Where Did All The Buffalo Go ?

The great era of the mountain man lasted for twenty years. The two decades from 1820 to 1840 opened much of the west and all of Wyoming.  But what did the mountain men do after 1840, the price of fur was down, down so low it wasn’t worth their time to trap. Many turned to the vast buffalo herds of the plains and foothills, either leading hunters to them or hunting themselves.

In the 1840s there were a reported 30 million buffalo and maybe as many as 60 million – by 1882 there were less than one thousand. Theses beasts had roamed America for hundreds of centuries sustaining cultures that dated back to nearly the Stone Age. So what happened? We hunted them to near extinction. They were easy prey, hunted for food to feed railroad workers, shot for sport by hunters from all over the world. Later thousands were killed for their tongue and hump steaks. And then the hide hunters came. $3.00 a hide when a dollar a day was a decent wage. Many hunters employed full time skinners, cooks, teamsters and general help. A good hunter killed hundreds and sometimes thousands in a year.

So how did this happen, sadly, government policy? Kill the food source and the Indian problem would go away, at least that was the theory, and it seemed to work. The United States government encouraged the hunting of buffalo to extension. By 1890 the Indian Wars were over and the buffalo were nearly gone.

Today the Buffalo are making a strong comeback thanks to a few pure strain herds like the one in Yellowstone. I took these photos on a trip in the Laramie Range (30 miles away) last week end. These buffalo are on a huge ranch on open, unfenced range. They look pretty happy to me.
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