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Bison Grazing in Winter

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Effects of the Extermination.

The buffalo supplied the Indian with food, clothing, shelter, bedding, saddles, ropes, shields, and innumerable smaller articles of use and ornament In the United States a paternal government takes the place [Pg 526]of the buffalo in supplying all these wants of the red man, and it costs several millions of dollars annually to accomplish the task.


The following are the tribes which depended very largely—some almost wholly—upon the buffalo for the necessities, and many of the luxuries, of their savage life until the Government began to support them:

Sioux
30,561
Crow
3,226
Piegan, Blood, and Blackfeet
2,026
Cheyenne
3,477
Gros Ventres
856
Arickaree
517
Mandan
283
Bannack and Shoshone
2,001
Nez Percé
1,460
Assinniboine
1,688
Kiowas and Comanches
2,756
Arapahoes
1,217
Apache
332
Ute
978
Omaha
1,160
Pawnee
998
Winnebago
1,222
Total
54,758

This enumeration (from the census of 1886) leaves entirely out of consideration many thousands of Indians living in the Indian Territory and other portions of the Southwest, who drew an annual supply of meat and robes from the chase of the buffalo, notwithstanding the fact that their chief dependence was upon agriculture.

The Indians of what was once the buffalo country are not starving and freezing, for the reason that the United States Government supplies them regularly with beef and blankets in lieu of buffalo. Does any one imagine that the Government could not have regulated the killing of buffaloes, and thus maintained the supply, for far less money than it now costs to feed and clothe those 54,758 Indians!


How is it with the Indians of the British Possessions to-day?

Prof. John Maconn writes as follows in his “Manitoba and the Great Northwest,” page 342:

“During the last three years [prior to 1883] the great herds have been kept south of our boundary, and, as the result of this, our Indians have been on the verge of starvation. When the hills were covered with countless thousands [of buffaloes] in 1877, the Blackfeet were dying of starvation in 1879.”


During the winter of 1886-’87, destitution and actual starvation prevailed to an alarming extent among certain tribes of Indians in the Northwest Territory who once lived bountifully on the buffalo. A terrible tale of suffering in the Athabasca and Peace River country has recently (1888) come to the minister of the interior of the Canadian government, in the form of a petition signed by the bishop of that diocese, six clergymen and missionaries, and several justices of the peace. It sets forth that “owing to the destruction of game, the Indians, both last winter and last summer, have been in a state of starvation. They are now in a complete state of destitution, and are utterly unable to provide themselves with clothing, shelter, ammunition, or food for the coming winter.” The petition declares that on account of starvation, and [Pg 527]consequent cannibalism, a party of twenty-nine Cree Indians was reduced to three in the winter of 1886.[77] Of the Fort Chippewyan Indians, between twenty and thirty starved to death last winter, and the death of many more was hastened by want of food and by famine diseases. Many other Indians—Crees, Beavers, and Chippewyans—at almost all points where there are missions or trading posts, would certainly have starved to death but for the help given them by the traders and missionaries at those places. It is now declared by the signers of the memorial that scores of families, having lost their heads by starvation, are now perfectly helpless, and during the coming winter must either starve to death or eat one another unless help comes. Heart-rending stories of suffering and cannibalism continue to come in from what was once the buffalo plains.

If ever thoughtless people were punished for their reckless improvidence, the Indians and half-breeds of the Northwest Territory are now paying the penalty for the wasteful slaughter of the buffalo a few short years ago. The buffalo is his own avenger, to an extent his remorseless slayers little dreamed he ever could be.


Source: The Extermination of the American Bison, William T. Hornaday. See Guttenberg Online