The Splitting of the Great Buffalo Herd
Acrylic on Canvas ~ 2007
26 x 46″ 65 x 116 cm
I have family in Vancouver, so we have driven across much of Canada, and back through the States a couple of times as a family. If you pick the right route the changing landscape across Canada is mind blowing, from rocky forests, to the Spirit Sands Desert, to the prairies. From the Cyprus Hills, to the Bad Lands, through the foot hills, across the Rockies, and finally rolling out to the beautiful West Coast.
The thing that really struck me about coming back through the United States however, was the buffalo, (more correctly bison). Its ghost is everywhere, seeping into all of the nooks and crannies, front and centre at all of the tourist attractions, (or maybe its just the ones that we went to). But I did not actually see a living bison on either trip back through the States. It is all pervasive, and yet absent.
In the mid 19th century, it is estimated that there may have been 60 – 100 million bison. In 1869 Union Pacific Railroad, completed the first track in North America linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The ‘romantic’ tale that I heard growing up, was that a train, loaded down with gun toting yahoos, ran through the centre of a massive herd, and that half of the panicked animals ran north, and the other half ran south, and the two herds never came together again. Between yahoos shooting for sport, and commercial hunting on a massive scale, the bison was hovering close to extinction by 1884. This was a mere 15 years after the first train brought settlers, buffalo skinners, and gold diggers across the prairies.