THE AMERICAN BISON and grizzly bear are considered by many persons the outstanding native animals in North America. Certainly few other mammals have played so important a part in the development and early history of the great western plains.
From 1830 to 1860, hundreds of thousands of bison, commonly known as buffaloes, roamed over the great plains west of the Mississippi River and were the main food supply for the Indians and early white settlers in the region. With the building of western railroads and the resultant influx of white men, the slaughter of buffaloes became so great that by the close of the century these animals were reduced to the verge of extinction.
In 1900, when a census was taken of the Yellowstone National Park herd, only 29 bison were counted and it was estimated that not more than 40 were left in the entire park. In 1902, through a congressional appropriation, three bulls were obtained from the Goodnight herd of Texas and 18 cows from Conrad Allard in Montana. From this nucleus of approximately 61 individuals more than 3,000 bison have been produced from 1902 to 1940, inclusive. To prevent overgrazing, nearly 2,000 have been removed from the park in the past 34 years. Of these, 661 were supplied for exhibition and restocking, and about 1,300 were slaughtered for human (mostly relief) consumption.
On September 18, 1929, with heavy white frost covering the stunted sage bushes, I followed an old bull bison across the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park. He had reached the zenith of his prowess and tracks showed that he recently had been dethroned in combat by a younger, more vigorous male. While no longer head of the herd, he trailed along behind the last stragglers still trying to regain his lost leadership. When I approached him he charged furiously and, being alone and on foot, I nearly lost my camera before securing the picture I desired. (See illustration.)
The buffalo is an outstanding example of the animals which have been saved from extermination in the United States through the protection afforded them by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the Fish and Wildlife Service) in Yellowstone National Park and other national reservations. It is our sincere aim and hope that the trumpeter swan, grizzly bear, and Rocky Mountain bighorn may likewise be preserved from extinction.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010