The Extermination of the American Bison eBook

William Temple Hornaday
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 330 pages of information about The Extermination of the American Bison.
thousands and seen scores of thousands of buffaloes, yet never had seen a white one.  From all accounts it appears that not over ten or eleven white buffaloes, or white buffalo skins, were ever seen by white men.  Pied individuals were occasionally obtained, but even they were rare.  Albino buffaloes were always so highly prized that not a single one, so far as I can learn, ever had the good fortune to attain adult size, their appearance being so striking, in contrast with the other members of the herd, as to draw upon them an unusual number of enemies, and cause their speedy destruction.

At the New Orleans Exposition, in 1884-’85, the Territory of Dakota exhibited, amongst other Western quadrupeds, the mounted skin of a two-year-old buffalo which might fairly be called an albino.  Although not really white, it was of a uniform dirty cream-color, and showed not a trace of the bison’s normal color on any part of its body.

Lieut.  Col.  S. C. Kellogg, U. S. Army, has on deposit in the National Museum a tanned skin which is said to have come from a buffalo.  It is from an animal about one year old, and the hair upon it, which is short, very curly or wavy, and rather coarse, is pure white.  In length and texture the hair does not in any one respect resemble the hair of a yearling buffalo save in one particular,—­along the median line of the neck and hump there is a rather long, thin mane of hair, which has the peculiar woolly appearance of genuine buffalo hair on those parts.  On the shoulder portions of the skin the hair is as short as on the hind quarters.  I am inclined to believe this rather remarkable specimen came from a wild half-breed calf, the result of a cross between a white domestic cow and a buffalo bull.  At one time it was by no means uncommon for small bunches of domestic cattle to enter herds of buffalo and remain there permanently.

I have been informed that the late General Marcy possessed a white buffalo skin.  If it is still in existence, and is really white, it is to be hoped that so great a rarity may find a permanent abiding place in some museum where the remains of Bison americanus are properly appreciated.


The history of the buffalo’s daily life and habits should begin with the “running season.”  This period occupied the months of August and September, and was characterized by a degree of excitement and activity throughout the entire herd quite foreign to the ease-loving and even slothful nature which was so noticeable a feature of the bison’s character at all other times.

The mating season occurred when the herd was on its summer range.  The spring calves were from two to four months old.  Through continued feasting on the new crop of buffalo-grass and bunch-grass—­the most nutritious in the world, perhaps—­every buffalo in the herd had grown round-sided, fat, and vigorous.  The faded and weather-beaten suit of winter hair had by that time fallen off and given place to the new coat of dark gray and black, and, excepting for the shortness of his hair, the buffalo was in prime condition.

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The Extermination of the American Bison from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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