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Buffalo Book: The Full Saga Of The American Animal Paperback – December 1, 1989
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From the Back Cover
This book weaves fascinating threads of buffalo lore and legend with fact, culminating in an authoritative portrait of an animal that is part of the cultural experience and heritage of America.
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The most interesting material in the book is the story of the buffalo's salvation from extinction. One authority estimated that 75 million buffalo lived in North America before the white man arrived, but only 800 buffalo survived in 1895. That small group has grown to a present population of about 100,000. The story of saving the buffalo tells of Eastern idealists and Western ranchers with characters like "Prairie Dog" Morrow, Charles Goodnight, and "Buffalo" Jones playing important roles.
This is a fine book of Western Americana and natural history which even includes a mini-cookbook for buffalo meat in an appendix.
Not only Americans. In the 19th century, British sportsmen — of the type who proudly claimed to have killed 100,000 brace of grouse — traipsed the plains of the United States and Canada wearing silly hats and shooting buffalo in a barrel. (Other nationalities as well, including a baby tsar, who, however, was such a bad shot that a mere 5 buffalo died for his pleasure.)
“The Buffalo Book” has a distinctive Kansan tinge; Dary was a third-generation Kansan, and he talked to the old-timers. Kansas was, for a while, the center of the buffalo murder, thanks to the presence of three rail lines to carry off the skins.
The skinners were comparatively useful persons; they at least harvested the skins (although they had to kill 3 buffalo to get 1 skin). Where there were no railroads, Americans shot buffalo just for the tongues. And where there were railroads, churches sponsored excursions so their believers (don’t ask what they believed in) could shoot buffalo for the pleasure of watching them die.
The Army advocated killing the buffalo in order to exterminate the Indians, although in Dary’s opinion Generals Sherman and Sheridan had relatively little impact. The skinners had pretty much accomplished the Army’s goal by the time the generals testified to Congress.
By 1895 or thereabouts, there were probably fewer than 1,000 buffalo left. By 1989, when Dary published the second edition of “The Buffalo Book,” he estimated the population was about 100,000. (Today it is said to be over half a million, although hardly any are not partly Asian cow.)
“The Buffalo Book” is largely a series of anecdotes, of greater or less reliability. Almost none of these anecdotes demonstrate any interest in or respect for the buffalo as buffalo. The longest chapter is about trying to train buffalos to pull wagons.
After reading this “full saga,” the status of the buffalo as America’s national mammal seems to be a sick joke.