Sketch map of the hunt for buffalo
Map illustrating the extermination of the American bison
It is hoped that the following historical account of the discovery, partial utilization, and almost complete extermination of the great American bison may serve to cause the public to fully realize the folly of allowing all our most valuable and interesting American mammals to be wantonly destroyed in the same manner. The wild buffalo is practically gone forever, and in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water-courses, a few museum specimens, and regret for his fate. If his untimely end fails even to point a moral that shall benefit the surviving species of mammals which are now being slaughtered in like manner, it will be sad indeed.
Although Bison americanus is a true bison, according to scientific classification, and not a buffalo, the fact that more than sixty millions of people in this country unite in calling him a “buffalo,” and know him by no other name, renders it quite unnecessary for me to apologize for following, in part, a harmless custom which has now become so universal that all the naturalists in the world could not change it if they would.
W. T. H.
The extermination of the American bison,
By William T. Hornaday,
Superintendent of the National Zoological Park.
PART I.—LIFE HISTORY OF THE BISON.
I. DISCOVERY OF THE SPECIES.
The discovery of the American bison, as first made by Europeans, occurred in the menagerie of a heathen king.
In the year 1521, when Cortez reached Anahuac, the American bison was seen for the first time by civilized Europeans, if we may be permitted to thus characterize the horde of blood thirsty plunder seekers who fought their way to the Aztec capital. With a degree of enterprise that marked him as an enlightened monarch, Montezuma maintained, for the instruction of his people, a well-appointed menagerie, of which the historian De Solis wrote as follows (1724):
“In the second Square of the same House were the Wild Beasts, which were either presents to Montezuma, or taken by his Hunters, in strong Cages of Timber, rang’d in good Order, and under Cover: Lions, Tygers, Bears, and all others of the savage Kind which New-Spain produced; among which the greatest Rarity was the Mexican Bull; a wonderful composition of divers Animals. It has crooked Shoulders, with a Bunch on its Back like a Camel; its Flanks dry, its Tail large, and its Neck cover’d with Hair like a Lion. It is cloven footed, its Head armed like that of a Bull, which it resembles in Fierceness, with no less strength and Agility.”