Materials: Internet or library access, poster boards or butcher paper, glue, markers/crayons/colored pencils
Objective: For students to understand the characteristics of some animal species native to Colorado and how those species interact with their environment.
Information relevant to the Fur Trade:
We were now, day after day, passing through countless herds of buffalo. I could scarcely form an estimate of the numbers within the range of sight at the same instant, but some idea may be formed of them by mentioning that, one day, passing along a ridge of upland prairie at least thirty miles in length, and from which a view extended about eight miles on each side of a slightly rolling plain, not a patch of grass ten yards square could be seen, so dense was the living mass that covered the country in every direction.” —George Frederick Ruxton, 1847
By the time the first trappers set out for the Rocky Mountains, nearly all of the buffalo east of the Mississippi had disappeared. But perhaps 60 million North American bison, as they are properly called, still roamed the western plains and river bottoms in 1800—so many that Captain William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) reported being delayed for several hours as a herd crossed the Yellowstone River in front of his exploring party.
The American buffalo has been described as “the most important animal on the western plains and prairies.” Buffalo were the backbone of the Plains Indian economy and social life. Indians ate buffalo meat, fashioned tools and weapons out of buffalo bones, and made blankets, clothing, boats, and homes out of buffalo hides. Trappers, who copied the Indians in clothing, living accommodations, and social life, also embraced the buffalo as an essential source of food, clothing, and shelter.
As time went on, European American demand for buffalo parts became an important economy in itself. Eastern demand for buffalo meat and thick winter robes—popular as floor coverings, blankets, wraps, and coats—gave trappers and Plains Indians alike an alternative income when demand for beavers declined. Buffalo tongues became a popular delicacy in fancy eastern restaurants too. American Indians and trappers took advantage of this fad, often killing bison for their tongues alone, especially in the summertime when robes were not worth harvesting. This wasteful practice did not escape the notice of western artist George Catlin, who reported a case in which some Indians traded 1,400 tongues for a few gallons of whisky.
The increased demand for buffalo parts led to a gradual shift from beaver pelt to buffalo fur production. In 1830, hunters killed about 27,000 buffalo each year; ten years later that number went up to 90,000. By 1835, traders shipped more buffalo robes than beaver pelts to St. Louis every year. Traders bought robes from Indian suppliers for about twenty-five cents’ worth of trade goods, and then sold them for five to six dollars apiece back east.
The extermination of the buffalo accelerated after 1870, when tanners discovered that buffalo hides made fine leather regardless of the season. The extension of western railroads also contributed to the buffalos’ demise. Viewing the vast herds as an impediment to train travel, some railroad companies encouraged passengers to shoot at the animals from trains. Commercial hunters made quick work of the remaining buffalo. Hunters in 1872 slaughtered more than 500,000 on the Southern Plains. The great southern herd was virtually wiped out by 1880.
By 1884, only a single group of wild buffalo remained in the United States, in Yellowstone National Park, and fewer than 300 remained in the United States and Canada by the beginning of the twentieth century. Due in part to the efforts of cattle ranchers, no friends of bison in earlier times, buffalo began making a comeback. Congress passed the first law to protect buffalo in 1894. In 1913, the U.S. Department of the Treasury coined the popular buffalo head nickel—giving bison a place alongside the bald eagle and the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America. Thanks in part to these efforts, more than 350,000 bison survive today. About 200,000 live in protected herds managed by the federal or state governments or Indian tribes. The rest live on commercial ranches that raise the animals for food.
Have each student chose one of the animals listed below. Each student should choose a different one; there should not be any repeats. If the instructor would like he or she may cut out the names of the animals and have the students draw a name of an animal out of the hat. There are 30 animals listed. If more are needed please visit http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/SpeciesProfiles.aspx to find additional animals.
Fish & Reptiles
Greenback Cutthroat Trout
Great Horned Owl
White Tail Deer
Next each student will research their chosen animal. They will need to find out the following questions about it:
Does the animal live alone? In small groups or large herds?
What does it eat?
How long do the young stay with their mothers before going out on their own?
What part of Colorado (or the country) do they live in? Create a map showing their territory.
How long do they normally live?
Do the male and females look different? In what way?
Would a mountain man have encountered their animal very often?
Would it have been worth while for the mountain man to trap this species?
Are they an endangered or threatened species?
Have the students create a poster of their own design with the information the have researched. They must include all of the questions on their poster.
Once the posters are done have the students give a short presentation on their animal.