June 8, 1841

From John Bidwell’s Journal:

220px-American_bison_k5680-1Tuesday, 8th. There were 8 or 10 buffalo killed today; but not one-tenth of the meat was used; the rest was left to waste upon the prairie. In the afternoon we passed the confluence of the N. & S. forks of the Platte river & encamped, having come about 18 miles; many hundreds of buffaloes were seen at this place.

The scenery of the country on the Platte is rather dull and monotonous, but there are some objects which must ever attract the attention of the observant traveler; I mean the immense quantity of buffalo bones, which are everywhere strewed with great profusion, so that the valley, throughout its whole length and breadth, is nothing but one complete slaughter yard, where the noble animals used to graze, ruminate and multiply in uncounted thousands–but they are fast diminishing. If they continue to decrease in the same ratio that they have for the past 15 or 20 years, they will ere long become totally extinct. It has been but a few years since they left the frontiers of Missouri, and are now fast retreating towards the Rocky Mountains.

The Indians are anxious to preserve them, and it is said of them that they never kill as long as they have any meat remaining, but behold with indignation the shameful and outrageous prodigality of the whites, who slaughter thousands merely for their robes and leave the meat, which is far more delicious than that of tame cattle, to waste or be eaten by wolves and vultures.

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When you think that the massive slaughter of the American bison had only just begun, and that the great Gold Rush migration, and the building of the railroad, was yet to come, you realize how prescient John Bidwell was when he foretold the extermination of the buffalo. Those mighty herds would be brought to the edge of extinction before the slaughter ended and the rescue began.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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