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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/797

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DOMESTICATION OF THE BUFFALO.

DOMESTICATION OF THE BUFFALO.
By JOHN W. DAFOE.

ONE of the most striking results due to the building of transcontinental railroads is the approach to extinction of the buffalo. Its vast range once extended from Great Slave Lake to the northeastern provinces of Mexico, and in British territory from the Rockies to wooded highlands six hundred miles west of Hudson's Bay. In the United States, remains of buffaloes have been found west of the Rockies in Oregon, in the Great Salt Lake basin, and westward as far as the Sierra Nevada. Of the species bison, two well-defined varieties are known, the prairie and the wood or mountain buffalo. The latter, compared with the other, is larger, coarser-haired, straighter-horned, and excessively shy. This shyness, together with the protection its habitat of forest affords it, have preserved its numbers in larger proportion than those of its congener of the prairies. Although the buffalo is savage of aspect and strong of limb, yet it is much less formidable to a hunter than the so-called tame cattle of the Texan plains. It is an expert and fearless climber, and only a very swift horse can overtake it, yet its stupidity and lack of courage have had not a little to do with the sweeping destruction which has overtaken it. As long ago as 1825, Prof. Joel A. Allen tells us, in his valuable monograph, "The History of the American Bison," it had been exterminated throughout the whole region east of the Mississippi, except for a limited area lying around the sources of that river. This extermination was utterly wanton; buffalo-hunting was chiefly mere sport, and often the only portion of the carcass removed was the tongue, much esteemed as a tidbit. In gainful hunting, it was rarely the buffalo's meat that was sought; its robe was the object of its relentless pursuit. This pursuit was immensely facilitated by the Pacific Railroads, which at the same time opened up new markets both for robes and meat. Colonel H. I. Dodge, author of "The Plains of the Great West," estimates that, in the three years ending with 1874, no fewer than 5,500,000 buffaloes were slaughtered. Mr. Miller Christy, who carefully took a census of the species last year, finds their total number to be but 1,100 or thereabout. So wantonly have the buffaloes been slain that their very bones have become an article of commerce. Regina, the seat of the territorial government of the Canadian Northwest, is built on Pile-of-Bones Creek, so called from the vast accumulation which encumbered its banks. Throughout the whole Western prairie region the earth is pitted with buffalo-wallows, often deep enough to long survive cultivation. These