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Buffalo also could withstand more extreme weather conditions than cattle. They tended not to congregate near water sources. In earlier times their native range covered much of North America , but by the mid-nineteenth century the primary range extended from West Texas northward through Alberta, Canada and west from the Mississippi River to the Rockies.
At the end of the American Civil War — , the U. Since U. The military was keenly aware that a substantial decline in buffalo would pose a serious setback to the Indians' ability to resist U. It would also spell an end to their seemingly nomadic lifestyle and force their move to reservations. Some believe the military made concerted efforts to exterminate the buffalo, both by direct actions and with logistical assistance provided to private hunting expeditions.
Given the nature of the animals sometimes to not stampede when fired on, a marksman could shoot a hundred buffalo in an hour standing in one spot. Often only the buffalo tongues and other choice cuts were taken and most of the animal was left to rot. Sometimes they were killed purely for sport. Fencing by new settlers also took its toll by restricting buffalo from traditional watering holes and rich grazing areas.
By the slaughter of buffalo escalated further. A Pennsylvania tannery developed an industrial method to convert buffalo hides into inexpensive commercial leather for harnesses and machine belts. The Kansas Pacific and the Santa Fe railroads carried the hides to eastern markets. As the Kansas herds vanished rapidly, the decimation extended southward to the Texas panhandle. Because the buffalo herds sometimes blocked trains, railroad companies hired hunters to clear the tracks and guard watering holes.
An estimated 15 million buffalo in decreased by to seven million.
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Congress grew alarmed and passed legislation in regulating the killing of buffalo. Non-Indians could not kill female buffalo and were prohibited from killing no more than needed for food.
However, President Ulysses S. Grant — vetoed the measure. The Texas state legislature also unsuccessfully introduced a buffalo protection bill in In the Northern Pacific Railroad reached the Dakota- Montana border in the central area of the traditional buffalo range. Thousands of buffalo hides were shipped from the Montana Territory and Yellowstone River area. The following year the railroad reached Miles City, Montana.
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Two years later, in , a herd of 10, in Montana were exterminated in a few days time. By the s less than a thousand buffalo remained in scattered areas, mostly on private ranches. Perhaps a scant twenty to fifty buffalo had sought refuge in Yellowstone National Park. In Congress created a national bison range west of Flathead Lake in Montana. Hide hunters as well as thrill seekers in combination with the growing railroad network doomed the once massive herds.
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The herds on the central plains were exterminated by the early s; they were eliminated from the southern plains later in the s; and they vanished from the northern plains in the early s. To the Plains Indians the wasteful mass killing of the buffalo herds was perhaps the most disheartening act of all by the white intruders. Their economy was shattered and the native groups were forced to live on government handouts.