Buffalo, and the North American Plains Indian

Must have been some life out there on the plains with all those Buffalo. Seems to me the Plains Indian had quite a piece of the pie, until the pale faces showed up.

In today’s excerpt – the tragedy that ensured the doom of the North American Plains Indian was the unprecedented slaughter of the American buffalo since they had become almost completely dependent on the buffalo for identity, sustenance and supplies:
“The greatest threat of all to the [North American Plains Indian] identity, and to the very idea of a nomadic hunter in North America, appeared on the plains in the late 1860s. These were the buffalo men. Between 1868 and 1881 they would kill thirty-one million buffalo, stripping the plains almost entirely of the huge, lumbering creatures and destroying any last small hope that any horse tribe could ever be restored to its traditional life. There was no such thing as a horse Indian without a buffalo herd. Such an Indian had no identity at all.
“For hunters, the economics of the new business was miraculous, all the more so since the animals were so 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 shooter with a long-range rifle could drop an entire stand of the creatures without moving.
“Within two years these hunters, working mainly the Kansas plains close
to Dodge City, had killed five million buffalo. Almost immediately, they were victims of their own success.
“Surprisingly, only a few voices cried out against the slaughter of the buffalo, which had no precedent in human history. Mostly people didn’t trouble
themselves about the consequences. It was simply capitalism working itself out, the exploitation of another natural resource.
There was another, better
explanation for the lack of protest, articulated best by General Phil Sheridan, then commander of the Military Division of the Missouri. ‘These men [hunters] have done in the last two years … more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years,’ he said. ‘They are destroying the Indians’ commissary … For the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy.’ Killing the Indians’ food was not just an accident of commerce; it was a deliberate political act.”
Author: S.C. Gwynne
Title: Empire of the Summer Moon
Publisher: Scribner
Date: Copyright 2010 by S.C. Gwynne
Pages: 259-262
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Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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