Moo-Dunnit: How Beef Replaced Bison on the American Plainsand Plate



Nearly, all the hamburgers in America today come from cows that spend at least part of their lives on the Great Plains that famous open range in the. American. West. So that is where we will go to start our story today to the American West before it was American before Europeans and their horses started showing up there in the late sixteen hundreds. So before there were cattle and before kind of United States had control of the planes in the. West you had a variety of American Indian policies, groups like the Comanche themselves essentially a very powerful empire across the West and they were hunting bison numbers for that time are kind of hard to come by. But it's estimated that there were about thirty to sixty million bison roaming through the middle of north. America. These are big grazing animals and what they can do is they can turn the abundant grasses of the West into animal flesh which then hunter's. Can Eat and so they become the foundation of the economy whenever I'm in the same spot as a cow I'm always kind of amazed at how big they are. But Bison is a heck of a lot bigger and faster. They can run about thirty five miles an hour faster than most horses, and they can pivot on both front and back hooves and literally turn on a dime. These are terrifying and dangerous creatures. It's not the kind of animal you'd. WanNa meet on foot and other key thing about them is that they're herd animals. So they gather at times massive herds, massive herds that would have represented a very appetizing dinner plus some warm and sturdy buffalo-hide imagine writing towards a herd of kind of terrifyingly huge bison if you're safely on horseback but how did native communities had them before horses very carefully so you could really only do it in the spring or summer when Bison gathered together to mate. You would do it on foot and you could work as a group, but it was difficult. You couldn't really do it fulltime. You could hunt by some kind of part time before the Horse, the planes really belong to the. Bison. But we now think of as plains tribes actually lived on the edges of the planes combining a little small-scale hunting with some farming. But once you had horses than well-coordinated hunters could hunt the animals very efficiently. The horses came with the Spanish. The native communities got a hold of some of those horses and horses quickly caught on they even changed the politics of the region, the communities that had more horsepower like the comanche kind of took over and they. Would kind of dominate everybody else and basically built these very successful empires empires that were built on Bison, hunting them and trading them with European settlers on the east coast. So people like the Comanche Kiowa were very successful from horseback and they may have actually been causing slow population declines in Bison. The story I heard him school is that white people killed off all the Bison and the truth is they did but the bison were already under a little bit of extra pressure. Thanks to the horses that white people brought. But waited until the spread of ranching and Commercial Bison hunting from Euro Americans to really collapse and by one thousand, nine, hundred, there's only maybe three hundred bison left. The West from at least thirty, million bison to just three hundred and about fifty years that by some more systematically wiped out in only a few decades thirty million bison were eventually replaced by thirty million cows de Bison izing roses really got started in the mid eighteen hundreds when people of European descent or beginning to move out west of the plains and start settling there. It was all sorts of people particularly I when it was scale so When what is Texas belong to Mexico you had lots of Mexicans who are setting up ranch's then you've got kind of poor white settlers anglos coming into the region setting things up as the American civil war approaches you got people who are kind of second and third sons of wealthy southern plantation families who can't inherit the family plantation and so they kind of go west to a place like Texas to set up kind of these small scale ranch's. Looked out at the planes and they thought, okay there are huge rangy creatures that live there why not replace them with other huge rangy creatures but why didn't they just stick with the bison that were already living there bison meat is freaking delicious and there is more of it per animal because Beissner. Bigger and bonus bison more already perfectly ecologically suited to the native. Grasslands and climate conditions. That's a really interesting question. I've I've thought about it a lot because in some ways, bison would be a very natural animal to raise. But then when I was reading diaries and things, I found that these people they were kind of disgusted bison they didn't view that as an animal that could be farmed. They saw it as a wild animal. and. So what's interesting about that is on one level people go with what they knew. Euro. Americans know about raising cattle, but another thing gets into their ideas of what is civilized and Dave you. The Bison is not the kind of animal that a civil in their minds a civilized people would raise and so cattle is the way to do it. So why couldn't settlers just leave the? Bison alone race cattle separately well, they could but the animals can't live on top of each other. So if thirty million animals are occupying most of this land, it has to be taken another thing though is that the Bison of the foundation of wealth of native peoples and if the sellers want WanNa take control by force of this land while they want to eliminate the means of support. And the foundation of power of people like the Comanche and so they view attacking the Bison as a way of achieving their other goal, which is taking as much land as possible for themselves and for the United States and what's funny is that difference in cattle is what justifies to them taking the land but the similarity is what means they can be successful as ranchers that similarity between. Bison, and cattle at first these early cattle ranchers was small potatoes they in their cows were outnumbered and overwhelmed compared to the native people and Bison. Well, the herds were relatively small. It's kind of like a few hundred animals. So it's it's a few enough animals that you disarm people who manage them and kind of ride around taking care of them are the same ones who owned them. And it's it's pretty mobile. You know you don't have kind of official ownership of the land. You're just kind of occupying land where you don't find any other settlers and you're hoping that the nearby fort or the US military will protect you from violence even though you're of course, using land that other people live on like the Kiowa

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