Is there any animal more associated with America than the American buffalo? This strong and hardy creature once existed in the tens of millions across North America, from Alaska in the west to Florida in the east, from Slave Lake in Canada down to the northern provinces of Mexico. The largest living mammals of the Western Hemisphere once roamed in herds so vast, that when Lewis and Clark encountered them in what later became South Dakota, in 1806, they wrote, “The moving multitude … darkened the whole plains.”
American buffalo (or, more accurately, bison) crossed over to the North American continent from Asia several millennia ago, via a land bridge across the Bering Strait. Called “buffalo” by early European explorers because of their physical similarity to the Asian and African buffalo, in reality American bison are more closely related to the Wisent, or European bison, and can be distinguished from Old World buffalo by their prominent shoulder hump.
Bison flourished particularly well in the Great Plains, and, as a result, they became an integral part of Native American culture in that region, both as an important source of food, clothing, and tools, and through their perceived role as powerful spirit creatures. However, when European settlers began pushing westward, the hunting and killing of bison escalated, and by 1830 entire herds of buffalo began to be systematically killed for their meat and hides. By the time railroads began to traverse the continent in the latter half of the 19th Century, passengers on trains were shooting bison through the rail car windows, often killing them purely for sport. As a result, the millions of bison that had once roamed across the continent were on the brink of extinction in the late 1800’s, down to under an estimated 800 animals.
Fortunately, by this time people began to realize how tragic it would be to lose a species so uniquely associated with the American wilderness. Five ranchers in the west took it upon themselves to save the species by providing range and protection for remnants of the herds that roamed their lands. Then in 1894, Congress passed legislation that made hunting bison in Yellowstone National Park illegal, and later supported successful efforts to build up the population of bison living in the park. In 1905 Theodore Roosevelt founded the American Bison Society with William Hornaday, to create wild bison reserves with the help of specimens from the Bronx Zoo. Today, the number of bison on public lands and private ranches is over 500,000, a testament to the efforts of early conservationists and ranchers to save the species.
Much more resilient and rugged than domestic cattle, both male and female bison have horns, and can, at times, be as dangerous as grizzlies. Despite their massive size they are nimble, able to pivot on either their front or rear feet, and can charge at speeds up to thirty-five miles an hour, covering long distances. They have been described as being unpredictable: capable of appearing content and lazy one moment, and then attacking people or machinery the next. Their natural strength and endurance befits creatures born to thrive in the wilderness.
Since bison spend their lives eating grass and aren’t subjected to supplemental hormones and antibiotics, as is often the case with domestic cattle, the health benefits of their meat are extensive. For example, bison meat has higher a proportion of protein, iron, and B12, than beef, pork, chicken, and salmon while providing fewer calories. As for cooking and taste, bison meat is tender, it can be prepared much like beef, and it tastes slightly richer and sweeter than fine beef. In short, with bison meat you get a delicious source of nutrition that still reflects the natural cycles of life, not large-scale industrial practices.
If you haven’t tried bison meat for yourself yet, why not explore the wide variety of bison meat products that are available? Whether it’s bison steaks or burgers, hot dogs or ribs, something’s bound to pique your interest, and will serve as the perfect introduction to the natural and delicious “meat of the future,” as recognized by sources as varied as Bon Appétit and Sunset magazines. Once you’ve tried it, there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked.
Bison are hardy, enduring creatures that have lived on this continent for thousands of years. Hunted almost to the point of extinction, bison now thrive on private ranches around the country, yet are raised with limited human contact and intervention, due to their undomesticated nature. As a result, eating bison meat provides a more natural, nutritional experience than eating beef from domesticated cattle.
The Buffalo Guys was started in 2000 by Ken Klemm and Peter Thieriot, two family ranchers committed to cultivating bison in a manner that respects the animals’ wild heritage and maintains the environment. They provide fine bison meat products, both online and in retail stores across the country. To learn more about them, their mission, and where to buy quality bison meat, visit their official web site: http://www.thebuffaloguys.com.