The worst waste Americans ever created was exterminating the aboriginal American Indians by first killing the basis of their economy and identity e.g., the American buffalo.

The worst waste Americans ever created was exterminating the aboriginal American Indians by first killing the basis of their economy and identity e.g., the American buffalo.

Buffalo [1]

The American buffalo is the smaller cousin of the European bison. The typical animal has a body 7-11 feet long, 5-6 feet high at the shoulder, and the typical bull weighs 1,600 pounds—the largest on record being 2,800 pounds. It is the largest land animal in the Americas and the national mammal of the U.S. It is estimated that in the 16th century there were 25 to 30 million buffalo in North America from the Great Slave Lake in Canada to southern Mexico. The animal was rescued late in the 19th century by laws protecting a herd of a few dozen in Yellowstone. That herd has grown to 4,500 today. A smaller herd is in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Preserve, adjacent to Ft. Still.

Buffalo have only one calf a year, so how did so many accumulate? Speculation is that their only real enemy was the American Indian, who was essentially eradicated by the white man’s diseases the Spanish brought along with their horses in the 16th century. With unlimited grassland on the Great Plains, buffalo grew into herds that stopped trains for three hours as they passed in front of them. They were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on earth.

Plains Indians [2]

Buffalo were the center of the life and identity of several Plains Indian tribes. By the early 1700s, American Indians were on horseback, no longer on foot, driving buffalo in “buffalo pounds” (corrals) or over cliffs in “buffalo jumps” and killing them with arrows. They obtained hoop iron scraps from raids on settlers and even sword blades, forming them into 14-inch points, which they attached to 8-foot shafts to form spears. They never threw spears but rode beside a buffalo and thrust spears into its side. Having only one lung, buffalo died within a few strides from a thrust from either side. A good horseman could easily supply his tribe as long as the herd was nearby.

American Indians got almost everything they needed from the buffalo e.g., food, clothing, tepee covers, tools and needles from bone slivers, strong thread, bow strings, and lariats from sinews, rope from plaited hair, and kettles, shields, and traveling bags (parfleches) from tough hides. [3]

Buffalo Gun

Everything changed after 1868 with invention of “Sharp’s Fifties.” This .50 caliber rifle had a 34-inch octagonal barrel, and its cartridges had 125 grains of black powder, which propelled a 600-grain bullet capable of knocking down a 2,000-pound buffalo at 1,000 yards. It produced 10,000- to 15,000-foot pounds of energy compared with only 2,000- to 3,000-foot pounds for a 30-.30 rifle. (The modern Browning model was invented during World War I as an anti-tank weapon.) The record now for a sniper kill using a Browning weapon with scope is 2.2 miles.

Buffalo were “stupefyingly easy to kill.“ If a buffalo saw the animal next to it drop dead, it would not flee unless it could see the source of the danger. Thus, one buffalo hunter could hide beside a herd before daybreak and spend the day killing an entire herd without ever spooking the herd. In 1870, there were still 5,500,000 buffalo. Between 1873-4, hunters in the Kansas plains near Dodge City killed 5 million buffalo, and by 1895 there were only 800 left—primarily in Yellowstone Park and in a refuge in northern Canada.

Wastefulness

Early on, buffalo were killed for their skins ($3) or for robes $50—50 days’ wages for laborers. By the 1880s, poorer farmers collected bleached buffalo skulls and shipped them back east for fertilizer. American Indians took only 200 to 400 pounds of meat from a carcass, but military men would kill the bison and not take any of the meat from it.

In 1867, Kiowa Chief Santana complained, “has the white man become a child, that he should recklessly kill and not eat? When the red men slay game, they do so that they may live and not starve.”

Many American Indians perceived the buffalo as part of the natural world—something guaranteed to them by the Creator. Buffalo were central to the lives and identity of Native Americans, and before they killed a buffalo they would say a prayer. The U.S. Army’s Indian removal strategy was to eliminate buffalo, the basis of their life and livelihood, thereby forcing them into reservations in the vain hope they would become farmers. It cleared the Great Plains of buffalo and American Indians and filled it with white men and white-faced cattle.

As Crow Chief Plenty Coups described it, “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. There was little singing anywhere.”[2]

“The destruction of these noble game animals by millions for their hides only furnishes a notable example of wanton wastefulness.” [1]

American Indians better obeyed Biblical injunctions to kill animals “for food” and to “Take care of“ the natural world than their Christian conquerors who wasted and despoiled it. [Gen.1:30; 2:15]

[1] Edward W. Nelson, Wild Animals of North America, Wash.D.C., NatGeo., 1918.

[2] Gwynne, S.C., Empire of the Summer Moon, NY: Scribner, 2010.

[3] Wise, Lu Celia, Indian Cultures of Oklahoma, Ok. Dept. State Ed., 1978, 27.