Watchlist: ‘Why the U.S. Army tried to exterminate the bison’
Vox published an eight-minute video on July 30, 2021, in which a picture taken in 1890 shows four American soldiers posing on a porch with eight severed bison heads.
The video is called “Why the U.S. Army tried to exterminate the bison” and the narrator explains the picture was intended to depict the soldiers as “heroic defenders of an endangered and beloved American icon.” In reality, the picture and the narrative told in American history contradicts the United States’ deliberate extermination of bison as an assimilation tactic used against Native Americans.
The Vox video shows a timeline of the bison population significantly decreasing from 1800 to 1889, with just a few hundred left roaming the Plains. Overlaying the bison population, Vox shows the area inhabited by the Plains Tribes.
Dina Gilio-Whitaker, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes and a lecturer at California State University San Marcos, says the bison were an important resource for the people of the northern and southern Plains.
“There is absolutely everything about the buffalo that makes this animal central to these cultures,” Gilio-Whitaker says in the video.
Native Americans of that area were reliant on the bison’s meat, its hides for dwellings, fur for warmth and bones for tools. Removal of Native Americans from the land and replacing them with white settlers was central to the ideology many in America believed called “manifest destiny.”
As a tactic to eradicate the Natives, the United States devised a plan of eliminating their most important resource. By the end of the 1800s, almost no bison were left and Native people were forcefully moved onto Reservations.
In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established and the remaining bison roamed the park as a refuge.
“The same U.S. government that had driven the animal to near extinction in the first place now positioned itself as the guardian of the endangered species,” the video narrator says. “The U.S. Army who occupies Yellowstone in the early years patrolled the park for bison hunters.”
At the time of the video’s publication, Yellowstone National Park’s website still attributed the saving of the American bison from extinction as the work of the Yellowstone soldiers, when in reality history tells a different story.
On Nov. 18, 2021, the U.S. Senate approved the first Native American director for the National Park Service, Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III.