Great American Legacies—Bison

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Bison are American icons; we know them from big tales of the American west, in addition to textbooks and paintings by artists like Robert Bateman, whose “Chief” fiercely captures the majesty and strength of these creatures. Native American stories often portray the bison as a sacred animal, signifying great promise if seen in a dream.

Before the introduction of the horse in the 1700s, tens of millions of bison traveled in herds along the Great Plains. Unfortunately, with easier hunting tactics and a greater demand for buffalo hide, hunters almost caused the bison to be extinct, slaughtering the population from 30 million to just over 1,000 by 1890.

Extinction seemed imminent.

Recognizing the need to support the bison’s survival, Theodore Roosevelt, William Hornaday and other men formed the American Bison Society. Out of this included an established bison preserves, notably the National Bison Range in Montana.

Recovery efforts have been so successful that bison can be seen roaming highways.

Today, major bison advocates include Ted Turner, who in 1989, bought the 113,000-acre Flying D Ranch, where he repopulated the land with the great American bison. According to his web site, the herd has grown to represent 11 percent of the world’s population of 500,000. The mission statement of Turner Enterprises, Inc. is “to manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting the conservation of native species.” In doing this, Turner supports an American legacy by creating one himself.


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