveys over many hundreds of and furnished Mr. Radford the opportunity of closely studying the Wood bison in its haunts, and of making first recorded observations on this rare animal in life.

Eighteen specimens were seen by him during the first part of his exploration tour, and under a permit from the Canadian government, one was killed by him. It weighed 2400 pounds, and both the skin and skeleton were preserved. The skin was presented by Mr. Radford to the Provincial museum at Edmonton, Alberta, while the skeleton was obtained by the National Museum at Washington.

The skeleton and the skull are very fine specimens, and the skeleton is probably the only one of a wild buffalo in any museum. Our information was that Mr. Radford had not returned and that his expedition continued into the Slave lake country and beyond. The is the first word we have received from him since this specimen was obtained.

Published in another paper:

Mr. H. V. Radford, an American naturalist, who had obtained permission to shoot one of the rare Wood bison of North West Canada (now almost extinct) recently obtained a magnificent specimen which weighed 2400lb., exceeding by 300lb the largest bison ever killed before.

1914-There are still a few Wood bison running wild in the far North, (Canada) but the Indians in this region are responsible for the death of thousands that have never been used for food.


Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks North Dakota Sep 18, 1919

Edmonton, Sept. 18.—Benjamin Lawton, chief game guardian of the province, is considerably amused over a dispatch from New York that a party of naturalists would come’ to Banff shortly, and from there work through the unmapped portions of the Alberta Rockies, in a hunt, for Wood bison in their natural lairs.

The intention of the party was to come out of the wilds somewhere along the Crow’s Nest Pass, and that en route the bison would be photographed while at play.

“They will do some mighty good hunting if they find any Wood bison there,” declared Mr. Lawton. “The only Wood bison in existence are away up in the north country west of Fort Smith, and previous exploration through the Rockies has made it quite certain that none are to be found in any part of the mountain region.

Lawton is inclined to think that either the New York scientists are misinformed about the resources of the Alberta Rockies, or that there has been an error in the announcement of their plans.


Salisbury NC Aug 26, 1922 
Only Animals to Be Found on Continent Roaming Free in Northwest Territory; In Two Herds

In Alberta and the Northwest territories bounded on the north by Great Slave Lake, on the west by the Buffalo river and the Caribou Mountains, on the southeast by the Peace river and on the east by the Slave river, still wild, are what remains of the animals which once occupied great tracts of this country.  It is an interesting remnant of the buffalo of the past for through its isolation and the conditions of environment the animals have become a species by itself known as the Bison Athabascae Rhodes. This subspecies of the animal, once the most magnificent creature of the plains, ranges through forests broken only occasionally by open places, and is known as the Wood bison.

Herds Do Not Mingle.

These Wood bison of Canada occupy a forested area of about 4,000 square miles and are divided into two herds, which of recent years do not mingle.

During the early part of the summer, the southern band of the animals browses in the northern part of its range, near the Little Buffalo river. Usually, they are divided into small groups of ten or a dozen animals, but in July and August the mating season, they assemble in groups of 20 or 30, and as many as a hundred may be seen together. In August they start southward and spend the winter not far north of the Peace river and Point Providence. Year after year they follow the same trails through the woods, similar to the trails of the bison of the plains. Buffalo wallows are of frequent occurrence along the line of march, and a salt lick shows the presence of animals of all ages, including the calves.

Little Known of Northern Herd.

Less is known of the bison if the northern range, as much of its habitat is country never visited by the white man. It is supposed that there, a herd of about 1,000 buffalo, and that nature of the country they occupy is much the same as the southern range. The Wood bison are said to be differentiated from their fellows by their size, which is greater; they are darker in color and the hair is denser and more silky. Dr. William T. Hornaday says that originally the wild bison of this continent formed an immense herd so great that it would be easier to count the leaves of the trees, of a forest than the bison living at any given time in the history of the species previous to 1870. The animals once filled the country from Great Slave Lake, in Northern Canada, to Northern Mexico, and in the southeastern extension to the State of Georgia.


The Winnipeg Tribune
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada July 14, 1925
Is Wood buffalo In Danger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wood Buffalo National Park between 1925 and 1928.
Notes* The Canadian government established the park in 1922 to protect a remnant herd of Wood bison (a sub-species of the American plains bison), setting aside a large area of boreal forest plain that straddles the border between the province of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Preserving the bison did not necessarily mean “hands-off” management, however, as government officials soon hatched a scheme to transport thousands of plains bison from the fenced and overstocked Buffalo National Park (a former park in central Alberta) to the supposedly understocked range of Wood Buffalo National Park. Zoologists in Canada, the United States, and Britain vigorously and almost unanimously opposed the plan, fearing the loss of the Wood bison sub-species to hybridization and the transmission of tuberculosis from the infected herds in southern Alberta. But government officials stubbornly persisted, transporting 6,673 plains bison to Wood Buffalo National Park between 1925 and 1928. (http://www.environmentandsociety.org/)


Collect Papers 1919-1935 
Numerous references appear in the literature concerning the bison of the higher mountain parks of Colorado , but with the exception of the young calf observed by the late Dr. J. A. Allen , 14 in South Park , Park County , none of the writers appears to have personally seen living examples. With this exception all such reports are , seemingly, based upon the stories of hunters.

 1958-1965   History of Wood bison conservation in Elk Island National Park

Wood bison as a distinct subspecies were once thought completely lost due to population decline and disease. However, in 1958 a small isolated population was rediscovered in northern Wood Buffalo National Park, with 23 of those sent to Elk Island National Park in 1965.

In an effort to create an “insurance” herd for the subspecies recovery, the small herd was placed in a former isolation area south of the Yellowhead Highway, which had been cleared of all its plains bison and other ungulates, considered as potential disease-carriers.

1992 – Today, buffalo ranching is becoming increasingly common across North America, a popular Manitoba one being Marvin McGregor’s just across the Little Saskatchewan River from the Ski Valley resort north of Minnedosa. Cattle-bison crossing programs are carried on by individual ranchers, the Beefalo breed being one result. In recent years buffalo have multiplied to the extent that even limited hunting seasons have become necessary to contain the rapidly-expanding herds. In fact, a most serious current problem facing Canadian officials is how to combat rampant disease and forage shortage plaguing the herd in Wood Buffalo National Park consisting of 3,500 plains and Wood bison, without having to destroy the animals.
2003– The Wood Bison resides in Canada and they are on the Species Registry, listed as “threatened” since 2003.
2006 -First load. Russia Bison More Alberta Bison being shipped
Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) Wood Bison Transplant In 2007, 30 Wood bison from Elk Island National Park were transferred to Lenski Stolbie Nature Park in the Republic of Sakha, a northeastern Republic in the Russian Federation. This past winter, the transplants were transferred to a second release site in the Tympynay region of the Sinyaya Nature Reserve, which will be their eventual release site. Both Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service selected this site during a field trip to Sakha last summer. The Wood bison is the closest living relative to the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus). Both come from the taiga region, and reintroducing Wood bison reflects the interest in Sakha of “rewilding” the Pleistocene megafauna.
2008– Gates – 10,870 Wood Bison in Eleven Conservation Herds  (Bison Census)

2010-2011  Second shipment

2013- Parks Canada announces that Elk Island National Park has successfully provided an additional 30 Wood bison to the Republic of Sakha, Russia, to support the introduction of the species. Here, some bison transferred on Thursday, March 21, 2013, from the Edmonton international airport.

Wolves are threatening a unique population of Canadian bison in Siberia

(Jan 2013) by the Siberian Times Reporter

The bison – or buffalo – are under special protection from hunters amid rising concern over wolf attacks.

Wolves are threatening a unique population of Canadian bison in Siberia

The threatened animals were airlifted to the Sakha Republic – also known as Yakutia – from Alberta in Canada in recent years.

‘Local hunters are guarding two nurseries that are a home to about 100 animals,’ said Andrei Popov, an official at the republic’s Nature Protection Ministry.

The Wood bison, anyway a threatened species, were brought to Siberia to boost the animal’s long term chances of survival. Some 10,000 years ago, the related steppe bison roamed this part of sub-Arctic Russia. But the 800 kilogram creatures are powerless against attacks by packs of wolves.

Two bison calves born in 2012 are seen as particularly vulnerable to wolf attacks.


 (Video in Russian – 4th load arriving April 13th 2020)



Journal GazetteRaising bison provides enjoyment to Pearl City resident
Mattoon Illinois July 28 2016
Raising bison provides enjoyment to Pearl City resident


In this June 28, 2016 photo, LaVerne Fluechtling watches his 17 Wood bison he raises as a hobby on his farm in Pearl City, III. The ‘buffies,’ as he calls them, come when he calls them, and allow him to walk among them.

FREEPORT, Ill.  – Pearl City resident LaVerne Fluechtling bartered his way into raising bison: Eight years ago, he traded a couple of Fallow deer bucks for seven bison, and he doesn’t regret the decision.

He now has 17 Wood bison, including five calves called “red dogs.” “They are a pretty easy animal to deal with,” he said. “They have a good memory. They eat grass, and I give them a bale of hay a week along with some oats.”