Friday, October 8, 2010

How One Team of Oxen Helped Save the Buffalo from Extinction

An American Indian legend tells us that many, many years ago the Oceti-Shakowin had come together into a large camp. There were no wild game and the people were starving.
Then she came to them. Her name was White Buffalo Calf Women, a young woman more beautiful than any they had ever seen; she was dressed in a gleaming-white, leather dress. She brought a precious bundle as a gift — and taught them many things. Before turning to leave she said she would be back. As she was walking away, she turned into a white buffalo calf. Soon after, great herds of buffalo appeared on the horizon providing the Oceti-Shakowin with meat for food, sinews for bowstrings, skins for clothing --- and tepees, and bones for many tools. Thereafter, white buffalo calves became sacred to the American Indian.
   Ernest Harold Haynes Driving his Team of Buffalo Oxen:
shown here in harness though they were trained to a yoke. 
Around the turn of the century (1900), naturalist, Ernest Harold Baynes watched a small herd of buffalo stampede up a hill in the Blue Mountain Game Preserve near Croydon, New Hampshire. He was duly impressed with the energy, vitality, and strength of these beasts.
The herd was known as the Corbin Herd after Austin Corbin who had imported some buffalo to his elite private hunting preserve in 1888. Corbin was a wealthy railroad executive who had operated the profitable Long Island Railroad in New York. While at the hunting preserve on June 4, 1896 Corbin was killed. It is believed his coachman’s horses, who were without their usual blinders, spooked at the opening of his umbrella. He was thrown against a stone wall when the carriage upset.
Corbin Herd, Blue Mountain Game Preserve, Croydon, New Hampshire
Corbin was gone, but his hunting preserve continued. Around 1904, Baynes had becom acquainted with Austin Corbin [Jr.] which led to he and his wife living in the park at the Haven Cottage. By 1905 there were 150 buffalo in the park and it was during this time that Baynes witnessed the energy, vitality and strength of the buffalo, he wrote, in the olden days [the buffalo’s] meat meant food for the Indians, but we can get along with other foods; his hide meant tepee covering, where wood and stone mean ours; his fur was fashioned into clothing, while we depend on cloths; his bones made implements which now must be silver and steel; his sinews were strung through bows, but our sportsman demand bullets. No; if the buffalo were to survive, it must not be by any artificial preservation, but by fitting themselves into the plans of men. With these words Baynes set out to domesticate the buffalo for use as a draft animal — to harness their energy, vitality and strength --- as oxen.

A Stylish Man Wearing a Buffalo Robe
Vintage Postcard, 1910
Prior to the nineteenth century the buffalo were described as numbered “numberless." They made the vast prairies of America undulate with motion. Estimates range from thirty to sixty million head.

The buffalo’s demise (actually bison, but whoever heard of a bison-nickle) began with firearms and the introduction of horses to the plains Indians in the 1700's. It was  hastened in the 1800's by the industrialization of the tanning process, by inroads made into the west with carts, steamboats, and railroads, and by the popularity of buffalo-hide coats in Europe. A robust trade ensued.

Most of the buffalo slaughter took place between 1830 and 1860. Undoubtedly, politics and the problem of the American Indian played a part.
Buffalo Butcher, Batoche National Historic Site --- Diorama

I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, wrote Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior in 1873, as a means of hastening [the Indian’s] dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.

Another man, by the name of General Phil Sheridan, went before the Texas State Legislature in 1876, apparently opposed to the legislature’s johnny-come-lately efforts to protect the buffalo. Every hunter should be given a medal with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged Indian on the other, he said, once the animals are exterminated the Indians will be controlled and civilization can advance.
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Buffalo Nickel Minted from 1913 to 1938
In 1886 the Smithsonian Institute sent an exhibition out to collect specimens for the U.S. National Museum. After a lengthy search twenty-five head were killed in Montana. The following year The American Museum of Natural History, perhaps not wanting to be one-upped by the Smithsonian, sent out their own expedition in search of buffalo. After searching for three months they found none!
According to William T. Hornaday, Chief Taxidermist of the National Museum, there were 85 free ranging buffalo left in 1889, 200 in the federal herd at Yellowstone National Park, 550 at Great Slave Lake in Canada, and 256 in zoos and private herds.

Poachers shot two bulls, a cow, and a calf near Lost Park, Colorado in 1897. These were the last known wild buffalo in America.

Forty Thousand Buffalo Hides in the Corral of Wright & Rath, Dodge City, Kansas
The naturalist, Baynes, captured several buffalo calves from the Corbin Herd. He selected two of them to train as oxen. He named them Tomahawk and War Whoop. In reading his book by the same name anyone who has trained calves to the yoke can appreciate his experiences. ( War Whoop And Tomahawk: The Story Of Two Buffalo Calves) After a series of mishaps he did achieve some success. He began showing the ox team at county fairs and at larger expositions. He didn’t stop there. He wrote numerous letters and over forty magazine and newspaper articles concerning the plight of the buffalo. He gave exhibitions of buffalo robes and artifacts, and free lectures. One letter got the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. I am much impressed by your letter, Roosevelt wrote back, and I agree with everything you say.
Baynes then founded the American Bison Society. William T. Hornaday from the National Museum became the society’s president, and Teddy Roosevelt its honorary president. Of his team of buffalo-oxen Baynes wrote, They raised so much enthusiasm that the money collected put the Society on its feet. They had shown not only what they could do but what every buffalo could do, and if there is ever a contest of the strength of the buffalo and the [domestic] ox, weight for weight, I think I know what the result will be.

Crated Buffalo Moving West by Wagon Train
In just three years the first federal buffalo range was established (on land previously designated as Indian reservation). Another federal buffalo range was begun in Montana. Buffalo were shipped west from captive herds in the eastern states. Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota got fourteen head of buffalo from the New York Zoo in 1913.

A buffalo count in 1929 estimated there were 3,385 head in the country. The American Bison Society felt their goal had been accomplished and a year later they voted to disband.

War Whoop and Tomahawk were quietly returned to the Corbin Herd at two-and-a-half years of age. It is believed that with their increased  size and strength they had become impossible to handle. The job they had done was a more important one than proving their worthiness as oxen. They had helped raise awareness of the plight of their species

A few white buffalo calves have been born over the years, causing no small stir amongst Native American tribes. But the numberless-numbers of brown buffalo, undulating across the western landscape, appear to be gone forever. Gone too, are the sustenance and lifestyle of the hunters who once hunted them. But thanks in part to War Whoop and Tomahawk, the population of buffalo is currently being managed at a sustainable level of about 500,000 --- allowing for the harvest of lean, healthy, buffalo meat.

The Time of the Buffalo

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Sprayed by a Skunk

How to remove the bad-smelling, odor of the skunk? The remedy is NOT contained in this old verse; it's actually much easier.

Bury, or wash, or rub as you will,
The scent of the skunk will cling to you still.
Harry the Dog has just taken a direct hit from the skunk and is trying to rub off the tear-inducing spray on the loose gravel.

It's enough to make a dog feel green! My secret to removing the smell of a skunk is time. Sherry, who has a keen nose, didn't even detect the smell on Harry the Dog when he came in the kitchen just 24-hours later. I wonder if his water-repellent, naturally-oily coat helps. With my border collies three days was sufficient --- so save the tomato juice --- the smell will dissipate on its own.

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