1800s: Killing the American Buffalo

‘Bison were hunted almost to extinction in the late 19th century primarily by market hunters and were reduced to a few hundred by the mid-1880s. They were hunted for their skins, 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.’

- Wikipedia

12 Responses

  1. KulkulkanX

    I’ve read that the buffalo extermination was also a US govt effort to take the base out of Plains Indian culture. Couldn’t live free if your food source was gone.

    • Hamster

      General Philip Sheridan was in charge of Indian policy in the west for a time.

      “These men (the buffalo hunters) have done more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. Send them powder and lead if you will, but for the sake of a lasting peace let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy who follows the hunter as the second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”


  2. klem

    “Couldn’t live free if your food source was gone”

    It worked too.

  3. dissapointed

    While I enjoy many articles on this blog, I’ve noticed a tendency to post depressing photo series of bombed out buildings, urban blight (“ruin porn,” as beleaguered Detroiters have sarcastically started calling it), extinct (or in this case, previously near-extinct) species, etc, and other tragic scenes, without any context.

    This is frustrating and quite negative as it ignores and depreciates the efforts of individuals and communities to better these difficulties — an example would be the current attempts of Detroit residents to revitalize their city, which have been covered by many other blogs, but completely ignored in the photo essay on this site, which seemed aimed solely at an aesthetic reaction to “tragedy”.

    In this case, the extinction of the American Bison was successfully (and narrowly) fought — it’s one of the great triumphs of American conservationism. Given that it’s covered in the same Wikipedia article cited here, not mentioning that here feels like a deliberate editorial omission.

    I have to ask: what’s the deal? Does contextless tragedy just fetch higher Google Analytics ratings? Posts like this give me an image of anonymous motorists rubbernecking a roadside tragedy.

    • Avatar of Chris

      Hello dissapointed, and thank you for your note.

      The purpose of How to be a Retronaut is to showcase material which distorts common models of time. The site achieves this by showcasing (primarily) visual material which is, or appears to be, anachronistic.

      One such perceived anachronism is the idea of the ‘contemporary ruin’. Many of us live in a world which is orientated towards the new and the digital, and many people locate the idea of the ‘ruin’ in distant time – the ruined castle, the ghost town etc. In this context, images of contemporary ruins act to remind us of the underlying temporary nature of any society, and of ourselves.

      The images of abandoned Detroit houses are an example of this. There is no shortage of online and offline discussion about Detroit and its regeneration, and adding to this discussion is outside of How to be a Retronaut’s remit. Instead, the site presents the images not as a commentary on American internal politics, but rather as a reminder that what we perceive to be permanent, not just in Detroit but also in our own villages, towns and cities – and lives – is very much impermanent.

      The images of buffalo skulls are a different form of anachronism, but an equally powerful one. The post makes no comment about the conservation of the buffalo because that is not its purpose. Instead its purpose is to draw attention to the radical shift in attitude towards the buffalo between the 1870s and today. Such a radical shift is another example of the fluidity of time. Looking from 2010 to
      1870, such a huge heap of skulls seems astonishing. Looking from 1870 to 2010, it may have seemed entirely natural and right.

      Both these examples make their points through imagery and the minimum amount of text. This is the editorial policy of How to be a Retronaut – we believe that the visual is a more powerful language than text. For people wishing to find out more subject information, we provide hyperlinks to external sources.

      Scenes of death and abandonment may seem to be depressing. However, viewed from another angle, they can act as an urgent and inspiring reminder of the short and transient nature of all our lives, and therefore ultimately as a call to live life to the full.

      Of the 36 posts currently on pages one, two & three of How to be a Retronaut, six could be described as centring on tragedy:

      - Nuclear Detonation 1945 – 1998
      - Killing the American Buffalo
      - Abandoned Pod City
      - Errol Flynn’s Coffin
      - The Romanov Family Albums
      - American Child Labor c. 1900 – 1937

      while 15 could be described as centring on comedy:

      - Vintage Ventriloquist Dummies
      - The British Rail Flying Saucer
      - Celebrity Mug Shots
      - 19th Century Photobomb
      - Robocop c. 1924
      - Cocaine Tooth Drops
      - The Souper Dress
      - Famous People Hanging Out
      - The Internet in 1969
      - My Daguerrotype Boyfriend
      - 1970s Svenska Dansband
      - Auto Polo, Coney Island, 1913
      - Medieval Help Desk
      - Withnail Wars
      - Albert / Marilyn

      The remaining 15 sit outside those categories. We do not find that one type of post attracts more page views than another and How to be a Retronaut will continue to feature a broad range of posts – tragic, comic or neither – so long as they serve to challenge conventional ideas of time.


  4. Chris

    I tend to get enough from the picture without need for a long drawn out explanation. Thank you.

  5. davidabl

    From the view in Washington D.C, an overriding purpose of the slaughter in the beginning was to weaken or starve out the plains Indians, who were clearly an obstacle to the westward
    expansion of the nation.

  6. davidabl

    …And their were some great political cartoons re by Bill Nye (now obscure) and also I believe
    Thomas Nast.


    Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye (1850-1896) was a distinguished American journalist, who later became widely known as a humorist. He was also the founder and editor of the Laramie Boomerang. He adopted the name “Bill Nye” after a character in a famous poem by Bret Harte. The Boomerang was founded while Nye was the postmaster of Larmie City, Wyoming Territory. It launched him to national fame, gaining subscribers in every state and some foreign countries. Some of his works include Bill Nye’s Comic History of the United States, Bill Nye and Boomerang, Bill Nye’s History of England, and Bill Nye’s Red Book. Late in his career, he was briefly associated with James Whitcomb Riley with whom he wrote two books.

  7. Michael

    I find Mr. Retronauts explanation of this post as being dead-on. “Exposing” the past for all its worth will lead us to discussion such as we have here and hopefully a better future for all (man, animal, planet).

  8. Mike Barnett

    It happened a long time ago, baby.
    In the new magic land.
    See, the Indian and the buffalo,
    They existed hand in hand.

    The Indians, they needed some food,
    And some skins for a roof.
    They only took what they needed, baby.
    Millions of buffalo were the proof, yeah.

    But then came the white man,
    With his thick and empty head.
    They couldn’t see past the billfold.
    They wanted all the buffalo dead.
    Everything was so sad.

    Ted Nugent (Great White Buffalo, 1974) got this one exactly right.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.