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So...what really happened to the bison?


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I was reading my black powder manual last night, and sat up straight when I read a paragraph that indicated that the ravenous white buffalo hunters were not actually responsible for the near-extinction of the bison, but rather that the cause was the spread of disease from the Texas longhorns as they were driven north.

 

Could this be true? Dances with Wolves is wrong? :P All of those movies and TV shows depicting the decimation of the Plains Indians' way of life by extermination of his source of food, clothing and resource materials by Sharps hunters is erroneous?

 

Not that it really mattered to the tribes - extinction is extinction, whether by guns or by disease - but I was surprised to see this alternate explanation.....

 

LL

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I've never really believed that a herd of perhaps as many as 60,000,000 could be hunted to near extinction (less than 100 by many estimates), in only a few decades. Even if you spread it out over half a century, that would come to almost 3300 animals killed every single day for fifty years. If the herd numbered only half that - thirty million - that's still 1600+ killed EVERY SINGLE DAY. In the last decade of the extermination, the population supposedly fell from ~15,000,000 to less than 100... that comes to a staggering average of 4110 bison slaughtered every day for ten years straight.

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I've never really believed that a herd of perhaps as many as 60,000,000 could be hunted to near extinction (less than 100 by many estimates), in only a few decades. Even if you spread it out over half a century, that would come to almost 3300 animals killed every single day for fifty years. If the herd numbered only half that - thirty million - that's still 1600+ killed EVERY SINGLE DAY. In the last decade of the extermination, the population supposedly fell from ~15,000,000 to less than 100... that comes to a staggering average of 4110 bison slaughtered every day for ten years straight.

With no reproduction.

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I have read first hand accounts of finding large numbers of dead and skinned Bison laying about on the prarie and that hunters were responsible. I would think there would be accounts of finding dead unskinned Bison laying about in multitudes due to disease and I recollect none. I do NOT claim to have read everything or be an expert, I just recollect no first hand contemporary accounts of disease causing large die offs. I have read of disease cross issues between Bison and cattle currently happening.

Passenger pigeons existed in HUGE numbers until around 1900, but they disappeared too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passenger_Pigeon

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A stand and market killing hundreds of buffalo in one small area (relatively speaking) is something obvious. But many animals dieing one at a time over millions of acres would be hardly noticeable. We have chronic wasting disease and blue tongue going through our whitetail deer herd and a high percentage die off in some areas but few are found.

 

A couple of years back I ran across a big buck in advanced stage of blue tongue. I looked and watched for it for a couple of weeks. I finally got a "whiff" of where he was. Within two weeks there was nothing left of where he died.

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Exactly. I would hypothesize that hunters and "sportsmen" shot buffalo from areas close to civilization; From railcars, or in areas where the meat would be consumed by work crews or town folk before it could spoil. Off the beaten path, huge numbers of the beasts could have died from disease without anyone ever knowing about it, and in a few short weeks, even the bones would be so scattered and hidden by grass and sagebrush that there wouldn't be any obvious signs to the occasional loner passing through, nor would he care for that matter.

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I guess a good measure would be hides shipped back east.

Prior to mass western expansion, the Indians accounted for over some 100,000 hides, reportedly, which would not knock a dent in the millions.

I have consistently read reports a crew could kill a couple hundred per day.

Reportedly 2,000 hunters supposedly in the business when it was full swing. If they killed but 5 per day per crew, that's 10,000 per day. 70,000 per week. That's 3.6 million per year.

One buffalo hunter on firsthand account calculated from 1872, 73 and 74 4.5 million killed. My first question is this limited to one herd? Northern or Southern or did he hunt both? If these numbers are limited to one herd, can this be doubled to account for both herds? But let's say these numbers are accurate and the herd is 45 million, that's 10% gone in a three year period.

1872 I read, 700 tons of hides (42-43000) hides were shipped back east. So the numbers are kind of all over.

The Southern herd was reportedly gone by 1878. How large was this herd?

You guys assume that heavy hunting has no affect on the herd and reproduction will counter some of the effects. I propose a herd cannot healthfully reproduce and not be weakened with a climbing mortality rate. How many juveniles were shot? How many juveniles were orphaned?How many orphans died? What impact did this level of hunting pressure have on the buffalo grazing patterns, individual health/immunity and health of pregnant cows? You can run an animal only so long before they weaken. Couple this WITH disease.

I'm not discrediting the notion of disease having a huge impact. But I think sometimes folks wish to discredit the impact man can have on an ecosystem and choose to bury their head in the sand. Knock yourself out. I do it sometimes too.

There is enough photographic and written evidence to show a widespread slaughter of buffalo with a government/military move to sponsor it.

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Just do the math on the amount of lead and powder that would have been carried across the plains to kill 60 million animals......No way.

 

I've read a number of books now on the buffalo hunters. In every case the number of buffalo you could kill was limited by how many you could skin and get on a wagon. Most times that was only 6-8 by the average hunter with a skinner or two. A big outfit might do two or three times as much.

 

Cattle carrying disease, and lack of habitat and food resources were the biggest killer.

 

I'm not familiar with the number of hunters at 2000.....Most of the buffalo camps (Adobe Walls, etc) only had a few hunters at any one time. Not doubting it, just never saw that number reported.

 

Buffalo Bill hunted buff for a few years for income and to feed the Army...He killed 4280...He killed 1109 per year.

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I have read first hand accounts of finding large numbers of dead and skinned Bison laying about on the prarie and that hunters were responsible. I would think there would be accounts of finding dead unskinned Bison laying about in multitudes due to disease and I recollect none. I do NOT claim to have read everything or be an expert, I just recollect no first hand contemporary accounts of disease causing large die offs. I have read of disease cross issues between Bison and cattle currently happening.

Passenger pigeons existed in HUGE numbers until around 1900, but they disappeared too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passenger_Pigeon

Their nesting sites were destroyed and the bodies of the birds shipped to the eastern cities.

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The bison herd on the plains was heavily stressed through out the 1800s.The Indian horse culture really only came to northern plains by the mid-1700s. Then the numbers they killed rapidly increased. The end of the mini ice age changed the prairie grasses toward the mid-1800s and disease split the herd into the northern and southern herds. Cattle borne disease, thrill killing and the hide hunters hammered the Buffalo in the 1870s. The big question really is what was the final nail in the coffin?

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So...what really happened to the bison?

 

I figured it was from EPA and government over regulation... :)

 

 

So...what really happened to the bison?

 

I figured it was from EPA and government over regulation... :)

The EPA and Government had to impose those regulations because the gases produced from those large bison herds were causing Global Warming, which was effectively causing the extinction of every animal on the earth. Thankfully, the bison gases were reduced just in time thanks to the implementation of those common sense regulations. -_-

 

And if you don't believe that you probably believe the Earth is Flat!

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Read these and you might just question the old saw those awful white hunters killed them off. They did kill a lot but had lots and lots of help before the hide era ever began. Disease too.

 

Dan Flores, historian

 

Destruction of the Buffalo, by Isenberg

 

and then read this: Ecological Indian, The Myth...

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One usually envisions bull buffalo being the target of the hide hunters. From what I have read, most herds had a lead cow. Kill that cow, and the buffalo would often mill around confused at the smell of the blood (lung shots being preferred). Then they would shoot the next buff. If a number of fertile cows or cows and calves were shot, it would have a significant impact on reproduction.

 

Yes, disease could well have played a part. Ranchers around Yellowstone have been up in arms over release of buffalo from the park because they could carry brucellosis (sp?), which could cause the ranchers' cattle to abort their calves. Could it have worked the other way around? (I'm no biologist.)

 

I have also heard that the coming of the transcontinental railroads affected migratory paths of the herds. True or not?

 

OTOH, buffalo meat is becoming popular enough that some main supermarkets carry it. Had some the other night! Waugh!

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I also wonder what role the diminshing numbers, due to hide hunting, and the subdivision of the massive herds, due to the railroads and settlements, had to do with genetic diversity. I just finished reading an article in Texas Highways about the herd at Caprock Canyons State Park. These animals are decendants of the ones Charles Goodnight saved from extinction. Due to inbreeding over the decades the gene pools became quite shallow which caused an extremely high calving mortality rate.

 

This topic makes me think there were several forces that contributed to the near-extinction of the American bison.

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Some folks claim Buffalo didn't migrate in the way African game does. They simply move long distances because they wipe out the food supply if they stay in any one place. Millions of animals would have that effect on feed.

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Historians recently discovered that the disappearance of the buffalo possibly is linked to a special test the Government of the 1870s was trying out. They were trying to find out what was in a new program called something like, "omommacare", it being so obtuse they figured the only way to see what was in it was to try it out. They initially thought to test it on the Indians, but at the last minute switched to a target that would most assuredly never have the right to vote.

 

Fortunately for the American people of that era, the government employees applying the test were covered by the same plan, and the plan was lost for generations along with the buffalo and testers, reappearing only recently. About the only thing the government learned from the 1870s test was to provide high ranking employees with other plans.

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Rumor has it that the Government put most all of them all on the back of nickels.

I think my grandfather may have contributed to the decimation of the buffaloe :D. My father used to say that my grandfather used to pinch nickels so hard that he would get a war cry from the indian, and crap out of the buffaloe :D

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I think brucellosis from cows may have had an impact, causing abortions, coupled with hunting pressure was tooo much for the herd to overcome.

 

I read once that most of the hides were used to make leather belts for machinery.

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Buffalo Hide Hunting (as opposed to meat hunting) really was responsible for the killing of millions of buffalo. The hides were made into robes in some quantity, but the biggest use for the buffalo hides was to make heavy, wide leather belting to turn the machinery of the Industrial Revolution back east. Cowhides from California had been the primary source of cheap leather for such belting, via Cape Horn (the Hide and tallow trade) but the Gold Rush put an end to that source. The frequent financial panics of the latter 19th century threw a lot of men out of work, and hunting buffalo hides was seen as a means of building a stake. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson both hunted buffalo hides. The Indians shared some responsibility for the rapid disappearance of the great herds, as well. Some Mountain Men of the 1830s and '40s described seeing great herds of buffalo that were 75 or 80% bulls. The Indians didn't like bull meat much, and given their preference would hunt cows as often as possible. A herd can't grow and prosper if most of the females are eliminated. The Great Hide Hunts of the 1870s and 80s were conducted against herds that were already in serious trouble because of the shortage of cows. So there are multiple reasons for the disappearance of the great buffalo herds, not one simple answer.

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Interesting point there Sarg.....Thanks

 

A couple of German fellows found a way to use buffalo hide for overhead drive belts. They figured out a method to tan the hide so it wouldn't stretch and last far longer than cow hide. This is the first I'd ever heard of cow hide coming all the way from California.

 

But they certainly didn't kill 40-60 million buffalo for this use.

 

Until Indians had access to powerful firearms, they were very indiscriminate about the animals they killed. Running them off cliffs or herding them into a canyon and setting fire while stoning from above was the prefered method of "hunting". The Indian on horseback with a lance or bow and arrow is often disputed by anthropologists.

 

The bigger question that always comes up is the lack of finding naturally dead bison all over the place is disease took them out. They ain't small. They weren't crawling under rocks to die. And if hunters only killed 10 million like many modern experts claim, where did 30-50 million corpses go?

 

Another question that gets raised....Were there really 40-60 million to begin with. Or like most everything that came out of the 1800s west....an exageration?

 

We may never know the whole story!

 

(PS...About the issue of lead...I read in one book where the hunters would try to hit the bison in a spot where the bullet wouldn't exit so they could retrieve it, melt it down (in the same pan they cooked breakfast in) and reuse it. Powder was shipped in lead cans that could be melted down for bullets. But the ratio was never correct. They always had powder left when they ran out of lead. So they needed to conserve lead as much as possible)

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There was also quite a trade in the bones of the critters. I have seen photos of mountainous piles of bones in some of the reading I've done. So i'm sure the dead didn't hang around for long.

I'm sure that illnesses, over harvest, and the rail roads disecting the migration routes didn't help either.

 

Of course it's the "White Man's" fault, everything is now a days.........................

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