Destruction of the buffalo truly was a senseless shame

The Great Spirit spoke again to the Kiowa:
“I have told you about the Buffalo and how he will sustain you. But I must warn you. If the Buffalo disappears, then the Kiowa will fade into the sunset.
“Never again will the Kiowa be a great nation.”
And the buffalo did disappear. Why? Because of the greed, stupidity, and general senselessness of people.
First, the “west” was open for settlement to the white immigrants and vast tracts of land were available. But the Indians were in the way.
The U.S. government decided to place the natives on reservations but most of them didn’t want to go. However, since the native nations depended a great deal on the buffalo, the government decided to eliminate a great many of the buffalo herds.
And they did, indeed. The U.S. Army shot thousands and thousands of these big animals just to reduce their numbers. Many generals and colonels reported directly to the president himself on how well they had done.
Hundreds of thousands of buffalo were killed just to get them out of the way and to deprive the natives of their way of life.
One buffalo hunter was expected to kill at least 2,000 of these big animals each year to earn his keep, so to speak.
These dead animals littered the prairie for miles and miles.
Then there were the “fads.” Buffalo tongues became a favourite and much-coveted delicacy in the cities. So buffalo were shot for their tongues alone—the rest was left to rot or be eaten by the carrion eaters—ravens, wolves, coyotes, and the like.
Whole herds were killed but only the tongues were used.
Then the fad came for buffalo robes. Everybody wanted one, so all kinds of hunters shot the animals for their skins. But most of them were not very skilful at skinning them so, again, a great many were just left to rot.
One estimate is that there were four animals left to rot for each robe taken.
But that certainly was not all of it. In the 1800s, several railways were built in the west. And one of the ways to make money was to take trainloads of “sportsmen” out to where the buffalo were.
When the train came upon a big herd, the windows were opened and the passengers could shoot buffalo—as many as they wished.
If you shot one, it just fell down and rotted away. Thousands and thousands were killed this way—just for fun!
In fact, one traveller reported that along the Arkansas River, there were dead animals for about 40 miles. The buffalo had been shot as they came to drink—again just for fun!
The revolting stench was everywhere.
And there is another thing—bones. There were millions of skeletons left on the prairie and there was more money to be made. These bones were hauled to the cities and ground up for fertilizer.
In 1862, about three million pounds of bones were carried by the railways. By 1872, this amount had risen to nearly 35 million pounds.
How many dead buffalo does that number mean?
In 1873, one railway alone carried a quarter-of-a-million robes and two-and-a-half million pounds of bones. No wonder that the buffalo had started to disappear.
In the late 1800s, the destruction began to show. In 1878, 41,000 robes were shipped to New York and Chicago. By 1883, this number was down to 6,000.
And in 1884, there were none at all.
The total number of buffalo in all of North America was down to about 7,500.
The days of the great herds were over.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on the buffalo.

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