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Posts Tagged ‘Buffalo’

Be They Buffalo or Bison, They’ve No Place to Roam

Posted by Laurie Frost on October 20, 2009

Rath & Wright’s buffalo hide yard in 1878, showing 40,000 buffalo hides, Dodge City, Kansas. ARC Identifier 520093

A collection of buffalo, elk, deer, mountain sheep and wolf skulls and bones near Fort Sanders, Albany County, Wyoming, 1870. ARC Identifier 516956

When I was looking for National Park images, I came across the shocking pictures above. I hadn’t grasped how intensively the species was hunted in the nineteenth century, but according to the Nature Conservancy, by the early twentieth century, “less than 100 free-roaming bison remained in the world,” when once millions of these creatures, the largest land mammals on the North American continent, could be found coast to coast.  Conservation efforts prevented the extinction of the species, and numbers have increased, but the American Prairie Foundation notes that because of cross breeding with cattle, “of the 500,000 bison alive today, fewer than 7,000 are non-hybridized.” It considers the species “ecologically extinct.”

Blackfoot Indians chasing buffalo, Three Buttes, Montana, 1853. ARC Identifier 531080

The Plains Indians hunted the buffalo (while buffalo is probably the more widely used word, technically, the species is Bison bison, and so some prefer to call them bison), but the differences between them and the newcomers to the hunt are significant. One big difference: guns. And Indians generally — but not always — as Shepard Kreech explains in “Buffalo Tales: The Near-Extermination of the American Bison” on a  National Humanities Center webpage, used every part of their prey they could, unlike the settlers who killed herds to sell their hides on to distant traders.

Arapaho camp with buffalo meat drying near Fort Dodge, Kansas, 1870. ARC Identifier 518892

Kreech begins his overview of the role of the buffalo in the Plains Indians lives by noting that they ate

an incredible variety of bison parts: meat, fat, organs, testicles, nose gristle, nipples, blood, milk, marrow, fetus.But the buffalo represented more than food. For many it provided over one hundred specific items of material culture. Day or night, Plains Indians could not ever have been out of sight, touch, or smell of some buffalo product. It was the era’s Wal-Mart.

Distributing buffalo hides, ca. 1936. ARC Identifier 285666 The creator of this picture is listed in the bibliographic record as Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Rosebud Agency. The Rosebud Reservation, part of the Sioux Nation, is in South Dakota.

Hides with and without fur on were used for clothing, moccasins, bedding, and tipi covers. Other parts and their uses included:

  • Hair: ropes, stuffing, yarn
  • Sinew: thread, bowstrings, snowshoe webbing
  • Horns: arr ow points, bow parts, ladles & spoons cups, containers
  • Brains: to soften skins
  • Fat: paint base
  • Dung: fuel, to polish stone
  • Teeth: ornaments
  • Paunch & Large Intestine: containers
  • Penis: glue
  • Compare this to the meaningless slaughter of buffalo from trains:

    ”]Illus. in: Harpers Weekly, v. 2 (1867), p. 792.

    Illus. in: Harper’s Weekly, v. 2 (1867), p. 792. [LC-cph 3b08935]

    or the hunter interested in the securing the largest numbers of hides he could:

    Illus. in: Harpers Weekly, 1874 Dec. 12, v. 18, no. 937. LC-USZ62-55602

    Illus. in: Harper's Weekly, 1874 Dec. 12, v. 18, no. 937. LC-USZ62-55602

    Image with the identifier prefix ARC are from the National Archives; those with LC, the Library of Congress.

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    Another Day on the Assassination Vacation

    Posted by Laurie Frost on August 1, 2009

    When we left Sarah Vowell she was visiting the grave of James Garfield and on the way to William McKinley’s in Canton, Ohio, which she describes as “a gray granite nipple on a fresh green breast of grass.” The website for his home, now the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, has copyright notices, but the mausoleum is a national historic landmark, and I found this on a National Park Service webpage.mckinley2

    McKinley was in his second term of office when he was assassinated by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in the Temple of Music, now, along with all but one of the event’s buildings, demolished. But pictures and movies remain. Vowell notes that the Library of Congress has some reels of film by Thomas Edison of the Exposition, and among these is a re-enactment of Czolgosz’s execution in the electric chair.  Here’s a link. (Did you know that the electric chair was first used at New York State’s Auburn Prison in 1890? This is the kind of thing Sarah Vowell knows.)

    Beckitemscredit: NPS

    For Vowell, the essence of the exposition’s spirit — and of the McKinley administration — is well illustrated by the logo for the event, the allegorical picture of blond North America and brunette South America:

    Their handshake takes place in Central America on the future site of the Panama Canal. Miss South America smiles, unaware that two years later, the U.S. Navy would swoop in and hack her arm off at the elbow so that cargo ships could sail through the blood of her severed stump.

    In the logo, most of the United States and Canada is blanketed in Miss North America’s billowy yellow dress. But one delicate foot pokes out of the southeastern edge, shaped like the state of Florida, as if she’s poised to step on Cuba.

    When the Spanish reportedly blew up the battleship Maine, an initially reluctant McKinley — and an eager vice-president Theodore Roosevelt — found themselves at war in Cuba (Guantanamo Bay is a relic of this Spanish-American War). Vowell finds the optional wars of their time have quite a lot in common with those of ours; considering the Maine monument at the southwest entrance to Central Park is her occasion to recall these lessons unlearned.


    credit: Library of Congress LC-B2-2694-9

    Now back to McKinley’s assassination. He lived eight days, and since initially he appeared to be improving, Theodore Roosevelt saw no reason not to go hiking in a fairly remote area of the Adriondacks.3b21880r









    Left: Lake Tear-in-the-Clouds, Adirondack Mountains, where Roosevelt ate lunch the day before he became president [credit: LC 11134-3].   Right:  Vowell, an eager urban walker but a miserable mountain hiker, says that the Tawhaus Lodge where Roosevelt’s family was staying looks well-maintained today, not that she is eager to hike back up there [credit: LC-D4-16785].

    By morning September 13, 1901, it was obvious that the president was dying. A ranger reached the vice-president’s party that afternoon with the news. McKinley was dead by 2:30 the following morning, but it would be 3:30 in the afternoonof the 14th, after a rough night of hard riding down dark mountain roads, before Roosevelt took the oath of office in Buffalo.

    In Buffalo, Vowell visits the home of Roosevelt’s buddy Ansley Wilcox, now known as the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, where the oath of office was administered in its library.

    116259prcredit: LC-HABS NY,15-BUF,12-2

    librarycredit: NPS


    And here we have the memorial to McKinley in downtown Buffalo, New York, or, as Sarah Vowell calls it, “the-sorry-you-got-shafted shaft” [credit: LC-D4-70292].

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