Back to main page 

Buffalo Quotations 

"If you were to look at a photograph of the United States taken from space on a night free of cloud, you would notice immediately that there are no states, nor is there landscape. . . . [O]n this expanse five centuries of settlement history are inscribed in light. . . . But beyond Chicago the bright dots that tell where we live begin to drift apart. . . . darkness descends like a curtain almost exactly at the 98th meridian. . . past which rainfall turns capricious and farming becomes an art. . . .[T]hese midgrass and shortgrass prairies are the Great Plains, containing . . . nearly a fifth the area of the forty-eight contiguous states but barely 3 percent of the American population." Anne Matthews, Where the Buffalo Roam: The Storm over the Revolutionary Plan to Restore America's Great Plains (New York: Grove Press, 1992), pp. 3-4.
"In the last 10,000 years, the Great Plains have never been without human influences; the very dominance of the bison in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owed itself in part to the hunters, who, at the end of the last Ice Age, helped to kill off giant herbivores and thereby opened a niche for the bison. For as long as they have existed, people have inhabited, altered, and been affected by the nonhuman natural world. . . . To assume an unchanging, harmonious relationship between Indians and the Great Plains environment classes both Indian culture and nature as static." Andrew C. Isenberg, The Destruction of the Bison (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 12
"The Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and other Indians 'firmly believed that the buffalo were produced in countless numbers in a country under the ground; that every spring the surplus swarmed, like bees from a hive, out of great cave-like openings to this country.' . . . It is easy to see how a belief of this nature would not encourage conservation or management of a declining resource under conditions like those obtaining increasingly on the nineteenth century Plains. . . . If buffaloes returned each year from the earth because they were of the earth, how could they possibly go extinct?" Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), pp. 147-9.
"Historically the buffalo had more influence on man than all other Plains animals combined. It was life, food, raiment, and shelter to the Indians. The buffalo and the Plains Indians lived together, and together passed away. The year 1876 marks practically the end of both. . . ." Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains (Ginn and Company, 1931).
"In 1880, [Montana] was practically uninhabited. One could travel for miles without seeing so much as a traveler's bivouac. Thousands of buffalo darkened the rolling plains. There were deer, elk, wolves and coyotes on every hill and in every ravine and thicket. . . . In the fall of 1883, there was not a buffalo remaining on the range and the antelope, elk, and deer were indeed scarce. . . [T]here were 600,000 head of cattle on the range. The cowboy . . . had become an institution." Granville Stuart, quoted in Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
"Something . . . is under way from the badlands of the Dakotas to the tallgrass fields of Oklahoma: a restoration of lost landscape and forgotten people, suggesting that European agricultural settlement of big parts of the prairie may have been an accident of history, or perhaps only a chapter. . . . [T]here are now more Indians and bison on the Plains than at any time since the late 1870s." Timothy Eagan, "Indians Reclaiming the Great Plains. Way of life restored as whites leave." New York Times (reprinted in San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 2001)