February 18, 2016

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: Bison Hunting and Extermination

For hundreds of years, bison (B. b. bison) had been integral to the survival of the Plains Indians. With the expansion of white settlement and new, brutally-efficient hunting methods, bison hides became a major export. In 1858 alone, an estimated 20,000 hides were shipped from Fort Benton down the Missouri River to St. Louis. By the 1870s, Native Americans had largely been relocated to reservations and their hunting took place under the supervision of Army troops. In 1882, more than 5000 bison hunters and skinners were working in southeastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and western North Dakota. A single herd of 50,000–80,000 animals was slaughtered in one season. By 1885, with the exception of a few small, protected herds, bison in Montana had largely been exterminated.

Key dates

1830—At Fort Union on what would become the Montana-North Dakota border, the American Fur Company initiates trading with the Blackfeet.
1850s—Demand for leather drive-belts and and the popularity of buffalo robes lead to year-round demand for bison hides.
1873—Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano encourages the slaughter of bison as a means to subjugate Native Americans.
1884—Due in part to the disappearance of bison, the Blackfeet have become dependent on government rations for survival. When food supplies don’t reach them, hundreds perish.
1884—Fewer than 100 hides are shipped from the Miles City-Glendive area.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: bison, buffalo, hunt, hides

Written by Catherine W. Ockey