buffalo field campaign yellowstone bison slaughter Buffalo Field Campaign
West Yellowstone, Montana
Working in the field every day to stop the
slaughter of Yellowstone's wild free roaming buffalo

Total Yellowstone
Buffalo Killed
Since 1985
(past counts)

Yellowstone Bison Slaughter
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Yellowstone Buffalo Slaughter History

More wild buffalo have been slaughtered in America in the past ten years than at any time in the last century. Capitalizing on the Indian's complete dependence upon the buffalo, 19th century government leaders launched a campaign to wipe them out, and in so doing, force the Indians into a sedentary lifestyle more in line with the prevailing European notions of private property and "civilization." Secretary of Interior Columbus Delano made the following remarks in 1873, a year after Yellowstone National Park was established:

The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains. I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.
--Annual Report of the Department of the Interior

Not only did the whites view the survival of buffalo as a means of perpetuating Native American life ways, they saw the buffalo as being incompatible with their dream of a Great Plains cattle culture. It was a simple matter of competition; as long as buffalo remained wild, they would out-compete the cattle for forage and stand as a living reminder to the uncivilized nature of the pre-conquest West. These undercurrents come to the surface in the following speech against a bill which would have made it illegal for whites to kill buffalo.

The argument, made by U.S. Representative Conger, was delivered in 1874:
There is no law that Congress can pass that will prevent the buffalo from disappearing before the march of civilization. There is no law which human hands can write, there is no law which a Congress of men can enact, that will stay the disappearance of these wild animals before civilization. They eat the grass. They trample upon the plains upon which our settlers desire to herd their cattle and their sheep. They range over the very pastures where the settlers keep their herds of cattle. They destroy the pasture. They are as uncivilized as the Indian."
1874, U.S. Representative Conger.

These attitudes remain strong even today. The influence of the cattle baron is heard loud and clear while the Native American voice falls on deaf ears. To the western livestock industry, cattle represent an economic interest and way of life, albeit barely a hundred years old. To Native Americans the buffalo represent the essence of their social, cultural, and spiritual identity and a relationship tens of thousands of years old. That the tribes haven't been allowed at the table where the ranchers, land managers, and politicians decide the fate of the buffalo reflects both the lack of wisdom and the utter disrespect of those in charge. No one has a closer relationship to the buffalo than the Native American. Why are the tribes being left out? Winona LaDuke, in an article printed last year in Indian Country Today, raises the same question:
Absent are the people who actually know the buffalo: the Nez Perce, Blackfeet and Crow, and others whose treaties encompass part of Yellowstone National Park, or the Winnebago, Ho Chunk, Lakota, Anishinabe, Kiowa, Gros Ventre, Cheyenne, Shoshone Bannock and others, whose spiritual practices, cultural practices, languages and lives are entirely intertwined with buffalo. To us, the buffalo is the Western Doorkeeper, the Elder Brother, the Great One.

Not only is the tribal voice being ignored-- but as the actions of policy makers and Montana Law Enforcement Officers attest-- the religion and culture of those who consider the buffalo sacred are being willfully violated. The actions of Montana's Department of Livestock are in the same vein as the actions of their predecessors: the buffalo hunters and Army officers who perpetrated the slaughter in the 1870s. According to Lakota leader Joseph Chasing Horse, "When the U.S. government slaughtered the buffalo as a way to subjugate Indian people, they put into motion an imbalance in the ecosystem that continues today."

On March 7, 1997, during a winter when 1,084 buffalo were killed, American Indian tribal leaders from around the country gathered near Gardiner, Montana, to hold a day of prayer for the buffalo. The ceremony was disrupted by the echo of gunshots. Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder left the prayer circle to investigate the shots. Less than two miles away, Department of Livestock agents had killed fourteen buffalo. Walking across a field to pray over the bodies, she was arrested and charged with criminal trespass. To Little Thunder and other tribal members present there was no question of coincidence: "They shot the buffalo because we were at that place on that day at that time," she said.

Yellowstone Buffalo Slaughter Counts
Detailed Bison Slaughter & Capture Charts 2001-2004
Yellowstone Bison Slaughter History 1901-2000 (pdf 768kb)
2015/2016 602
2014/2015 739
2013/2014 653
2012/2013 256
2011/2012 33
2010/2011 230
2009/2010 7
2008/2009 22
2007/2008 1,631
2006/2007 67
2005/2006 1,016
2004/2005 101
2003/2004 281
Buffalo Field Campaign West Yellowstone Montana
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