The Decline of the Great Plains Bison
Before Euro-American settlement, millions of bison lived on the Great Plains of North America. After American Indians acquired horses from the Spanish in the 17th century they were able to ride out onto the Plains to hunt bison and to live. Historians have thought that the decline of the bison herds was part of the Euro-American transformation of the Great Plains, that farmers converted their range and hunters killed off the herds. However, it is likely that the bison herds were already much reduced by Indian hunting, especially in the 1800s when a trade in buffalo hides developed. It is more likely that the Euro-American hunters applied a coup de grace to an already decimated population of bison. We spoke with James Sherrow about the causes of the decline of the bison.