Examined Life 2: The Wiping Out of the American Bison


The Last of the Buffalo, oil on canvas, 1885. Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902, American. 

Corcoran Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC




It is widely understood that it was not the American Indians who reduced the stock of the American buffalo (American bison) from an estimated 60 million in 1800 to 300 in 1900. 





Preparatory painting



300.  Their population has been restored to approximately 500,000 



The time has not yet come for explanatory texts with the display of a painting like Alfred Bierstadt’s.  

So inimical is the American pursuit of happiness to the philosophy and ecology of the native peoples of the United States, that the time may never come for a redress of their grievances. 

Of which wall plaques in our great museums would be, probably, the tiniest, most minuscule part.







Vintage and widely known photos of the hunting near to extinction of the American bison in the Plains states of the United States prior to 1900



Things, however, do change, if slowly.


An uncounted number followed the arrival of hundreds of American Indians at the buffalo farm of Peter Fay in Connecticut in 2012 for the welcome and naming of a rare white buffalo, an arrival believed to portend good.



The birth of a white bison at a farm in Connecticut in 2012.  Photo by Douglas Healey for The New York Times






3 thoughts on “Examined Life 2: The Wiping Out of the American Bison

  1. How chilling is that pile of buffalo skulls, and the man standing with his foot on another. Proprietorial looks. From what I have studied of hunting peoples this scale of slaughter would be anathema.

    1. I agree. This isn’t traditional hunting, I suppose, either of the hunter-gatherer kind or of the fox-hunting kind. But consumption. The treatment of everything as a commodity to be killed, sold and bought. Sarah

      1. This endless capacity to WANT – above our actual true needs: it has got us in a pretty pickle, and a lot of us seem to think it’s all part of the natural order of things. The earth may have other ideas.

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