Bison might not be highlighted often on contemporary menus but many years ago it was a protein staple in Native American diets. In fact, for Native Americans the bison was everything. A typical bison weighs about 1,000-1,200 pounds and we can get 450-500 pounds of usable meat from a bison. A typical cow, on the other hand, weighs between 700 and 1200 pounds and we can only get 400 pounds of usable meat on average from a cow. Native Americans not only took advantage of the great American Bison as a tremendous food source for their tribes but also as source for many other items needed for their everyday life. Native Americans are known for their use of the entire bison, not just the meat. For instance, horns were fashioned into spoons, the hide on the top of the head was turned into a bowl, the furry hide was used for the walls of tepees, the stomach was used as a cooking vessel and the heart was used to carry dried meat.
Unfortunately, in the 1840s the Europeans began to request outrageous amounts of Bison furs from the Native Americans. As a result Native Americans began to remove hides from hundreds of bison without using the bison meat. In fact, it is estimated that only 4 out of every 100 bison was actually fully utilized and the remaining 96 were simply skinned and then discarded. To make matters worse the US Government actually encouraged bison slaughter as a means of removing Native Americans from the land via starvation. As a result the Great American Bison began to die out. Originally the bison Population in North America was over one hundred million but by 1890 the population was reduced to less than 1000.
Today we are still trying to undo what was done many years ago. The bison population restoration is underway and dedicated ranchers are slowly bringing the bison population back up to what it once was. Since restoration began, the American Bison population has increased to 500,000. Cook’s Bison Ranch is just one ranch that is trying to bring the forgotten bison back to life. Learn more about our friends at Cook’s here.
You can read more about the history of bison here:
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