Buffalo Bull, Pawnee warrior painted by Catlin in 1832.
George Catlin was a visionary, but a little too optimistic sometimes. In a letter published in 1841, he lamented the decline of the buffalo due to hunting: "It is a melancholy contemplation for one who has traveled as I have . . . and seen this noble animal in all its pride and glory, to contemplate it so rapidly wasting from the world, drawing the irresistible conclusion too, which one must do, that its species is soon to be extinguished, and with it the peace and happiness (if not the actual existence) of the tribes of Indians who are joint tenants with them, in the occupancy of these vast and idle plains. And what a splendid contemplation . . . when one imagines them as they might in future be seen (by some great protecting policy of government) preserved in their pristine beauty and wildness, in a magnificent park, where the world could see for ages to come, the native Indian in his classic attire, galloping his wild horse, with sinewy bow, and shield and lance, amid the fleeting herds of elks and buffaloes. That a beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world, in future ages! A nation's Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!"
Well George, a little more than 30 years after your wrote this a national park, Yellowstone, was established, with elk and bison in their natural habitat, but the Indians . . . well, they were being decimated by a not-so-protective policy of the government.
Many of today's Indians, George, are on reservations, but the buffalo numbers at Yellowstone are way up thanks to some conservation measures begun in the early 1900s. But wouldn't you know it, the shaggy giants are once again being slaughtered. The Yellowstone herd is the only continuously wild, genetically pure herd left in America. There are other herds in other national parks and many on private ranches, but the Yellowstone herd is a treasure that must be respected.
I wonder how one particular Yellowstone buffalo, Potbelly I call him, is doing. I took the photo of him above in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone as he peacefully grazed this past October. Is he doing alright in the deep snows at Yellowstone? Or has he roamed off park grounds for better feeding and been gunned down by hunters or herded into a holding pen to be slaughtered for no good reason? I guess I'll never know. The "advance of civilization" has been cruel. [See the latest info from the Buffalo Field Campaign link in right-hand column.]