One of the great tragedies of Canada was the disappearance of the buffalo. If it had not been for decisive, last-minute action, the buffalo would have become extinct. Yet, before the arrival of white men on the North American continent, the buffalo were probably the most abundant large animal in the world.
Buffalo were the staff of life for the Indians on the Prairies. They slaughtered them indiscriminately, but could not deplete their numbers. Even when the Indians joined with the Métis and had rifles, the buffalo survived. Gradually the pressure became too great. American freebooters came onto the Prairies and the slaughter increased. As many as 50,000 buffalo robes were shipped across the border in a year. The slaughter in the United States was worse. When the buffalo became scarce, the Blackfoot, Cree and Piegan Indians began to starve.
On August 14, 1877, the Northwest Council took action. It issued an edict prohibition hunters from driving buffalo into pits and ravines where they could easily be cornered and killed. Destroying buffalo for amusement, or for the purpose of taking their tongues and other choice cuts, was also forbidden. There was to be a closed season from November 15 to August 14. The “Mounties” drove out the American freebooters, but the Indians and Métis paid little attention to the laws. By 1880 the buffalo had practically disappeared from the Prairies. There was no population count of buffalo in Canada, but in 1900 the United States estimated that there were only 250 left on this side of the border.
A few people like Norman Luxton (see my July 6 post: As Mayor He Fined Himself $5!) took action. Luxton suggested to Frank Oliver, founder of the Edmonton Bulletin, that Canada should buy a herd of buffalo sheltered by Michael Pablo in Montana. This was done through the Government and the buffalo were brought to Wainwright, Alberta. They became the foundation of the great buffalo preserve in the national park. The buffalo will not become extinct now, but neither can they be allowed to roam, the Prairies. It is part of the cost of civilization.
- As Mayor, He Fined Himself $5! (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- Bringing Buffalo Back (walkingwiththealligators.wordpress.com)
- India buffalo sold at ‘record’ price (bbc.co.uk)
- Fun Facts About the Cape Buffalo (africa.answers.com)
- The Buffalo (darchambault.com)
- From the archive, 10 August 1939: Miscellany: The Buffalo Bill tradition (theguardian.com)