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.

A little later a solitary bull buffalo was found, but spared,[6] the earliest instance of the kind on record, and which had few successors to keep it company.

[Note 6:  Ib., p. 28.]


The range of the American bison extended over about one-third of the entire continent of North America.  Starting almost at tide-water on the Atlantic coast, it extended westward through a vast tract of dense forest, across the Alleghany Mountain system to the prairies along the Mississippi, and southward to the Delta of that great stream.  Although the great plains country of the West was the natural home of the species, where it flourished most abundantly, it also wandered south across Texas to the burning plains of northeastern Mexico, westward across the Rocky Mountains into New Mexico, Utah, and Idaho, and northward across a vast treeless waste to the bleak and inhospitable shores of the Great Slave Lake itself.  It is more than probable that had the bison remained unmolested by man and uninfluenced by him, he would eventually have crossed the Sierra Nevadas and the Coast Range and taken up his abode in the fertile valleys of the Pacific slope.

Had the bison remained for a few more centuries in undisturbed possession of his range, and with liberty to roam at will over the North American continent, it is almost certain that several distinctly recognizable varieties would have been produced.  The buffalo of the hot regions in the extreme south would have become a short-haired animal like the gaur of India and the African buffalo.  The individuals inhabiting the extreme north, in the vicinity of Great Slave Lake, for example, would have developed still longer hair, and taken on more of the dense hairyness of the musk ox.  In the “wood” or “mountain buffalo” we already have a distinct foreshadowing of the changes which would have taken place in the individuals which made their permanent residence upon rugged mountains.

It would be an easy matter to fill a volume with facts relating to the geographical distribution of Bison americanus and the dates of its occurrence and disappearance in the multitude of different localities embraced within the immense area it once inhabited.  The capricious shiftings of certain sections of the great herds, whereby large areas which for many years had been utterly unvisited by buffaloes suddenly became overrun by them, could be followed up indefinitely, but to little purpose.  In order to avoid wearying the reader with a mass of dates and references, the map accompanying this paper has been prepared to show at a glance the approximate dates at which the bison finally disappeared from the various sections of its habitat.  In some cases the date given is coincident with the death of the last buffalo known to have been killed in a given State or Territory; in others, where records are meager, the date given is the nearest

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