How Many Bison Were Killed During Westward Expansion?

After the animals were eradicated, he said, the Indians would be under control and civilisation would advance. The three to four million bison that had roamed the southern plains were now extinct.

An increase in murders

When Indians obtained horses and firearms from Europeans, the slaughter of bison intensified, but it wasn’t until white settlers arrived that the slaughter of bison really started. Two to three million bison were killed for their hides and shipped to Eastern markets, according to George Catlin, a Western artist, in just the first 30 years of the 19th century. Hunters, or “runners,” as they called themselves, brutally pursued the bison, leaving the meat to fester on the plains in exchange for the precious hides.

Almost Extinct & Recovering

There there were tens of millions of American bison (Bison bison) roaming the majority of North America. The bison’s abundance made it essential to Native American culture because every element of the animal contributed for their way of life. Native Americans hunted bison on foot before horses and gunpowder were introduced to North America. One tactic was herding groups of dozens or even hundreds of animals off cliffs, where they would perish. A single “leap” might feed a tribe for an entire year and provide materials for clothes, shelter, tools, and other necessities.

The U.S. Army launched a mission to eradicate Native American tribes from the landscape when European Americans populated the west in the 1800s by eliminating their primary food source: bison. U.S. soldiers and market hunters killed hundreds of thousands of bison. The massive bison herds that previously dominated the landscape were all but extinct by the late 1880s. Private ranches provided shelter for certain animals. In the Yellowstone region, there were only a few hundred bison left, and they spent the winter in Pelican Valley.

The administrators of Yellowstone set out to restore the bison population in one of the earliest initiatives to protect and conserve a wild species. They bought 21 bison from individual landowners in 1902 and nurtured them in Mammoth before moving them to the famed Lamar Buffalo Ranch. These creatures eventually mingled with the park’s free-ranging populace, and by 1954, there were about 1,300 of them.

There there were millions of wild buffalo in the American West. Bison inhabited the continent from Mexico to Canada long before humanity arrived.

According to scientists, bison crossed a land bridge from Asia to North America. The bison, which are herbivores, adapted to the Eastern woods and the Great Plains by feeding on the abundant grasses there.

Although “bison” and “buffalo” are frequently used synonymously in the United States, bison is the more appropriate term because “buffalo” actually refers to animals from Africa and Asia, including the cape and water buffalo.

Bison are ungainly-looking animals that may weigh up to 2,400 pounds and stand approximately six feet tall at the shoulder. However, they are remarkably agile. In fact, when rushing to defend their young or when people approach too closely, bison may run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Their shaggy heads are made for pushing snow aside to reach the vegetation below, and their large shoulders enable them to plow through heavy snow.

The plight of the Native Americans in the American West is intertwined with the history of the buffalo. The abundance of bison led to the settlement of Indian tribes on these same pastures centuries later. Native Americans learned to rely on bison for a variety of needs, including food, clothing, housing, and religious observance. They utilized practically all of the animal, including the horns, flesh, and hair from the tail.

Native Americans acquired the ability to ride horses by the 1800s, greatly increasing their hunting territory. But after the introduction of weapons by white trappers and traders, millions more buffalo were killed for their hides. By the middle of the 19th century, bison were being shot for amusement even by train passengers. In two years, “Buffalo” Bill Cody, who was contracted to hunt bison, killed more over 4,000 of them. His Wild West Show, which was immensely popular in both the United States and Europe, made use of bison as a focal point to convey the exhilaration of the American West to those who had little previous exposure to it.

In order to overcome their Native American adversaries who resisted having their territories taken over by white immigrants, certain U.S. government officials purposefully destroyed bison, which made circumstances worse for the wild buffalo. Commanders in the American military gave the order to kill buffalo in order to deny Native Americans a crucial source of food.

To produce new wild herds, biologist William Hornaday founded the American Bison Society in 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt convinced Congress to create a number of wildlife preserves, and the Society was able to stock a number of preserves and parks with the aid of a group of private bison owners. This group added to the herd of roughly 20 bison that was already residing in the recently established Yellowstone National Park.

Bison populations were regulated by the park and kept to 397 bison until 1967. After that year, the National Park Service changed its management strategy to minimal management, and no disease control or killing was carried out. The population increased and reached a high of over 4,000 in the 1990s. Over 3,000 animals make up the Yellowstone herd as of right now. Many people believe it to be the last herd of wild bison left in the country.

In North America, there are currently between 150,000 and 200,000 bison, but the great majority are raised on ranches for economic purposes (mostly for meat, hides and skulls).

The nineteenth century is largely responsible for the decline of the buffalo. Predation (by humans and wolves), sickness, fires, climate, competition from horses, the market, and other variables all had an impact on the size of the herds. There were frequent grassland fires, which occasionally killed and maimed buffaloes. For grasses, Indian herds of millions of horses fought one other. Drought was arguably the most important factor; it was severe in the fourteenth century, intermittent in the eighteenth, and may have been at its worst in the early years of the decades from 1840 to 1880, when other pressures were converging.

Despite this, the commodities markets for buffalo meat, hides, and robes as well as the railroads, which supplied transportation to the rapidly growing populations of European Americans, were what ultimately didomed the buffalo.

The final stage, from 1867 to 1884, was famous for the ferocity of the slaughter for hides and other products, and is once more predominantly a story from the nineteenth century. The first of five railroads, which were built in all, separated the herd in 1867 in the center of the buffalo area. Buffalo Bill Cody and other scavengers, as well as hunters, farmers, and ranchers who flocked to the grasslands for their livestock and crops, all increased pressure on bison. Market hunters descended in droves as a result of the railways’ easy and inexpensive ability to transport buffalo hides, squandering three to five times as many animals as they killed. 4-5 million people were killed in just three years due to the carnage caused by herds that had already been reduced by other factors. By the fall of 1883, the commercial hunt was over.

Indians who were imprisoned on reservations and suffering from famine participated in the Piegan until “the tail of the last buffalo” vanished. In 1884, the last cargo of hides was made. The majority of the buffalo had died, so bone collectors gathered all the bones they could locate and shipped them to the east where they were processed into phosphate fertilizer.

Millions of the large, awkward animals were present on this continent thirty years ago. Numerous herds wandered, largely unmolested and undisturbed,… White hunters and tourists have been slaughtering numerous thousands of Native Americans every season for the past twenty years or more, solely for their robes and for pure entertainment. Their enormous carcasses were left to fester and rot, and their bleached skeletons were scattered across the deserts and desolate plains.

J. F. Baltimore’s “In the Prime of the Buffalo” November 1889, The Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine

One hundred years later, the buffalo has recovered from the verge of extinction and is once more able to roam the grasslands in Yellowstone and other places. Their fate beyond Yellowstone is uncertain, but Indian people have banded together in a cooperative effort to save animals straying from Yellowstone from the rifle, and to raise viable herds of this once-vital and now highly symbolic animal. Farmers fear them for diseases like brucellosis that they might carry to cattle herds. However, it is no accident that many Indians today refer to casinos rather than the buffalo when they talk about the changing economy.

Why were bison exterminated?

One of the most recognizable creatures in North America is the bison. The United States’ Great Plains were home to millions of bison before the 1800s, but by the late 1880s, they were all but extinct.

Due to the high price of bison hides, man hunted them in great numbers. Additionally, they were hunted to ease railroad congestion and take away an important Native American food supply.

Extremely large quantities of bison were killed. If you want to learn why bison nearly became extinct, keep reading.

Large wild animals of the genus Bison and subfamily Bovinae are known as bison. There are currently just two species of remaining bison. The larger and more numerous of the two species is the American bison.

Many people confuse the two animals, with some even calling American bison buffalo. However, buffalo are a distinct species that are found throughout South Asia and Africa.

When was the last bison killed in the wild?

In Oklahoma County, the final buffalo (American bison) was slain in March 1876. After that, the animals were hardly ever sighted east of the Chisholm Trail.

According to the 1877 report of the commissioner for Indian affairs, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians acquired 7,000 robes during the fall and winter of 1876–1877 for an average trade value of $5 per person. Additionally, 15,000 robes worth $2 apiece were tanned for traders.

During the same period, approximately 5,000 buffalo robes were acquired by Wichita Agency Indians. In July 1877, a herd of buffalo thought to number 40,000 was spotted traveling along the North Canadian between Camp Supply and the future location of Woodward. The herd was encircled by Indian and white hunters even though it wasn’t the right time of year to hunt for robes.

The following season, with only modest success, the Cheyennes, Arapahos, Commanches, Kiowas, and Plains Apaches returned to the western portion of the area to hunt buffalo. After the hunt, the Cheyennes and Arapahos only had 219 robes to exchange.

The buffalo hunt the following year (1878–1879) was essentially a failure, with the Indians bringing back few robes and little meat. On the Southern Great Plains, that was the final widespread buffalo hunt.

According to J.B., the last wild buffalo in Oklahoma, a lonesome old bull, was slain in October 1890 at Cold Springs in Beaver County (now Cimarron). “The History of Oklahoma” by Thoburn (pub. 1916).


What impact did the westward migration have on buffalo?

In order to deprive the Indians of food, army commanders operating in the West frequently tried to push them off of desired territory by slaughtering the buffalo. Hunters murdered 9 million buffalo in just three years, from 1872 to 1875, typically just removing the skin and discarding the body.

In the 1800s, why were bison killed?

There there were millions of wild buffalo in the American West. Bison inhabited the continent from Mexico to Canada long before humanity arrived.