The American Buffalo
During the 1500s in the United States, there was an estimated 30 to 60 million buffalo, also called bison living in North America. It is sometimes called the American Buffalo. A bison or buffalo is a hump-backed shaggy-haired wild animal having a large head with short horns. It is a mammal related to an ox.
Native American tribes, especially the Plains Indians, consider the bison a sacred animal and a religious symbol linked to creation, medicine and messengers of sacred messages from the tribes' ancestors.
The buffalo was a valuable resource for the Native Americans. In addition to its religious importance, the buffalo had many different functions for the native peoples. It was used in many different ceremonies, religious and otherwise. In addition, the hide was used to make tipi covers which provided homes for the Native Americans.
Nearly every part of the buffalo was used, and it would not be wasted. Besides providing food, the buffalo's parts were used to make utensils, shields, weapons, and for sewing. The Sioux tribe considered the birth of a white buffalo to be the return of White Buffalo Calf Woman, a sacred woman of supernatural origin, like a prophet.
Between the 1700s and 1800s, as colonists from the East moved during Westward Expansion in the United States, they brought changes to the habitat in the Midwest through plowing and farming. The American Buffalo was pushed out and began to become over-hunted, diseased, and forced off the land along with the Native Americans. Many people thought killing off the bison would negatively affect the Native Americans, which it did.
Hunters would kill the buffalo strictly for the value of its hide and the rest of the carcass would simply be left behind to rot in the sun. The hunters did not have the same respect for the buffalo as the Native Americans. Thousands and thousands of the buffalo were regularly killed. In addition, during the 1860s, railroad construction began and the buffalo were killed to provide food for the railway crews and those in the army. In 1870, it was estimated that 2 million buffalo had been killed.
The buffalo was becoming profitable for many people. Bison bones were used in refining sugar, making fertilizer, and china. Many people began to capture the wild buffalo and established private herds on farms. The demand for bison skins increased and the buffalo were hunted throughout the year.
The same actions were taking place in Canada as well. Bison throughout North America were disappearing rapidly through the end of the 1800s, and by 1884 there remained only about 325 wild bison in the United States, which included 25 protected buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. The bison were nearly extinct.
Finally, in 1894, Congress enacted a law that made buffalo hunting illegal in Yellowstone. And as the years passed, the buffalo population again increased. As of 2017, the total population of buffalo in the United States has reached over 200,000.
In addition, the American Buffalo is often used in North America in official seals, flags, and logos. The bison is especially a popular symbol in the Great Plains States with Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming adopting the mammal as their official state mammal, and the bison appears on the Wyoming flag. Though the American Buffalo nearly became extinct, its recovery shows the respect many people, especially the Native Americans, have for this unique creature.
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