During the winter of 1886-’87, destitution and actual starvation prevailed to an alarming extent among certain tribes of Indians in the Northwest Territory who once lived bountifully on the buffalo. A terrible tale of suffering in the Athabasca and Peace River country has recently (1888) come to the minister of the interior of the Canadian government, in the form of a petition signed by the bishop of that diocese, six clergymen and missionaries, and several justices of the peace. It sets forth that “owing to the destruction of game, the Indians, both last winter and last summer, have been in a state of starvation. They are now in a complete state of destitution, and are utterly unable to provide themselves with clothing, shelter, ammunition, or food for the coming winter.” The petition declares that on account of starvation, and consequent cannibalism, a party of twenty-nine Cree Indians was reduced to three in the winter of 1886. Of the Fort Chippewyan Indians, between twenty and thirty starved to death last winter, and the death of many more was hastened by want of food and by famine diseases. Many other Indians—Crees, Beavers, and Chippewyans—at almost all points where there are missions or trading posts, would certainly have starved to death but for the help given them by the traders and missionaries at those places. It is now declared by the signers of the memorial that scores of families, having lost their heads by starvation, are now perfectly helpless, and during the coming winter must either starve to death or eat one another unless help comes. Heart-rending stories of suffering and cannibalism continue to come in from what was once the buffalo plains.
[Note 77: It was the Cree Indians who used to practice impounding buffaloes, slaughtering a penful of two hundred head at a time with most fiendish glee, and leaving all but the very choicest of the meat to putrefy.]
If ever thoughtless people were punished for their reckless improvidence, the Indians and half-breeds of the Northwest Territory are now paying the penalty for the wasteful slaughter of the buffalo a few short years ago. The buffalo is his own avenger, to an extent his remorseless slayers little dreamed he ever could be.
VII. PRESERVATION OF THE SPECIES FROM ABSOLUTE EXTINCTION.
There is reason to fear that unless the United States Government takes the matter in hand and makes a special effort to prevent it, the pure-blood bison will be lost irretrievably through mixture with domestic breeds and through in-and-in breeding.
The fate of the Yellowstone Park herd is, to say the least, highly uncertain. A distinguished Senator, who is deeply interested in legislation for the protection of the National Park reservation, has declared that the pressure from railway corporations, which are seeking a foot-hold in the park, has become so great and so aggressive that he fears the park will “eventually be broken up.” In any such event, the destruction of the herd of park buffaloes would be one of the very first results. If the park is properly maintained, however, it is to be hoped that the buffaloes now in it will remain there and increase indefinitely.