Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Rest of the Bison Story

A couple of postings ago I mentioned that the buffalo came close to extinction in the 1890s. There is a Bison Exhibit at the Russell museum which explains what happened to the tens of millions of those animals in the 19th century. It is the usual story of  people discovering a natural resource, thinking the supply is endless, and using it fully for their own gain. In the 19th century some called this industrial progress. Buffalo bone was pulverized and primarily used as bone ash fertilizer; it also was used to make such products as charcoal, bone or ivory black pigment, glue,gelatin and ash for bone china. Michigan Carbon Works purchased thousands of tons of those bones from the North Bone Syndicate in North Dakota. Below is an exhibit at the museum of a pile of bison skulls.Fortunately a few people saved some of the bison and started  their own herds to be placed back out into the wild.
Before the white man  slaughtered the bison for commercial hunting, Native Americans also killed large numbers of them. They used every part of the buffalo to provide food, shelter, clothing, tools and equipment. They also used the skin as a writing tablet to tell stories. Below is an example of that writing which I saw at the Bison Exhibit.
The bison exhibit also has a sense-surround experience which put me in the midst of a bison stampede. I could actually feel the floor shaking as a video depicted them charging by me!  It was quite an impressive exhibit which also included artifacts of the Plains Indians.

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