Many Reasons for Buffalo Extinction

In the article "Native American Nightmare," Nov. 21, the author says the buffalo of the Great Plains were hunted to near extinction during the 19th century "to make way for the railroads."This is a simplistic explanation that was commonly given in texts on American history 35 years ago. It does not take into account economic forces, technological advances in arms development, and military strategy against native Americans after the Civil War. Economic demand for warm buffalo robes was always strong in northern latitudes of North America and Europe prior to the development of efficient central heating systems and internal combustion engines. The development of "buffalo guns" that were accurate at very long ranges and possessed tremendous shock power made it easy for hunters with ordinary hunting skills to kill large numbers of buffalo. This, along with rail lines close by, supplied eastern population centers with large numbers of buffalo robes at affordable prices. It also provided an excellent opportunity to implement the most effective strategy for subduing Native American tribes that military planners had: destruction of their food sources. Military planners knew that the buffalo must be destroyed to subdue the natives, but that it would be almost impossible with available forces and equipment. With the developments outlined above, however, success with this strategy was assured. Peter Lowe, Columbia, Md.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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