*** topics : animals in history the horse and Native Americans

Animals and History: The Buffalo and Native Americans

Plains tribes buffalo hunt
Figure 1.--Charles M. Russel (1864-1926) as boy was inchanted with the Wild West at a time that its Golden Age was just beginning. He loved reading the popular Dime Novels. He also loved to draw. He became the 'cowboy artist', creating some 4,000 images. He was also fascinatined by Native Americans and lived with them for a time to learn about them. And he creatd many images of Native. This image of the buffalo hunt was painted after the heards had been decimated (1894). Even mounted the Native American bufalo hunt was a very dangerous undertaking. One art expert decribes the scene, "The buffalo, huge as a locomotive, is the incarnation of awesome, mindless power as it lowers its head for the last convulsive charge." We suspect that most Indian hynters were more cauustious than depicted in this dramatic depiction.

The American Buffalo (Bison bison) became central to the lives of the Plains Indians. Ancient bison (Bison antiquus) was the most prolific large herbivore of the North American continent for over 10,000 years and is the direct ancestor of the modern American buffalo. Several Bison species were involved. During the later Pleistocene epoch (240,000-220,000), the Steppe wisent (B. priscus) migrated across the Bearing land bridge from into Alaska and inhabited areas of northern North America for the rest of the Pleistocene. This was over 200,000 years before the ancestors of Native Americans. The wisent over time was replaced by the long-horned bison (B. latifrons) and then by the smaller B. antiquus. B. latifrons seems to have disappeared by about 20,000 years ago because of climatic changes or human perdition. B. antiquus increased in abundance in mid-continent (18,000 BP until about 10,000 BP). The mega-fauna that existed in North America disappeared with the arrival of Native American people. Eventually the American buffalo (B. bison) appears, perhaps influenced by Native American activity. The buffalo population actually increased, especially on the grasslands of the Great Plains, but in smaller numbers in the eastern woodlands which is why the city of Buffalo is located in New York. Tens of millions of buffalo roamed the Great Bison Belt. The buffalo proved to be a difficult and dangerous animal to hunt, especially on the open Plains. The buffalo's appearance is deceiving. Amazingly it can jump a 6-foot fence and achieve speeds of 35 miles per hour. Quite a challenge for hunters on foot. The Great Plains grasslands, were a perfect environment for the buffalo which spread across the Plains in great rumbling herds--the 'Thunder on the Plains'. The relationship with native people only changed with the arrival of the Spanish (16th century). Over time some horses escaped and a population became established on the Great Plains (17th century). This enabled Native Americans to establish themselves on the Plains and a new way of life developed. Native American people established themselves on the Planes once they acquired horses. The horse gave the Indians the ability to hunt the buffalo in substantial numbers. The Plains people came to rely on the buffalo for food, raw material, clothing, and shelter. While hunting the animal, the buffalo was also of spiritual significance--the Plains people revered the great shaggy beasts. The tribes included those of both the southern (Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa) and northern (Blackfeet, Kootenai, Lakota, Mandan-Hidatsa, and Salish) Plains. The buffalo was the lifeblood of these tribes. After the Civil War (1861-65), Americans began moving west of the Mississippi in a major way. The coming of the railroad played a major role. The Transcontinental Railway was completed (1869). This was also the beginning of waves of European immigrants, many of whom settled on the Plains. With the railroad came a new towns, bustling trains, and interconnected telegraph lines connecting the Plains with America's bustling economy. This meant a a new era of irresistible change. It was the beginning of what we know today as the Wild West. The railroads opened up a booming market for buffalo meat, hides, and skins. One of the most celebrated figures of the era was Buffalo Bill. Hunters with high powered rifles quickly destroyed the huge herds and with them the livelihood of the Plains peoples. Woke critics have condemned America for this. There is, however, little discussion of the alternatives. The Great Plains at the time supported a small number of Native American people (0.1-0.2 million people). Natives Americans were stone-age people not beginning to develop the economic potential of the Plains. Today the Plains support tens of millions of people and feed hundreds of millions in America and other countries. The bounty of the Plains was essential in destroying horrific great Totalitarian powers and preventing famine during the 20th century.


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Created: 6:08 PM 4/5/2024
Last updated: 6:08 PM 4/5/2024