In Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book One, Will Braddock witnesses the growing plight of the American buffalo. On his first train ride from Omaha, traveling westward across the Nebraska plains, a herd of buffalo crosses the tracks causing the train to have to slow to pass through the hundreds of animals. The passengers aboard the train take rifle shots from the windows of their coach at the easy targets. Will, having never killed an animal for sport, does not understand this needless slaughter.
The shaggy, brown buffalo, familiar to everyone from movies and television, can stand as high at the shoulder as an average man and weigh a ton. Unless they were spooked into stampeding, they were easy targets for hunters with guns. They were killed to provide meat to the growing population of new settlers inhabiting the western area, as well as to prevent their use by the American Indians. Thousands were slaughtered for their bones to be used as fertilizer, the meat left to rot on the plains. There were originally 25 million buffalo scattered across the continental United States and Canada. By the end of the nineteenth century only 600 survived.
Technically, this animal native to North America is not a buffalo, but a bison. Zoologically, the term buffalo applies to the African and Asian species of the Bovidae family. The term buffalo was probably mistakenly first used by early European settlers of the New World. Over time, “buffalo” has become accepted as a suitable term for the American bison. That’s a good thing, otherwise it would be awkward to sing: “Oh, give me a home, where the _____ roam.”
In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book Two, Will Braddock participates in a buffalo hunt in Wyoming when he serves as a guide to a German aristocrat who is collecting specimens of American wildlife to display in his European museum. The German wants to include a rare white buffalo in his collection, and Will is faced with the dilemma of fulfilling his job obligations to the nobleman while also trying to protect the life of an animal sacred to the Native Americans. Bear Claws will be released by Five Star Publishing in November 2015.
I recall as a boy growing up in Hobbs, New Mexico, seventy-some years ago, that following Sunday services at the First Presbyterian Church and a great lunch at Furr’s Cafeteria, my father would occasionally drive the family’s Studebaker ten miles west of town to the Linam Ranch to see a half-dozen buffalo roaming in a pasture. This rancher was one of several across the country who were attempting to preserve the species. My mother, two sisters, and I were disappointed on those occasions when the buffalo “roamed” too far away from the roadside for us to see them.
Conservation efforts have resulted in a current buffalo population estimated at over 500 thousand. The largest, wild herd is located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.