Vast numbers of bison used to roam continent

The Great Spirit spoke to the Kiowa.
And he said, “Behold the Buffalo. He will supply you with food and raiment and shelter. But more than that—he will supply all that you need.”
And so it was. The Kiowa ate the meat of the buffalo. They dried the meat in the summer so they could have meat all winter.
They used the skin to make leggings, shirts, and coats, as well as tepees and tents. They used the whole robe of the buffalo to make heavy blankets for the winter.
Rawhide was used to make ropes and saddles. Hoofs were boiled to make glue, horns made spoons and ladles, while bones were turned into tools and runners for sleds.
Even tails were used as flyswatters. Nothing was wasted.
In 1871, Col. Dodge watched a herd of buffalo in Arkansas. He figured that the herd was about 25 miles wide and 50 miles long, and guessed that the herd would amount to about 10 or 20 million animals.
And this was only one of many herds in North America at that time.
The buffalo formed the greatest throng of animals the world had ever seen. Scientists estimate that the original numbers ranged from about 25 million to about 100 million or more.
They covered a very large part of North America, all the way from Mexico to northern Canada, and from Oregon and California to Virginia, the Carolinas, and the New England states.
I have no record at all of any ever being in Northern Ontario.
The buffalo was the largest animal in North America. A bull could be about 12 feet long and stand six feet at the shoulder.
The usual weight of the bull was about a ton—2,000 pounds or so. But some went up to a ton-and-a-half or more.
Cows were quite a bit smaller. And the hind quarters on all of them were quite a bit narrower.
The buffalo has a sort of hunched back and a shaggy mane.
Both males and females have horns, which can be up to two feet in length. The horns grow from the side of the head, and are not shed like the deer family.
Colour of all of these animals is brown—from a dark chocolate colour to a fairly light yellowish.
Buffalo lived on grass and low-growing plants. So they always were grazing unless they were going somewhere.
They were nearly always on the move—in search of new pasture lands. The movement was almost always north and south.
In the early spring, they would move leisurely toward the north, and in the fall the other way.
Bull bison are fairly disagreeable—they get into angry dust-ups with other bulls. They have very good hearing and smell but poor eyesight, which may have quite a bit to do with it.
The breeding season is in the early summer, and males can get into long, long battles at this time—not only hours but days!
At the end of this rutting season, a bull usually will end up with a harem of about 20 cows.
Gestation takes around nine months and calves run after their mother in a day or two. And they start eating grass in a couple of weeks.
The average lifespan of a buffalo is about 20 years, although some live to almost 40.
When the herd is on the move, it usually meanders along as the animals graze, at a slow walk. But there are times when the herd decides to gallop and that is not time to be in front of them—they gallop at about 30 miles an hour!
The herd in stampede mode is greatly to be feared—hundreds of thousands of great big animals in one huge charging mass.
Well, there were millions of these animals in the early days of exploration on this continent. But by the late 1800s, there only were a few thousand left.
What happened?
Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series.

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