Fine Art Limited Edition Photography of Cowboys, Horses and life in the West.
Bison Stampede. Yes, the ground does shake as a big herd of Bison runs past. In this image the blur was intentional to show the power and speed of these awesome animals. One of the unusual things about this herd was the two newborn calves that at normally born in April or May. This was photographed in September.
This is part of the luxurious collection of fine art, limited edition, cowboy, and western exclusive high-resolution Museum Quality Photography Prints of western life and the people who live that life. Photos copyright © Jess Lee
The modern American bison is split into two subspecies, the
wood bison in the boreal forests of what is now Canada, and the plains bison on the prairies extending from Canada to Mexico. The plains subspecies became the dominant animal of the prairies of North America, where bison were a keystone species, whose grazing and trampling pressure was a force that shaped the ecology of the Great Plains as strongly as periodic prairie fires and which were central to the survival of many American Indians of the Great Plains. To the corn-growing village Indians, it was a valued second food source. However, there is now some controversy over their interaction. Charles C. Mann wrote in , pages 367 ff, " 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Hernando De Soto's expedition staggered through the Southeast for four years in the early 16th century and saw hordes of people but apparently didn't see a single bison." Mann discussed the evidence that Native Americans not only created (by selective use of fire) the large grasslands that provided the bison's ideal habitat but also kept the bison population regulated. In this theory, it was only when the original human population was devastated by wave after wave of epidemic (from diseases of Europeans) after the 16th century that the bison herds propagated wildly. In such a view, the seas of bison herds that stretched to the horizon were a symptom of an ecology out of balance, only rendered possible by decades of heavier-than-average rainfall. Other evidence of the arrival circa 1550–1600 in the savannas of the eastern seaboard includes the lack of places which southeast natives named after buffalo.  Bison were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on Earth.  
Russel Means states that bison were killed by using a method that coyotes implemented. Coyotes will sometimes cut one bison off from the herd and chase it in a circle until the animal collapsed or gave up due to exhaustion.
Ulm Pishkun. Buffalo jump, SW of Great Falls, Montana. The Blackfootdrove bison over cliffs in the autumn to secure the winter supply. Animals not killed in the fall were trapped and killed in a corral at the foot of the cliffs. The Blackfoot used pishkuns as late as the 1850s. 
Working on foot, a few groups of Native Americans at times used fires to channel an entire herd of buffalo over a cliff, killing far more than they could use. The
Olsen–Chubbuck archaeological site in Colorado reveals some techniques, which may or may not have been widely used. The method involves skinning down the back in order to get at the tender meat just beneath the surface, the area known as the "hatched area". After the removal of the hatched area, the front legs are cut off as well as the shoulder blades. Doing so exposes the hump meat (in the Wood Bison), as well as the meat of the ribs and the Bison's inner organs. After everything was exposed, the spine was then severed and the pelvis and hind legs removed. Finally, the neck and head were removed as one. This allowed for the tough meat to be dried and made into pemmican.
Castaneda saw Indian women butchering bison with a flint fixed in a short stick. He admired how quickly they completed the task. Blood to drink was filled in emptied guts, which were carried around the neck.
Crow Indian historian has related a number of ways to get bison. By the help of songs, hazers, drive lines of stones and a  medicine man pointing down the line with a pair of hindquarters in his hands, the Crows drove many bison over a cliff. A successful drive could give 700 animals. During winter, Chief One Heart's camp would maneuver the game out on slick ice, where it was easier to kill with hunting weapons. 
Henry Kelsey described a hunt on the northern plains in 1691. First, the Indians surrounded a herd. Then they would "gather themselves into a smaller Compass Keeping ye Beast still in ye middle". The hunters killed as many as they could before the animals broke through the human ring. 
In the dog days, the women of a Blackfoot camp made a curved fence of
travois' tied together, front end up. Runners drove the game towards the enclosure, where hunters waited with lances as well as bows and arrows. 
Hidatsa near Missouri River confined the buffalo on the weakest ice at the end of winter. When it cracked, the current swept the animals down under thicker ice. The people hauled the drowned animals ashore, when they emerged downstream. Although not hunted in a strict sense, the nearby  Mandan secured bison, drowned by chance, when the ice broke. A trader observed the young men "in the drift ice leap from piece to piece, often falling between, plunging under, darting up elsewhere and securing themselves upon very slippery flakes" before they brought the carcasses to land. 
Religion also played a big role in Native American bison hunting. Plains Indians generally believed that successful hunts required certain rituals. The
Omaha tribe had to approach a herd in four legs. At each stop the chiefs and the leader of the hunt would sit down and smoke and offer prayers for success. The  Pawnee performed the purifying Big Washing Ceremony before each tribal summer hunt to avoid scaring the bison. To Plains Indians, the buffalo was one of the most sacred animal, and they felt obligated to treat them with verbal respect. When they were about to kill a buffalo, they would offer it a prayer. Failures in the hunt would often be attributed to poorly performed rituals. Each animal produced from 200 to 400 pounds of meat, so a slaughter of 50 animals produced far more food than could possibly be eaten by the band, a wastage that was often commented upon by European and American observers. Sometimes a herd would be killed just to get at the delicacies such as the fat-filled tongues. Bison that escaped the trap were hunted down and killed so they could not warn the other bison.  
Illustration of Indians hunting the bison by Karl Bodmer
Horse introduction and changing hunting dynamic [ edit ]
Métis buffalo hunt
Before the introduction of horses, bison were herded into large chutes made of rocks and willow branches and trapped in a corral called a
buffalo pound and then slaughtered or stampeded over cliffs, called buffalo jumps. Both pound and jump archaeological sites are found in several places in the U.S. and Canada. In the case of a jump, large groups of people would herd the bison for several miles, forcing them into a stampede that drove the herd over a cliff.
Horses taken from the Spanish were well-established in the nomadic hunting cultures by the early 1700s, and indigenous groups once living east of the Great Plains moved west to hunt the larger bison population. Intertribal warfare forced the
Cheyennes to give up their cornfields at Biesterfeldt village and eventually cross west of the Missouri and become the well-known horseback buffalo hunters. In addition to using bison for themselves, these indigenous groups also traded meat and robes to village-based tribes.  
Lakota winter count of American Horse, 1817–1818. "The Oglalas had an abundance of buffalo meat and shared it with the Brulés, who were short of food". A bison skin on a frame designates plenty of meat. 
A good horseman could easily lance or shoot enough bison to keep his tribe and family fed, as long as a herd was nearby. The bison provided meat, leather, and sinew for bows.
A fast hunting horse would usually be spared and first mounted near the bison. The hunter rode on a pack horse until then.
Hunters with few horses ran besides the mount to the hunting grounds.  Accidents, sometimes fatal, happened from time to time to both rider and horse.    
To avoid disputes, each hunter used arrows marked in a personal way.
   Lakota hunter Bear Face recognized his arrows by the one of three "arrow wings" made of a pelican feather. Castaneda wrote how it was possible to shoot an arrow right through a buffalo.  The Pawnees had contests as to how many bison it was possible to kill with just one bowshot. The best result was three.  An arrow stuck in the animal was preferred as the most lethal. It would inflict more damage with each jump and move.  A white traveler credited the hunters with cutting up a bison and packing the meat on a horse in less than 15 minutes.  
When the bison stayed away and made hunting impossible, famine became a reality. The hard experience of starvation found way into stories and myths. A folk tale of the Kiowa begins "Famine once struck the
Kiowa People ..." "The people were without food and no game could be found  ..." makes an Omaha myth certain. A fur trader noted how some  Sioux Indians were in want of meat at one time in 1804. Starving  Yanktonais passed by Fort Clark in 1836. 
Bison hunting and some of its effects on indigenous people [ edit ]
Already Castaneda noted the typical relations of two different plains people relying heavily on the same food source: "they ... are enemies of each other."
The bison hunting resulted in loss of land for a number of Indian nations. Indirectly, it often disturbed the rhythm of a tribal life, caused economic losses and hardship, and damaged tribal autonomy. As long as bison hunting went on, intertribal warfare was omnipresent.   
Loss of land and disputes over the hunting grounds [ edit ]
The Kiowas have an early history in parts of present-day Montana and South Dakota. Here they fought the Cheyennes, "who challenged their right to hunt buffalo".
Later, the Kiowas headed for the south together with the  Comanche, when "the Lakota (Teton Sioux) drove them from the Black Hills territory". 
Arapaho considered the Black Hills, South Dakota, their country.  Knowing how the numerous Sioux entered the plains from the east during the 18th century and expanded westward, Chief Black Coal explained in 1875, "In the first place, they came from the Missouri River and reached this place, and now they have got up this far, and they claim all this land."  
The Brule Lakota turned south and "drove all the southern tribes from the best hunting grounds in the
sandhill of Nebraska". Warriors guarded this new territory and other rich game land.  
In present-day Montana, the better-armed Blackfoot pushed the
Kutenai, Flathead and Shoshone off the plains. In the start of the 19th century, they claimed the buffalo ranges entirely to the Rocky Mountains and fought all conceived as intruders. The less numerical tribe peoples west of the continental divide did not accept this. Their ancestors had hunted on the Great Plains and they would continue the tradition at all cost. "When we go to hunt Bison, we also prepare for war with the Peeagans  [Piegan Blackfeet] and their allies", revealed a Flathead chief. A Kutenai gave this description of tribal hunts during buffalo days, "Across the mountains they went out on the prairie, but they were afraid of the Piegans."  
Loss of food source [ edit ]
Ration Day at the Standing Rock Agency, 1883. The scarcity of buffalo led Plains Indians to become dependent on US government rations as source of food.
Tribes forced away from the game rich areas had to try their luck on the edges of the best buffalo habitats. Small tribes found it hard to do even that. Due to attacks in the 1850s and 1860s, the village Indians of the Upper Missouri "hardly dared go into the plains to hunt buffalo".
The Sioux would stay near  Arikara villages "and keep the bison away, so they could sell meat and hides to the Arikaras". 
In 1866, the
Pend d'Oreilles crossed the Rocky Mountain from the west, just to be attacked by Indian foes as they entered the plains. They lost 21 people. The beaten hunting party returned in a "horrible condition" and "all nearly famished". Often, the attackers tried to capture dried meat, equipment and horses during a fight.   
Lack of horses owing to raids reduced the chances for securing an ample amount of meat on the hunts. In 1860, the
Ponca lost 100 horses, while the Mandan and Hidatsa saw the enemy disappear with 175 horses in a single raid in 1861.  
Loss of autonomy [ edit ]
Conflicts between the bison hunting tribes ranged from raids to
massacres.  Camps were left without leaders. In the course of a battle, tipis and hides could be cut to pieces and tipi poles broken.   Organized bison hunts and camp moves were stopped by the enemy,  and village Indians had to flee their homes. 
Massacre Canyon battlefield (1873), Nebraska. Pawnee reservation and relevant Indian territories. The last major Indian-Indian battle was between two big hunting parties, Lakota and Pawnee. It cost the lives of a minimum of ten children, 20 men and 39 women from the Pawnee tribe, counting Chief Sky Chief. The battle was fought on U.S. ground more than 180 miles outside both Indian Reservations.  
Sioux Indians burned a village of Nuptadi Mandans in the last quarter of the 18th century.
Other villages of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara destroyed either completely or partially in Indian attacks are two Hidatsa villages in 1834,  Mitutanka on January 9, 1839  and  Like-a-Fishhook Village in 1862. The three tribes would routinely ask the U.S. army for assistance against stronger Indian powers until the end of intertribal warfare in the area.  
Eighteen out of 30 prominent Poncas were killed in a surprise attack in 1824, "including the famous Smoke-maker".
At a stroke, the small tribe stood without any experienced leaders. In 1859, the Poncas lost two chiefs when a combined group of Indian enemies charged a hunting camp.  
Pawnee village was set ablaze during a large-scale attack in 1843, and the Pawnee never rebuilt it. More than 60 inhabitants lost their lives, including Chief Blue Coat. 
The otherwise numerous Small Robes band of the Piegan Blackfoot lost influence and some self-reliance after a severe River Crow attack on a moving camp at "Mountains on Both Sides" (
Judith Gap, Montana) in 1845. "Their days of greatness were over." 
In 1852, an Omaha delegation visited Washington, D.C. It would "request the federal government's protection".
Five different Indian nations raided the Omaha. 
Spiritual effects [ edit ]
During bison days, spiritual leaders were killed, ceremonies disturbed and medicine bundles lost to the enemy.
When the Nuptadi Mandan village was set ablaze around 1785, "the Old Woman Who Never Dies bundle-owner was killed defending his lodge and his bundles which were burned."
This was a vital bundle to the corn growing Mandans, since it ensured rain and promised good crops.  The turtle drums used in the Okipa ceremony (  Sun Dance) were only saved because they suddenly produced water. 
During a large-scale attack on a Pawnee hunting camp in 1830, the Cheyennes
lost their most sacred tribal bundle, the Mahuts. It contains four arrows with influence upon wars and bison hunts. The Cheyennes left the battlefield that moment and went back to their camp, mourning all the way. In the words of Sand Creek massacresurvivor George Bent, the loss of the arrows "was the greatest disaster the Cheyennes ever suffered." 
A Kiowa calendar memorizes a summer incident in 1833 by the words "They Cut Off Their Heads".
Osage Indians massacred an exposed Kiowa camp by killing and beheading many women, children and aged. The Osage also captured the Kiowa Sun Dance figure, so "no Sun Dance was held that summer". 
The Flatheads in the Bitterroot valley had asked for teachings from
Jesuit priests since 1831. Ten years later, the construction of St. Mary's Mission was finally underway. The first communion was on Easter 1842. Attacks from Blackfoot war groups closed the mission in 1850, against the wishes of the local Flatheads.  
19th century bison hunts and near extinction [ edit ]
1892: bison skulls await industrial processing at Michigan Carbon Works in Rogueville (a suburb of Detroit). Bones were processed to be used for glue, fertilizer, dye/tint/ink, or were burned to create " bone char" which was an important component for sugar refining.
In the 16th century, North America contained 25–30 million buffalo.
Bison were hunted almost to  extinction in the 19th century. Less than 100 remained in the wild by the late 1880s. They were hunted for their skins and tongues with the rest of the animal left behind to decay on the ground.  After the animals rotted, their bones were collected and shipped back east in large quantities.  
Due to the roaming behavior of bison, their mass destruction came with relative ease to hunters. When one bison in a herd is killed, the other bison gather around it. Due to this pattern, the ability of a hunter to kill one bison often led to the destruction of a large herd of them.
Map of the extermination of the bison to 1889. This map based on William Temple Hornaday's late-19th century research. Original range Range as of 1870 Range as of 1889
In 1889, an essay in a journal of the time observed:
Thirty years ago millions of the great unwieldy animals existed on this continent. Innumerable droves roamed, comparatively undisturbed and unmolested ... Many thousands have been ruthlessly and shamefully slain every season for past twenty years or more by white hunters and tourists merely for their robes, and in sheer wanton sport, and their huge carcasses left to fester and rot, and their bleached skeletons to strew the deserts and lonely plains.
The cause of this buffalo population crash is heavily debated by academics.
[ Because native people adapted to the social changes that resulted from ] citation needed Euro-American arrival in the West, some native people reinvented their style of hunting and thus drove the buffalo population down. Proponents of this view argue that some native people embraced the fur trade and adapted to bison hunting via horse, which drove up significantly the number of bison they could slaughter. 
Commercial incentives [ edit ]
Rath & Wright's buffalo hide yard in Dodge City, Kansas, showing 40,000 buffalo hides.
For settlers of the
Plains region, bison hunting served as a way to increase their economic stake in the area. Trappers and traders made their living selling buffalo fur; in the winter of 1872–1873, more than 1.5 million buffalo were put onto trains and moved eastward. In addition to the potential profits from buffalo leather, which was commonly used to make machinery belts and army boots, buffalo hunting forced Natives to become dependent on beef from cattle.  General Winfield Scott Hancock, for example, reminded several Arapaho chiefs at Fort Dodge in 1867: "You know well that the game is getting very scarce and that you must soon have some other means of living; you should therefore cultivate the friendship of the white man, so that when the game is all gone, they may take care of you if necessary." 
Commercial bison hunters also emerged at this time. Military forts often supported hunters, who would use their civilian sources near their military base. Though officers hunted bison for food and sport,
professional hunters made a far larger impact in the decline of bison population. Officers stationed in  Fort Hays and Wallace even had bets in their "buffalo shooting championship of the world", between "Medicine Bill" Comstock and " Buffalo Bill" Cody. Some of these hunters would engage in mass bison slaughter in order to make a living. 
Military involvement [ edit ]
The US Army sanctioned and actively endorsed the wholesale slaughter of bison herds.
The federal government promoted bison hunting for various reasons, to allow ranchers to range their cattle without competition from other bovines, and primarily to weaken the North American Indian population by removing their main food source and to pressure them onto the  Indian reservations during times of conflict.  Without the bison, native people of the plains were often forced to leave the land or starve to death. One of the biggest advocates of this strategy was General  William Tecumseh Sherman. On June 26, 1869, the Army Navy Journal reported: "General Sherman remarked, in conversation the other day, that the quickest way to compel the Indians to settle down to civilized life was to send ten regiments of soldiers to the plains, with orders to shoot buffaloes until they became too scarce to support the redskins." However, it has been argued, "While there is ample evidence that this belief was shared by some of the army leadership ... there is little evidence that it was directly acted upon in any significant way."  According to Professor David Smits: "Frustrated bluecoats, unable to deliver a punishing blow to the so-called 'Hostiles', unless they were immobilized in their winter camps, could, however, strike at a more accessible target, namely, the buffalo. That tactic also made curious sense, for in soldiers' minds the buffalo and the Plains Indian were virtually inseparable."  
Native American involvement [ edit ]
According to historian
Pekka Hämäläinen, a few Native American tribes also partly contributed to the collapse of the bison in the southern Plains. By the 1830s the  Comanche and their allies on the southern plains were killing about 280,000 bison a year, which was near the limit of sustainability for that region. Firearms and horses, along with a growing export market for buffalo robes and bison meat had resulted in larger and larger numbers of bison killed each year. A long and intense drought hit the southern plains in 1845, lasting into the 1860s, which caused a widespread collapse of the bison herds. In the 1860s, the rains returned and the bison herds recovered to a degree. 
Railroad involvement [ edit ]
Pacific Railway Act of 1862, the west experienced a large boom in colonist population—and a large decline in bison population. As railways expanded, military troops and supplies were able to be transported more efficiently to the Plains region. Some railroads even hired commercial hunters to feed their laborers. William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, for example, was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad for this reason. Hunters began arriving in masses, and trains would often slow down on their routes to allow for raised hunting. Men would either climb aboard the roofs of trains or fire shots at herds from outside their windows. As a description of this from Harper's Weekly noted: "The train is 'slowed' to a rate of speed about equal to that of the herd; the passengers get out fire-arms which are provided for the defense of the train against the Indians, and open from the windows and platforms of the cars a fire that resembles a brisk skirmish." The railroad industry also wanted bison herds culled or eliminated. Herds of bison on tracks could damage locomotives when the trains failed to stop in time. Herds often took shelter in the artificial cuts formed by the grade of the track winding through hills and mountains in harsh winter conditions. As a result, bison herds could delay a train for days.  
Commercial hunting [ edit ]
The main reason for the bison's near-demise, much like the actual demise of the
Passenger Pigeon, was commercial hunting.
Bison skins were used for industrial machine belts, clothing such as robes, and rugs. There was a huge export trade to Europe of bison hides. Old West bison hunting was very often a big commercial enterprise, involving organized teams of one or two professional hunters, backed by a team of skinners, gun cleaners,
cartridge reloaders, cooks, wranglers, blacksmiths, security guards, teamsters, and numerous horses and wagons. Men were even employed to recover and recast lead bullets taken from the carcasses. Many of these professional hunters, such as Buffalo Bill Cody, killed over a hundred animals at a single stand and many thousands in their career. One professional hunter killed over 20,000 by his own count. The average prices paid the buffalo hunters from 1880 to 1884 was about as follows: For cow hides, $3; bull hides, $2.50; yearlings, $1.50; calves, 75 cents; and the cost of getting the hides to market brought the cost up to about $3.50 ($89.68 accounting for inflation) per hide. 
The hunter would customarily locate the herd in the early morning, and station himself about 100 yards/meters from it, shooting the animals broadside through the lungs. Head shots were not preferred as the soft lead bullets would often flatten and fail to penetrate the skull, especially if mud was matted on the head of the animal. The bison would continue to drop until either the herd sensed danger and stampeded or perhaps a wounded animal attacked another, causing the herd to disperse. If done properly a large number of bison would be felled at one time. Following up were the skinners, who would drive a spike through the nose of each dead animal with a
sledgehammer, hook up a horse team, and pull the hide from the carcass. The hides were dressed, prepared, and stacked on the wagons by other members of the organization.
For a decade after 1873, there were several hundred, perhaps over a thousand, such commercial hide hunting outfits harvesting bison at any one time, vastly exceeding the take by American Indians or individual meat hunters. The commercial take arguably was anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000 animals per day depending on the season, though there are no statistics available. It was said that the
Big .50s were fired so much that hunters needed at least two rifles to let the barrels cool off; The Fireside Book of Guns reports they were sometimes quenched in the winter snow. Dodge City saw railroad cars sent East filled with stacked hides.
The building of the railroads through Colorado and Kansas split the bison herd in two parts, the southern herd and the northern herd. The last refuge of the southern herd was in the
Texas Panhandle. 
Discussion of bison protection [ edit ]
As the great herds began to wane, proposals to protect the bison were discussed. In some cases, individual military officers attempted to end the mass slaughter of these buffalo.
 William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, among others, spoke in favor of protecting the bison because he saw that the pressure on the species was too great. Yet these proposals were discouraged since it was recognized that the Plains Indians, some of the tribes often at war with the United States, depended on bison for their way of life. (Other buffalo hunting tribes cannot tell of a single fight with the United States, namely tribes like the Assiniboine, the Hidatsa,  the Gros Ventre,  the Ponca  and the Omaha  ). In 1874, President  Ulysses S. Grant " pocket vetoed" a Federal bill to protect the dwindling bison herds, and in 1875 General Philip Sheridan pleaded to a joint session of Congress to slaughter the herds, to deprive the Indians of their source of food. By 1884, the  American Bison was close to extinction.
Subsequent settlers harvested bison bones to be sold for fertilizer. It was an important source of supplemental income for poorer farmers in the 1880s and early 1890s.
The last tribal hunt of the Omaha, December 1876 to March 1877. After more than 30 camp moves, the hunters finally found a herd 400 miles outside the Omaha Reservation (Nebraska). In 1912, Gilmore secured the account of the hunting expedition into Kansas from Francis La Flesche. La Flesche was one of the Omaha scouts looking for game. (Route approximately).
The last hunts of the Indians [ edit ]
During the 1870s and 1880s, more and more tribes went on their last great bison hunt.
Led by Chief
Washakie, around 1,800 Shoshones in the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming started out in October 1874. Going north, the men, women and children crossed the border of the reservation. Scouts came back with news of buffalo near Gooseberry Creek. The hunters got around 125 bison. Fewer hunters left the reservation the next two years and those who went focused on elk, deer and other game. 
The final hunt of the Omaha Indians in Nebraska took place in December 1876.
Crow Flies High and his group established themselves on the Fort Buford Military Reservation, North Dakota, in the start of the 1870s and hunted bison in the Yellowstone area until game went scarce during the next decade.  :14–15
Indian agents, with insufficient funds, accepted long hunting expeditions of the Flathead and Pend d'Oreille to the plains in the late 1870s.
In the early 1880s, the buffalo were gone.  
Gros Ventre Indians left the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana for a hunt north of Milk River in 1877. Chief Jerry Running Fisher enlisted as scout at  Fort Assinniboine in 1881. "His camp stayed close to the troops when they patrolled, so they hunted undisturbed by enemy tribes." Two years later, the buffalo were all but gone. 
In June 1882, more than 600 Lakota and Yanktonai hunters located a big herd on the plains far west of the
Standing Rock Agency. In this last hunt, they got around 5,000 animals. 
Bison population crash and its effect on indigenous people [ edit ]
Following the Civil War, the U.S. had ratified roughly 400 treaties with the Plains Indians, but went on to break many of these as the Westward Movement ensued. The bison population crash represented a loss of spirit, land, and autonomy for most Indigenous People at this time.
Loss of land [ edit ]
Much of the land delegated to Indigenous tribes during this westward expansion were barren tracts of land, far from any buffalo herds. These reservations were not sustainable for Natives, who relied on bison for food. One of these reservations was the Sand Creek Reservation in southeastern Colorado. The nearest buffalo herd was over two hundred miles away, and many Cheyennes began leaving the reservation, forced to hunt livestock of nearby settlers and passing wagon trains.
Loss of food source [ edit ]
Plains Indians adopted a nomadic lifestyle, one which depended on bison location for their food source. Bison is high in protein levels and low in fat content, and contributed to the wholesome diet of Native Americans. Additionally, they used every edible part of the bison—organs, brains, fetuses, and placental membranes included.
Loss of autonomy [ edit ]
As a consequence of the great bison slaughter, Indians became more heavily dependent on the U.S. Government and American traders for their needs. Many military men recognized the bison slaughter as a way of reducing the autonomy of Indigenous Peoples. For instance, Lieutenant Colonel Dodge, a high-ranking military officer, once said in a conversation with
Frank H. Mayer: "Mayer, there's no two ways about it, either the buffalo or the Indian must go. Only when the Indian becomes absolutely dependent on us for his every need, will we be able to handle him. He's too independent with the buffalo. But if we kill the buffalo we conquer the Indian. It seems a more humane thing to kill the buffalo than the Indian, so the buffalo must go." 
Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian School and a Tenth Cavalry lieutenant in the Red River War, discussed this strategy after his retirement: "the generation of the buffalo was ordered as a military measure because it was plain that the Indians could not be controlled on their reservations as long as their greatest resource, the buffalo, were so plentiful." 
The destruction of bison signaled the end of the Indian Wars, and consequently their movement towards reservations. When the Texas legislature proposed a bill to protect the bison, General Sheridan disapproved of it, stating, "These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years. They are destroying the Indians' commissary. And it is a well known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle."
Spiritual effects [ edit ]
Skin effigy of a Buffalo used in the Lakota Sun Dance
Most Indigenous Native American tribes regard the bison as a sacred animal and religious symbol. University of Mo. Photo © copyright by Jess Lee.