American Buffalo

American Buffalo - A symbol of the Native American culture

The American buffalo is a symbol of the United States, much like the bald eagle. They were once found roaming wild from Alaska down through Mexico. It is estimated that there were once over 60 million buffalo in the United States, traveling in herds throughout the Great Plains. American buffalo, also called bison, are large, shaggy animals with long black horns that end in a sharp tip. They are now found mostly on the protected lands of national parks. The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology has a page dedicated to American buffalo facts. For photographs of the American buffalo, visit First People's American Buffalo gallery.

In 1806, Lewis and Clark watched a buffalo herd run across a plain in South Dakota, and described it as a, "Moving multitude ...darkening the plains." The US Fish and Wildlife Service's page on the American Buffalo describes the numbers of buffalo that once roamed the plains while Lewis and Clark were exploring the western areas of America. Due to their abundance, bison were a central figure in the culture of many Native American tribes, especially those who lived in the plains extending from southern Canada down through most of the central mid-west region of the United States. The Native Americans were able to use every part of the buffalo, letting nothing go to waste. The Blue Cloud website lists what could be made from a buffalo on their Indian Uses of the Buffalo page.

The culture of the plains Indians was greatly influenced by buffalo. Many of the myths and lore from this time were centered on the buffalo. Stories about the White Buffalo Woman, as well as the regular performance of the Buffalo Dance are just two examples of the many aspects of Native life that were influenced by buffalo. Several of these legends can be found on Native Americans' lore page.

In the middle to late 1800's, the United States government encouraged the slaughter of millions of American buffalo. It was hoped that by getting rid of the buffalo, the government could also solve the problem they were having with the Native Americans. The slaughter reached its peak during the 1870s, with estimates putting the number of buffalo killed during the first three or four years of that decade alone at more than four and a half million. The Buffalo Field Campaign has more about this slaughter of the American buffalo on their Bison or Buffalo and Native Americans page.

By the time the American government stepped in, reversing its decision on killing the buffalo, there were less than 100 left in the country. It was thought that the American buffalo was headed for extinction. Fortunately, due to individual ranchers, new government legislation, and safe grazing areas on state lands, the bison have made a comeback. There are only two known wild buffalo herds left in North America, but they are raised by the thousands on ranches and farms all over the US and Canada. Although there will never be as many as there once were, the American buffalo is no longer facing the threat of extinction.

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