4-29-12 The Slaughter of the Wild Buffalo










huffing and lowing of the buffalo

sound of their lungs steaming into the light

I am not alone in the darkness •


A squadron of earnest environmentalists gathered in Bozeman, Montana last week for the latest skirmish to defeat the cattle ranchers’ determination to eradicate the West’s last small herd of wild buffalo in and around Yellowstone National Park. The white man’s insistence that the buffalo has no place on its native range makes for sad, sordid history. Larry MacMurtry wrote a brief, fact-laden piece, “Death of the Cowboy”, in the NYRB, November 4, 1999 issue. It is far and away the most convincing dissection of what happened, and what is happening, penned by a man whose sympathies spread over the prairies as the tall grass once did.

“What the Western experience has demonstrated perhaps more clearly than any other is the astonishing speed with which things can change. There were so many buffalo – fifty million by some estimates – that no one could really envision their disappearance, yet it took barely twenty years to eliminate them. Similarly, the cowboys who went north up the plains to the Yellowstone couldn’t quite at first imagine that the unfenced purity of the Great Plains would be fenced and cut into ranches in less than half their lifetime. A young cowboy of 1866 saw the virgin land as one great expanse, stretching all the way from Mexico to Canada; . . . that land would be cut up and fenced before he was even middle-aged . . . 50 millions buffalo were replaced by 45 million cattle.”

The screening of Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison by the Bozeman activists was accompanied by quick intakes of breath as the casual and deliberate cruelties piled up. Doug Hawes-Davis and Drury Gun Carr are the main minds behind the High Plains Films production.  Facing the Storm, visually arresting, gut-wrenching, is a call to action to save the West’s iconic animal from extinction.

Montana Fish, Wilidlife and Parks has responded to catastrophic possibllity of total wild buffalo extinction by announcing a series of public meetings, which they refer to as “scoping”, an unfortunate choice of language, but one which must be buried beneath the seriousness of the situation. Attend, if you can. Write letters, if you can’t.












* SHANNON a poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Campbell McGrath, ECCO, 2009

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