The Facts And History Of The American Bison

American BisonThe American bison, also commonly known as the American buffalo or simply buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. They became nearly extinct by a combination of commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century and introduction of bovine diseases from domestic cattle, and have made a recent resurgence largely restricted to a few national parks and reserves. Their historical range roughly comprised a triangle between the Great Bear Lake in Canada's far northwest, south to the Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo León, and east to the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.  Bison were seen in North Carolina near Buffalo Ford on the Catawba River as late as 1750.

Plains vs Woods BisonTwo subspecies have been described: the plains bison, smaller in size and with a more rounded hump, and the wood bison the larger of the two and having a taller, square hump.  Furthermore, the plains bison has been suggested to consist of a northern and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three.  The wood bison is one of the largest wild species of bovid in the world.

The term buffalo is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, and could be confused with "true" buffalos, the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, bison is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while buffalo originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts’ bœufs, meaning ox or bullock—so both names, bison and buffalo, have a similar meaning. The name buffalo is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American buffalo or bison.

Wild West BuffaloIn Plains Indian languages in general, male and female buffaloes are distinguished, with each having a different designation rather than there being a single generic word covering both sexes. Thus:

in Arapaho: bii (buffalo cow), henéécee (buffalo bull)
in Lakota: pté (buffalo cow), tÈŸatÈŸáÅ‹ka (buffalo bull)

Despite being the closest relatives of domestic cattle native to North America, bison were never domesticated by Native Americans. Later attempts of domestication by Europeans prior to the 20th century met with limited success. Bison were described as having a "wild and ungovernable temper"; they can jump close to 6 ft vertically, and run 35–40 mph when agitated. Bison were difficult to confine due to their agility, speed and weight as it was easy for them to escape most fencing systems.