(Image credit: Defenders of Wildlife)
Estimates of 20 million to 30 million bison, literally a “sea of brown,” roamed the plains of the United States as late as the 1800s. It was not uncommon for travelers to have to stop for hours and sometimes days as herds of the big animals crossed their route. The native tribes freely hunted them, depending upon their meat for food, their hides for clothing, for a medium of exchange, and for their use in building their habitat. In a few decades, the shaggy animals were almost hunted and slaughtered to extinction. As the state began to be inhabited by European settlers, the bison population sharply declined. It is accepted that one of the reasons the over-harvesting of bison was condoned was that it made the native tribes’ lives more difficult, no longer having a plentiful source of bison to live on. The bison were no match for the hunters and the big animals were allowed to dwindle down to possibly as few as 1,000 survivors by about 1890.