“A species of animal which roamed our plains by the millions became a rare circus and zoological specimen in a period of only twenty years.” So said Percy Stanley Fritz in his 1941 book Colorado The Centennial State.
Fritz noted the buffalo population began to decline when hunters started using guns instead of the bow and arrow.
In the early 1870s, gun-toting hunters slaughtered some 4 million buffalo just for their hides. The railroads began to advertise “hunting by rail” excursions. Trains slowed when a massive herd of the huge animals came nearby. Hundreds of men climbed on top of the rail car and took aim. Some fired from their windows. They left countless 1,500-pound animals dead or dying.
Over 50,000 hides were shipped east by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1874, according to Fritz. The Kansas Pacific Railroad hauled another 125,000 hides. That same year, the Santa Fe carried 3,400 tons of bleached bones gathered from the plains. These were shipped east for use in button factories or ground up for fertilizer. Some 2 million pounds of buffalo meat was sent east as well.
Colorado Territory’s Congressman, Hiram Bennet, tried to pass a law to protect the buffalo. His plan was rejected on grounds that it could not be enforced.
The Texas legislature proposed a law to ban the slaughter of buffalo. General Sheridan opposed it. He said the men shooting buffalo for sport “have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years.”
By the end of the 19th century, only 300 buffalo were reported to remain in the wild. Congress finally took action. They outlawed killing of any birds or animals in Yellowstone National Park, where the only surviving buffalo herd lived.
More wildlife preserves helped the buffalo population to slowly rebound. Today, there are more than 200,000 buffalo in North America.
Is it a buffalo or a bison?
Source: Where the Buffalo Roamed, by Gilbert King, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/where-the-buffalo-no-longer-roamed-3067904/?no-ist