American Bison or Buffalo

American Bison Or Buffalo

One of the more majestic animals to roam the western portion of the United States was the American Bison, or known as the buffalo. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were between 30 and 50 million of these animals roaming the grassland of the Great Plains.

By the turn of the 19th century, there were less than 300 American bison left in the world. The American Bison was systematically killed for several reasons during the 19th century by trappers, settlers, and hired hunters by the U.S. government and private companies like railroads.

The American Bison was the most revered animal to most Native American Indian tribes that roamed the grasslands. The tribes needed the American Bison for food and to help the ecological system of the grasslands in the United States.

The extermination of the American Bison led to the extermination of many Native American Indian tribe’s ways of life, spiritual wellness, and the tribes themselves.

 American Bison or Buffalo Facts

  • American Bison are often referred to as a buffalo. The animal weighs from 400 to 1,000 kg. They are two meters tall and three meters long.
  • At the turn of the 19thcentury, there were between 30 and 50 million American Bison in the United States.
  • Native American Indian tribes like the Comanche contributed to their decline in the 1830s because of trading the hides with trappers.
  • By the middle of the 19thcentury, the U.S. government began to slaughter large numbers of American Bison to help destroy the food supply of Native American Indian tribes.
  • Native American Indian tribes used every part of an American Bison. Bones were used for tools, hides for clothing, and teepees; they ate the meat and used other parts like the horns for spiritual ceremonies.
  • The Transcontinental Railroad, the Homestead Act of 1862, and the U.S. government slaughtered millions of animals from 1850 until the turn of the 20th
  • Buffalo Bill Cody was a hunter hired by the railroad companies and the U.S. government to slaughter American Bison. He killed upwards of 4,000 animals in a short time period.
  • The American Bison was almost extinct when future President Theodore Roosevelt secured funding to set up wildlife preserves for the animal with other endangered animals.


The American Bison, also known as a buffalo, is an enormous animal. A typical American Bison weighs 400 to 1,000 kg., stands two meters tall, and is three meters long in length. Their fur is dark, curly, and shaggy in the front portion. The rear portion has finer hair. They have a massive head that has two short horns. The main difference between a European Bison and American Bison is their number of ribs and vertebrae. A European Bison has 14 ribs and five lumbar vertebrae while an American Bison has 15 ribs and five lumbar vertebrae.

The American Bison lived on grasses and plants of the grasslands in the United States. They lived in lower altitude areas, although a few herds were located in higher elevations like Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and in the Henry Valley within Utah. A wild American Bison can live up to 15 years. One in captivity can live upwards of 25 years.

Native American Indian tribes and the American Bison

The Native American Indian tribes relied heavily on the American Bison for meat. With introducing the horse to North America, Native American Indian tribes could follow large herds across the grasslands. The Native American Indian tribes held the American Bison in high regard. The animal was used in many spiritual ceremonies of the various Plains Tribes.

When the Native American Indian tribes hunted the American Bison, they used everything of the animal. The meat was processed to eat, their hides provided material for clothing and teepees, the bones were used to make tools, and their horns were used as ornaments.

Transcontinental Railroad

At first, the Native American Indian tribes only had to worry about trappers who killed the animals for their fur. As settlers moved westward, the animal was killed for meat and their hides. Later years saw large slaughters of the animal with only the hides being removed with the meat left to rot on the grasslands.

The biggest destruction of the American Bison occurred with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Railroad companies and the U.S. government hired hunters to slaughter the American Bison in large numbers. The parties knew this action affected Native American Indian tribes and aided in reducing tribes in the Great Plains and grasslands. The reduction of American Bison also permitted the Transcontinental Railroad to operate with large herds on newly laid railroad tracks. As the railroads grew, so did the destruction of the American Bison herds.

One such hunter was Buffalo Bill Cody. He was hired by the U.S. government and slaughtered over 4,000 American Bison within a short time period.

By the 1870s, the hides of American Bison were sought around the world. New tanning techniques were used to cure the hides. Other portions of the animal’s body were used to make bone china, fertilizer, and refined sugar.

The End of Free-Roaming American Bison

Towards the latter portion of the 19th century, there were only 300 American Bison alive. In 1902 there were approximately 100 wild American Bison left, mainly in or around Yellowstone National Park. Future President Theodore Roosevelt helped to save the last wild American Bison by establishing a series of wildlife preserves dedicated to American Bison and other endangered animals.


  1. What is the scientific name for a buffalo in North America?
    American Bison
  1. Who was a legendary hunter who was hired to slaughter thousands of American Bison?
    Buffalo Bill Cody
  1. Where did the American Bison mainly live in the United States?
    The grasslands and Great Plains
  1. What group of people relied on the harvesting of American Bison to survive?
    Native American Indian tribes
  1. How much does an American Bison weigh?
    Between 400 and 1,000 kg