Bison on a Montana ranch
 
“The whol face of the country was covered with herds of Buffaloe....”
—Capt. Meriwether Lewis
    April 25, 1805
 

They were woolly. They were mammoth. But they weren’t the elephantine anachronisms Jefferson expected. Still, they were a wonder. On the Great Plains Lewis tells of “immense herds...in every direction,” and says the bison were “so gentle that we pass near them....without appearing to excite any alarm.”

Their plenty was a boon to the Plains Indians. To them, the bison was food, shelter, tools, ornaments, clothing—a way of life. An estimated 60 million bison roamed the pre-Lewis and Clark plains. By 1900 white sportsmen had reduced their number to fewer than 300 in the States. Today there are some 250,000 bison on the plains.

Bison on a Montana ranch
Photograph by Sam Abell

Previous | Next

©1998 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.