Bison and People on the North American Great Plains: A Deep Environmental History

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Geoff Cunfer, Bill Waiser
Texas A&M University Press, Oct 25, 2016 - History - 344 pages
The near disappearance of the American bison in the nineteenth century is commonly understood to be the result of over-hunting, capitalist greed, and all but genocidal military policy. This interpretation remains seductive because of its simplicity; there are villains and victims in this familiar cautionary tale of the American frontier. But as this volume of groundbreaking scholarship shows, the story of the bison’s demise is actually quite nuanced.

Bison and People on the North American Great Plains brings together voices from several disciplines to offer new insights on the relationship between humans and animals that approached extinction. The essays here transcend the border between the United States and Canada to provide a continental context. Contributors include historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, and Native American perspectives.

This book explores the deep past and examines the latest knowledge on bison anatomy and physiology, how bison responded to climate change (especially drought), and early bison hunters and pre-contact trade. It also focuses on the era of European contact, in particular the arrival of the horse, and some of the first known instances of over-hunting. By the nineteenth century bison reached a “tipping point” as a result of new tanning practices, an early attempt at protective legislation, and ventures to introducing cattle as a replacement stock. The book concludes with a Lakota perspective featuring new ethnohistorical research.

Bison and People on the North American Great Plains is a major contribution to environmental history, western history, and the growing field of transnational history.
 

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Contents

The Decline and Fall of the Bison Empire
1
Environmental History and the Demise of the Bison
30
People and Bison in the Ancient Past
49
3 A Bisons View of Landscape and the Paleoenvironment
51
4 A Hunters Quest for Fat Bison
90
5 An Overview of Prehistoric Communal Bison Hunting on the Great Plains
122
European Contact and theHorse Revolution
157
A Fur Trade Historians View of Seasonal Bison Movements on the Northern Plains
159
8 A Mtis View of the Summer Market Hunton the Northern Plains
201
NineteenthCentury Cataclysm
225
Global Tanning and Industrial Leather
227
The 1877 NorthWest Territories Bison Protection Ordinance
245
Filling the Vacuum
263
12 A Lakota View of Pt Oyte Buffalo Nation
278
Contributors
311
Index
315

7 A HorseMans View of a Grassland Revolution
178

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About the author (2016)

GEOFF CUNFER is associate professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan and the author of On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment, winner of the Agricultural History Society’s Theodore Saloutos Book Award. BILL WAISER is distinguished professor emeritus of history at the University of Saskatchewan. A specialist in western and northern Canadian history, he is the author or editor of fourteen books, including Saskatchewan: A New History and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946.

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