ISSN 1335-8715

20-01-2006   Lukáš Krivošík   Slovenská otázka   verzia pre tlač

Sú Američania vôbec národ?

Sú Američania skutočným národom, alebo ide len o nesúrodý zhluk rasových a národnostných skupín bez zdieľanej kultúry a identity? Antiamerikanizmus je dôležitou súčasťou komplexu politických, ekonomických a filozofických bludov, ktoré dohromady vytvárajú (o)bludárium nacionálno-socialistickej identity nadpolovičného množstva Slovákov. Ak načúvame krčmovým slovenským „kulturtrégrom“, ktorí po lazoch a kopaniciach filozofujú nad problémami sveta, Američania žiadnym národom nie sú.

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..ukas na mysli
autor: Myslim, ze toto mal L.
pridané: 22-01-2006 22:56

Features: Buffaloed: The Myth and Reality of Bison in America
By Larry Schweikart

Almost every schoolchild is taught that prior to the arrival of whites,
Plains Indians lived in perfect harmony with nature as the ultimate
socialist ecologists. According to the common tale, Indians had little
private property-and certainly were not burdened by capitalism-and they
hunted and killed only what they needed to live. Then Europeans arrived,
and using the techniques of industrialized hunting, nearly exterminated
the North American bison, also known as the buffalo. In the late 1800s,
white hunters, such as William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody,
slaughtered the animals to meet market demand until the bison were
nearly gone. Then, at just the right moment, government stepped in to
save the buffalo by sealing them off at Yellowstone National Park.

It's a convenient and easily told story, but it has left students, well,
buffaloed. It has certainly caused the story of the buffalo to be
misunderstood. Several new scholarly studies have emerged, though, and
they universally provide a much more complex picture of the Great Plains
in the late 1800s. Among other revisions, the works address the nature
of Indian hunting, white motivations for killing the bison, and nonhuman
factors affecting herd sizes. Most of all, though, they show that the
ultimate savior of the buffalo was not the government, but the free
market. Here, I will briefly review the findings insofar as they throw
new light on the economics of the Indians both before and after the
arrival of whites. I will look then at their assessment of the hunting
efficiency of both Indians and whites. Finally, we will examine how
private market forces, not government action, revived the buffalo herds.

Myth of the Ecological Indian

It is doubtful any of the authors intended their research to have
political overtones per se. Dan Flores, a professor of history at Texas
Tech University before moving to the University of Montana at Missoula;
Shepard Krech III, an anthropology professor at Brown University; and
Andrew C. Isenberg, a professor of history at Princeton, all have
produced challenging new studies about Indians, whites, and the Plains
environment. Most of all, they all have offered significant revisions of
the views that Americans have held regarding the destruction of the

The first myth they explode is that of the "natural" Indian who lived in
harmony with nature-unlike the greedy Europeans who conquered the
continent. Instead, the authors unveil evidence of communal economies
that engaged in large-scale burning to "clear" forests and also to kill
game. "Controlled" burns by the Indians often got out of control, and
without modern firefighting equipment, flashed through forests,
destroying everything in their path. Deer, beaver, and birds of all
sorts were already on a trajectory to extinction in some areas, because
over and above the hunting done by Indians, natural predators and
disasters thinned herds. Isenberg wonders whether the North American
bison herd was already falling below replacement levels before white
hunters arrived.

Capitalism comes in for a huge share of the blame. Both Krech and
Isenberg attribute changes in Native American farming/gathering
lifestyles to increased trade with Europeans. Indians (reluctantly, in
Isenberg's view) became hunters, which transformed their entire society,
making them more dependent on nature than ever before. Tribes had to
follow herds and become even more wasteful, as the buffalo meat was
their main source of food and the hides (and beaver pelts) their only
product for trade.

Notions that "pre-capitalist" Indians lived in harmony with
nature-especially the buffalo-are thoroughly exploded in the new works
by these anthropologists and historians. Indians used the tools at their
disposal, mostly fire and cunning, to hunt buffalo. "Box burning," a
common tactic, involved setting simultaneous fires on all four sides of
a herd. The French word "Brulé," or "burnt," referred to the Sicangu
("burnt thigh") Sioux division whose survivors of hunting fires were
burned on the legs. Charles McKenzie, traveling the plains in 1804,
observed entire herds charred from Indian fires. Another favored hunting
tactic, the "buffalo jump," involved luring a herd after an Indian
dressed in a buffalo skin. At a full run, the brave led the herd to a
cliff, where he leapt to a small ledge while the buffalo careened over
the edge to their deaths. Either of these methods led to horrible waste
and inefficient use of resources.

No Property Rights

The ultimate problem, however, was lack of property rights. One trader
observed that the moving habits of the Plains Indians "prevent the
accumulation of much baggage. . . . Thus personal property cannot be
acquired to any amount."2 Lacking the ability to store a surplus, the
Indians acquired none. While their communal heritage encouraged them to
band together in hard times, the lack of surplus meat or robes meant
that they only shared scarcity. A powerful myth emerged-one repeated in
many textbooks-that the Indians "used every part of the buffalo,"
implying that the Plains Indians used all the buffalo they killed. That
was not the case. Estimates made in the 1850s suggest that Indians
harvested about 450,000 animals a year, and some think the figure was
far higher than that. After stripping the best meat and some useful
parts, the Indians left the remainder to rot. The stench permeated the
prairie for miles, and many a pioneer came across acres of bones from
buffalo killed by the Indians before they moved on.

Isenberg, for one, doubts whether Indian slaughter alone would have made
the buffalo extinct, but when combined with natural factors-wolf
predation, fire, and drought-the Indians' annual harvest probably
exceeded the ability of the herds to maintain themselves. More
important, as Isenberg points out, "Even had they recognized a decline,
the inherent instability of the nomadic societies made it difficult
always to enforce the mandates against waste."3 Equally important, many
Indian religions held that nature provided an inexhaustible supply, and
thus it was impossible to "overhunt." Put another way, without private
property rights, the bison were already doomed before the white man

Westward expansion of whites and trade between whites and Indians
produced two significant changes, one more destructive than the other.
The first-already mentioned-was that Indians shifted from a farming to a
nomadic, hunting lifestyle. More important, as American settlers pushed
west, both the Indians and the buffalo constituted an impediment to
further expansion. A thriving buffalo-hide trade already existed with
Indian hunters, but by the 1860s, a new wave of white hunters, using
modern firearms and industrial processing methods vastly expanded the
slaughter of the bison. This had three purposes: (1) it fed railroad
workers and some western markets; (2) it continued to provide robes and
hides to tanneries; and (3) it provided a way to get rid of the Indian
by eliminating his food supply.

In the 1890s, the leather industry in the United States had increased to
an $8.6 million business, and many of the hides came from buffalo.
Buffalo bones, used for fertilizer and pigments, filled 5,000 boxcars
annually. Tales of the deadly effectiveness of the Plains hunters, such
as Buffalo Bill, are renowned. Working from a "stand," in which lead
buffalo are shot at long range so as not to panic the herd, a good
hunter could kill 10-50 animals and skin them in a single morning's
work. The hides revealed the final tally, wherein a single warehouse
would hold 60,000-80,000 hides, and the number of hides shipped on the
Union Pacific alone exceeded 1.3 million between 1872 and 1874. "You can
hear guns popping all over the country," said one Texan.

Washington fostered policies that worked counter to each other. One bill
made it unlawful for non-Indians to kill buffalo, in an effort to
restore buffalo hunting to the Indians. Other federal policies, though,
already viewed elimination of the bison as a key element in removing the
food source for the Plains Indians, much the way Sherman sacked Georgia.
Ranchers were already claiming that cattle made more efficient use of
the plains than did buffalo. Where the Indians thought the supply of
buffalo was endless, whites recognized it was finite and intended to
eliminate it as a means to eliminate the Indians.

The Market Saves the Buffalo

There is no question that market forces nearly marked the bison for
extinction sooner than had buffalo been left to the Indians alone. As
early as 1832, artist George Catlin warned that the bison was being
eradicated. Forty years later, Yellowstone National Park provided the
only public refuge for bison outside city zoos and held a large remnant
herd. However, Isenberg's conclusion upsets the entire apple cart of
prior assumptions when he writes, "This remnant herd and other scattered
survivors might eventually have perished as well had it not been for the
efforts of a handful of Americans and Canadians. These advocates of
preservation were primarily Western ranchers who speculated that
ownership of the few remaining bison could be profitable and elite
Easterners possessed of a nostalgic urge to recreate . . . the frontier"
(emphasis added).4

Credit goes to the private sector, through formation of the American
Bison Society in 1905, virtually all of whose members were from New
York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New England. A few sought to preserve
the buffalo. Some sought to develop cattle/bison hybrids called
"beefalo," but others, including banker J. P. Morgan, focused on
establishing open-range reserves where "the buffalo roam." He funded a
20,000-acre tract in Colorado and stocked it with buffalo.

It was the Wild West Show, popularized by none other than Buffalo Bill,
that took private support for the buffalo to the next level. His shows
featured "buffalo hunts" with Indians and whites "hunting" a herd
released into the arena. Touring the United States and Europe from the
early 1880s until 1913, Cody introduced the buffalo to millions of
people who had never seen one. More than a few contributed to the
American Bison Society or in other ways worked to preserve the buffalo.

Meanwhile, western ranchers such as Charles Goodnight, who captured
buffalo calves in 1878, determined that there might be great value in
private bison herds. As a result, "many of the bison that eventually
populated government preserves descended from the herd of two Montana
ranchers" (emphasis added).5 Profit, as Isenberg notes, was the primary
motivation for these and other keepers of the bison, just as it was for
hide hunters a decade earlier. One rancher advertised, "We Supply
Buffalo for Zoos, Parks, Circuses, and Barbecues."

Private herds had value, and thus were well guarded. But the public
parks were "open hunting" for poachers, despite repeated efforts to
raise fines for killing bison at Yellowstone. The public parks
continually had difficulty keeping hunters out. The private reserves
thrived on hunting.

But the beauty of the private market is that it also permits people to
engage in charity, and it is from humanitarian motives that a second
preservationist group appeared, the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Unlike modern reformers, the
nineteenth-century humanitarians did not immediately plead for help from
government. Quite the contrary, the SPCA tried to inform the public,
explaining both the destruction of bison and the need to maintain and
replenish the herds. The Society took great pleasure when a son of
Theodore Roosevelt, Kermit, published his refusal to kill any buffalo at
a time when the buffalo were nearly extinct.

Together, the American Bison Society and the SPCA-one to maintain a
symbol of masculinity and frontier ruggedness, the other out of a desire
to "feminize" Americans toward its humane view-nevertheless worked
together to allow market forces to operate. The American Bison Society
purchased buffalo directly, but referred customers to the ranchers. One
Michigan game reserve was established by purchasing the private herd of
Joshua Hill. Virtually all of the Yellowstone herd rejuvenated in 1902
under the new game warden, "Buffalo" Jones, came from two private herds.

As a government employee, Jones, credited with helping to restore the
herds, did so to a large extent by using the private sector. He realized
that his "product," besides scenery, was the buffalo herd. He located
his bison corrals near the Mammoth Hot Springs, which was the park's
busiest entrance, allowing a private souvenir shop to be set up. After
he resigned, the new management still kept herds near the Hot Springs.

Other private enterprises saw the value of promoting the buffalo. The
Northern Pacific Railroad and hoteliers especially perceived that bison
equaled profits. The Northern Pacific promoted Yellowstone heavily,
emphasizing that only its line took visitors to the park, and by the
twentieth century, sport hunters created such a demand for buffalo that
it became a small industry in itself. In the 1960s, public parks finally
acceded to hunting, allowing private hunters to pay $200 each to shoot a

The American Bison Society disappeared in the mid-1920s, but it had
accomplished its mission, largely without government interference.
Yellowstone aside, the private sector had saved the buffalo. By the
1990s, more than 90 percent of the bison in North America were in
private hands, rather than publicly owned. As Isenberg notes, they were
"preserved not for their iconic significance in the interest of
biological diversity but simply raised to be slaughtered for their

Without question, market forces had contributed to the near-extinction
of the bison, along with the political objective of destroying the
Indians by eliminating their food source. But that is well known. What
is almost never mentioned is that it was market forces-ranchers,
hunters, tourism developers, railroaders, and philanthropists-that
ultimately saved the buffalo as well.

Larry Schweikart teaches history at the University of Dayton.

1. Dan Flores, "Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains
from 1800-1850," in Helen Wheatley, ed., Agriculture, Resource
Exploitation, and Environmental Change (Brookfield, Vt.: Variorum,
1997), pp. 47-68; Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and
History (New York: Norton, 1999); Andrew C. Isenberg, The Destruction of
the Bison (New York: Cambridge, 2000). Here I will, for sake of
convenience, rely mostly on Isenberg, who has the study most focused on
bison and yet is broader than Flores's research.

2. Quoted in Isenberg, p. 79.

3. Ibid., p. 84.

4. Ibid., p. 164.

5. Ibid., p. 176.

6. Ibid., p. 189.

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