The American Bison is a large herbivourous mammal, distantly related to today’s domesticated cows. At one time, they were found in an area ranging from the Yukon to Mexico, covering more than a third of the North American landmass. Numbers slowly diminished over the years as the Native Americans hunted them, but an equilibrium was reached. There were were sufficient bison to survive and insufficient humans (with too low a technology) to do more than dent their numbers.
This changed with the advent of European colonisation. As the West was slowly settled by white men with guns, the numbers of bison were greatly reduced. To some extent, this was to clear land for farming, but frequently, bison were short more or less for the hell of it. Native tribal cultures based around hunting bison fell apart as there were no longer any bison to hunt in many areas.
In 1884, bison numbers – as best can be determined from the incomplete historical record – bottomed out. While some bison lived in national parks (notably Yellowstone, founded in 1872) and were protected, the species as a whole was still hunted for several more years until they were officially labelled as endangered.
Today, careful breeding programs have replenished bison numbers are estimated to be about 300,000 in the United States, but this is a far cry from the days when a single herd would take from dawn to til past dusk to pass an observer.
Three Days — Jane’s Addiction