Buffalo Slaughter
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
A Native Tragedy
Buffalo Slaughter
History Home
Buffalo Slaughter
Greed kills the magnificent prairie beast and changes native life forever
Already confronted with disease and alcoholism, prairie natives faced a final assault on their way of life: the slaughter of the buffalo in the late 1800s.
Fearing starvation, prairie natives agreed to sign treaties with the white man during the 1870s. Many gave up a nomadic way of the life and agreed to settle on reserves. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Fearing starvation, prairie natives agreed to sign treaties with the white man during the 1870s. Many gave up a nomadic way of the life and agreed to settle on reserves. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

For centuries, the buffalo provided the essentials of life for prairie natives. The fur and hide were made into clothing and shelter, and the meat was the main source of food.

Tribes had lived a largely nomadic life while following the herds across the prairies. At one time, there had been as many as 50 million buffalo on the North American plains. Even in the early 1870s, there were herds so vast that it took several days to pass them.

Then two technological advances spurred the rapid slaughter of the buffalo. The demand for buffalo hides surged when a useful tanning method was developed. The method allowed the soft hide to be made into tougher, more desirable leather.

The other advancement was the development of the repeating rifle, allowing hunters to kill buffalo in huge numbers.

Beyond the technology, the United States government also encouraged the slaughter of the buffalo as a strategy to conquer the American plains Indians. American General Phil Sheridan said, "Let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy."

By the end of the 1870s, millions of buffalo had been slaughtered for sport, profit and military gain. Killing buffalo even became a past-time as sportsmen from Britain traveled to the plains to take part in the hunt.

In Canada, fur traders, plains natives, and white hunters, helped slaughter about four million buffalo.

When Canadian settlers started farming, the first cash crop for some was buffalo bones, sold by the ton for fertilizer.

Fearing starvation, natives agreed to sign treaties with the white man. Many gave up a nomadic way of the life and agreed to settle on reserves. Within a short time, a way of the life that had sustained plains natives for centuries was gone.


top of page


Last Topic:
The Whiskey Trade

Current Topic:
Buffalo Slaughter

Next Topic:
Treaties Signal End
The Whiskey Trade
Liquor comes to the native world and brings addiction and death.
read more ...

Treaties Signal End
Natives sign over the land and watch a way of life slip away.
read more ...

A Slow Death
Starvation seizes the once-might prairies tribes and forces them to turn to Ottawa for food.
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC