February 03, 2006

Buffalo thoughts

When I was little, my father was a Forest Service district ranger in the Black Hills. One year his name came up in the drawing for the chance to shoot a buffalo (the term customarily used) in the annual herd cull at Custer State Park. He went, he shot, we ate. It was not a hunt, he emphasized, but more "like shooting a cow in a pasture."

His great-uncle, William Fredrich Schmalsle, one of the commercial hunters who pretty well eliminated the great southern herd in the 1870s, might have concurred.

Custer State Park used to be one of very few places to see bison. They were in all the Western movies that required rampaging buffalo.

Now bison are are an industry. (The various local industry groups seem to be split on whether they are "bison" or "buffalo".)

Every industry has a trade group and a spokesman, and this one says, "As we continue to rebuild the herds out there and to bring the species back from a point where it was on the brink of extinction 120 years ago, it really requires that it end up on the dinner plate, for the ranchers to have the incentive to bring the animals back."

Some Indian tribes have started their own herds, while buffalo-hunting now joins salmon-fishing in the treaty rights arena.

One bison (that word still seems artificial to me) rancher in this county cited their advantages over cattle: low-cholesteral meat, hardiness and ease of care, and, not inconsequential, the additional dollar value of the hide and the skull, as long as people want to hang the last on their walls for that Old West look.

So are we moving towards the "Buffalo Commons," in a piecemeal fashion?

Someone snapped Dad's photo: hunter, rifle, deceased Bison bison. Forty years later, he was still complaining about the fact that he was wearing a necktie in the picture, because he had come straight from a visit to the forest supervisor's office in Custer, S.D.--the only times that he wore his full uniform.

And if you want your own hunt, guides are ready to oblige. Or birding likewise.

3 comments:

Ellen K. Compton said...

To Charles S. Clifton:
I couldn't find anything on my relative Schmalsle until I tried Schmalsle hunter. Sharon Cunningham has published two books in a series of four, Buffalo Hunters and Skinners. Schmalsle is to be in book four. I couldn't find anything on him until I tried the above search for his buffalo hunting. Clifton is a family name of mine, I do our genealogy. Please contact me as soon as possible, thank you.

Ellen K. Compton said...

To Charles S. Clifton:
I forgot to mention that you could e-mail me, ellen_k@comcast.net Sorry about that mistook!
Ellen K. Compton

Frank Popper said...

Anyone interested in the Buffalo Commons should look at my Rutgers website, policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/popper. The idea originated with me and my wife Deborah Popper, a geographer at the City University of New York/College of Staten Island and Princeton University. I chair the board of the Fort Worth-based Great Plains Restoration Council, the only group specifically devoted to creating the Buffalo Commons. Best wishes,
Frank Popper
Rutgers and Princeton Universities
fpopper@rci.rutgers.edu, fpopper@princeton.edu