Misconceptions about the American Buffalo

Misconceptions about the American Buffalo
There’s not a shed in sight! (Photo by Rod Beemer)

The American buffalo, or technically the Bison Americanus, have always fascinated me and over the years I’ve gathered considerable material on the species as well as spent time observing them in pastures.

I’ve encountered myths and misconceptions about this animal dating as early as the 1500s to as recently as November, 2012. In fact, I’m currently working on an article which will – hopefully in the near future – appear either in print or on this site. It is thoroughly researched and will examine who, or what, caused the buffalo’s near extinction in the 1870s and 1880s. Stay tuned for the release of this in-depth article.

One of the most interesting misconceptions was an event recorded in Elliot West’s, The Contested Plains, which just may take the prize for the most misguided thinking of the nineteenth century. The event took place during the stampede to the Colorado gold fields in 1859: “A journalist interviewed a group of twenty men about to leave with a tired horse and fifty pounds of hard bread. How would they live for the next several weeks? The would kill wild game, they said, and sleep in the sheds they thought Indians had built for buffaloes.”

It takes a moment for that to sink in since there were probably at least four million, some suggest fourteen million, buffalo in what was known as the Republican herd roaming between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Even if the Indians had ever conceived of such an idea – which they hadn’t – it would take a monumental building project to construct sheds for all those animals. Besides that, buffalo loved to rub on anything handy and there are recorded accounts of them rubbing on cabins until the building was destroyed.

The account apparently appeared in the St. Louis Missouri Republican newspaper which suggests they might have taken a steamboat to some port in eastern Kansas where they were ready to leave for the mountains. It would be interesting to know the outcome of their journey.

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