The other day I enjoyed a Buffalo Steak at the Pompey’s Pillar at the Sacajawea Hotel, in Three Forks, Montana. If you have not eaten there, you are in for a treat. The Bison was farm raised and wonderful. Enjoying this meat made me think about an animal that once roamed Montana and the west. There was a time that Buffalo roamed wild on the very spot where I enjoyed a steak.
No one knows for sure exactly how many Buffalo roamed the great plains. It is sufficient to say that it was over 30 million!
There were 2 species of Buffalo. One was a Woodland critter and the other was a Plains Bison. They migrated from Canada to Mexico.
Sometime after 1830, Bison became a target. They became the focus of economic wants, Native people’s eradication, a nuisance to railroads and pioneers, and the need to support an industrial revolution. Hides made belts that ran steam engines, tongues fed the rich, bones were crushed for fertilizer, and others for sport.
By 1870, there were still 2 million Bison left on the southern plains. Between 1872 and 1874, 5,000 Buffalo a day were being killed. After the Civil War, there was plenty of ammunition, high powered firearms, migrating families and expanding railways. There seemed to be no end to the massive herds of Bison until…
Buffalo blocked progress. Since they were the one stop shop of Native Americans, eliminating them was one way to make life harder for tribes that depended upon them. By 1884 the once massive Bison herds were down to 325 known individuals. The Curator of the Smithsonian Museum took over 2 years to find and shoot one, near Miles City, Montana. The other Buffalo in the display were shot and donated by Teddy Roosevelt, on the Harriman Ranch in Wyoming.
Yellowstone Parks bison were down to 24, which were given to the Park, by the Railroad Tycoon, Harriman. He also presented the Park to the American people for $1. Maybe it was guilt, or charity, but either way, Harriman helped to protect what was left of the once abundant critters.
By 1910, Bison herds had grown to around 1,000 animals. Today Buffalo herds are still growing. Many animals are now farmed on private ranches. Native reservations have been given surplus animals for their lands.
Today there are nearly 400,000 Woodland Buffalo. The Plains Buffalo, which were much larger, are gone.
The Park Buffalo cause more injuries to tourists than all the other critters combined. The slower, often front and center Buff always seem to be more domesticated, until they are not. Make no doubt, Buffalo are huge accidents waiting to happen. Avoid them and give them plenty of space.
The good news is that there are more Buffalo today than in over a century. They will never be the massive migrating herds that they once were, but they will be protected and enjoyed by future generations.