Saturday, March 30, 2013

Equine Teeth

Walking the Talk, A Sacred Responsibility---Easter

In acknowledgement of this weekend, I wrote a story. I wish you and your family a beautiful holiday long weekend. May Creator richly bless you with an abundance of love. All my Relations, Emily (aka, ejh) 

Wapos’ gift

The winter was particularly harsh and cruel and the prairie wind felt like hot coals being wiped across the face of anyone that left the warmth of their tipi. Yet, many came and went in search of food, as starvation was surrounding the community with sickness visiting every family.

Now, close to the village lived a village of Wapos’ (rabbits) and lately their conversations were filled with the concern that they felt for their brother and sister humans. The human’s and the Wapos’ lived as family because they shared a bond of strong friendship based on understanding that they were related. The Elders in the circle of Wapos village worried about the fate of their friends, so each day as the men left the community to hunt; the Wapos’ gathered and prayed that the humans would find the food that they needed for survival. Weeks passed and only small scrapes of food were found and soon the human children and Elders became sick from the cold and hunger. Every Wapos dreaded the passing days for they knew that soon a death song would be heard across the cold prairie air, as the humans lamented the loss of their relatives.
During a particular harsh day of hearing a series of death songs, as night fell an Elder Wapos couple spoke in earnest about the fate of their human relatives. As the dawn approached they had held one another feeling calm because they had made a decision that made their spirits swell with love.

The next day, they gathered the village together to make an announcement that they had meant to sacrifice themselves for the good of their brother and sister humans. They told all those who were gathered that they had lived a long life and had sadly survived their entire family; and so to die for love would be an honor. The village members naturally were sad about the announcement, but understood that the Elder’s sacrifice was about honor, love and dedication.

The Wapos’ gathered and made their way into the head chiefs’ tipi to speak to the humans. The human’s hearts filled with gratitude and they wept openly at the demonstration of unconditional love; however, they couldn't imagine taking the lives of their brother and sister Wapos. The Elder Wapos pointed out that the young human children were dying and with them; the villages’ future. Eventually all present came to the heartbreaking agreement of the Elder Wapos’ decision; however, all were openly lamenting. Elder Wapos called for attention, saying; ‘today, we will sing our death songs and it is good. We have lived a good long life, but these children’s lives are just beginning. They need to live, for they bring new beginnings, new hope and the future promise of life. Our sacrifice is small compared to that. It is the circle of life, as Elders we are meant to nurture the sacred gifts (children) through teachings; ours will be about unconditional giving and the ability to receive without expectation. Others will step forward with their teachings so that our nations will continue to prosper and love will grow in the hearts of all spiritual beings.’ The Elder Wapos’ sang their death song smiling as love shone brightly from their eyes. Later, the humans and Wapos’ joined together in an honor song for the brave sacrifice of the Wapos Elders. They held a ceremony, rejoicing in celebration of the brotherhood and sisterhood that would last for all eternity between spiritual beings. Within days, the humans found food to survive the rest of winter and both the Wapos and humans prospered for years to come.
Today, all little children acknowledge the Wapos’ sacrifice by once again eating the figures of the original Elder Wapos’- only now they are made of chocolate. And, with each delightful bite of chocolate, the Wapos’ seated by Creator celebrate the human’s survival and the love of all their relations. (ejh)

Learn to Grow a Straw Bale Garden

Use a bale or two in your Straw Bale Garden to grow summer bulbs. Plant them full of dahlia, gladiolus, caladium, calla, canna, tuberous begonia, butterfly ginger or others. As the stems shoot up out of the bales cut the flowers and display them indoors in your best vase. Let the leaves of the bulbs continue to grow until fall in the bale. At the end of the season, you can simply cut the strings on the bales, and pick up your bulbs that have now doubled or tripled in size. Store them over winter and replant again in the spring. An average bale can hold 100 gladiolus bulbs. Using a bale as the "nursery" for your bulbs means NO DIGGING in the fall, less disease, earlier flowers, fewer insects, and best of all NO DIGGING.

Elder's Meditation of the Day March 30

Elder's Meditation of the Day March 30
"If anyone has children, they better teach their children to follow the traditions that we're leaving behind because it is later than we think with all that's going on."
--Juanita Centeno, CHUMASH
The habits, attitudes, and beliefs that carry the human through the trials of life are developed at a very young age. If we are taught respect at a very young age, the odds are we'll be respectful throughout our whole lives. If we are taught to dance at a young age, we'll dance our whole lives. If we are taught to sing the traditional songs while we are young, we'll sing those songs throughout our whole lives. And who do we drum and sing songs to? Our children. This is how we keep it going.
Great Spirit, today, teach me to teach the children.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Elder's Meditation of the Day March 29

Elder's Meditation of the Day March 29
"Tell the people not to cry. Tell them to be happy."
--John Fire Lame Deer, LAKOTA (told to his son, Archie, as he died)
Our Elders know about the two Worlds, the Physical World and the Spiritual World. Many times, before we pass to the Spirit World, our relatives, who have gone there before us, will come for us and they will help us. The Spirit World, the Elders say, is a good, happy, and harmonious place. When we die, it means we have only entered another world. We will all see one another again.
Great Spirit, allow me to understand both the Spirit World and the Physical World. Today, let me be happy.

Elder's Meditation of the Day March 28

Elder's Meditation of the Day March 28
"Sacred sites and areas are protection for all people � the four colors for man � and these sites are in all areas of the earth in the four directions."
--Traditional Circle of Elders, NORTHERN CHEYENNE
The Elders say that values come from the Mother Earth. Different places and areas around the Earth have different values. The Water people live in harmony and know the values that correspond to that particular part of the Earth. The Desert people know the values of the desert and respect and live in harmony with that part of the Earth. The Woodland people know the values of their part of the Earth and live in harmony. If you live in harmony with the Earth, you will live a life that is full of values. We should have great respect for the Mother Earth.
Grandfather, today, let me learn values from Mother Earth.

Your Horse May Have Thrush----Easycare Inc.

Your Horse May Have Thrush

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 by Kevin Myers
My Horse Can't Get Thrush
Sure she can! Even the most unlikely of equine candidates run the risk of getting thrush. It happened to a friend of mine just a couple of weeks ago right here in the arid Sonoran Desert. The horse had been slow to transition from shoes to barefoot, and had recently become very sensitive on his fronts after a long period of being sound. I was cleaning out his feet with a hoof pick when I discovered a hole in the center of his frogs on both front feet and he was very tender in that area. As I cleaned out the hole, he even began to bleed.

Like most horses in the area, this horse is kept on a dry lot made up of decomposed granite and sand. The summer and fall temperatures are well over 100 degrees during the day and there is little to no precipitation. So if you think thrush lives only in humid conditions; think again.

Some vets and hoof care practitioners speculate thrush occurs when a mineral or vitamin deficiency is present.

Causes of Thrush

* Poor hoof care (lack of regular cleaning and trimming)
* Unhygienic conditions (overcrowded; muddy paddocks; dirty stalls)
* Lack of exercise & poor circulation
* Poor diet high in carbohydrates

Thrush seems to be more common in the spring and in milder climates. The bacteria that causes thrush is anaerobic, which means it thrives without oxygen.

Signs of Thrush
* Noticeable pungent, foul smell when picking the hoof.
* Thick black substance in or around the frog.
* Soft frog with unusually deep groves.
* Sore and tender heels.
* Lameness. 

How to Prevent and Treat Thrush
Prevention is obviously key. Clean out your horse's feet as often as you can. Even if you clean out your horse's feet four times a day, there is still a chance thrush can start under the frog.

For treatment, pick a thrush remedy. There are countless treatments and remedies for thrush on the market today, but which one should you choose? Many hoof care practitioners are currently recommending White Lightning, which is active Chlorine Dioxide (CI02) and is used for treating equines for thrush, white line disease and skin fungus. It is harmless to the tissue itself, but acts as a bacterial, fungicidical, sporidical and virucidical agent (so it can also be used for things like Rain Rot, too). Unlike Hypochlorite, Chlorine Dioxide does not produce toxic by-products.

Chlorine Dioxide is a gas, and an unstable one at that, so it cannot be stored in a container. The use of White Lightning requires adding an equal amount of white vinegar to create the chemical reaction required to make CI02. Unlike liquids, the gas can permeate the areas around the frog that are difficult or impossible to reach.

The Treatment
The treatment can only work if the treatment area is completely sealed. This requires using either an EasySoaker with saran wrap taped to the boot and to the leg, or soaker bags, which are available online. The treatment takes about 45 minutes and once the gas is released, the remaining liquid is harmless. CI02 is not affected by water, but any dirt particles present can prevent the treatment from getting to all areas of the foot. So try adding water to the soaker boot or to the bag: it will help loosen the dirt while keeping the foot soft and supple, allowing the gas to penetrate all hidden areas in the frog and collateral groove. A White Lightning Gel is also available, which is easier to use but not as effective.

You can use soaking bags or the EasySoaker with saran wrap and tape around the leg. If you choose the boot, you can re-use it countless times for this and for other procedures.

The Frequency
You need to decide what is right for you and for your horse, but many practitioners suggest monthly treatments during the winter when the horse is most likely to suffer from fungal infections. If you are treating highly diseased feet, you may even want to apply daily for a few days and then spread out the treatments to two or three times a week.

Talk to your hoof care practitioner if you want to purchase the product, or Google White Lightening Treatment to find a supplier near you. This link takes you to one distributor, but there are many to choose from. This link gives some additional background and tips on the best way to apply the product.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Driving from the Left Hand

Driving from the Left Hand

In this month’s exercise of the month I’d like to show you a few of the things that wouldn’t fit onto the pages of my March/April 2009 Driving Digest article on driving from the left hand.
The Coachman's Position; Take up the reins:

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Hold the reins in your right hand, left rein on top of the right. Reach your left forward, as if reaching to shake someone’s hand. Place your middle and index fingers together between the left and right rein. Place your ring and pinky fingers together underneath the right rein. Curl your fingers toward the callous of your palm, lightly trapping the reins by their edges.
Don’t: Tip your left hand forward as if looking for a hand out. Present the back of your hand toward the horse.
Carry your hand to the left of your body, even if you are sitting on the right side of the carriage.
Do: Keep your hand as vertical as possible, so your contact will be even when you pick up the bit.
Hold the reins at chest level about half an arms length in front of your body.
Lock the reins in place:

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With your right hand, take hold of the reins about an inch below your left hand. Pull the reins down and forward against the fingers of your left hand.
Don’t: Let the reins slide through the fingers of the left hand as you do this.
Tip your left hand forward as you do this.
Do: Open the fingers of your left hand away from the palm Place your right thumb on the reins as you lock them in place to establish a healthy rein position
Spanning the reins:

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Reach your right hand forward in front of your left hand at about arms length (this length will vary according to your need at the time you span the reins). Place your right hand on the reins with the index finger on top of the left rein, the middle and ring finger between the reins, and the pinky below the right rein.

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For tandem or four-in-hand:Most commonly the reins stack together between the fingers with the two left reins (leader and wheeler) between the index and middle finger, and the two right reins between the ring and pinky fingers. However your can vary that as need be, spanning just the leaders, or just the wheelers.
Don’t: Put your right thumb (or worse yet the whip!) under the reins as you span the reins.
Push down on the rein too heavily in this position as you will only wear your left hand out.
Do: Use this as method for quieting the reins from bouncing or swinging.
Use this as a way to rest your left hand for a short spell while you drive
Shortening the reins:

With your right hand, grasp both reins underneath the left hand. Without taking your left hand off the reins, open the fingers and reach forward sliding up the reins. When you have shortened the desired amount, use your right hand to lock the reins forward into place.
Don’t: Tip your left hand forward as you slide your hand up the reins. Close your left hand into a fist when re-grabbing the reins.
Bend or break at the wrist as your reach it forward 
Do: Reach your left hand forward extending the bottom portion first keeping the axis of your palm perpendicular to the ground.
Reach your left hand forward with your wrist straight as if about to shake someone’s hand.
Make sure your rein lengths are equal when you reset them in your left hand
Lengthening the Reins:

Span the reins with your right hand close to your left hand, closing the right hand on both reins. Open your left hand slightly without letting go of the reins. Move your left hand back the amount you would like lengthen the reins and re-grasp the reins. Release the reins from your right hand. Use your right hand to lock the reins into place.
Don’t: Lengthen the reins by simply letting them through your left hand.
Do: Raise your left hand as you length the reins establishing a healthy driving positio.
Bear Left Using Just Your Left Hand:

Extend your index finger along the underside of the left rein and tip the hand back as if drinking from a glass. You can gain a little extra turning by moving and rotating your hand slightly to the right away from the turn.
Don’t: Allow your hand to drift forward as you try to engage the bit (the bit won’t move in response to your hand movements).
Expect short, small radius turns from this method.
Move or rotate your hand in the direction that your are trying to turn.
Do: Bring your hand slightly toward your chest to engage the bit with your reins.
Use this method along pathways, or along fence line where the expectations of the horse is clear.

Bear Right Using Just Your Left Hand:

Extend the knuckle of your middle finger forward on top of the right rein. Tip the hand forward as if pouring from a vase, digging the aforementioned knuckle into the rein. To get a little more turning you can rotate the hand slightly clockwise and move it down and to the left away from the turn.
Don’t: Allow your hand to drift forward as you try to engage the bit (the bit won’t move in response to your hand movements).
Expect short, small radius turns from this method.
Move or rotate your hand in the direction that your are trying to turn.
Do: Bring your hand slightly toward your chest to engage the bit with your reins.
Use this method along pathways, or along fence line where the expectations of the horse is clear.
Turn Left Using Your Right Hand:

Reach your right hand well in front of your left as for spanning the reins. Grasp the right rein between your index and middle finger, give two gentle tugs on the rein as if ringing a bell, then bring the rein towards the left hand
Don’t: Grasp the rein too close to your left hand.
Pull the rein away from your left hand.
Open your left hand letting go of the left rein while your right hand operates it.
Move your left hand forward while using the right hand.
Do: Reach well ahead of your left hand to grasp the rein.
Bear the knuckle of your left middle finger into the right rein to maintain a steady contact on the outside rein.
Look ahead through your turn rather than at your horse.
Turn Right Using your Right Hand:

Reach your right hand well in front of your left as for spanning the reins. Grasp the right rein between your ring and pinky finger, give two gentle tugs on the rein as if ringing a bell, then bring the rein towards the left hand
Don’t: Grasp the rein too close to your left hand.
Pull the rein away from your left hand.
Open your left hand letting go of the left rein while your right hand operates it.
Move your left hand forward while using the right hand.
Do: Reach well ahead of your left hand to grasp the rein.
Extend your left index finger along the underside of the left rein raising it slightly rein to maintain a steady contact on the outside rein.
Look ahead through your turn rather than at your horse.
From the Hungarian Position

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Taking up the reins:

The left hand is held in the center of the body, palm facing the ground. The left rein enters the hand from the pinky side, and makes a U-turn exiting the hand between the middle and index finger. The right rein enters the hand from the index finger side, and runs through the hand behind left rein, finally to exit where the left rein came in, behind the pinky.
Don’t: Close your hand in a fist around the reins.
Carry your hand off to the left side of your body. 
Do: Carry your hand centered in front of your body (even if you are sitting on the right side of the carriage) at about the height of the top of your belly.
Trap the reins between your finger tips and the callous of your palm.
Spanning the reins:

Reach your right hand forward in front of your left hand at about arms length (this length will vary according to your need at the time you span the reins). Place your right hand on the reins with the index finger to the left of the left rein, the middle and ring finger between the reins, and the pinky to the right of the right rein.
Don’t: Put your right thumb (or worse yet the whip!) under the reins as you span the reins.
Push down on the rein too heavily in this position as you will only wear your left hand out.

Do: Use this as method for quieting the reins from bouncing or swinging.
Use this as a way to rest your left hand for a short spell while you drive.
Lock the reins into position:

Span the reins with your right hand about two inches in front of your left, additionally catching the tails of the reins. Close your right hand on the reins. Pull your left hand back slightly opening your fingers as you do, trapping the reins in the space between your finger tips and the callous of your palm.
Don’t: Allow the reins to slide through your right or left hand as you make this adjustment. 
Do: Use this to re-establish a healthy driving position in your left hand to reduce fatigue.
Shorten the reins:

Reach your right hand onto the reins nearly as far forward as your want to shorten the reins. Grasp both reins with your right hand as described in spanning the reins. With your left hand release the reins and reach just ahead of your right hand. Take the left rein from your right hand using the last three digits of your left hand, passing the excess rein out of the left hand between the middle and index finger. Use your right hand to drag the right rein across your left index finger as your left hand is returning to the driving position. Grasp the right rein with all of the fingers of the left hand. Lock the reins into place.
Don’t: Reach over your whip with your left hand when you go to re-grasp the reins.
Bearing left using just your left hand:

Pivot the left hand counter clock wise, bearing the pinky into the left rein.
Don’t: Allow your hand to drift forward as you try to engage the bit (the bit won’t move in response to your hand movements).
Move or rotate your hand in the direction that your are trying to turn. 
Do: Bring your hand slightly toward your chest to engage the bit with your reins. Look well ahead of your horse through the turn.
For slightly more turning rotate your hand counter clockwise and move it to the right away from the turn.
Bearing right using just your left hand:

Pivot the left hand counter clock wise, bearing the pinky into the left rein.
Don’t: Allow your hand to drift forward as you try to engage the bit (the bit won’t move in response to your hand movements).
Move or rotate your hand in the direction that your are trying to turn. 
Do: Bring your hand slightly toward your chest to engage the bit with your reins. Look well ahead of your horse through the turn.
For slightly more turning rotate your hand counter clockwise and to the left away from the turn.
For larger turns left and right using your right hand, follow the directions for such under the Coachman’s position.

Brollar Collar

Brollar Harness - A Combination of Two

Brollar Harness
A brollar harness is the combination of breast collar and collar

Well fitted, it lies neatly around the horses neck and shoulders and combines all the positive aspects of both harness types.
The cutout in the area of the shoulder-joint ensures a very comfortable position on the horse, allowing max shoulder movement.

It is more and more used for marathon- and obstacle competitions, but also in long-distance driving.

Brollar Harness

Read also:

Sexual Trauma: One Legacy of the Boarding School Era -Ruth Hopkins

Last Real Indians

Sexual Trauma: One Legacy of the Boarding School Era
By Ruth Hopkins
Every American Indian alive today has been affected by the policy of assimilation implemented by the United States government in centuries past.
Under the guise of Manifest Destiny, European invaders swept through North America in ever increasing waves- displacing Natives from their ancestral homelands. They made treaties with Native nations only to break them, and resorted to outright theft when push came to shove. Ultimately, these greed-driven conquests led to the massacre of millions of innocent Indigenous peoples. Their weapons of mass destruction were disease, starvation, and war.
They underestimated the strength and resilience of North America’s First Peoples.  Despite their best efforts to terminate us, and even though Natives were vastly outnumbered, we persisted. The Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation), joined by allies, defeated U.S. forces on North American soil at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Even though they killed nearly all the buffalo, Natives held on. We survived. In the late 1800s, a new idea arose as to how to deal with the “Indian problem.”  The Powers that Be, backed by popular opinion, decided it was better to “kill the Indian and save the man.”  In other words, they desired to strip us our Tribal cultures and languages and make us over in their image. They wanted to “civilize” Natives, and they would use religion and education to do it.
Pre-1900, 25 boarding schools were built off-reservation and at least 30,000 Native children, about 10% of the entire Native population at the time, were pushed through the system. These boarding schools were run by religious organizations, and funded by the Federal government.  By the end of the boarding school era, over 100,000 Native children had passed through the boarding school system.
Many Native children were snatched from their mother’s arms and stolen away to attend boarding schools. My grandmother Stella Pretty Sounding Flute was forced to go to boarding school, as were her brothers. She described the intense trauma children experienced when they were taken away from everything and everyone they know and placed in a strange, cold, impersonal environment cut off from nature.  One of the first events upon arrival to the boarding school laid the groundwork for the years of psychological damage that would be inflicted on the children for years to come. Their hair would be cut.  Traditionally, Native men wore long hair. Stella recalled seeing boys’ spirits broken as their braids, literal ties to their Tribal identity and holding spiritual power, fell to the floor.
Children were forbidden to speak their Native tongue, and beaten for doing so. The implementation of this English-only policy at boarding schools is the primary reason so many Native languages are on the brink of extinction now. My father, also a boarding school survivor, told stories of his willful older brother, who would not stop speaking the Dakota language despite the abuse he received for refusing to give it up.  Years later, that same brother went onto teach Dakota language to children at a Tribal high school.
Life at boarding school was punishing of its own accord. Children were not allowed to return home to visit their families for years at a time, if at all. Conditions were harsh. During particularly cold winters, some children froze to death in their beds. Days were long, and usually consisted of difficult, and occasionally dangerous, industrial work.
Despite all of these horrors, none of them compares to the shocking level of inhumane physical brutality, sexual abuse and child rape that took place at boarding schools.  Child molestation was rampant.
Brave elders have come forward to share their heart wrenching tales of abuse and assault at the hands of priests, nuns, and other staff at boarding schools. As a parent, it’s difficult to listen to stories of how innocent preschool age girls were digitally penetrated by perverted priests and little boys were forced to perform oral sex on nuns in the middle of the night under pain of death. Sexual abuse was frequent and continuous, utter torture. Most of us will never know the trauma our grandmothers and grandfathers were made to endure at boarding schools.
There are thousands of Native children in both the United States and Canada who never returned home from boarding and residential schools; their small, bruised, and broken bodies yet unaccounted for. There are even reports of children who were murdered while still newborns, that their families never knew existed. These babies, who died without names, were the product of rape, when priests assaulted girls and impregnated them. The souls of these murdered children cry out for justice.
Coupled with justice, we also need healing.  Sexual abuse is a disease. Even today, when Native survivors of sexual trauma come forward, the abuse can nearly always be traced back through a line victims who became perpetrators, with the first act of sexual violence originating at a boarding school.
Boarding school has also affected Native communities’ natural healing process, because it robbed us of not only our close familial bonds, but our cultural belief systems, as well as ceremonies meant to doctor us and cleanse us.
Shame is a wall that hides sexual trauma. It prevents sexual abuse survivors from speaking help. We cannot afford to be quiet any longer. If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse or rape, you are not alone.  You can find healing, and you can reach out and help others like yourself too.
Despite the devastation the Federal government’s policy of assimilation and the boarding school system has caused, all is not lost. We still have our Native languages, our cultures, and our belief systems. Combined with new counseling techniques, we can heal ourselves and our communities.
Sexual trauma remains largely unaddressed, even though it is a root cause for much of what ails Native communities today. It contributes to mental health issues, suicide epidemics, and family dysfunction. Together, we will end this plague.
The 3rd Annual HOPE Conference will be held at The Billings Hotel & Convention Center in Billings, Montana April 4th & 5th, 2013. The HOPE Conference coincides with the 45th Annual MSU-Billings Powwow at the Alterowitz Gym on Friday April 5th and Saturday April 6th. The purpose of the conference is to address the issue of child sexual trauma within Native communities, and to bring to light this epidemic which has torn at the fabric of Indian Country communities for generations. The Conference will focus on the PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE of this issue, highlighting healing and resilience. Go to to find out more.

Genocide by Other Means: U.S. Army Slaughtered Buffalo in Plains Indian Wars Read more at

Indian Country Today Media

As long as the North American buffalo roamed free and bountiful, the Plains Indians were able to remain sovereign. Buffalo were their lifeline—the Indians had a symbiotic relationship with them, and always honored the mighty beasts for the many blessings they provided. “The creation stories of where buffalo came from put them in a very spiritual place among many tribes,” said University of Montana anthropology and Native American studies professor S. Neyooxet Greymorning. “The buffalo crossed many different areas and functions, and it was utilized in many ways. It was used in ceremonies, as well as to make tipi covers that provided homes for people, utensils, shields, weapons and parts were used for sewing with the sinew.”
For several millennia, both the buffalo and the Plains Indians prospered. Estimates put the peak bison population, during the mid-1800s, near 60 million, but based on the “carrying capacity” of the Great Plains, Temple University history professor Andrew Isenberg, author ofThe Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920, believes the number was closer to 30 million. He explains that estimates that went as high as 100 million came from travelers on the plains who saw the heaviest congregations of herds during their summer mating season. “Those observers assumed that such large herds were spread throughout the Plains throughout the year,” he said. “But in other seasons, when the grasses were thin, the bison dispersed into small foraging herds.” The bison population also fluctuated depending on a variety of non-human factors like wolves and harsh weather conditions.
As the U.S. government and its restless people looked to expand westward after the Civil War, they started to infringe upon Indian lands. During the Plains Indian Wars, as the U.S. Army attempted to drive Indians off the Plains and into reservations, the Army had little success because the warriors could live off the land and elude them—wherever the buffalo flourished, the Indians flourished. But pressure on the Army to contain the Indians increased in the 1860s when gold was discovered in the Montana Territory, and part of what is now eastern Wyoming became the route of the Bozeman Trail, the quickest way to get to the mines in Montana. This trail cut through sacred ground for the Sioux, as well as their prime hunting grounds—the “best game country in the world,” according to one veteran trapper. The Sioux regularly attacked travelers on the Bozeman Trail, and Army forts were set up to protect travelers through the Powder River Basin. During the Indians’ clashes with settlers, prospectors and U.S. Cavalry to protect a last bastion of their food supply in what became known as Red Cloud’s War, U.S. Army Captain Fetterman bragged, “With 80 men I could ride through the whole Sioux Nation.” He soon got the chance to back up that boast: Captain Fetterman and his men met with some representatives of the Sioux Nation and their allies, led by Crazy Horse, on December 21, 1866, in the Powder River Basin, and the result of that battle is remembered in history books as the Fetterman Massacre—all 81 men in his party were slain. It was the Army’s worst defeat on the Plains until the Battle of Little Bighorn, 10 years later, and forced it to pull out of the area after the Fort Laramie Treaty was signed in April 1868.
General William Tecumseh Sherman, who had broken the back of the South during the Civil War with his ruthless March to the Sea, helped negotiate the Fort Laramie and 1867 Medicine Lodge treaties that were supposed to end U.S. hostilities with northern and southern tribes. But that’s when officers started thinking about a new strategy. Sherman knew that during the Civil War the Confederates’ means and will to fight were extinguished by his brutal—and brutally effective—”scorched earth” policy that decimated the infrastructure of the South. Why couldn’t the same strategy be applied to Indians and their buffalo? Greymorning said, “The government realized that as long as this food source was there, as long as this key cultural element was there, it would have difficulty getting Indians onto reservations.”
A pile of hides in Dodge City, Kansas, ready to be shipped back to the East Coast.
A pile of hides in Dodge City, Kansas, ready to be shipped back to the East Coast.

Isenberg said, “Some Army officers in the Great Plains in the late 1860s and 1870s, including William Sherman and Richard Dodge, as well as the Secretary of the Interior in the 1870s, Columbus Delano, foresaw that if the bison were extinct, the Indians in the Great Plains would have to surrender to the reservation system.” Colonel Dodge said in 1867, “Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone,” and Delano wrote in his 1872 annual report, “The rapid disappearance of game from the former hunting-grounds must operate largely in favor of our efforts to confine the Indians to smaller areas, and compel them to abandon their nomadic customs.”
“As a policy statement, I think that’s pretty clear,” Isenberg said. The Army had already used a similar strategy—In its 1863-1864 campaign against the Navajos, led by Colonel Kit Carson, the Army destroyed tens of thousands of sheep in a successful effort to subdue the Navajos.
There was one tactical flaw with this strategy: too many buffalo. But while it wasn’t feasible for the U.S. Army to kill tens of millions of bison, it was feasible for the Army to let hunters use their forts as bases of operation and stand by as they slaughtered the animals in staggering numbers. Another key strategy here was that the Army made no effort to enforce all those treaty obligations forbidding whites to hunt on Indian lands. Whites could needlessly kill a bison for “sport” but when an Indian killed cattle for food for his family because of the growing scarcity of bison, he was severely reprimanded.
Hide Bound
Timing was certainly one factor in the human destruction of the bison, as leather became a hugely popular commodity in an increasingly industrialized nation at about the same time the First Transcontinental Railroad was being cut through the West in the late 1860s. Bison became a cheap alternative to leather products, and hide hunters were reaping the devil’s harvest. Isenberg said, “Hide hunters who were responsible for destroying millions of bison in the 1870s were not operating under the command of the federal government. They were private citizens looking to make money, but many Army officers certainly approved of what the hunters were doing.”
For most Americans, the end of bison was assumed to be a natural and necessary by-product of manifest destiny. “There was a general belief in the 1870s that the bison were wild animals who were likely to eventually go extinct anyway,” Isenberg said. “The eradication of bison from the Great Plains and their replacement with cattle would be an improvement that turned a wilderness into a productive landscape.”
Outrage over the wanton slaughter of the bison did eventually grow, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tried to intervene on their behalf—legislation was introduced in Congress by Republican Rep. Greenburg Fort of Illinois in 1874 that would have made it, “unlawful for any person who is not an Indian to kill, wound, or in any manner destroy any female buffalo, of any age, found at large within the boundaries of any of the Territories of the United States.” Fort’s bill made it through

Congress, but was vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant. “In the debates over the bills, supporters invoked the anticruelty rhetoric of the SPCA,” Isenberg said. “Most opponents of the bills believed, like Columbus Delano, that the disappearance of the bison would be the easiest and quickest way to subdue the nomadic Indians of the Plains.”
Delano’s theory proved correct; the last bands of Plains Indians, including those led by Sitting Bull, eventually surrendered and settled on reservations.
Greymorning noted that some revisionists try to blame Indians for the death of the buffalo, but he said one picture is better than a thousand lies: “When you see a photograph of carcasses of buffalo lying miles and miles along stretches of railroad tracks, probably eight to 10 feet high, you know this was part of the government campaign to kill the buffalo.”
A Land Without Buffalo
The end came quickly—less than 400 wild bison were left by 1893. And the Plains Indians were just about pushed off the Plains as well—their warriors had fought valiantly against the Army in spite of their inferior numbers, but they now felt inadequate because they were unable to provide for their families. Those proud warriors were confined to reservations, told to farm and wait for the government to provide rations. “It’s really hard to force another culture to recognize what your attributes are for being an upstanding man. They were told, ‘A good farmer is the best thing you can be in our culture,’?” said Jim Stone, a Yankton Sioux and the executive director of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative. “To force that sedentary lifestyle on somebody who was out living on the adrenaline rush of hunting buffalo—either on horse or foot—I don’t know if we can fully comprehend what that would feel like. They had been the caretaker of the buffalo, and suddenly there were no more. From the cultural side, they had failed in their role as humans. I don’t know how I would deal with that.”
Crow Chief Plenty Coups (1848-1932) described the mood of his people to his biographer, Frank B. Linderman: “[When] the buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground.…After this, nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.”
The longing for the thrill of the bison hunt lingered for some Plains tribes during the early reservation days. “When the government brought in cattle, some tribes asked if they could hunt them, basically the way they hunted buffalo,” Greymorning said. “Government officials on reservations at first didn’t know how to handle that, but they saw in it something that could almost be like a show or form of entertainment. So they allowed it for a bit, but it wasn’t like that for the Natives.”
It was more than “fun” for the Indians. It was a desperate attempt to preserve their culture, their ceremonies, their identity. These cattle “hunts” gave them an opportunity to dress up in their finery, sing their buffalo songs, and recall better days. But even that was taken away from them when the government decided it would be better to package the beef for them instead of letting them slaughter it themselves.
Private owners and zoos collected some of the remaining buffalo that were scattered about the country, and some ranchers kept the animals as a novelty or tried to breed them with cattle. In 1902 Congress appropriated funds to help save the mighty beasts, and 21 bison from captive populations in Montana and Texas were put in a corral at Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park. Another 23 wild bison remained in the park, Isenberg said. “You could say that was sort of the first effort at bison preservation.”
One of the largest known private owners of bison was Michel Pablo, who sold his Flathead Indian Reservation herd of 700 bison to the Canadian Government in 1907, which put them in Buffalo National Park in Wainwright, Alberta. The same Flathead Reservation area those bison were being shipped from would serve as the American Bison Range established in 1908 under President Theodore Roosevelt, and the National Bison Society used private donations to buy a herd of 34 from a private Montana bison owner. As their numbers rose, bison were dispersed throughout other Canadian and U.S. national parks.
No Room to Roam
After a slight recovery of its meager population, the bison was caught up in a nationwide brucellosis epidemic that again dropped their numbers back down to a few hundred. (Brucellosis, which causes animals to abort their offspring, was introduced to North America by way of European livestock, and elk and bison in the greater Yellowstone area are the only remaining carriers of it.) Cattle ranchers shot bison, fearing that they would infect their cattle. Many bison were slaughtered in this misguided attempt to halt the spread of brucellosis; Yellowstone was the only park with enough political clout to avoid the eradication of its buffalo in the face of this disease. “Every other park and every tribe that had buffalo in the 1930s, they were all exterminated—and then again in the 1970s,” Stone said. Although their bison population numbered just 397 in 1967, according to the National Park Service, the Yellowstone bison population has grown to several thousand in the last few decades.
Canadian herds were severely culled as well. Since the brucellosis scares, Montana has maintained a zero-tolerance policy for bison roaming onto public, state-controlled lands. The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) has handled the rounding up and killing of bison who’ve tried to leave the park since 1995.
Following the example of their predecessors, the American Bison Society (defunct in 1935), bison-rights groups in the last 20 years (including the Intertribal Bison Council [ITBC], the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Western Watersheds Project and other wildlife advocates) noticed that the bison was again threatened with extinction after much-publicized mass slaughters of the beasts. They lobbied Congress for better protection for the species, which was often at odds with the powerful cattle industry.
Mike Mease and Sicango Lakota elder and activist Rosalie Little Thunder co-founded the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) after a particularly brutal 1996-1997 winter that resulted in the deaths of about two-thirds of the Yellowstone bison. Around a thousand buffalo froze and starved, and an equal number were slaughtered by Montana’s DOL officials as they attempted to forage for food away from the high elevation of Yellowstone National Park, where most of the land is above 7,500 feet and covered in deep snow in the winter. In a devastating 2007-2008 winter—and because of the zero-tolerance DOL policy—1,631 bison were killed by DOL officials, according to the Buffalo Field Campaign.
“It’s disheartening what they’re doing to buffalo. It’s marked with prejudice that exists from way back,” Mease said. The goal of the Buffalo Field Campaign is to get to see bison migrating freely as wildlife species in Montana and elsewhere. “I think the whole problem with white society is there’s this fear of anything wild,” Mease said. “They’re so scared of anything they can’t control, whereas the First Nations take pride in being part of it and protecting the wild because of its importance. Our culture is so far removed from that, and afraid of it.”
The Intertribal Bison Council was formed in 1990 to assist tribes in returning buffalo to Indian country and now has a collective herd of more than 15,000 bison divided among 57 tribes in the western United States up to Alaska and over to the Great Lakes area of Michigan. The ITBC realizes, however, with only so much time and so little resources, they must limit their focus to what happens on reservations. They want to utilize and restore the bison not only for health and cultural measures, but for economic reasons as well. “At one time they were our entire economy anyway,” said Mike Fox, a Gros Ventre and ITBC member. He oversees the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation’s 400 head of bison in northern Montana. “There’s also a spiritual connection with bison that you don’t have with cattle. This is something we may never be able to explain to non-Indians.”
Other recent bison “management” policies have included a $3.3 million plan to purchase winter grazing rights for Yellowstone National Park bison on 2,500 acres in the nearby Gallatin National Forest. Bison advocates deemed the plan naive, as the family-oriented, wild herd animals would not behave the same as cattle and abide by arbitrary boundaries, in part because they don’t rely on humans to feed them with hay in the tough winter months. Twenty-five bison were randomly selected to winter this season in the Gallatin National Forest (north of Yellowstone), but most of them left the area soon after they were released and tried to go back to their families by swimming across a river. Others were captured and shot exploring elsewhere, as bull bison often scout out areas for the rest of the herd to travel to. “Historically, their winter range is way [south of] the park, and it’s really inhumane to try and limit their winter range in Yellowstone,” said Dr. Sara Jane Johnson, the executive director of the Montana-based Native Ecosystems Council. “Forage is tough to come by with all the deep snow, so it’s natural for them to migrate toward lower elevations where they have winter range, and they’ve been cut off from that. They should be able to access public land [south of Yellowstone National Park].”
Another example of the lack of cooperation between the government and perservationists: the DOL prefers to send the wild bison it captures to the ranches of media mogul Ted Turner—who co-owns a restaurant chain that serves buffalo meat—instead of needy Montana tribes.
Federal regulations regarding the handling of brucellosis have been loosened over the years. In the past, an entire state could be deemed as not being brucellosis-free if just one herd had the disease. Now, only the specific area of the outbreak is considered an outbreak area. But cattle-ranchers have several motives for perpetuating the fear that bison are diseased, or just disease-carriers. It’s never been documented that wild bison—which have naturally strong immune systems—have ever transmitted the disease to cattle. Elk, however, have given cattle brucellosis seven times in the last five years. Stone notes the double standard. “Brucellosis is thrown up as a scare tactic, but the reality is: It’s spread by elk. There’s nothing they can really do to stop its spread other than the mass slaughter of elk.”
Mease says cattle ranchers don’t want to share any public land with bison, and the public grazing rights granted to cattle are a welfare project to the cattle industry. “They get to raise their cows on their land—everyone’s land—and this falls under the treaty rights of the tribes where they get to hunt buffalo.”
In February, a federal judge ruled that more than 500 bison that left the park boundaries this winter could be slaughtered. On February 15, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer temporarily blocked the decision with an executive order. “They’re basically doing a bureaucratic shuffle and some paperwork exercises to make sure they don’t get in trouble, but they’re not accomplishing anything,” Stone said, noting that the Montana DOL still kills on average over 1,000 bison every three years. “That’s the real issue. Nothing they’re doing is going anywhere toward addressing that.”
Mease concurred. “We have all these naive plans that never look at these animals as being wild buffalo. We want them to be domestic cows, but that’s the beauty of the buffalo: they’ll never be that. And until we step back and look at what they show us and teach us, then we can work around their ways, and that’s the only way we’ll ever come up with a solution to this.”