Friday, September 18, 2015

The American Bison

Nʉmʉ kuutsu. Hotoa'e. Tatanka. 

Each a native name for what we know as the American Bison.

The Buffalo.

Wild and regal, its story is intricately woven in the folds of American history.  In the early eighteen hundreds, over fifty million head of buffalo roamed North America, providing essential substance for the tribes of the great plains.  By the end of the nineteenth century, after half a century of westward expansion, only an estimated one thousand remained.

Why were buffalo so important to the plains tribes? Without the buffalo, the plains people could not survive. After a hunt, no part of the buffalo went to waste. Fresh meat was cooked, and what couldn't be eaten was dried and made into jerky or pemmican (dried meat, fat, berries and/or seeds). Hides were used for clothing, shelter, bags, saddles and much more. Tails were used as fly swatters and the hair used for ornaments, pillows, halters and ropes. Horns made great cups, powder horns and ladles. Stomachs were often used as cooking bowls (can you imagine??) and other dishes. There were many uses they found for buffalo parts, and I can't begin to touch on them all, but it's absolutely fascinating how this one animal provided them with all they needed.

Because of conservation efforts, and the rise of buffalo as livestock, the majestic animals once again have a spot on the American landscape. Today, there are approximately two hundred thousand bison on private lands, thirty thousand on public land and fifteen thousand considered wild, free-range bison. (International Union for Conservation of Nature). All pictures on this post come from the herd at Custer State Park in South Dakota.

Buffalo Fun Facts:

1) They can weigh up to two thousand pounds.
2) Despite their heft, they can run at an impressive forty miles per hour.
3) They are herbivores that can eat up to sixty pounds of grass and food a day.
4) Their average life expectancy is twelve-twenty years, but they can live up to thirty years.
5) Though we widely refer to American bison as buffalo, true buffalo only live in Asia and Africa.


  1. Very informative post Leah. Such majestic creatures. Charles Goodnight and his wife Mary were so taken with the Buffalo they kept a herd on their Texas ranch. In their own way in the 18 through the early 1900's they helps preserve this magnificent creatures. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

    1. It's said that part of that herd still exists, but now I want to research it more!

  2. I'm so glad that they have recovered from near extinction! They are fascinating creatures. I think it would be absolutely amazing to actually hear them running, their hooves pounding across the plains.
    Really enjoyed reading about them!

    1. I think about the buffalo stampede scene in Dances with Wolves, and I'm sure that only fractionally as impressive as when they naturally roamed. To go back in time and witness one (but from afar)...

  3. Very interesting post about some fascinating animals. I enjoyed reading it.