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Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West Paperback – September 1, 2009
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The near extinction of the buffalo herds of the Great Plains in the nineteenth century was the product of several factors, including the greed of buffalo hunters, the callousness of "sportsmen," and the desire of the federal government to deprive the Plains Indians of their food source. But the buffalo did (barely) survive, and one of their unlikely saviors was Grinnell, a Brooklyn-born, Yale-educated anthropologist and naturalist. Grinnell was entranced by the West. He took part in one of the last great buffalo hunts in 1872 and even accompanied Custer on his 1874 Black Hills expedition, which opened this sacred ground to the depredations of gold seekers. But as native westerner Punke shows, his deep interest in and love for the land and the people led him to become an ardent conservationist, forming a surprising alliance with hunters and fishermen that launched a stream of environmental initiatives. As seen by Punke, Grinnell was a major figure in reimagining our wilderness areas as places to be preserved rather than to be "tamed," exploited, and ravaged. Freeman, Jay
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Grinnell was an amazingly gifted and talented writer, but this book is only part of his story. Not detailed in the book is Grinnell's years of correspondence with many former Indian warriors, including George Bent, son of fur trader William Ben and his Cheyenne wife and survivor of the Sand Creek Massacre. While John Wesley Powell's Bureau of Ethnology concentrated on collecting physical artifacts, photographs, and Indian languages, Grinnell was documenting late 19th century Native Americans' views of their own oral history, culture, and wars against encroaching American civilization. Today it would be hard to say which of these efforts are more valuable to the study of the history of the American West.
“There is no crisis more pernicious than a slow motion disaster. Human nature and with it the American political system are geared to the immediate, the proximate and the tangible. The gradual, the distant, the abstract are the enemy of action.”
George Bird Grinnell’s assessment of Congress in 1894 after a 20 year battle to pass laws to prevent the extermination of the buffalo. After the public was motivated by outrage via the new thing, a media campaign, Congress was pressured into passing a law that prevented the extermination of the buffalo in Yellowstone National Park by market hunters.
Some things change, some stay the same. Congress has not changed its ways in 100 years!