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.

Festuca scabrella (bunch-grass).—­One of the most valuable grasses of Montana and the Northwest generally; often called the “great bunch-grass.”  It furnishes excellent food for horses and cattle, and is so tall it is cut in large quantities for hay.  This is the prevailing species on the foot-hills and mountains generally, up to an altitude of 7,000 feet, where it is succeeded by Festuca ovina.

Andropogon provincialis (blue stem).—­An important species, extending from eastern Kansas and Nebraska to the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains, and from Northern Texas to the Saskatchewan; common in Montana on alkali flats and bottom lands generally.  This and the preceding species were of great value to the buffalo in winter, when the shorter grasses were covered with snow.

Andropogon scoparius (bunch grass; broom sedge; wood-grass).—­Similar to the preceding in distribution and value, but not nearly so tall.

None of the buffalo grasses are found in the mountains.  In the mountain regions which have been visited by the buffalo and in the Yellowstone Park, where to-day the only herd remaining in a state of nature is to be found (though not by the man with a gun), the following are the grasses which form all but a small proportion of the ruminant food:  Koeleria cristata; Poa tenuifolia (Western blue-grass); Stipa viridula (feather-grass); Stipa comata; Agropyrum divergens; Agropyrum caninum.

When pressed by hunger, the buffalo used to browse on certain species of sage-brush, particularly Atriplex canescens of the Southwest.  But he was discriminating in the matter of diet, and as far as can be ascertained he was never known to eat the famous and much-dreaded “loco” weed (Astragalus molissimus), which to ruminant animals is a veritable drug of madness.  Domestic cattle and horses often eat this plant; where it is abundant, and become demented in consequence.


(1) Reasoning from cause to effect.—­The buffalo of the past was an animal of a rather low order of intelligence, and his dullness of intellect was one of the important factors in his phenomenally swift extermination.  He was provokingly slow in comprehending the existence and nature of the dangers that threatened his life, and, like the stupid brute that he was, would very often stand quietly and see two or three score, or even a hundred, of his relatives and companions shot down before his eyes, with no other feeling than one of stupid wonder and curiosity.  Neither the noise nor smoke of the still-hunter’s rifle, the falling, struggling, nor the final death of his companions conveyed to his mind the idea of a danger to be fled from, and so the herd stood still and allowed the still-hunter to slaughter its members at will.

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