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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Mammal    Species Name:
Bison bison
Original name, or synonym, Bos Bison Linnaeus, 1758.

Common Name:
American Bison, American Buffalo


Bow Creek, Nebraska   August 23, 1804

American icon

Estimates for the number of bison living in North America before European settlement west of the Mississippi are pretty variable, yet every one seems to agree there were tens of millions.  While we cannot be too confident in the accuracy of such calculations--most falling between 28-75 million--there is no doubt this was once one of the largest populations of big mammals anywhere on Earth.  By comparison, estimates for bison today range only in the thousands, from 30,000 to upwards of 200,000. 

On August 29, 1806 along the White River in South Dakota, Capt. Clark remarked . . . from an eminance I had a view of the plains for a great distance.  from this eminance I had a view of a greater number of buffalow than I had ever seen before at one time.  I must have seen near 20,000 of those animals feeding on this plain. 

We may consider Clark's estimate in this way.  20,000 bison would have been around 1/20th of 1% of the total population (1/2,000th) in 1806, or around 1/5th, or 20% of today's population--0.0005 versus 0.2--an inconceivable decline by magnitudes!

For more information about this North American mammal, click here.

Journal Entries:

The Corps met two French traders on this day.
Capt. Clark, June 5, 1804--those men inform [us] that the Kansas Nation are now ...  more>>

Sound    American bison (0:00, 41 kb)
Credit: Wind Cave National Park
References Linné, Carl von, Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, Cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis, ed. 10, 2 vols, Holmiae: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii, 1758

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bison herd

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