Slaughter of the Buffalo

The massive slaughtering of buffalo in the 1800s worked to disconnect the animal from Native Americans. This had a substantial impact on Native people, physically as well as spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

As more settlers began coming to North America, conflicts arose between them and Native Americans. Settlers and the US government wanted to take over their land. Native Americans did not want to give it up. The Government saw the Native American's strong relationship with the buffalo. They figured that if they killed the buffalo, the Native Americans would surrender their lands and become a "civilized people". The military was ordered to kill the buffalo to deny Native Americans food. They believed they could do more to harm Native Americans faster by hiring buffalo hunters, than by using the army itself.

The railroads were instrumental in the slaughter of the buffalo. First buffalo were killed for food during the building of the railroads. After they were built, buffalo were killed for safety reasons, because they were in the way and sometimes pushed the trains off the tracks.

Traders and trappers killed buffalo just for the hides and left the rest of the animal to rot. Hides were sold for about $2.00 to $3.50 each. During one winter (1872-73), more than 1.5 million buffalo hides were sent on trains to the Eastern part of the United States to be sold! The bones were also sold for use in bone china, fertilizer, and in sugar processing. A ton of buffalo bones sold for about $8.00.

Train companies offered trips out west to the settlers. Tourists were about to shoot as many buffalo as they could from the train window, only stopping when they ran out of bullets. Because of this, buffalo killing contests were held. During one contest, a person from Kansas set a buffalo killing record, killing 120 buffalo in 40 minutes. Another man named "Buffalo" Bill Cody was hired to kill buffalo. Within two years, he had killed 4,000 buffalo.

Due to all the different reasons listed above, an estimated 31,000,000 buffalo were killed between the years of 1868 and 1881 with only 500 buffalo left by the year of 1885.

By the end of the 19th Century, the Native American population was only 237,000, down from one million a century earlier.