With the cultural appropriation of the horse, Indians grew to become efficient predators of the West’s bison herds.


It’s typically repeated over and over that business looking by white sharp shooters led to the demise of the massive western bison herds.

Nevertheless, there may be a lot of proof that Indian bison looking led to the demise of the nice bison herds and a decline in massive mammals elsewhere. An identical lower in bison occurred in Canada, with herds extirpated by the 1870s.

Nevertheless, some of one of the best proof for Indian extirpation will be present in Southeast Idaho and adjoining areas the place by 1840 bison had been extirpated. This was lengthy earlier than there was any important white settlement or business bison looking.

What occurred?

Business disguise looking within the 1870s was the ultimate nail within the coffin. Nonetheless, by that point, bison numbers had been already diminished and even extirpated from many areas the place they had been as soon as ample just some many years earlier.

A 1999 New York Instances article reported a brief overview of bison’s decline. For a extra in-depth evaluate, see my piece Indian Culpability in Bison Demise.

The concept that Indian looking contributed to substantial bison decline is reiterated and documented by different authors like historian Dan Flores in his ebook American Serengeti who alludes to the decline of bison properly earlier than the 1870s bison disguise looking period.

Numerous different authors additionally famous the early destruction of bison. These embrace the next authors: Jim Bailey inAmerican Plains Bison Rewilding an Icon, Andrew Isenberg’s The Destruction of the Bison, Douglas Department The Looking of the Buffalo, and Allen Asaphi Historical past of the American Bison all present background on the bison decline.

There have been a number of components contributing to bison decline, together with local weather change. The Little Ice Age ended within the 1800s, which resulted in drier situations throughout the West. The ensuing lower in moisture led to a discount in grass manufacturing and, thus, bison carrying capability.

At the very least one writer speculates that illnesses launched from home livestock in Texas cattle drives contributed to bison decline, however this was once more late within the recreation, lengthy after bison had been already extirpated from quite a few elements of their former vary. .

Barbour notes in his ebook that bison decline was already being famous by the 1830s which is lengthy earlier than both business disguise looking or Texas cattle drives. He quotes Captain Raynolds, who had performed an enormous circuit of the prime bison grounds within the northern Plains between 1859-1860 lamented that the bison can be extinct in a technology.


By the 1750s most plains tribes had horses and adopted a cell bison looking lifeway. Charlie Russell portray. 

Nevertheless, maybe probably the most essential issue in regards to the tribal contribution to bison decline was the introduction of the horse. By the 1750s, most tribes within the northern Rockies and northern Nice Plains had acquired Spanish horses both via commerce or by stealing them from different tribes.

With the adoption of the cell horse life-style, many tribes converged on the plains to hunt bison. Regardless of the assertions that these tribes had lived of their current location since “time immemorial,” practically all Native American tribes related to the Nice Plains, are current immigrants from different elements of North America.

The Cheyenne, within the 1600s lived close to the Nice Lakes, drifted westward, and had been absolutely cell bison hunters by the 1800s once they colonized a portion of the Wyoming plains. Equally, the Crow had origins in Ohio however, over time, had been dwelling as farmers alongside the Missouri River in what’s now North Dakota. The Shoshone drifted northwards from Mexico to occupy Idaho and adjoining elements of Wyoming and Montana. The Blackfeet originated someplace on the jap half of Canada and had been dwelling on the prairies of Saskatchewan by the 1700s. The Comanche, an off-shoot of the Shoshone, moved southwards from Wyoming to occupy Texas, Oklahoma and adjoining areas.

As soon as these tribes obtained horses, they gave up the sedentary life-style for bison looking and moved into the Decrease Yellowstone River Valley and adjoining Huge Horn Basin. Different tribes, together with the Arapaho, Sioux, Blackfeet, and Gros Ventre, all adopted the standard plains Indian bison looking tradition on the northern Nice Plains to hunt bison.

The Nez Perce, who resided within the Columbia Basin of Oregon and Washington, made annual journeys throughout the Bitterroot Mountains to hunt bison. The Flathead, Pend d Oreille, Shoshone, Bannock, and Ute from the Intermountain West, additionally hunted bison regionally in Southeast Idaho and in a while the plains.

At one level, tons of of hundreds of tribal folks converged on the Nice Plains and surrounding bison ranges to have interaction in bison looking.

Map from William Hornaday in 1889 exhibiting the gradual decline within the distribution of bison in North America. The gentle pink represents the utmost vary of bison, and the concentric darker traces mark the gradual vary shrinkage over time.  Word that by 1838 Hornaday says bison had been extinct in what’s now Idaho, northern Utah and adjoining areas of Wyoming and Montana. 

Though Lewis and Clark reported massive herds of bison on their journey up the Missouri River in 1805, as soon as past the Three Forks of the Missouri, close to the city of the identical title in Montana, they didn’t encounter one other bison. From that time on, there have been no extra bison on their journey west to the Pacific Ocean, together with within the Higher Salmon River of Idaho or Bitterroot Valley of Montana. There are numerous theories on why bison weren’t discovered additional West, however suffice to say that in historic instances, bison had been primarily discovered on the Nice Plains, and in a couple of bigger valleys simply west of the Continental Divide in Southwest Montana, Southeast Idaho, western Wyoming and northern Utah.


Fort Union on the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers grew to become a serious focus of the Indian bison disguise commerce attributable to the truth that the heavy bison hides might be simply transported downstream on boats. Karl Bodmer portray.

Bison decline was famous by some merchants alongside the Missouri River as early as 1800. Prince Maximilian, who visited Fort Union in 1834 on the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, famous: “Wild beasts and other animals whose skins are valuable in the fur trade, have already diminished greatly in number along the river, and it is said that in another ten years, the fur trade will be very inconsiderable.”  He says: “There is a park ten miles from Fort Union where I was told there were great numbers of the bones of these animals (bison). On such occasions, the Indians sometimes kill 700 or 800 buffaloes.”

The quantity of bison hides shipped east yearly from buying and selling posts all through the plains was monumental.

For instance, between 1874 and 1877, between 80,000 to 100,000 buffalo robes had been shipped from Fort Benton in Montana yearly, with 12,000 hides had been contributed by the Blackfeet tribe alone. This was a interval when the northern plains had been nonetheless in management of the Indians, with only some white merchants dwelling amongst them.


The acquisition of the horse reworked Indian society. The horse elevated mobility and looking effectivity. The Shoshone, Nez Perce, Flathead, and Bannock tribes had been among the many first to acquire horses which had been obtained initially from Spanish settlements in New Mexico. By 1720 these tribes had horses. Different tribes on the northern plains didn’t obtain the horse till the late 1700s. Lewis and Clark famous Spanish bridles on the horses of the Shoshone Indians they met close to Lemhi Move on the Idaho-Montana border.

Map exhibiting the unfold of horses northward with the earliest acquisition by the Shoshone, Flathead, Bannock and Nez Perce within the early 1700s. 

The place formerally, Indians killed bison by luck when the celebrities lined up proper for them to push them over a cliff or when deep snow mired the bison so hunters may strategy them to kill them, however bison underneath assault from hunters often ran away.

This evolutionary predator avoidance technique labored when human hunters had been on foot however failed miserably when hunters had been mounted on a horse that might outrun the bison.

Previous to the introduction of the horse, Indian bison looking required particular circumstances for fulfillment. Driving them over cliffs or creeping up shut sufficient to kill them with bows and arrows restricted the quantity of animals that might be successfully slaughtered. George Catlin portray. 

In essence, mounted hunters had been a brand new and efficient bison predator. This new predator state of affairs lasted solely a couple of century, from the late 1700s to 1870s, nevertheless, bison didn’t have time to evolve new predator avoidance methods earlier than they had been extinct.

Compounding the brand new skill of people to kill bison, Indians most well-liked to kill cow bison, whose meat was tastier and whose hides had been softer and simpler to tan. Thus, selective looking of cow bison disproportionally eliminated a good portion of the reproductive phase of the inhabitants. As fashionable wildlife managers know, if you wish to cut back the general inhabitants of any recreation animal, kill the females.

A whole bunch of hundreds of Indians lived or hunted bison on the plains. It’s estimated they wanted 20-25 bison per particular person for teepees, meals, and different private wants.

Bison had been killed for meals, shelter (teepees) winter bedding, and many different functions. One estimate is that every individal Indian consumed 20-25 bison yearly for these purpoes. Thus throughout the plains hundreds of thousands of bison had been killed for direct Indian consumption and this doesn’t depend the bison wounded or just killed and left the place they died.

Bison was not solely the principal meals merchandise for a lot of tribes, however by the 1800s, bison hides had grow to be a useful commerce merchandise that enabled Indians to acquire items that they desired and, generally, couldn’t produce themselves like steel pots, knives, axes, wool blankets, weapons and ammunition, and brightly coloured material.

Bison hides had been additionally traded among the many tribes for horses, even to buy a slave or spouse. In essence, bison hides grew to become the forex of the plains tribes.

Weapons and ammo as a result of vital for survival within the quite a few wars between tribes. Warfare was central to many Plains Indian cultures and was the first approach younger males achieved stature within the group. In addition, weapons had been important for preventing enemy tribes and for the acquisition of slaves that always had been traded for different requirements of life.


Steamboats had been in a position to assend the Missouri River by 1832, revolutionizing the disguise commerce as a result of they might economically transport tens of hundreds of hides. 

Geography performed a job within the disguise market. Bison hides had been heavy and couldn’t be transported readily by canoe, as was the usual means of journey within the Canadian fur commerce. However with the approaching of buying and selling posts alongside rivers of the plains just like the Missouri, Arkansas, and Platte, hides might be moved by water to downstream markets. Commerce in bison hides elevated after steam-powered boats efficiently ascended the rivers beginning within the 1830s.

By the 1870s, commerce in bison hides elevated dramatically with the approaching of the railroads that permitted even bigger shipments of hides to jap markets.

Additionally, within the aftermath of the Civil Conflict (1865), many former troopers had no jobs or houses to return to and sought a brand new life within the West. Their sharpshooting abilities developed through the Civil Conflict made them efficient bison hunters on the plains.

After the Civil Conflict, displaced troopers, and others expert in sharp taking pictures, invaded the Nice Plains to kill bison for his or her hides.


It ought to be famous that it turns into “common knowledge” that destroying bison herds was a government-authorized exercise. Certainly, some navy leaders and settlers wished to see bison destruction to interrupt the again of hostile tribes. For example, Common Phil Sheridan, head of US Military troops within the West within the 1870s advocated “destroying the Indian’s commissary.” Nevertheless, not all Individuals agreed with that aim.

A great evaluate of this opposition to any coverage of bison extirpation to subdue the Indians will be present in Douglas Department’s ebook The Looking of the Buffalo.

For instance, Arizona Congressman R.C. McCormick known as the bison slaughter “wantonly wicked” and thought of it “vandalism .” In consequence, McCormick launched laws in 1871 to halt the butchery: “excepting for the purpose of using the meat for food or preserving the skin, it shall be unlawful for any person to kill the bison or buffalo found anywhere upon the public lands of the United States; and for the violation of the law the offender shall, upon conviction before any court of competent jurisdiction, be liable to a fine of $100 for each animal killed”.

Main Common Hazen added his objection to the butchery. He wrote: “The theory that the buffalo should be killed to deprive the Indians of food is a fallacy, and these people are becoming harmless under a rule of justice.” Lieutenant Colonel Brackett, one other navy officer, added his objections, saying: “The wholesale butchery of buffaloes upon the plains is as needless as it is cruel.”

In 1874 new laws was launched by Rep. Fort of Illinois, which declared it might be illegal for anybody, not an Indian, to kill, wound, or in any approach destroy any feminine buffalo of any age discovered at massive inside any Territory of the US.

In the Congressional debate that adopted Fort’s legislative effort, one other member of Congress argued that killing off the bison was the one means to “civilize” the tribes. Fort bellowed: “I am not in favor of civilizing the Indian by starving him to death, by destroying the means which God has given him for his support.”

Fort’s laws handed the Home and Senate, however President Ulysses Grant allowed the invoice to die in a pocket veto.

As recorded in P. Norris’s Report on Yellowstone Nationwide Park to the Secretary of Inside in 1879, the Montana territorial authorities handed laws to guard bison in sure counties in Montana Territory.

The laws held: “that any person who shall willfully shoot or otherwise -kill, for the period of ten years from and after the passage of this act, any buffalo or bison, within the counties of Madison, Jefferson, Deer Lodge, and Lewis and Clarke, Montana Territory, shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two hundred dollars, or imprisoned in the county jail not less two months and not more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court.”

Sadly, all of this concern for the destiny of the bison was too little, too late.

Sadly the destruction of bison by tribal folks nonetheless goes on. Greater than 4 hundred bison have been slaughtered by tribal members up to now this winter simply outdoors of Yellowstone Nationwide Park. Photograph George Wuerthner 

By 1870s, bison herds had been already fragmented, and in lots of circumstances, gone from their former habitat. The remaining bison had been relegated to one of the best bison habitat, such because the decrease Yellowstone River in Montana and different favorable places.

With bison extra concentrated, finding and slaughtering the relict herds was readily achieved.

It’s important to concentrate to dates. In the 1860s and 1870s, most of one of the best bison habitat was in agency management of hostile Indian tribes who presence precluded any important white exploitation.

White settlement of Montana and Wyoming, as an illustration, was restricted to small mining camps and cities like Virginia Metropolis, Helena, and Bozeman. Aside from a couple of buying and selling posts, there was no white settlement on the plains, which was successfully managed by tribes just like the Sioux and Blackfeet (as Custer’s demise in 1876 demonstrated).


The commerical looking of bison for hides by white hunters accelerated within the 1870s with the approaching of the railroads to the Nice Plains. Portray Charlie Russell

But by the early Eighteen Eighties, bison had been primarily gone from the Montana and Wyoming plains. The railroad, which was important in bison decline additional south, didn’t attain Montana till 1881. Whereas white hunters could have completed off the final remnants of the Montana herds, it’s clear that the huge numbers that after cloaked the plains had been largely gone attributable to Indian exploitation.

In his ebook The Extermination of the American Bison, William Hornaday gives a glimpse into the ultimate days of free-roaming plains bison. By that the late Eighteen Eighties, bison had been successfully gone from Montana the place only a decade earlier tribes just like the Blackfeet had been nonetheless killing hundreds for the disguise commerce yearly.

Since many Indian tribes believed that bison got here from a gap within the floor, they might not conceive that they might overhunt the animals. Subsequently, if bison had been now not present in former haunts, it was assumed that the cell bison had been simply over the subsequent ridge in one other valley. Nonetheless, by the 1850s, if not sooner, many tribes started to acknowledge that bison numbers had been declining.


Fort Corridor was constructed as a buying and selling submit in 1834 close to what’s now the current metropolis of Pocatello. Initially established for the Indian fur commerce, the fort performed a prominant function as a resupply hub for vacationers on the Oregon Path. Photograph George Wuerthner 

One of the primary locations within the West the place bison had been extirpated by Indian looking was in Southeast Idaho and adjoining elements of northern Utah, western Wyoming and southwest Montana. By 1840, bison had been primarily gone from this area the place that they had as soon as been comparatively ample.

This area West of the Continental Divide was an space managed and hunted by Flathead, Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Pend d Oreille tribes with occasional intrusions by Blackfeet intent on raiding and killing the before-mentioned tribes.

Since there have been no white hunters apart from a couple of hundred fur trappers roaming all the West, whose major objective was to lure beaver, this regional bison’s demise is nearly actually attributable to Indian looking.

A quantity of journals present some historic perception and first-hand accounts.

Fish Creek Summit close to Soda Springs, Idaho. Photograph George Wuerthner 

In 1826, trapper Jedediah Smith and his males camped on the Portneuf River close to Soda Spring in SE Idaho for 3 days to safe meat for a proposed journey southwest that finally led to California. In his journal, Smith notes: “Here I encamped for the purpose of drying meat as the buffalo were quite plenty and in fine order.” He goes on to say he remained for 3 days, “during which time the party had dried three horses loads of the most excellent meat.”

The 1825 Journal of William Ashley has references to bison within the area. For instance, on June 20, Ashley writes, “Buffalow have been here a few days past in great number.” And some days later, he says: “ great numbers of buffaloe have lately been through these hills but now are scarce. They have traveled from the Lake River (Henry’s Fork of today) over to the Green River.”


One other journal revealed by Warren Angus Ferris, Life within the Rocky Mountains: A Diary of Wanderings on the Sources of the Rivers Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado 1830-1835, gives an important deal of element about Southeast Idaho and surrounding areas. The Ferris Mountains within the Nice Divide Desert of Wyoming are named for him.

Ferris was a member of a number of fur trapping brigades that traveled Southeast Idaho and adjoining areas within the first half of the 1830s decade, and his journal is meticulous intimately.

His account comprises references to bison all through the area he roamed, although, like with any cell animals; there have been additionally places the place they didn’t see any bison. However taken as an entire, he makes quite a few references to bison within the area.

For example, in early April 1831, close to what’s now Pocatello, Idaho, Ferris recorded: “we camped this evening near the sources of the South Fork of the Porteneuf (his spelling) having seen along our route great numbers of buffalo, and many with calves.” Later he notes: “large herds of buffalo were driven over to us before the Flathead.”

Fur trappers like Warren Ferris reported quite a few bison herds in and across the Blackfoot River in jap Idaho through the 1830s, however by the 1840s, they had been all however gone. Photograph George Wuerthner 

Close to the mouth of the Blackfoot River by right this moment’s Fort Corridor Indian Reservation north of Pocatello, Ferris notes, “we found this valley covered with buffalo.”

On January 3, 1832, Ferris and his get together of trappers camped with some Flathead Indians on a tributary of the Salmon River and famous that he and the Indians “killed up to a hundred bison, which were numerous for sometime after we arrived.”

Touring throughout the Snake River Plains north of what’s right this moment often called “Big Southern Butte,” he famous, “we saw large herds of buffalo during our march.”

Whereas touring throughout Grey’s Gap close to what’s now Grey’s Lake NWR in jap Idaho, Ferris says, “we saw great numbers of buffalo running all directions.”

Pierre’s Gap beneath the Tetons close to present-day Driggs, Idaho. Pierre’s Gap was the location of the 1832 Fur Rendezvous. Photograph George Wuerthner 

In June of 1832, Ferris’s get together joined with some Indians to hunt bison in Henry’s Fork (close to present-day Ashton, Idaho) beneath the Tetons. In preparation for the 1832 rendezvous gathering at Pierre’s Gap (by Driggs, Idaho), his males and the accompanying Indians killed “hundreds daily during our stay on Henrie’s Fork.”

In 1833, Ferris and his get together had been camped alongside the Salt River on what’s now the Idaho-Wyoming border. “On the 1oth, a party of us went up to the Boiling Kettles to procure buffalo meat: we found the valley quite covered with them (bison) but killed a few bulls only.”

On the twenty fifth, Ferris was within the Higher Inexperienced River Valley close to the New Fork River, the place he noticed “immense herds of bison were seen in every direction.”

And so it goes, Ferris repeatedly observes massive herds of bison all through the area.

Although the fur trappers killed bison, it was primarily for meals. On the time of Ferris’s engagement as a trapper, he estimated there have been not more than 300 males and their camp keepers roaming the northern Rocky Mountains. And whereas they killed bison for meals, their affect on bison numbers would have been negligible.

By comparability, there have been tons of of hundreds of Indians of varied tribes whose territory overlapped the identical area or just like the Nez Perce of jap Washington, who made annual migrations throughout the mountains to hunt bison. Not solely had been the tribes killing bison for meals, however as half of the disguise commerce. Data of buying and selling posts like Fort Union and others on the Missouri River and Yellowstone rivers doc that tons of of hundreds of bison hides had been traded yearly by varied tribes.

By 1835 Ferris was conscious that bison had been in steep decline. He wrote, “Beaver and other kinds of game become every year more rare; and both the hunter and the Indians will ultimately be compelled to herd cattle, or cultivate the earth for a livelihood, or in default of these starve. Indeed, the latter deserve the ruin that threatens their offspring, for their inexcusable conduct, in sacrificing the millions of buffalo which they kill in sport for their skins only. The robes they obtain, in the latter case, are most frequently exchanged for whiskey with the traders at their establishments on the Missouri, Arkansas and Platte rivers.”


Touring in the identical normal area of the Rocky Mountains from 1834-1843 was fur trapper Osborn Russell. Like Ferris, his ebook Journal of a Trapper presents an affordable account of wildlife and Indian encounters within the area. Russell traveled west in 1834 with Nathaniel Wyeth who based the Fort Corridor buying and selling submit close to what’s now Pocatello, Idaho.

Russell encountered quite a few bison in S.E. Idaho. He writes: “fell on to a stream known as Portneuf. Right here we discovered a number of massive bands of buffaloe.

On the Salt River on the Idaho-Wyoming border he recorded seeing “thousands of buffaloe carelessly feeding in the green vales contributing to the wild and romantic splendor of the surrounding scenery.”

Touring down the Blackfoot River close to Fort Corridor Indian Reservation simply north of Pocatello, Idaho, on the finish of Could 1835, Russell notes his get together “found thousands of buffalo bulls and killed a number of them.”

The Tetons as seen close to Driggs, Idaho, and on the sting of Pierre’s Gap. Photograph George Wuerthner 

Touring to Pierre’s Gap beneath the Tetons, Russell famous: “This beautiful valley consisting of a smooth plain intersected by small streams and thickly clothes with grass and herbage and abounds with buffaloe, elk, deer, antelope, etc.”

Close to Camas Lake on the sting of the Snake River Plain, by what’s now Dubois, Idaho, Russell was “full of buffaloe.”[i]

In the identical space, south of Camas Lake, Russell “came upon several large bands of buffaloe.”[ii]

A couple of days later, Russell wrote: “The next day being the 4th, I lay all day and watched buffaloe which were feeding in immense bands.” And the subsequent day he traveled about 5 miles and noticed that: “The buffaloe had been carelessly feeding on the plain so far as the attention may attain.

Close to what’s now Idaho Falls, Idaho, Russell noticed the slaughter of a number of thousand bison in a single day by the Bannock Indians. Russell described the scene: “I walked out with the chief to a small hillock to watch the view of slaughter after the cloud of dust had passed away in the prairie which was covered with the slain several thousand cows were killed without burning a single grain of gunpowder.”

A couple of years later, alongside the Portneuf River close to present-day Pocatello, Idaho, Russell famous: “In the year 1836, large herds of buffalo could be seen in almost every little valley on the small branches of this stream: at this time the only traces which could be seen of them were the scattered bones of former years, deeply indented in the earth, were overgrown with grass and weeds.”

In the appendix of his journal, he makes a dismal prediction in regards to the future of the bison. He wrote: “The huge numbers of these animals which as soon as traversed such an intensive area in North America are quick diminishing. The continuous rising demand for robes within the civilized world has already and continues to be contributing in no small diploma to their destruction, while however the continuous enhance of wolves and different 4 footed enemies far exceeds that of the buffaloe when these mixed efforts for its destruction is considered, it won’t be doubted for a second that this noble race of animals, so helpful in supplying the needs of man, will at no far distance interval grow to be extinct in North America. The buffaloe is already a stranger , though so quite a few 10 years in the past, in that half of the nation which is drained by the sources of the Colorado, Bear, and Snake Rivers and occupied by the Snake and Bannock Indians.


In 1843, John Fremont, often called the “Pathfinder,” traversed the identical normal half of  SE Idaho as Ferris and Russell had traveled. Fremont was a meticulous note-taker and was guided by Package Carson.

On the North Platte River of what’s now Wyoming, Fremont reported bison as “abundant.” And he goes on to say the “surrounding country appears to be well stocked with buffalo.” Nevertheless, he notes his get together determined to kill some bison to refill on their meals provides because the area they had been coming into (over South Move and Continental Divide) “was said to be nearly destitute of game.” [i]

As Fremont moved up the Sweetwater River in direction of South Move, he famous they encountered a “few straggling buffalo bulls.” [ii]

That is the Inexperienced River nation of Wyoming which within the earlier many years was well-known to host massive herds of bison.


The Higher Inexperienced River beneath the Wind River Vary was prime bison habitat, and quite a few fur trappers famous in depth herds right here, however by 1840s when John Fremont traveled via this valley, he discovered no bison right here or anyplace else west of the Continental Divide. Photograph George Wuerthner 

As soon as he left the east aspect of the Continental Divide, he doesn’t point out encountering any bison in any respect, together with within the Higher Inexperienced River of Wyoming, then the Smith’s Fork and Thomas’s Fork, that are tributaries of the Bear River nation of Idaho, and adjoining areas.[iii]

This is identical space the place Ferris, Osborne Russell and different trappers, a decade earlier, repeatedly recorded ample bison herds.  

On August 30, within the Bear River nation of SE Idaho, he encountered a Shoshone Indian village and tried to acquire some roots from them to fluctuate their weight-reduction plan.

He notes that the villagers “had no game of any kind; and it was difficult to obtain any roots from them, as they were miserably poor, and had but little to spare from their winter stock of provisions. Several of the Indians drew aside their blanks, showing me their lean and bony figures: and I would not any longer tempt them with a display of our merchandise to part with their wretched subsistence when they gave as a reason that it would expose them to temporary starvation. A great portion of the region inhabited by this nation formerly abounded in game; the buffalo ranging about in herds, as we had found them on the eastern waters, and the plains dotted with scattered bands of antelope, but so rapidly have they disappeared within a few years that now, as we journeyed along, an occasional buffalo skull an a few wild antelope were all that remained of the abundance which had covered the country with animal life.” [iv]

Fremont goes on to put in writing: “The extraordinary rapidity with which the buffalo is disappearing from our territories will not appear surprising when we remember the great scale on which their destruction is yearly carried on.” [v]

A couple of traces additional, he notes: “… the Indians deriver their entire support from them (killing bison) and slaughter them with thoughtless and abominable extravagance.” [vi]

Fremont then recounts how ample the bison had been within the area a couple of many years earlier than he traversed the area. “Our knowledge does not go farther back than the spring of 1824, at which time the buffalo were spread in immense numbers over the Green River and Bear River of the Gulf of California, and Lewis’s Fork (now South Fork of the Snake) of the Columbia; the meridian of Fort Hall then forming the western limit of their range. The buffalo then remained for many years in that country, and frequently moved down the valley of the Columbia on both sides of the river as far as the Fishing Falls (just west of Pocatello, Idaho.) Below this point, they never descended in any numbers. About the year 1834 or 1835, they began to diminish very rapidly and continued to decrease until 1838 or 1840, when, with the country we have just described, they entirely abandoned all the waters of the Pacific north of Lewis’s Fork of the Columbia. At that time, the Flathead Indians were in the habit of finding their buffalo on the heads of the Salmon River and other streams of the Columbia; but now they never meet with them farther west than the Three Forks of the Missouri or on the plains of the Yellowstone River.”

Fremont goes on to say: “In the course of our journey, it will be remarked that the buffalo have not so entirely abandoned the waters of the Pacific, in the Rocky Mountain region south of the Sweet Water, as in the country north of the Great Pass (South Pass).”

Fremont recounts: “In traveling through the country West of the Rocky Mountains, observation readily led me to the impression that the buffalo had, for the first time, crossed that range to the waters of the Pacific only a few years prior to the period we are considering and in this opinion, I am sustained by Mr. Fitzpatrick and the oldest trappers in that country. In the region West of the Rocky Mountains, we never meet with any of the ancient vestiges which, throughout all the country lying upon their eastern waters, are found in the great highways, continuous for hundreds of miles, always several inches and sometimes several feet in depth, which the buffalo have made in crossing from one river to another or in traversing the mountain ranges.”[vii]

Fremont summarizes these observations by saying: “The extraordinary abundance of buffalo on the east side of the Rocky Mountains (on the Great Plains) and their extraordinary diminution will be made clearly evident from the following statement: At any time between the years 1824 and 1836, a traveler might start from any given point south or north in the Rocky Mountain range, journeying by the most direct route to the Missouri River; and during the whole distance, his road would be always among large bands of buffalo, which would never be out of his view until he arrived almost within sight of the abodes of civilization.”[viii]

Nevertheless, it was not simply west of the Rocky Mountains that bison had been declining (see my overview of bison decline right here), as early because the early 1800s, merchants alongside the Missouri River and elsewhere on the plains famous that bison had been declining within the northern Nice Plains area.

Fremont notes: “In 1842, I found the Sioux Indians of the Upper Platte demmles, as their French traders expressed it, with the failure of the buffalo; and in the following year, large villages from the Upper Missouri came over to the mountains at the heads of the Platte, in search of them. The rapidly progressive failure of their principal and almost their only means of subsistence has created great alarm among them; by which they see a good prospect for escaping starvation: one of these is to rob the settlements along the frontier of the States, and the other is to form a league between the various tribes of the Sioux nation, the Cheyenne, and Arapahoe, and make war against the Crow nation, in order to take from them their country, which is now the best buffalo country in the West. This plan they now have in consideration, and it would probably be a war of extermination of the Crow.” [ix]

You will need to be aware that this was written many years earlier than the approaching of the railroads and important white business bison looking that started post-Civil Conflict within the 1870s, which many assert led to the extirpation of bison within the West. In reality, bison had been in steep decline lengthy earlier than there was any white settlement or looking.


Additional credence to this decline is discovered within the meticulous journal notes of Captain William Franklin Raynolds. Raynolds was accompanied by the well-known mountain man Jim Bridger as information and Dr. Ferdinand Hayden because the chief scientist. Hayden would later grow to be well-known for his explorations of what’s now Yellowstone Nationwide Park. In 1859-1860 they traversed via the center of the bison ranges on the northern plains and mountains in what at the moment are the states of South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota.

You will need to do not forget that apart from a couple of buying and selling posts like Fort Benton and Fort Union, and the occasional white man who was married to an Indian girl, there have been no white settlers, trappers, or different non-native folks dwelling or touring via all the area Raynolds explored. Subsequently, any bison decline on this area can solely be attributed to Indian looking.

Starting at St Louis on Could 28, 1859, the Reynolds Expedition traveled by steamer up the Missouri to Fort Pierre (present-day Pierre, South Dakota), the place he embarked and started his expedition by horse journey. He proceeded throughout South Dakota, via NE Wyoming to the decrease Yellowstone in what’s now Montana, and thence south alongside the Bighorn River to the North Platte River, the place his get together wintered. From there, within the spring, they circled up across the Wind River Vary, into Jackson Gap, over Teton Move to Pierre’s Gap (present-day Driggs, Idaho), up the Henry’s Fork to Henry’s Lake, over Raynolds Move (named for him) down the Madison River to Three Forks, Montana and onward down the Missouri previous Nice Falls, previous Fort Benton, and on the remaining of the Missouri to its confluence with the Yellowstone River at Fort Union on the North Dakota-Montana border. From Fort Union, he accomplished his circuit of the area, arriving again in Fort Pierre on September 7, 1860[x]

In traversing South Dakota, he didn’t see one stay bison, and this was the center of the plains bison nation in earlier many years. He did be aware some tracks close to the Black Hills however didn’t observe any stay animals.

On July 20, 1859, on the Little Missouri River, they encountered the primary bison on the border of western South Dakota and NE Wyoming. Raynolds wrote: “We are now in the buffalo region and small herds are to be seen in all directions.”[xi]

Certainly, he enthusiastically famous the truth that they lastly had contemporary meat. “Bridger and some of the soldiers also went out after encamping and returned having killed three cows each. We are, therefore, abundantly supplied with choice bits of this celebrated game, and roast ribs and hump are the order of the day in camp.”[xii]

On July 21, Raynolds describes the Little Missouri nation and says, “Naked hills describe the country through which we have passed today, the latter having been apparently once covered with grass, since eaten off by the buffalo which have been today seen in large numbers upon all sides.”

The Raynold’s get together first encountered bison alongside the Powder River in NE Wyoming. Photograph George Wuerthner 

By July 27, Raynold’s get together entered the Powder River of NE Wyoming and reported, “When we did reach the valley (Powder River), it was found to be filled with buffalo.”

On July 28, the abundance of bison is confirmed when Raynolds discovered, “This scarcity of grass has become the leading feature in the country and can, of course, be partially explained by the presence of the buffalo in such large numbers.”

He attributes the abundance of bison to the absence of Indian looking. “The presence of these animals in such large numbers in this barren region is explained by the fact that this valley is a species of neutral ground between the Sioux and the Crows and other bands nearer the mountains, or more correctly speaking, the common war ground visited only by war parties, who never disturb the game as they would thereby give notice to their enemies of their presence.”

Related observations by early vacationers of the area, together with Lewis and Clark, famous that the most important herds of bison had been discovered within the no-man’s land between the enemy.

On August 14, Raynold’s get together reached the Yellowstone River Valley, the place he noticed unimaginable numbers of bison. “Our first view of the Yellowstone valley itself, of which over 50 square miles was visible, literally black with buffalo, grazing in an enormous herd whose numbers defy computation, but must be estimated by the hundreds of thousands.” [xiii][xiv]

Regardless of this abundance, as soon as the get together started to observe the Bighorn River southward into what’s now Wyoming, they didn’t encounter any extra bison that season. Lastly, on October 6, they reached the Platte River Valley. Once more, there have been no bison, although Raynolds did be aware that there have been buffalo chips within the area, indicating that in some unspecified time in the future previously, bison had visited the world. [xv]

After wintering for seven months on the North Platte River, on Could 10, 1860, the expedition continued its westward explorations. On Could 15, east of the higher North Platte River close to right this moment’s Alcova Reservoir, Raynolds met some Arapahoe Indians who reported that that they had seen and killed bison not far upfront of the Raynolds get together. Furthermore, Raynolds wrote, “numerous tracks and sign show that they been here recently.” [xvi]

A couple of days later, Raynolds says Hayden noticed some bison at a distance with Indians watching them for an opportunity to kill them. Then close to the headwaters of the Wind River close to Dubois, Wyoming, Raynolds once more notes “sign” of bison which he indicated that the Shoshone Indians saved “penned up” within the mountain valleys so they might kill them when vital.

Nonetheless, regardless of the occasional “sign” of bison, the expedition didn’t truly see any or kill any since leaving the Platte River. After going into Jackson Gap and over Teton Move into Pierre’s Gap (present-day Driggs, Idaho), Raynold’s commented on the paucity of recreation. “Notwithstanding the beauty and fertility of the valley, we have seen no game, squirrels being the largest animals that have crossed our path, while of birds, only a few curlew and others of the smaller variety have been visible. These circumstances are to be regretted as with our limited stock of provisions, a constant supply of fresh meat is very desirable.” [xvii]

On June 25, the expedition traveled over what’s now Raynold’s Move to the Madison River and the headwaters of the Missouri River. Raynolds notes they’ve seen one band of buffalo.

Fort Benton was a serious buying and selling submit on the Higher Missouri River in 1846 by the American Fur Firm. Photograph George Wuerthner

The get together encountered extra bison alongside the Missouri River on July 28, once they had been beneath Fort Benton and close to the Musselshell River, a distance of tons of of miles in what was previously the prime bison vary. [xviii]

On August 3, because the expedition continued its journey down the Missouri River, Raynolds notes, “we halted early with the hope of securing game. In this we were disappointed, however, as the Crows are just south of us, and the Assiniboines to the north, it is probably that we shall obtain no more fresh meat, as these tribes scour the hunting grounds most thoroughly.”[xix]

It was not till they had been east of Fort Union on what’s right this moment the Montana-North Dakota border that he once more famous the presence of “small and scattered bands of bison.” [xx] Raynolds doesn’t point out encountering any extra bison on the remaining of his journey to Fort Pierre.


Additional proof that bison had been extirpated from Southeast Idaho and adjoining areas is the truth that by the 1840s, all of the tribes who had beforehand hunted bison within the space, together with the Nez Perce, Flathead, Shoshone, Bannock, and Pend D’ Oreille, traveled additional to the east to entry the remaining bison herds on the plains.

Nez Perce Creek in Yellowstone Nationwide Park. Tribes touring to hunt bison on the plains typically went via Yellowstone NP on the Bannock Path to keep away from the hostile Blackfeet who guarded entry to Montana buffalo fields. Photograph George Wuerthner 

The Bannock Path throughout what’s now Yellowstone NP out to the Huge Horn Basin and decrease Yellowstone Valley was a serious route utilized by these tribes to keep away from encounters with the hostile Blackfeet, though there have been extra direct routes to the bison herds additional north.

It’s logical to ask why these tribes would make an arduous journey via the mountains with hundreds of horses and tribal members if they might get hold of bison nearer to residence and keep away from encounters with hostile tribes just like the Arapahoe, Sioux, and Blackfeet who jealously guarded entry to the bison herds on the plains.

Half of the reply to why bison had been eradicated from the mountain valleys of Idaho, SW Montana, and northern Utah, whereas they remained in massive numbers on the plains for an extended interval of time, could need to do with topography. For one factor, these valleys sometimes have deeper snow than on the plains, making survival harder for bison. The area may by no means help huge herds of bison.

Second, the fundamental “island geography” of small populations. As looking strain elevated throughout the mountain valleys, bison herds had been more and more fragmented and extirpated from native areas.

As every small herd was eradicated, the power to “recolonize” the habitat from adjoining bison herds grew to become much less and much less possible. Moreover, as bison numbers declined, looking strain on the remaining small pockets of bison possible elevated as tribal hunters centered looking on these herds.

In contrast, on the plains, past the truth that the habitat was higher for bison (extra steady grasslands, much less snow, and nutritious summer season warm-season grasses), the pure panorama didn’t focus animals in valleys, so when there was human looking strain, the herds may transfer to different habitats.

By the 1850s, bison had been extirpated from a lot of western Wyoming, jap Idaho, southwest Montana, and even massive parts of the Nice Plains. This was all earlier than any important white settlement or business looking.

As famous by Raynolds, as bison herds declined, intertribal warfare elevated as every group of Indians sought to regulate the best-remaining bison habitat of the area. Satirically this led to much more bison slaughter since weapons and ammo important for warfare may solely be obtained by buying and selling bison hides to merchants.

Whereas the business disguise looking by white hunters completed off the final important bison herds within the central and southern plains, for probably the most half, this was solely profitable as a result of bison numbers had been already fragmented and headed in direction of extinction as a consequence of Indian looking.

Though this text focuses on Southeast Idaho, related proof of the contribution of Indian looking in direction of bison extirpation will be present in varied narratives and historic accounts. A great evaluate of the connection between Indians and bison within the southern plains and the last word decline of bison within the area will be present in Pekka Hamalainen’s ebook Comanche Empire.

What all these historic accounts demonstrates is that even within the absence of business hunters, on-going Indian predation contributed to bison decline. It’s possible that bison would have vanished from the plains or not less than have been drastically diminished inside a couple of many years as a consequence of Indian exploitation.

[i] Osborne Russell Journal of a Trapper web page 34

[ii] Osborne Russell Journal of a Trapper web page 35

[i] John Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of his Exploring Expeditions of 1843-184. Web page 131.

[ii] John Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of his Exploring Expeditions of 1843-184. Web page 133

[iii] John Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of his Exploring Expeditions of 1843-184. Web page 142.

[iv] John C. Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1843-1844. Web page 155.

[v] John C. Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1843-1844. Web page 156.

[vi] John C. Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1843-1844. Web page 156

[vii] John C. Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1843-1844. Web page 157

[viii] John C. Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1843-1844. Web page 157

[ix]   John C. Fremont. Fremont’s First Impressions. The Authentic Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1843-1844. Web page 159

[x] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River. Brig. Gen. W.F. Raynolds communication with the Secretary of Conflict, in compliance with a Decision of Senate, February 1866 Washington, Authorities Printing Workplace 1868.

[xi] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 33.

[xii] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 33

[xiii] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 45

[xv] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 69

[xvi] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 79

[xvii] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 96

[xviii] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 112

[xix] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 113

[xx] William Franklin Raynolds. Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, web page 115

Print Friendly, PDF & EmailPrint Pleasant

What's Your Reaction?

hate hate
confused confused
fail fail
fun fun
geeky geeky
love love
lol lol
omg omg
win win
The Obsessed Guy
Hi, I'm The Obsessed Guy and I am passionate about artificial intelligence. I have spent years studying and working in the field, and I am fascinated by the potential of machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing. I love exploring how these technologies are being used to solve real-world problems and am always eager to learn more. In my spare time, you can find me tinkering with neural networks and reading about the latest AI research.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *