President Grant’s bad Buffalo Decision

President Grant’s bad Buffalo Decision

As President of the United States, in 1874, U.S. Grant had a chance to save the American Buffalo (Bison) but he passed. At the time, there were still thousands of bison roaming the west. His decision or non-decision almost wiped out the entire species. How sad it would be if Grant’s action would have caused the American Buffalo to become extinct, and it almost did.


In 1750, Daniel Boone hunted bison in the Carolinas. Eighty years later there were no buffalo left east of the Mississippi River. Despite this, there were still an amazing number of bison roaming the western ranges of America, as many as 30 million lived on the western plains and foothills making up the great southern and northern herds.


The fur trade years, when mountain men trapped the beaver for its skin, were nearly over by 1840. Now a new fur, the buffalo robe came into fashion. Hunters and skinners came west by the dozens, slaughtering buffalo for their skins. Tails of these hunts encouraged, so called, sportsmen to come west to kill buffalo. The hunters were encouraged by both the railroad and the army each with their own personal reasons for wanting the buffalo destroyed. This brought even more pressure on the dwindling western herd as trainloads of buffalo shooters came west.



By 1870, buffalo robes were not as saleable as before and some of the pressure went away. United States Representative, R. C. McCormick of Arizona, explaining to anyone who would listen that the southern herd was gone, introduced a bill in 1871 to stop or at least curtail the wanton destruction of the buffalo in the west, now only the northern herd. The bill fell on deaf ears in Washington, never getting out of committee. He tried it again the next year and this time people started to listen. At last congress passed a similar bill to McCormick’s in 1874.

President Grant, still worried about an Indian uprising in the west, listened to his advisors and pocket vetoed the law. For anyone that has forgotten their high school history lessons this simply means congress was about to adjourn and Grant did nothing. When the congressional session ended so did all bills that were not signed.

Grant had been told privately, by his Secretary of Interior, that if the bison were gone the Indians of the west would have no choice but to adapt to a white, agricultural lifestyle. His military advisors, Generals, Phil Sheridan and William T. Sherman were very outspoken urging the killing the buffalo to end the lifestyle of the western Indians.


Ten years later most of the buffalo were gone. The few remaining were protected in Wyoming’s northwest corner by the formation of Yellowstone Park in 1872. But even here the poachers arrived attempting to kill off the last of the western herd. Finally, the government came to the aid of the buffalo (in 1886) sending soldiers to the park to run the hunters out and become the parks first police force.

At long last in 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law outlawing all hunting, timber cutting and mining in Yellowstone, finally protecting the last two hundred animals.
If this post has any good news it is that the bison has become an American success story, with 300,000 to 500,000 now in North America.



“When the Buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.” 
Crow Chief Plenty Coups
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