For thousands of years, millions of bison roamed across North America. Look at the map below. It shows the range of the bison at two different times in history.

The pink part shows the places where bison were found in the 1500's. The blue part shows the places where bison were found in the late 1800's. What do you think happened to all those millions of bison?

When the white settlers came and moved out west, they started to hunt the bison almost to the point of extinction. Within a 25-year period, they killed the bison by the millions, usually taking only the pelt and the best meat, leaving the rest to rot. It became a popular sport to kill the bison just for fun, and people were known to shoot them in passing from moving trains. By the end of the 1800's, only about 800 bison were left in the United States.

The Native Americans of the Plains depended on the bison for survival. Killing the bison was one way to kill their way of life and to dominate (control) them.

To see a timeline of the bison slaughter (killing) and comeback, go to:

Bison Numbers


Luckily a few herds were saved from extinction. Today, about 50 thousand (50,000) bison live in our country, primarily in park refuges and in ranches. A good place to see bison today is at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Bisons in Yellowstone Park