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Public Domain image of the American Bison

The American Bison is the largest land animal in North America. Males can stand six feet tall from hoof to shoulder and weigh as much as 2000 lbs. Female bison can stand up to five feet tall and weigh as much as 1000 lbs. These animals have long shaggy brown hair, a mane, long beards under their chin and short horns on massive heads. Bison can run up to 35 mph and are able to jump 6 feet in the air. They roamed Western Kansas in great numbers for centuries.

The Plains Indians had hunted the buffalo for centuries as a food mainstay. They also used buffalo hides to make clothing and shelter. The Plains Indians used buffalo bones to make the tools and weapons that they needed to survive. They saw the buffalo as both a physical and a spiritual being, a being that maintained their physical bodies and their spiritual souls. They did not over hunt the buffalo like the white settlers did.

When the buffalo hunters came to Western Kansas, they hunted the buffalo to supply food for the railroad crews that laid down the Santa Fe and Kansas Pacific railroads. In 1872, the leather companies found a way to use the buffalo hide, because of this; the hide of the buffalo came into great demand. These buffalo hunters began to hunt the buffalo indiscriminately. They would only take the buffalo hides and leave the rest of the carcass to rot in the prairie sun. This in essence would diminish the buffalo herds by the end of the 19th century. Due to this over hunting, there were millions upon millions of dried buffalo bones just lying out on the prairie. Farmers soon would gather these bones and sell them to make fertilizer, toothbrush handles,
and other finished goods back east.

Today, the buffalo no longer roams the Great Plains freely, but through conservation efforts that began in 1898, the wild populations of buffalo are now limited to national parks and refuges. The largest of these herds is located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

 Lines to a Buffalo

Far out upon the prairie,

Today I idly roam;

This erst was called the hunters' range,

The noble bisons' home.

Here proud of man, he grandly strode,

A monarch in his might.

Fearless he scanned his vast abode.

With keen, far-reaching sight.

Too soon, alas! the whistling ball

Sped swift, upon its way.

Brave to the death, I saw thee fall

And marked thy closing day.

Again thy trail I cross, Alas!

'Twas here I saw thee die.

And here beneath the tangled grass

Thy bleaching bones, espy.

—Mrs. L. C. Hopkins. (1879)


Web sites

To Learn more about the American bison and how they played an important part in Kansas History, check out these web sites on the the topic.

American Buffalo: Spirit of a Nation
From the PBS Nature series, learn about how the Bison where nearly destroyed by greed and uncontrolled hunting.

The buffalo hunt of the Metis Nation
Learn how the Plains Indian depended upon the American bison on this Web site.

The Buffalo Harvest
Read this first hand account by Frank B. Myer with Charles Roth about a Buffalo Hunter on the Western Kansas Frontier, during the era of the Great buffalo hunts. This article is found on the PBS THE WEST Web site.