Pale Horse Revelations #8 - The Plains Bison: An American Legend
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." Today we take a closer look at the American Bison, often called buffalo. These majestic animals once dominated the American frontier. They were of incalculable value, both culturally and spiritually, to the many Native American tribes that called these lands home in the mid to late 1800's. In short, these incredible animals are as iconic to the Old West as cowboys and cattle drives.
For this reason, it seemed only natural that they should have an equally important role in the story I was crafting. And what could be more important than being the catalyst that brought two of our primary characters together? Without the buffalo hunt and the ensuing events surrounding it, Garrison and Beans would have never met.
It is here that I want to take a brief detour and share what may be a surprising confession to many of you. The character of Beans was a spur of the moment creation in the writing process. He was never intended to be featured or play such a significant role in the story. But one he came to life in my mind and subsequently on the page he just seemed to take on a will of his own. It quickly become obvious to me that the story could not be told without him.
With that brief confession out of the way, let's turn our attention back to our primary topic. As we explore some facts about the American Bison and the way they were hunted, you will discover that much of what is depicted in the book is historically accurate. Any inaccuracies that slipped through the cracks are my fault alone.
The American Bison is a species of Bison native to North America. Two subspecies have been identified: the plains bison and the wood bison. The plains bison will be our primary focus. They are the smaller of the two subspecies and at one time roamed a huge swath of territory across the western United States as far east as New York and as far south as Georgia. In the late 18th century, the American Bison population was estimated to exceed 60 million. Sadly, by 1889 only 541 animals remained.
There were two main causes behind the near extinction of this magnificent animal. One was the unintended introduction of bovine diseases from domestic cattle. But by far, the greatest damage came at the hands of white hunters. While Native American tribes had hunted the bison for centuries, they did so in ways that honored and preserved the herds. They never took more than they could use and made use of every part of the animal.
White settlers brought new methods that were more akin to slaughter. They came seeking only the skins and tongues. The rest of the animal was left to rot. Their bones were later collected and shipped back east in mass quantities.
The Bison's own behavior contributed to their demise. When one member of the herd was shot, the others would gather around it. This enabled a single hunter to kill multiple animals, and sometimes an entire herd, in a very short amount of time. This manner of hunting was promoted by settler governments in an effort to destroy the primary food source of native tribes during times of conflict.
The American Bison is, indeed, an impressive animal to behold. They have shaggy, long, dark-brown winter coats and a lighter-weight light brown summer coat. The males tend to be significantly larger and heavier than the females. Males can be nearly twelve feet from head to rump, while females tend to be just over nine feet from head to rump. The median weight range for males is 1,609-1,747lbs while the median for females ranges between 992 and 1,097lbs. Both sexes have curved horns that can grow up to two feet long.
I hope you enjoyed this brief exploration into the American Bison. Of course, I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding these incredible animals. As always, I have sought to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.