The Bald Eagle has been an American symbol since 1782 when it became the national bird. But it is not the only animal to be honored by Americans. The bison became the national mammal of the U.S. on May 9, 2016. Even though bison is the correct name for this animal, a lot of people call them buffalos. Some historians think the word buffalo came from the French word “boeuf,” which means beef.
In the Beginning
Around 400,000 years ago, the bison came to America by crossing the ancient land bridge that connected North America with Asia. Yellowstone National Park is the only place where bison have lived since they first came to North America.
The bison is the largest mammal in North America. The males are called bulls, and they can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and can stand six-feet-tall. The females are called cows, and they can get up to 1,000 pounds and reach between four and five feet in height. Bison calves, called “red dogs” because of their orange-red color, weigh between 30 and 70 pounds at birth.
Native Americans and the Buffalo
Bison were very important to Native Americans. Bison were hunted for food and not a single part of the animal was wasted. Native Americans used their horns for tools, their fur for coats and other coverings, and the sinew for sewing. Before Europeans came to America, there were plenty of bison. But the Europeans hunted bison for sport and caused them to almost go extinct.
In 1883, Theodore Roosevelt traveled to the Dakota Territory just to hunt bison. He spent a few years out west before returning to New York. When he got back, though, he brought back a different outlook on the disappearing bison. As president, in 1905, he formed the American Bison Society to help protect the mammals.
Conservation of the bison still continues. In 1992, the InterTribal Buffalo Council was established. The organization worked with the National Park Service, transferring the animals from national parks to tribal lands. There are several refuges throughout the nation dedicated to making sure the bison thrives and continues to survive. Bison can now be found in all 50 states.