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The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920 (Studies in Environment and History)
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"The Destruction of the Bison is an engaging, well-written, and lucid account of a story that has been told many times, but is only now beginning to be truly understood." Peter S. Alagona, The Professional Geographer
"Isenberg's well-researched and very readable environmental history provides a more compelling explanation that acknowledges the interaction between a dynamic natural environment and the human societies that inhabited it." Economic History
"...elegant....Isenberg has found an impressive array of sources for his history....a detailed, convincing instance of how civilizations expand, it is profoundly instructive." William H. McNeill, The New York Review of Books
"A well-researched, well-documented book, The Destruction of Bison is, best of all, a compelling read. It has a narrative that sweeps the reader through the two hundred pages quickly. The book is, simply, an engrossing history...the book remains one that students, academics, and many adults would learn from and enjoy. The Destruction of Bison would be a good choice for academic libraries as well as for many public library collections. Highly recommended." E-Streams
"This case study of extinction and the preservation of a species will have a wide appeal and correlate with such books as Shepard Krech's The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. Recommended for all libraries." Library Journal
"To be filed in this month's don't-judge-a-book-by-its title category....[Isenberg's] impassioned first book is much more than an ecological history of American wildlife." Publisher's Weekly
"The book works well as a teaching tool: it reveals complex causation while maintaining clarity and readability. As enviornmental history, the book is extremely satisfying...Isenberg appreciates the dynamism of culture, economy, and environment on the Plains. His treatment of Indian experiences, though overgeneralized, is still subtle and complex." Emily Greenwald, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"The Destruction of the Bison is certain to stimulate discussion of its author's conclusions and likely to remain a standard work of enviromental history for years to come." William A. Dobak The National Archives Washington, DC
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Paperback : 220 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0521003482
- ISBN-13 : 978-0521003483
- Dimensions : 5.98 x 0.59 x 8.98 inches
- Publisher : Cambridge University Press (January 15, 2001)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,028,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Isenbergs strongest point is analysis of the nomad culture that rose to prominance over the settled, agricultural Missouri River villages beginning with the acquisition of the horse and culminating after the smallpox epidemics of 1780-82 inverted the power relationship and left the nomads "virtually unchallenged for authority in the plains." He points a telescopic lens at the nomadic culture and offers detailed analysis from a refreshingly distant, unromanticized perspective, for instance bringing to light other studies that demonstrate "mammal hunting is the least reliable of subsistence sources." It was a tenuous existence, born out of the biological devastation of small pox, and knocked down repeatedly by further epidemics. In 1837, there were mortality rates of up to 90% in one tribe. "Atomization" is the word Isenberg uses to describe the devastating longterm effect this caused. He quotes Denig from the 1850s: "Their former good order and flourishing condition deranged, they are no more the same people. Their tempers are soured and all their fiece passions raised against the authors of these evils."
Unfortunately, Isenberg does not continue this thread beyond the 1850s. During the important post Civil War era, his attention largely shifts to the Euroamericans and his observations there are instructive but incomplete. In 1889, Hornaday included a treatment of the debate in congress over legislation to protect the bison and Isenberg digs deeper on the same subject, but he seems to write without regard to his previous chapters. I would like to read his analysis of the nomads during the 1860s and 1870s. One gets a sense that he might consider this too hot too handle. Perhaps Isenberg feels pressured by his cultural surroundings -- late twentieth century academia -- and self-censors. His tone begins to veer toward the self-righteous and there are some hip-shots at the usual easy targets like Custer (attributed with having "led" the expedition into the Black Hills with no mention that it was ordered by Delano) Kit Carson (killed Navajo sheep and Isenburg leaves it at that) and Sherman (who by his own account was powerless 1870-76, encompassing the same period as the slaughter of the Southern herd.) Like so many other writers on the subject, Isenberg seems attracted to the idea of blaming the army, though the sentiment is undermined by evidence he provides, such as letters written by General Hazen and Lt. Bracket deploring the slaughter of the Southern herd. Isenberg faults Colonel Dodge for not stopping hunters, but the Medicine Lodge Treaty was administered by the Secretary of Interior Delano, who claimed that Euroamerican hunters were not excluded from hunting south of the Arkansas River.
In 1832, George Catlin already forsaw the threat to the buffalo and proposed a "nation's Park" inhabited by both bison and the Indians that hunted them "[that]might in the future be seen (by some great protecting policy of the government) preserved..." Isenberg seems to favor Catlin's voice over all other clamor on the subject but he holds his cards close. He maintains a contemporary academic distance which can sometimes be a great tool and othertimes seem as if he looking through some cloudy pince-nez. It could be instructive to follow Catlin's idea to its hypothetical conclusion-- what-if?-- and investigate what such a thing might have looked like, to fully understand what was lost. Catlin's proposal might seem "patrician" but Isenberg leaves little doubt that such measures were necessary: protection of the greatly outnumbered Native Americans from Euroamerican settlers, territorial politicians, miners, and other Native Americans, as well as starvation and disease; protection of Euroamericans from raids by nomads who were devastated by disease and an ephemeral hunting subsistence; protection of bison from the crossfire of both nomads and Euroamericans to ensure a sustainable population.
This is a great book but there's still more to say on the subject. We need to keep trying to understand.