Bison Bison PowerPoint

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Bison Bison : 

Bison Bison Oh, give me a home Where the buffalo roam….

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Home on the Range

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The American buffalo appears on our maps…

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…and on our money…

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…in our language… Buffalo Grass Buffalo Wings

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Buffalo Soldiers

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…and as an icon in western art. C. M. Russell

Slide 8: 

The Animal and the Land

Slide 9: 

The scientific name for the American buffalo is Bison bison.

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There are two subspecies or varieties: the Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae)…

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… and the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison).

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Bison bison is found only in North America, and the closest related species is the wisent (Bison bonasus) of eastern Europe.

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Pictures of their common ancestor were painted on caves in France 25,000 years ago.

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The first buffalo in North America came over the land bridge from Siberia during the ice ages.

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It was the era of large mammals: mammoths, camels, saber tooth tigers and giant ground sloths lived on the American continents.

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Bison antiquus, the migrant from Siberia, was the ancestor of the smaller American buffalo.

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Skeleton of Bison Antiquus

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Nevertheless, when the Europeans arrived, Bison bison was the largest land mammal in North America.

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At that time buffalo ranged from the Rockies to the Appalachians, from Canada to Mexico.

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The center of buffalo population was the Great Plains, sometimes called the Great American Desert.

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These rolling grasslands consist of three types of prairie -- tall grass…

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… mixed grass…

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… and short grass …

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… depending on the amount of rainfall.

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The buffalo and the prairie evolved together. The grazing of the animals has influenced which plants flourish.

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In the harsh prairie winters, the buffalo developed the ability to survive the cold and to forage in deep snow.

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Buffalo herds travel together in search of food. The animals are so large they have few predators. C. M. Russell

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In the summer rutting season, the bulls fight each other for access to the cows.

Slide 31: 

George Catlin

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Buffalo calves are born in the spring, a distinctive cinnamon color and able, within hours, to travel with the herd.

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The European settlers quickly eliminated the eastern buffalo , but buffalo in the West continued to number in the millions until 150 years ago.

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The Buffalo Culture Of the Plains Indians

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Until a man collecting old bison bones in Folsom, NM, in 1908 found bones and stone weapons together, everyone believed the American Indians came to America about 2,000 years ago.

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The stone weapons have been named Folsom points and the bones were over 12,000 years old.

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Later finds of Clovis points pushed the time of these early hunters back to over 13,000 years ago.

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These Paleo Indians were hunting the buffalo. Like the buffalo, they must have come from Siberia, and their stone tools have recently been found in Alaska. George Catlin

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Over the millennia their descendants, the Plains Indians, developed a culture which reflected their economic reliance on the buffalo.

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Their diet consisted mostly of buffalo meat, which they could dry to preserve it.

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They learned to tan or preserve buffalo skins to make robes for warmth and tipis for shelter.

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They even made bull boats from buffalo hides. C. M. Russell

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They made many tools and implements from different parts of the animal. Bone Sled Hair Rope Horn Ladle

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They recorded their history on buffalo hide.

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The only domesticated animal the early hunters had to help them was the dog. Today’s Indians refer to this period as the “dog days.”

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During the dog days, the Indians hunted the buffalo on foot…

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…in the water…

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…in the snow…

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…and by driving the buffalo into enclosed pounds.

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The most dramatic hunting method was the use of the buffalo jump.

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Indian men and boys stampeded the buffalo off a sudden drop or cliff.

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After the Spanish brought the horse to America in the 1500s, the Indians gradually acquired horses and became expert riders. George Catlin

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Horses could pull heavier loads, a great help to nomadic tribes searching for the buffalo. C. M. Russell

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Hunters could now ride among the buffalo, hunting much more effectively.

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The Indians also acquired guns, but it was the arrival of “horse days” which allowed tribes who had occasionally hunted buffalo to specialize as hunters. Frederick Remington

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Shamans danced the buffalo dance to attract the herds.

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Creation myths celebrated the buffalo as the important gift of the Great Spirit.

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Decline of the Buffalo

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After the Civil War, in 1865, 50 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains.

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Twenty years later, about a thousand animals remained in all of North America.

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Two major forces brought Bison bison to the edge of extinction: The opening of the western lands to settlement. The building of the transcontinental railroads.

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The first settlers to cross the continent on the Oregon Trail were headed to the West Coast.

Slide 67: 

Albert Bierstadt

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Just like the Indians, they used the buffalo as a resource, but did not affect the population. C. M. Russell

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After the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, more settlers came to farm on the prairie.

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Discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota attracted miners.

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At the same time, construction of the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific Railroads crossed the territory of the Plains Indians who depended on the buffalo.

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“We did not interfere with you. The Great Spirit gave us plenty of land to live on and buffalo, deer, antelope and other game; but you have come here; you are taking my land from me; you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live.” Crazy Horse

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In the inevitable conflicts, the U.S. Army was called in to protect the railroad workers, the settlers, and the miners.

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The railroad opened the territory to hunters, some of whom shot at the animals from the moving trains.

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The commercial hunters killed thousands for their hides.

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The best known buffalo hunter was Buffalo Bill.

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So many buffalo were killed that pickers piled the bones by the railroad tracks so they could be shipped east and turned into fertilizer.

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“The buffalo hunters, not the Army, cleared the Indians off the Plains. “ Stephen Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer

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Crazy Horse, with the Sioux and Cheyenne, slaughtered Custer’s men at the Little Big Horn but, in the end, Crazy Horse surrendered because his people were starving.

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When the Smithsonian Museum sent naturalist William Hornaday to collect specimens for an exhibit, he needed two trips in the 1880s to find enough animals.

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The buffalo was now seen as an object in a museum.

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Return of the Buffalo

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Although the American buffalo had almost been exterminated by 1885, today we find over 500,000 buffalo in North America.

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Today’s bison live in parks and on about 4,000 private ranches.

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Ted Turner owns the world’s largest buffalo herd on his own ranch.

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The herds in the parks have grown so much that their populations must be controlled. For example, an annual roundup is held in Custer State Park….

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… at which the young animals are inoculated and the surplus buffalo are sold.

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Bison bison has survived because of both public and private efforts.

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In 1905 conservationists, including Theodore Roosevelt, founded the American Bison Society.

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They settled buffalo in a preserve in Oklahoma and established the National Bison Range in Montana in 1913.

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The initial animals for these protected herds were sent to the West from New York’s Bronx Zoo.

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Today, publicly-maintained buffalo herds are found on Elk Island in Canada, as well as in Badlands National Park…

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… Custer State Park

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…Yellowstone National Park…

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…and Wind Cave National Park.

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The herds roam free within the parks and continue to be a major tourist attraction.

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The Nature Conservancy and the American Prairie Foundation, among others, are non-governmental organizations which also work to preserve wild buffalo in their native landscape.

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Many buffalo now have some cattle genes as a result of cross breeding with domestic cattle.

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The hybrids are called cattalo or beefalo.

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Some of the hybrids are not fertile, and their appearance varies greatly depending on the percentage of buffalo genes.

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Ranchers breed experimental beef and buffalo combinations because of their admiration for the endurance and thriftiness of the buffalo.

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Buffalo and beefalo meat are nutritious and widely available….

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…even in our local supermarket.

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Other buffalo products can also be found in the market.

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Twenty years ago Frank and Deborah Popper, two geographers at Rutgers, proposed the creation of a Buffalo Commons.

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They pointed to the recurrent droughts and the depletion of ground water in the short grass prairie, leading to dramatic drops in population.

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Rather than continuing to plow the land or graze cattle not suited to this environment, they proposed to return the land to the grazing of the buffalo.

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Originally conceived as a government program, the Buffalo Commons idea is developing today with support by conservation organizations and commercial buffalo ranchers.

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As a reporter for the Fargo Forum points out, “Just a few years ago, the Poppers were greeted by a lynch-mob mentality. But now you have to be dumb as a stump not to realize they were right on. It’s more than mythological nonsense about buffalo, it’s about mistaken land-uses, and also new ones.” Anne Matthews, Where the Buffalo Roam: Restoring America’s Great Plains

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Bison bison is still an important symbol, serving now as a metaphor for sustainable land use.

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The End