Blood memory The tragic decline and improbable resurrection of the American Buffalo

Dayton Duncan

Book - 2023

"The epic story of the buffalo in America, from prehistoric times to today--a moving and beautifully illustrated work of natural history. The American buffalo--our nation's official mammal-is an improbable, shaggy beast that has found itself at the center of many of our most mythic and sometimes heartbreaking tales. The largest land animals in the Western Hemisphere, they are survivors of a mass extinction that erased ancient species that were even larger. For nearly 10,000 years, they evolved alongside Native people who weaved them into every aspect of daily life; relied on them for food, clothing, and shelter; and revered them as equals. Newcomers to the continent found the buffalo fascinating at first, but in time they came to ...consider them a hindrance to a young nation's expansion. And in the space of only a decade they were slaughtered by the millions for their hides, with their carcasses left to rot on the prairies. Then, teetering on the brink of disappearing from the face of the earth, they would be rescued by a motley collection of Americans, each of them driven by different--and sometimes competing--impulses. This is the rich and complicated story of a young republic's heedless rush to conquer a continent, but also of the dawn of the conservation era--a story of America at its very best and worst"--

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2nd Floor New Shelf 599.643/Duncan (NEW SHELF) Due Dec 6, 2023
Local histories
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2023.
Main Author
Dayton Duncan (author)
Other Authors
Ken Burns, 1953- (writer of introduction), Maggie Hinders (designer)
First edition
Item Description
Place of publication from publisher's website.
Physical Description
xvi, 329 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction: The Things We Love
  • A Note on Word Usages and Quotations
  • Prologue
  • Part 1. The Trail to Extinction
  • 1. The Buffalo and the People
  • 2. Strangers
  • 3. Omen in the Skies
  • 4. The Iron Horse
  • 5. Kills Tomorrow
  • 6. A Death Wind for My People
  • Part 2. Back From the Brink
  • 7. Just in the Nick of Time
  • 8. Changes of Heart
  • 9. Ghosts
  • 10. The Last Refuge
  • 11. Blood Memory
  • 12. Big Medicine
  • Afterword: Buffalo Brothers
  • Interviewees
  • Acknowledgments
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Foremost documentary filmmaker Burns and preeminent writer and producer Duncan present a resounding "biography" of the bison, the largest animal to tread the continent and a quintessential if paradoxical American symbol, in a new, two-part PBS film, The American Buffalo, and in this panoramic volume rich in images, insights, and extended interviews and history. In his introduction, Burns defines the central focus of the story, the "long, beautiful relationship between Native peoples and the buffalo." "Blood memory" is the term used by Kiowa poet N. Scott Momaday to express the "kinship" between Indigenous peoples and the buffalo who sustained them physically and spiritually. Writing with his signature lucidity and particular passion, Duncan illuminates the wondrous nature of the bison and details the species' complex role in Native American lives, then turns inexorably to the arrival of whites and the catastrophic slaughter of millions of buffalo in a frenzy of indiscriminate killing industrialized by new high-powered guns and the railroads. Duncan chronicles how this epic massacre outright destroyed and profoundly altered Indigenous lives. Fortunately, this tale of conquest, bloodshed, and environmental disaster is also a story of resilience and resistance as Duncan profiles diverse men and women who rescued the buffalo from extinction and others involved in the ongoing pursuit of justice for crimes against Native Americans.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Producer Duncan and documentary filmmaker Burns (The Dust Bowl) present an elegiac complement to their PBS series, The American Buffalo. The authors highlight how Indigenous people lived with, revered, and used buffalo for food and shelter for thousands of years before the establishment of the first British colonies in North America: "It became a relationship so immediate and personal, I think, that they had to formulate an idea of the buffalo being equal to them in many ways," says Kiowa poet N. Scott Momaday. Duncan and Burns argue that U.S. government officials looked approvingly on the carnage wrought by buffalo hunters in the second half of the 19th century because they believed that it would force Native Americans to remain on reservations and take up farming. Conservation efforts brought the species back from the brink of extinction (a Smithsonian taxidermist estimated that by 1889, only 541 buffalo remained in the U.S.), the authors write, noting the InterTribal Buffalo Council has since 1991 relocated buffalo herds from Yellowstone to 80 tribes across the U.S. The enlightening interviews place a welcome emphasis on Native American perspectives, and the lavish photography demonstrates both the buffalo's majesty and the horrific scale of their slaughter. This will bring readers to tears, then fill them with hope. Photos. (Nov.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Dutiful companion to the soon-to-air Burns documentary series on the fate of the American bison. American bison, "the largest land animals in the Western Hemisphere," are no strangers to extinction: The present species represents the fortunate survivors of an earlier extinction event that wiped out kin that were larger still. The prolific grasslands of the North American plains nurtured the species to keystone status, so that by the time Europeans arrived, herds were uncountably huge and seemingly inexhaustible, as well as uncommonly trusting. In his overland journal, Meriwether Lewis recorded that his men had to chase curious animals away with sticks and stones. For many reasons, as Duncan writes in his latest collaboration with Burns, subsequent Euro-American arrivals to the plains were bent on destroying the bison, and just about every central player in the history of the 19th-century West had some part in that destruction: Duncan brings Daniel Boone, Philip Sheridan, George Armstrong Custer, and assorted European noblemen into his account. Duncan borrows a long-standing trope that links the fate of the bison to that of the Native American peoples who once hunted them and whose descendants are now preserving them. As he notes, the National Bison Range is now under Native management, and, after a Lakota woman suggested to a founder of an intertribal council, "it's best you ask the buffalo if they want to come back," more than 80 tribes host herds that graze on more than 1 million acres of tribal land. This book is a useful survey, although any number of earlier titles, such as Steven Rinella's American Buffalo and Dan O'Brien's Wild Idea, tell the story of near-extermination and recovery more vividly. Duncan draws on their insights along with many secondary sources, as well as the work of cutting-edge historians such as Pekka Hämäläinen and Dan Flores. A sturdy, reliable narrative that sometimes reads like a data dump of research. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.