Hard Times in Big Sky: On the Hundredth Anniversary of North America's First Bison Reservation, an Anthropologist Explores the Science and Spirit of the American Buffalo

By King, Barbara J. | Science & Spirit, May-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Hard Times in Big Sky: On the Hundredth Anniversary of North America's First Bison Reservation, an Anthropologist Explores the Science and Spirit of the American Buffalo


King, Barbara J., Science & Spirit


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Scientists observe animals in the wild--as I have done mostly with baboons in Kenya--to collect data on behavioral patterns with clipboards and computers. As necessary as such fieldwork is for research, it's also a mind-expanding experience in its own right. It catapults us out of a human-oriented universe into one where other creatures communicate, problem solve, and fill their days with profound social concerns.

What kinds of concerns? The first time I saw bison, under infinite Wyoming skies canopying mile after mile of dizzying openness in Yellowstone National Park, my husband, daughter, and I watched as a male grunted and nosed a female's hindquarters. It was rutting season, and keen mate guarding was the order of the day. Bison tensions run high during the rut, but close bonds were also evident. Youngsters galumphed along on still-clumsy legs, enjoying a romp, only to rush back to their mothers for milk and comfort.

Another nearby male carried his shaggy brown self across the road in front of us. Noting his massive head, heavily muscled neck and shoulders, and all-too-ready-to-gore horns, we knew better than to leave our vehicle; Yellowstone is filled with signs telling stories of foolish Homo sapiens who wagered they could outrun Bison bison and lived to regret it--or did not.

We had driven into Yellowstone's Hayden Valley at dusk, when there was still enough light to see plains rolling right up to glacier-studded mountains in the distance. Buffalo--as bison are more commonly known--were everywhere! Hulking dark creatures spilled onto both sides of the road as they grazed on flat land and small hillocks.

Descendants of the vast herds that roamed the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, the Yellowstone buffalo are the longest continuously wild bison in the United States. They have never been fenced, ranched, or allowed to breed with domestic cattle. We were gazing at genetically pure buffalo--the galloping, grazing, grunting legacies of hundreds of years of living free and wild. In my very muscles I remembered, from back in my baboon-watching days, how wonderful it feels to hold oneself still and allow the half-hidden wonders of the natural world to emerge.

Yet the connection I felt to the bison that evening was rooted in history as much as what I could see and hear for myself. The human-buffalo relationship is ancient. Bison, or more precisely the bison that were ancestors to today's species, are among the gloriously true-to-life animals painted on the walls of the famed Lascaux Cave in France by early Homo sapiens seventeen thousand years ago. A mysterious hybrid image, half-man and half-bison, found on the walls of another French cave, Chauvet, is even older: about thirty thousand years.

In his book Buffalo Nation, Ken Zontek notes that the human connection with bison was flourishing in the region around Yellowstone as far back as ten thousand years ago. That relationship continued unbroken from prehistory into historic times. In some cases, that interspecies bond went beyond the expected link between predator and prey.

For certain Indian groups on the Plains, such as the Lakota Sioux, the bison became a central part of daily life. The Lakota, who live today mostly in the Dakotas and surrounding states, loom in many Americans' imaginations as famous buffalo hunters of the past. Yet the Lakota were farmers until relatively recent times. After 1600, when the Spanish introduced the horse into the Great Plains, Lakota culture began to change, and the Indians' relationship with the buffalo changed along with it.

Soon the life of the people and the life of the buffalo were remarkably entwined. The Lakota peoples' movements tracked the buffalos' seasonal migrations. When a buffalo was killed, the meat was eaten; the hide, bones, and horns were used for clothing and shelter; the bladder morphed into a water container; and dung became fuel. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hard Times in Big Sky: On the Hundredth Anniversary of North America's First Bison Reservation, an Anthropologist Explores the Science and Spirit of the American Buffalo
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.