Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Friend of the Buffalo

This 1908 sketch and text by Charles M. Russell mourns the demise of the buffalo of the Old West. ("You sleeping relick of the past, if I but had my way Id cloth(e) your frame with meat an(d) hide and wake you up to day.")

Russell's painting "When the Land Belonged to God" depicts hundreds of buffalo crossing the Missouri River. Charlie's intent was to show a magnificent array of buffalo in bygone days, long before human settlement on the plains. The original painting hangs in the Montana Historical Society in Helena.

Charles M. Russell painting in a tent.

Charlie Russell in his studio.

When I left Yellowstone last October, the buffalo herd numbered 4,700. Hunting, slaughter, and as many as 700 dead from the unusually cruel winter has reduced the herd to less than 2,300. The actual number left could be even lower.

Charlie Russell would probably be furious about this.

Charles M. Russell, one of my favorite artists (I have prints of two of his paintings at home), was a prolific illustrator of the Old West. And, he was fascinated by buffalo. He painted at least 42 representations of buffalo hunts (mostly by Indians), and buffaloes were the main subject or a part of hundreds of his works. Even his personal stationery had a buffalo skull at the top. Russell, who lived with the Blood Indians during the winter of 1888-1889, also had a deep respect for Native Americans and their reverence for the land. ''Their God was the sun, their church was all outdoors and their only book was nature, but they knew all the pages,'' he wrote.

Charlie Russell was cantankerous, being described in 1909 as "fire and voluble, constantly talking and full of stories. These are the greatest collection of wit combined with vulgarity I ever heard.” One of my favorite Russell quotes comes from a talk he gave to the Great Falls, Montana, civic boosters in the 1920s: "In my book a pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water and cut down the trees, killed the Indian who owned the land, and called it progress. If I had my way, the land here would be like God made it, and none of you sons of bitches would be here at all."

Upon Russell's death in 1926, this account appeared in the New York Herald Tribune. Headed THE END OF THE TRAIL, the text is by Gutzon Borglum, who created the Presidential monuments at Mount Rushmore.

"Charles Marion Russell was of the self-reliant race of lone explorers, a pioneer, a student, a painter of life. I've read the rubbish about him, how he drank, lived with the Indians, trapped, punched cows, which has filled columns with cheap newspaper gossip.

"Of course he drank, and I'll wager he could drink in competition with the fabled Danes, dry up the swollen streams to let his lady pass. Gamble? Certainly! He gambled his life to record the sob of a lone trapper. Swear? I hope he swore -- and as picturesquely as Shakespeare, as meaningfully as Washington."

They are considering reintroducing buffalo to the
CHARLES M. RUSSELL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE in Montana. I think Charlie would like that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rumblings on the Prairie

The epicenter of the earthquake at 4:30 this morning was not at West Salem, Illinois, a hundred miles south of here, as reported in the national media. It was on Maplecrest Drive in Champaign, where I repeatedly banged my head against the wall during my breakfast of rage about the killing of almost half of the Yellowstone buffalo herd. I regularly read dozens of blogs and newspaper accounts out of the Yellowstone area about the buffalo fiasco. Plenty of well-meaning folks out there, but positive action and results on behalf of the buffalo are tough to come by. Pass the Tylenol.

UPDATE, 10:16 a.m. - Earthquake aftershocks just felt. A good shaking of our office building. Must be the buffalo ghost herd on the move.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Laugh of the Little Bull

Grandson Devin's latest photo. Definitely a Buffalo Warrior.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Life is Cruel

Buffalo mom and her newborn calf at a Yellowstone roadside last Friday. Heavy snow cover in some areas prevented grazing.

Every day I check Ralph Maughan's Wildlife Reports (link in right-hand column). Ralph gives us much useful info on wildlife, especially on wolves and Yellowstone buffalo. THIS account with photos is crushing. Maybe Yellowstone visitors should wear THIS apparel. (I'm trying to inject a little humor into a very bleak situation.). The numbers of slaughtered bison at Yellowstone continue to rise.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Those words, spoken by Buffalo Field Campaign media coordinator Stephany Seay, give me hope. For an excellent interview with Stephany, who gives a good summation of the buffalo situation at Yellowstone, listen to the audio at THIS site.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


The simple things are the best: Seeing joy on the face of Red Chief as he flies his new Spiderman kite. Click on the photo to get a closeup of a happy six-year-old.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Road Warriors

Fed up with mistreatment, gangs of buffaloes roamed the roads of Yellowstone National Park recently, surrounding vehicles and displaying such protest antics as sticking out their tongues. (I make light of this but I get as angry as anyone about the whole mess. THIS latest report and Jim Mcdonald's excellent comments below the article details the mismanagement of America's herd.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Just Trying to Survive

With the recent removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the wolf probably faces more immediate endangerment from those who would kill them outright. THIS article tells the story well. For an example of how people are divided about the wolf out west, read THIS.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Buffalo Warrior: Shock and Awe at Yellowstone

When all else fails, a way to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone buffaloes. Arm the bison!