I. CAUSES OF THE EXTERMINATION.
The causes which led to the practical extinction (in a wild state, at least) of the most economically valuable wild animal that ever inhabited the American continent, are by no means obscure. It is well that we should know precisely what they were, and by the sad fate of the buffalo be warned in time against allowing similar causes to produce the same results with our elk, antelope, deer, moose, caribou, mountain sheep, mountain goat, walrus, and other animals. It will be doubly deplorable if the remorseless slaughter we have witnessed during the last twenty years carries with it no lessons for the future. A continuation of the record we have lately made as wholesale game butchers will justify posterity in dating us back with the mound-builders and cave-dwellers, when man’s only known function was to slay and eat.
The primary cause of the buffalo’s extermination, and the one which embraced all others, was the descent of civilization, with all its elements of destructiveness, upon the whole of the country inhabited by that animal. From the Great Slave Lake to the Rio Grande the home of the buffalo was everywhere overrun by the man with a gun; and, as has ever been the case, the wild creatures were gradually swept away, the largest and most conspicuous forms being the first to go.
The secondary causes of the extermination of the buffalo may be catalogued as follows:
(1) Man’s reckless greed, his wanton destructiveness, and improvidence in not husbanding such resources as come to him from the hand of nature ready made.
(2) The total and utterly inexcusable absence of protective measures and agencies on the part of the National Government and of the West States and Territories.
(3) The fatal preference on the part of hunters generally, both white and red, for the robe and flesh of the cow over that furnished by the bull.
(4) The phenomenal stupidity of the animals themselves, and their indifference to man.
(5) The perfection of modern breech-loading rifles and other sporting fire-arms in general.
Each of these causes acted against the buffalo with its fall force, to offset which there was not even one restraining or preserving influence, and it is not to be wondered at that the species went down before them. Had any one of these conditions been eliminated the result would have been reached far less quickly. Had the buffalo, for example, possessed one-half the fighting qualities of the grizzly bear he would have fared very differently, but his inoffensiveness and lack of courage almost leads one to doubt the wisdom of the economy of nature so far as it relates to him.