END OF THE LINE FOR BISON AND INDIANS

“The antelope have gone; the buffalo wallows are empty...The white man’s medicine is stronger than ours; his iron horses rush over the buffalo trail.”
– Plenty Coups, Crow Indian Chief

Thirty million bison roamed the open prairies when settlers arrived. Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux and other native people depended on them for food, homes, clothing and tools. But as railroads, farms and fences sprang up, the bison were driven out. Native people lost their food supply and were forced onto reservations.

Shooting bison from trains became an officially accepted “sport”. Bison meat, bones and hides brought in money, and officials knew that fewer bison meant fewer Indians. By 1870, the great bison herds had been cut down to fewer than 1,000 animals.

Image credits: Library of Congress

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PRAIRIE ROOTS GROW THICK AND LONG

“First we built for us a sod house and we tried to raise some trees,
But the land was full of Coyotes and our sod house full of fleas.” 
– Nebraska homesteaders’ song

Over centuries, the dense prairie roots trapped organic particles, creating rich soil that rewarded hard-working farmers. Cutting the roots with iron plows wasn’t easy. But when John Deere invented the steel plow in 1837, the prairie changed forever. Within 50 years most of it had been plowed into farmland.

Few trees grew on the prairie, so settlers cut “bricks” of prairie grass sod to build their homes. Once cut, the plants’ dense roots held the bricks together. Sod houses (or “soddies”) were warm in winter and cool in summer – although perhaps a bit dusty.


Cutting prairie sod “bricks” for building

Do you see any sod homes in the prairie diorama?

Image credits: top & center, Heidi Natura/Conservation Research Institute; The Granger Collection; bottom, Nebraska State Historical Society

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(Image credits: Library of Congress)

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(Image credits: Library of Congress)

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(Image credits: Heidi Natura/Conservation Research Institute; The Granger Collection)

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(Image credits: Heidi Natura/Conservation Research Institute; The Granger Collection)

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Cutting prairie sod “bricks” for building

(Image credits: Nebraska State Historical Society)

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