The American Bison was called Tatanka by the Indians and buffalo by the pioneers. They are believed to have descended from Asiatic cattle that came across the land bridge. Their range covered Canada and the U.S., West coast to East coast. They’re numbers have been estimated as high as sixty million before white hunters began eradicating them. Their whole sad story is too long to completely cover here so I am only going to hit some high points.
Plains Indians depended on the buffalo for their way of life and used every part of the buffalo wasting nothing and killing only as many as they needed. The buffalo allowed them to lead the nomadic lifestyle they prized. When it became the government’s object to subdue the Indians and put them on reservations the Calvary was sent out. The Cavalry upon arriving on the frontier soon realized mounted Indians to be much better riders than themselves, and more mobile since Indians could move camp in the blink of an eye. They did not depend as did the Calvary on a supply train; they lived off of what ever was around. This left no weak link unlike the stationary farming Indians they were used to dealing with. Thus they were an enemy impossible to successfully engage in the type of direct battle the Calvary had to have to get the upper hand. As long as the Indians had food they would not have to put up with the tortured life of the reservation; they could leave anytime they wanted. It was decided that to suppress the Indians they would have to get rid of their food source and starve them out.
A market for Bison hide was invented and encouraged by the U.S. Government to rid the Indians of they’re abundant food source and way of life. The bison’s hide was supposedly denser than that of cattle so it would make longer lasting belts for all the industrial machines that were getting so abundant at this time. The hide market reached its peak around 1840 when 100,000 hides poured into the East in one year. Even with all of this the bison herds were not reduced enough; so the eating of buffalo tongues was introduced. It only takes a few well placed individuals to start a fad and start it they did. Wealthy Europeans from Russia to Rome were eating Buffalo tongue. Hunters and opportunists came West by wagon loads to kill these beasts and make a fast dollar. All they took was the hide or tongue leaving the rest to rot in the sun. Railroads blasted away the problem of transportation, hides could be dropped off at a station and the hunters could go right on hunting. Wholesale slaughters plummeted the bison population lower than ever sometimes they were just shot for fun with no intention of using any part of it. Due to their long range weapons which did not alarm the herds each hunter in good conditions could kill over 100 bison in a day. Within three years at least 2,500,000 bison were slaughtered, the greatest commercial waste in history. By 1885, when groups of bison advocates stepped forward to stop the mad killing sprees, only about 800 wild bison remained.
Needless to say, the plan worked perfectly the Indians starved and yielded to life on a reservation where they were fed “white-man’s buffalo” and not enough of them. The Indians never again knew the plenty they had had when the buffalo roamed free.
American Bison bulls grow slowly throughout their lives, some attaining weight up to 3,000 lbs. Big Joe, our buffalo came from our small, personal herd at our ranch. They came from the herd at Zapata which are supposed to be from the original wild stock that lived in this valley. Over a million buffalo are known to have once lived here. Joe was over 6’tall at the shoulder and weighs approximately 2,700 lbs. Joe was one of the largest buffalo in the world at his time!