The story of the American Bison is an American story through and through. It’s the story of our shared darkness and our shared light. Last summer, the U.S. Congress introduced the National Public Bison Act. On May 9, it was passed in both houses and President Barack Obama made it U.S. law. The American Bison would henceforth be the National Mammal of these United States.
The American Bison was an animal that roamed from Alaska to Mexico and from Appalachia to the Sierra Nevada. It was North America’s largest and most ubiquitous land animal. As Manifest Destiny took hold and the European settlers expanded West, the bison became the victim of circumstance. They were annihilated in the U.S. government’s bid to starve out the Plains Indians and force them onto reservations.
In 1883, Teddy Roosevelt, noted moose enthusiast and Rough Rider, set out for the West. Legend has it that he killed one bison. It was the absolute and horrific carnage of the American Bison he witnessed in the Dakotas that changed the hunter. He stopped. He couldn’t kill more than that one. By 1889, only 1,091 bison were left standing from a population of approximately 30,000,000.