25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts

25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts

Jacob Miller - August 6, 2017

Bison Hunting was an activity fundamental to the economy and society of the Plains Indians people who inhabited the Interior Plains of North America. The species’ dramatic decline was the result of habitat loss due to the expansion of ranching and farming, industrial-scale hunting practiced by non-indigenous hunters, increased demand for bison hides and meat, and deliberate policy by the settler governments to destroy the food source of the Native Americans during the America-Indian Wars.

In the 16th century, North American was home to 25-30 million buffalo. By the late 1880s, less than 100 remained in the wild. The bison were hunted for their skins, with the rest of the carcass left to decay. The bones were then shipped back east.

The US Army sanctioned and actively endorsed the wholesale slaughter of bison herds. The federal government promoted hunting to allow ranchers to range their cattle without competition but primarily to weaken the North American Indian population by taking away their food source to pressure them into moving to the Reservations.

Commercial hunting was the largest detriment to the bison population. An organized team of professional hunters, skinners, gun cleaners, cartridge reloaders, cooks, wranglers, blacksmiths, security guards, and wagons would head out to slaughter for profit. A hide could be sold for $3 in Dodge City, Kansas. A hide with a thick winter coat could sell for $50.

In 1889, an essay in an Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine noted that “thirty years ago millions of the great unwieldy animals existed on this continent. Innumerable droves roamed, comparatively undisturbed and unmolested, . . . Many thousands have been ruthlessly and shamefully slain every season for past twenty years or more by white hunters and tourists merely for their robes, and in sheer wanton sport, and their huge carcasses left to fester and rot, and their bleached skeletons to strew the deserts and lonely plains.”

Today, after significant efforts to preserve the bison population, it is estimated that there are 350,000 buffalo in North America. Most current herds, however, are genetically crossbred with cattle.

25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Buffalo hunters in Montana, 1882. Photos courtesy of Utah Historical Society
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Campsite of Buffalo hunters. Fort Fantom, Texas date unknown. fortphantom
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Hunters filling train carts with the bones of Bison. toni.mi.free
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Cowboys pursue bison in Butte, Montana, 1909. Library of Congress
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A wall made of buffalo skulls with a boy posing in front, for scale. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1890. erdekesvilag
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A pile of about 40,000 buffalo hides at Wright’s Buffalo Hide Yard in Dodge City, Kansas 1978 ready to be traded. erdekevilag
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Taylor County Buffalo Hunt, 1874. From William J. Oliphant’s stereographic series “Life on the Frontier.” Photography by George Robertson. Modern prints made circa 1926. Prints and Photographs Collection. allaboutbison
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Emil Oberwetter, Newton Mayfield, Henry Hoke and John Logan (left to right) skinning a buffalo. 1874 Buffalo hunt photograph collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Hunters charge at a herd, 1907. Library of Congress
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
1903, Two men over a Buffalo they have shot. By 1903 most of the Buffalo population had been decimated, this is most likely a private hunt from a ranch raised herd. old-photos
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Postcard of the buffalo hunts captioned ‘Killing cows and spikes’. Pinterest
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Buffalo were nearly wiped out by white hunters as they moved into the American west. Pictured, the carcasses of dead buffalo lying in the snow following a hunt. Daily Mail

25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A pile of bison and antlered deer skulls sit bleaching in the sun in Albany County, Wyoming, 1870. Skulls were often kept as trophies or for decoration by hunters. Daily Mail
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A herd of American bison drinking at a lake in Yellowstone National Park, 1905. Library of Congress
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Skins hung up to dry in 1926, The Hides were the most prized body parts of the hunted bison and quite often the only parts commercial hunters took. Daily Mail
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Geronimo skinning a buffalo after a hunt, circa 1900. Photo- Keystone View Co., Museum Of New Mexico, Neg. No. 89405. magazine.wildlife.state.nm
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A man holds a rifle on top of a dead bison in an 1897 print titled Glory enough for one day’s hunt. Library of Congress
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Buffalo Skinners at work. Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Bison hunting in Yellowstone, date unspecified. New York Public Library
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A Teton Native American performs the Hu Kalowa Pi ceremony with a bison skull, 1907. Edward Curtis
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Buffalo hunt south of Hays, Kansas in 1869 includes George Armstrong Custer, Hill P. Wilson, Captain Tom Custer, and General Samuel D. Sturgis, 1869. legendsofkansas
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
A herd in Montana, 1909. Library of Congress
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
South Dakota, 1911. New York Public Library
25 Photos of the Wanton North American Bison Hunts
Today, because of aggressive conservation efforts, the American bison population has rebounded to approximately 500,000. Pictured- Bison roam the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2001. David McNew: Getty Images

 

Sources For Further Reading:

Nature – 6 Furry Facts and History about the Iconic American Bison

NY Times – Historians Revisit Slaughter On The Plains

All About Bison – Bison Timeline

The Canadian Encyclopedia – Buffalo Hunt

The Wildlife News – Indian Culpability in Bison Demise

Smithsonian Magazine – Where the Buffalo No Longer Roamed

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