The Perceptions of the Bison in the Chronicles of the Spanish Northern Frontier

By Guengerich, Sara Vicuna | Journal of the Southwest, Autumn 2013 | Go to article overview

The Perceptions of the Bison in the Chronicles of the Spanish Northern Frontier


Guengerich, Sara Vicuna, Journal of the Southwest


HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The American bison is a distant relative of ox-like animals known as the Indian water buffalo and the European bison, Bison bonasus (or wisent), for which some name it bison and others buffalo. Nevertheless, according to the taxonomic classification of this animal made by Carl Linnaeus, its official name is Bison bison, which has remained in modern English use (Weniger 1990, 2:9). The precise appearance of early bison in present North American territories is unknown, but the animals recorded in cave paintings from the Upper Paleolithic Era had bigger bodies, longer horns, and a more hairy coat than modern bison (Geist 1996, 19). Although these animals lived in various regions of present-day North America and northern Mexico, they were most abundant in the prairies and grasslands of the Great Plains.

Historian and environmentalist Dan Flores theorizes that the extinction of different animal species during the Pleistocene epoch left dozens of grazing niches vacant on various parts of the American Great Plains where dwarf species of bison with a higher reproductive capability than any of its ancestors evolved to fill them (1991, 465). These were the mammals that the early Native Americans hunted for centuries and the ones that the Spanish explorers continually describe in their narratives. Yet, most of the literature that focuses on the bison underlines the Anglo-American culture and those that hunted the animals to the point of extinction in the nineteenth century.

Today, the hunting and near disappearance of the bison is the aspect that most interests the historical community. For many, the bison remain as a symbol, a representation of what popular culture refers to as the Wild West, a place that those who lived on the frontier had to dominate and use for their own purposes, a place where man was the conqueror of the land and all its inhabitants. But the primary problem with the standard history of the bison is that it is incomplete. Our attention to the near extermination of the bison in the nineteenth century has veiled the analysis of the earlier Spanish sources that could shed light on the historical background of the American bison, particularly considering that the Spaniards claimed ownership of these territories for more than two centuries.

Researching back in time to recover the Spanish impressions of the bison as early as the sixteenth century shows the evolving interests of the explorers, the Spanish authorities, and the frontier settlers in these "hunched-back cows." (1) The chronicles of this period narrate how bison products were a mainstay of the Native American economies and propose ways to include them into the Spanish and Spanish-American economies. According to the Spanish explorers, bison products such as its fine wool would diversify the already established merino wool industry in Spain (2) and New Spain. Its hide could be commercialized and its meat and tallow could be consumed. Yet, in order to develop an industry out of bison products, the Spaniards not only needed to hunt the bison, they needed to tame it.

For over sixty years, Spanish chroniclers and explorers compiled and disseminated information about the bison, its features, its benefits, and its availability, but it was not until 1598 that a group of Spaniards sought their domestication. However, like the Indians themselves, the Spaniards were not able to tame the bison. As Jared Diamond notes, the domestication of such wild mammal species demanded more than just capturing the animals; it implied breeding them in captivity and modifying them through selective breeding (2006, 238). In spite of the unsuccessful domestication of the bison, research on the colonial trade economy of the upper Rio Grande region shows that the Spanish settlers in this northern frontier relied on this animal's products for clothing, footwear, and meat for over two centuries. The massive introduction of European cattle in the plains of northwestern Texas and northeastern New Mexico only began in the early nineteenth century. …

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

The Perceptions of the Bison in the Chronicles of the Spanish Northern Frontier
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

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

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.