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.

Identifying indigenous peoples The Indians in the photographs accompanying the article "Brazil Reaches Out to Native Peoples," Oct. 24, are not Yanomami but Kayap a completely different group living over 1,500 miles away with an experience radically contrasting that of non-Indians. Unlike the Yanomami, the Kayapo have successfully obtained legal recognition of their lands and medical care against foreigners' diseases, making them healthy, vibrant, and supremely photogenic for outsiders looking for images of "generic Indians." Had photos of Yanomami been used, you would not find anything like the Kayaps tape recorder shown to illustrate the purportedly "modern ways" brought by gold miners to the Yanomami. Instead you would find appalling photos of malaria victims dressed in rags and emaciated, balding children. Knowing that such shocking images could unleash an international outcry like that in Ethiopia, the Brazilian government long banned photographers from Yanomami territory, along with the medical workers, missionaries, and anthropologists who could have helped to prevent the tragedy. Also, the author deflates the numbers of invading miners by merely citing a July 1991 figure of 4,650 - when many of the mines had been exhausted - and neglecting to state that there were 40,000 at the height of the gold rush in 1989. Catherine V. Howard, Chicago

The fact that peoples such as the Yanomami Indians get coverage in the news is great, but the next step is to address this issue more deeply. The plight of indigenous peoples all over the world must be recognized, especially by those of us in privileged Western societies who may be in a position to help them. Miriam Midlarsky, Madison, Wis.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.