American Bison

American Bison, or buffalo, were nearly wiped out, killed for their robes, tongues, hooves, skins, belts and shoes, for shear sport, and for destruction of the food and morale of Native Americans. From 1874 to 1878, over 99% of the bison herd in Texas was eliminated. In years since, the herds have been rebuilt as a keystone species throughout North America.


Narrator: Donald BeardTitle: Public and PrivateDuration: 00:01:05Date: April 12, 2023Donald Beard is the superintendent of Caprock State Park, home to the Texas state bison herd. He is also the owner and operator of Caprock Bison Company, a commercial bison firm on private lands. Here, he recalls the key role that 19th century ranchers played in saving the remains of the original wild buffalo herds, and the continued part that modern-day production herds on private property play in protecting the species.Narrator: Jim DerrTitle: Bullets, Pathogens, and Barbed WireDuration: 00:03:35Date: February 17, 2023Jim Derr is a genetics professor at Texas A&M University who has studied American bison for many years. Here he talks about the various causes that contributed to the near-extinction of the buffalo during the late 19th century. Those factors certainly included the usually cited reason - massive hunting. However, Derr also points to exotic and lethal diseases introduced with cattle, along with mobility and habitat loss from barbed wire fencing strung up to hold cattle.Narrator: Jim DerrTitle: InbreedingDuration: 00:09:24Date: February 17, 2023Jim Derr, genetics professor at Texas A&M University, tells the story of the near loss of the last Texas remnants of the great southern buffalo herd. Saved from extinction in the 1880s by Mary and Charles Goodnight, the small herd had survived for over 120 years at the JA Ranch. However, by 1997, when the herd was collected off the JA Ranch and installed at Caprock Canyon State Park, Derr's team realized that it was severely inbred, with few calves born and surviving each season. Here, Derr explains how the herd's diversity, vitality and future were restored.Narrator: Jim EidsonTitle: Prairies and BisonDuration: 00:03:54Date: October 19, 2000Jim Eidson is the former manager for the Nature Conservancy's Clymer Meadow, near Celeste, Texas. Here he describes the critical role of the buffalo, or American bison, in restoring and maintaining a native tallgrass prairie like Clymer, through their selective grazing, trampling, wallowing, and control of trees.Narrator: David KilbyTitle: Parts and UsesDuration: 00:02:35Date: March 30, 2023David Kilby, is an archeologist who has studied paleoindian culture at ancient sites such as Bonfire Shelter in the Lower Pecos River Valley. Here he describes the heavy reliance and wide variety of uses that Native Americans had for bison over thousands of years, including the animal's hide, meat, bones, marrow, brains, tendons and horns.Narrator: David KilbyTitle: C4 GrassesDuration: 00:02:37Date: March 30, 2023David Kilby is an archeologist at Texas State University, and an expert on the paleoindian cultures of the North American plains, a lifeway that became highly specialized and dependent on the bison. Here he describes how the bison became so dominant in those grasslands in the years following the great die-off of mammoths, mastodons, horses, sabre-toothed tigers and other megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene epoch.Narrator: Wyman MeinzerTitle: VestigeDuration: 00:01:53Date: January 30, 2023Wyman Meinzer is a photographer and author dedicated to chronicling the wildlife, landscape and culture of Texas and the American West. He partnered in a book about the effort to save the last Texas remnants of the southern plains bison, and secure them at Caprock Canyons State Park, preserving an iconic species that has survived from the prehistoric era of Folsom man, through the great massacre of the 1870s.Narrator: Andy WilkinsonTitle: Ocean Without WavesDuration: 00:02:24Date: October 11, 2002Andy Wilkinson is a poet and playwright, and a singer and song writer. Here he sings a lament about the prairie's loss of the bison, seeing it as if the ocean had lost its waves. With his song, he suggests how integral the buffalo was to the grasslands of the Great Plains.Narrator: Andy WilkinsonTitle: ComancheDuration: 00:01:47Date: October 11, 2002There is no doubt that Western hunters supplying the hide and robe trade and U.S. military strategy against Plains Indians contributed greatly to the near-extinction of the buffalo in the 1870s. However, here, Andy Wilkinson points out a different line of thinking from Dan Flores and others that believes that there were more reasons behind the buffalo's decline. For instance, the boom/bust cycle of bison populations, the volatility of the Great Plains climate, and the Comanches' expanding numbers, hunting prowess, access to the horse, and new use of metal arrowheads may have also been important factors in the bison's near-demise.