The grisly business of buffalo bones


32 Responses to “The grisly business of buffalo bones”

  1. John Rudy says:

    Wolfram Alpha does historical currency calculation pretty reliably:

  2. funkyderek says:


  3. Andrew S says:

    I live in Manitoba, we see the paintings at our Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature of what the plains used to look like with thousands of buffalo roaming. It is a shame that humanity has such high disregard for nature.

    • David Cannon says:

       You mean the Manitoba Museum? (minus the sexist parts, now). I’m just old enough to remember the old name as well, but still.

      Back to bison. I grew up in the extreme south-west corner of Manitoba near the border with North Dakota. Two interesting notes about the area: you can still see the remains of much earlier indigenous ‘buffalo’ jumps, including one that I know of near my old stomping grounds, all over the ravines and valleys near the Souris River (not to mention a lot of burial mounds, and the occasional stone point); and, there is a modern wild plains bison herd on protected land in Riding Mountain National Park, several hours north of my hometown area.

      I cannot express in words how gorgeous Riding Mountain is, and it’s one of the few places you can see a wild herd of bison.

  4. gwailo_joe says:

    I always wondered why the buffalo hide was such a commodity back in the day…the trapping and almost complete eradication of beaver made sense: beaver hats.

    But the fashionable ladies of New york and Baltimore weren’t wearing full on bison robes…were they?

    Then, this quote from The Mark Inside by Amy Reading (a bb recommendation!):

    “When tanners learned to turn buffalo hides into strong leather for use as industrial belting in steam engines in the 1870′s, the fate of the buffalo was sealed: the Industrial Revolution literally as well as metaphorically drove the buffalo to extinction”

  5. Navin_Johnson says:

    Of course, a bonus to all this was that this made things tough for Native Americans.

    Some U.S. government officials even promoted the destruction of the bison herds as a way to defeat their Native American enemies, who were resisting the takeover of their lands by white settlers. One Congressman, James Throckmorton of Texas, believed that “it would be a great step forward in the civilization of the Indians and the preservation of peace on the border if there was not a buffalo in existence.” Soon, military commanders were ordering their troops to kill buffalo — not for food, but to deny Native Americans their own source of food. One general believed that buffalo hunters “did more to defeat the Indian nations in a few years than soldiers did in 50.”

  6. they are properly called bison not buffalo

  7. Amorette says:

    I live in eastern Montana.  The locals were picking up bison bones well into the Dirty Thirties.  They were just piled up with the bones of the other animals, domestic and wild, that died in those drought years.  
    The stink from hundreds of dead bison rotting across the plains was, I gather, quite impressive.

  8. xzzy says:

    And once all the buffalo were gone, the cows showed up en masse, imported from europe. 

    Sometimes when I’m driving through the western part of the US, I wonder what it would be like to see ranchers move away from cattle and switch back to the native buffalo. Would buffalo fare better? Or are cattle an “improved” model?

    There’s a handful of buffalo ranches out there but they’re “botique” enterprises. Nothing compared to the hundreds of miles of cattle ranges you witness as you drive through Wyoming or Montana. 

    • Peaked says:

      Having had delicious, delicious bison meat on a few occasions, I would certainly love to see more ranchers switch to the native fauna. It’s quite a bit leaner than beef, too.

    • Ryan_T_H says:

      One of the best features of cows (from a rancher’s point of view) is that they are predictably stupid. With the emphasis on predictable. Its easy to know what a cow is going to do in any given sitiuation. Bison are unpredictably stupid, which is an entirely different thing.

      I love how they taste but I’d hate to raise them.

      • jhoosier says:

        I think Ryan gets at why we don’t see more bison ranchers.  Could you imagine trying to put up a fence that would keep bison in?  And then running it over a large enough area for them to live in?

        I’d bet, though, that given a few decades of selective breeding, we could produce buffalo stupid enough to be raised like cows.  But then, would they be as delicious?

  9. Sparrow says:

    Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

  10. joe k. says:

    “Half-breed” — denoting mixed Native American and European heritage — at least among Native communities, is not as derogatory as it used to be. And the presence of a dirt-poor “half-breed” people scouring the plains for whatever scant remnants is its own interesting history. I guess hard times really bring people together.

    I grew up in Southern California, and half of my white classmates were of Okie descent — dust-bowl refugees — and almost all of them had some kind of Cherokee/Choctaw/ other Native ancestry. Of course, Cherokees were/are a southern tribe who were relocated to the  plains at gunpoint during the Trail of Tears. Judging by the number of dirty-blond haired Cherokees I’ve met, they were quite a randy bunch.

    Prior to that, it was common for tribes all up and down the eastern seaboard, whose populations had plummeted from disease, to adopt other people into their numbers: escaped and/or emancipated slaves, white indentured servants and orphans etc. More than a few cases of white people simply defecting from the horribly stifling culture of the time.

    Race and American history is quite intertwined and very different than you would first think judging by the rhetoric we use to describe it.

    • Felton / Moderator says:

      I’m descended from those part-Cherokee/Choctaw Okie dust-bowl denizens myself, although my family didn’t get out of Oklahoma until some time in the 50′s.

  11. mexicomaine says:

    “Judging by the number of dirty-blond haired Cherokees I’ve met, they were quite a randy bunch.”

    Um, you’re saying that the fact that the Cherokee had mixed race children, after being forced to move halfway across the continent and assimilate with white culture, means that the Cherokee are extra horny?!?!

    This is so wack, I don’t know what to say except that I hope you seize this as a learning moment.  Let’s assume your heart’s in the right place, and it’s just time to examine the racist stereotype of the oversexed native/negro and take it out of your personal repertoire.  I mean, you wouldn’t have said, “Judging by the number of dirty-blond haired Cherokees I’ve met, THE EUROPEANS were quite a randy bunch.”  Right?  Think about why that is.  

    Merely having offspring does not make the Cherokees any more horny than any other race.  

    Okay, now that that’s out of the way, you also might want to consider the high rate of rape of American Indian women (even still today).  Think of the mixed-race descendants of enslaved African women.  We know rape of enslaved women was common.  We don’t see the mixed-race descendants today as evidence that African women slaves were extra-horny.  Well, rape of American Indian women is tragically common, too.  Please do not misunderstand – that is not to say that all the mixed race offspring are from rape.  It’s to say that the blond Cherokee you mention are not evidence that the Cherokee are especially horny.  They are merely evidence that Cherokee and Europeans procreated.

  12. JIMWICh says:

    > Animal bones were useful things in the
    > 19th century. Dried and charred, they
    > produced a substance called bone black.

    But bone black is still useful and produced today.  For example, there’s the Ebonex Corporation.

    • JIMWICh says:

       Also, if I were running the Ebonex Corporation, its themsong would be a slightly modified version of Malcolm McLaren’s “Double Dutch”…

      Hey Ebo-… Ebo, Ebonex
           Bah-bah bah bah-bah..
      Hey Ebo-… Ebo, Ebonex
           Bah-bah bah bah-bah..
      Hey Ebo-… Ebo, Ebonex
           Bah-bah bah bah-bah..

  13. ashabot says:

    Sad and ghoulish business.  These poor creatures are the victims of a holocaust. I would no more want to showcase their bones than I would the bones of children killed in a gulag.

  14. benher says:

    Manifest Destiny – it’s also the name of the trophy you get in the PS3 version of “Red Dead Redemption” when you kill every buffalo/bison in the game. 

  15. Morgan Heath says:

    If you’re going to call them bison, you might as well stop calling tortoises “turtles” as well.

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