Early: 25-30 million bison on the Plains.
1700-50: Horse reaches the Great Plains.
1720s: Comanches establish hunting territories in southern Plains.
1780-82: Epidemics shift power from villagers to nomads.
1804-06: Lewis and Clark expedition travels the upper Missouri River.
1820: Bison extinct east of the Mississippi River.
1820s: Robe market begins (trade on the Northern Plains from 1820-80).
1828: Fort Union established at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers (North Dakota).
1832: The artist George Catlin says, "The buffalo's doom is sealed."
1860s-80s: Railroad divides bison into northern and southern herds.
1871: Appearance of hide market with railroads penetrating Kansas; new tanning technologies; hunting all year.
1872: Yellowstone National Park established. Sharp’s .50 caliber rifle developed.
1874: Comanche defeat opens bison range for hide hunting.
1874-80: Bison decimated in Texas and Oklahoma.
1870s-80s: Cattle increase greatly on Great Plains. Drought in northern Plains.
1871-75: Southern Herd: c. 4 million bison killed to ship 1.4 million hides from Dodge City, Kansas.
1880-83: Northern herd reduced to less than 100 animals – plus 200 in Yellowstone.
1889-1901: Yellowstone herd reduced from 200 to 25.
1889: William F. Hornaday’s survey found 1,091 bison in North America.1
Late 1800s: Establishment of private captive herds. Herds owned by James McKay, Charles Alloway, Charles Goodnight, Walking Coyote, Frederick Dupree, and Charles J. Jones are source of most surviving bison. Other important player was Scottie Phillips in SD.
1895: New York Zoological Society (NYZS) established at the Bronx Zoo.
1899: Bison herd established at the Bronx Zoo.
1902: Bison restoration begins in Yellowstone National Park with sources from Colonel Goodnight in Texas and the Pablo-Allard ranch in western Montana.
1904: Ernest Harold Baynes moves into house in Corbin's game reserve in New Hampshire with captive bison herd. Baynes believes that the only way to save the bison from extinction is to put under government control the existing herds on private lands.
1905: American Bison Society founded on December 8th at the Bronx Zoo. Bison offered by NYZS for Wichita Preserve, J. Alden Loring, engaged by NYZS, surveys site in Oklahoma for preserve.2
1907: Bronx Zoo ships 15 bison by railroad to the new Wichita Reserve Bison Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma.3
1909: Montana National Bison Reserve established by USGO after lobbying by NYZS, ABS, and others. $10,560.50 raised by ABS to buy nucleus herd for Montana National Bison Reserve.
1911: Hornaday declares bison no longer in danger of extinction.4
1913: Six bison introduced to Niobrara reserve, Nebraska. NYZS gives 14 bison to Wind Cave National Game Preserve, S.D.
1915: American Bison Society feels it has achieved its goal of preserving bison through the establishment of four federally sponsored bison preserves.5,6
1934-35: Sioux (Pine Ridge) and Crow establish herds in South Dakota and Montana.
1935: Last meeting of American Bison Society.7
1966: National Bison Society established as National Buffalo Association.8
2002: More than 232,000 bison in private herds in U.S.; 150,000 bison are being raised in Canada.
2005: Wildlife Conservation Society re-establishes American Bison Society.
2006: Bison Summit is held in Denver to plot out bison’s ecological future.
2008: Meeting on "Building Blocks for Bison Ecological Restoration" held in Rapid City, South Dakota.
(Compiled from: Isenberg 2000; Lueck 2002; National Bison Society website; S. Johnson unpublished from WCS.)
1For bison population estimate as of January 1, 1889, see map on the extermination of the bison, published as part of William Hornaday’s monograph, The Extermination of the American Bison, with a Sketch of its Discovery and Life History (Smithsonian Institution, 1889).
2J. Alden Loring surveys site in Oklahoma for preserve, November 1905, Tenth Annual Report of the New York Zoological Society, for the year 1905, pages 181-200.
3Hornaday, William T. The founding of the Wichita Bison Herd, pp. 55-69 in First Annual Report of American Bison Society.
4 After resigning as president of the American Bison Society and accepting honorary membership, he wrote: “The American Bison Society is a splendid organization. It will go from strength to strength, until the time comes that it is no longer necessary to consider movements for the saving of the bison. Then I predict your energies will be directed to saving other species of wild life that presently may be as much threatened with extinction as the bison was three or four years ago.” (Annual report of the American Bison Society for the year 1911, p. 32.)
5The four reserves established by 1915 in connection with American Bison Society were: Wichita Bison Reserve (1907), Montana National Bison Reserve (1909), Wind Cave National Game Preserve (1913), and Fort Niobrara (1913). The count of eight reserves found in some accounts includes the herds at Yellowstone National Park and the National Zoo, founded many years prior to the American Bison Society, and the herds at Sully Hill and Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, founded after 1915 and ultimately unsuccessful.
6Future of the American Bison Society discussed, “whether it will be best to continue the Society as a separate organization or to combine with some similar organization and turn over the membership and the good will to them.” Eighth and Ninth Annual Reports of the American Bison Society, 1915-1916, published 1916, pages 22-23. (Note: Cover title says “Tenth annual report,” corrected in Hornaday’s handwriting.)
7Last meeting. Bronx Zoo Press release, January 25, 1935, regarding meeting of January 24, 1935. No records of later meetings could be located. Dues: Lueck gives 1935 and 1936, variously, as date last dues collected, citing Coder and Dary’s Buffalo Book. I have been unable to trace this fact to a primary document, published or unpublished.
8National Bison Association website, history and mission page. In 1995, the National Buffalo Association merged with the American Bison Association (founded in 1975) to form the National Bison Association.