Monday, March 12, 2007

The Southern Buffalo

North America's native cattle

Buffalo (American Bison)USDA photo by Jack Dykinga

This seems to be Bovine Day on the blog, so I will post a link to an interesting article about North America's native wild cow, the buffalo: "Bison herd a link to Texas' history". (Note: When I checked this link on 4/3/11, it was extinct. The article may be purchased from the Dallas Morning News.)

The article tells the story of a small herd of southern buffalo that were rescued from certain extinction by Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher of fame and legend, and his wife Mary Ann Goodnight. Descendants of the herd are now the official Texas Bison Herd.

Through the years, some of the buffalo in this herd have been cross-bred with cattle and have picked up some cattle genes. Others in the herd are still 100% buffalo. The genetically pure animals are a particularly important gene pool for the buffalo species because they carry some bison genetic markers that are rare or non-existent in other herds.

From the article, a comparison of the southern buffalo:
Characteristics : North American bison males may reach a length of 10 1/2 to 12 feet, while females may be 8 to 10 feet long. Weight ranges from 1,800 to 2,000 pounds for males and 700 to 900 pounds for females. Southern bison are generally smaller than northern bison and lighter in color. Some bulls may reach 6 feet at the top of their hump. Both males and females have short black horns curving upward then inward with narrow tips.

The eastern buffalo has been extinct since 1825. It too was a smaller animal than the Plains buffalo. Neither the southern nor the eastern buffalo were true subspecies. However, there were obviously regional differences in size and coloration.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Two subspecies are recognized: the plains bison (B. b. bison) was once widespread from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, and from the Canadian prairies to northeastern Mexico; the larger, darker and warier wood bison (B. b. athabascae) lived farther west, extending northward as far as the Northwest Territories and possibly as far west as the Bering Sea coast of Alaska. Two other races were listed at one time but no longer are considered valid, and are extinct in any case. They were the pale-colored mountain bison (haningtoni) of Colorado, and the eastern bison (pennsylvanicus) of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, which was almost black with a grizzled face and smaller hump. There are large numbers of plains x wood bison hybrids in Yellowstone (U.S.) and Wood Buffalo (Canada) national parks and elsewhere. The only remaining pureblooded wood bison are found in sanctuaries in the Northwest Territories and Alberta. (Source: "Bovids", an informational page from Safari Club International.)

I found the following quote about buffalo on a page titled, "Old Mobeetie Texas Association: Red River War.
The southern buffalo were long and tall and slabside. They were like the Texas cattle in build while the northern buffalo were more like the Hereford. They were probably the same specie, but the northern bison had longer, blacker, and better wool. The southern buffalo’s wool turned yellow in the fall. (Attributed to J. Wright Mooar, Buffalo Hunter)

Here is another comment on the various appearances of American buffalo from someone who lived much closer to the age of the buffalo than we do:
Had the bison remained for a few more centuries in undisturbed possession of his range, and with liberty to roam at will over the North American continent, it is almost certain that several distinctly recognizable varieties would have been produced. The buffalo of the hot regions in the extreme south would have become a short-haired animal like the gaur of India and the African buffalo. The individuals inhabiting the extreme north, in the vicinity of Great Slave Lake, for example, would have developed still longer hair, and taken on more of the dense hairyness of the musk ox. In the "wood" or "mountain buffalo" we already have a distinct foreshadowing of the changes which would have taken place in the individuals which made their permanent residence upon rugged mountains. (Source: The Extermination of the American Bison, by William Temple Hornaday (1854-1937), published in 1889 by the Government Printing Office in Washington D.C.)

In an article titled, "The West: Buffalo Hunting on the Great Plains: Promoting One Society While Supplanting Another" by historian and lecturer Keith Miller, three major causes are cited for the final near-extinction of buffalo on the American continent in the late 1800's. First, a very efficient process had been developed for tanning the hides. Second, gun technology improved during and after the Civil War, so the rifles used by buffalo hunters were more accurate and more powerful than ever before. Third, the railroads made it possible to ship massive quantities of buffalo hides.
In the period 1872-1874 the bison hunts in the southern plains peaked, for example, with a buffalo death toll of 4,374,000. To that level of killing by white hunters must be added the 1,215,000 bison taken by Indians on the southern plains.

Such an horrendous slaughter had prompted the action of Congress. First, in 1872, that legislative body voted for a measure to limit buffalo hunting, and then, in 1874, passed a much more restrictive bill. But, to no avail, because President Ulysses S. Grant declined to sign either proposed law. So, the killing continued unabated. With this result--by 1875 the southern buffalo herds ceased to exist.

Source: "The West: Buffalo Hunting on the Great Plains: Promoting One Society While Supplanting Another" by Keith Miller


Collagemama said...

Caprock Canyon is a beautiful place and I'm very pleased that it will have a new visitor center. I would really encourage anyone traveling across the Texas panhandle to visit both Caprock Canyon and Palo Duro Canyon.

Collagemama said...

I can't quite imagine Marilyn Monroe singing, "Happy Bovine Day" to JFK. Teddy Roosevelt maybe, but not JFK.

Genevieve said...

Bovine Day is a rather obscure holiday. Marilyn and JFK were almost certainly unaware that it exists. :D

I should probably state for future visitors of the blog that this herd of southern buffalo are kept at the Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, Texas. A visitors center and observation deck is supposed to open in the fall of 2007.

(Many times, newspapers move stories into the archives making them inaccessible for people who follow a link later on.)

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