Why was the American bison almost fully eradicted? The animal was no one' s property. While the bison was becoming extinct, the population of cattle kept surging in America. Why? If you shot at cattle you were likely to get shot at too, or facing other unpleasant forms of deterrence from their owners.
[A ...] common myth surrounding American Bison is that there were massive herds, before the “white man” came to America, on the scale that Americans eventually encountered them at. In fact, evidence suggests that the Native Americans kept the bison populations regulated by various means. After the European diseases wiped out most of the Native Americans, the American Bison population exploded, becoming the most numerous large wild mammal on Earth until eventually hunted to near extinction within a few centuries after this population explosion. At their peak, it was estimated that there were nearly 100 million American Bison in existence only a few centuries ago.
Before horses and guns were introduced to Native Americans, hunting bison was a dangerous affair, the bison being quite aggressive and hard to kill. One of the methods of hunting them that the Native Americans would then use was to attempt to herd a large group of bison into chutes of rock, which lead to a cliff. They’d then incite a stampede with most of the herd falling to their deaths. The meat and skins could then be easily gathered.
American bison were eventually brought to near extinction by the late 19th century. The U.S. army sanctioned the whole-sale slaughter of the bison herds to allow cattle ranchers to establish themselves without competition. This also hurt the Native American tribes who depended on the bison herds for survival. The Native American tribes themselves, now armed with guns and horses, also contributed to the demise of the bison, killing about 1/3 of a million Bison per year in the southern plains alone.
The bison hides were also extremely valuable around this same time. One single hide in good condition would bring in about $3. Made into a winter coat, it could bring in as much as $50. A single skilled hunter, such as Buffalo Bill Cody, could kill and skin as many as 100 bison in one day’s work. Around this same era, a common worker would only make a little under $1 a day.
Buffalo Bill Cody is estimated to have killed around 20,000 bison in his lifetime. Ironically, he was one of the most outspoken supporters of plans to protect the bison populations through legislation. In the end, President Grant vetoed the bill that would have protected the herds, due to the frequent small wars the U.S. had to fight with the Plains Indians. By getting rid of the bison herds, it took away the Plains Indians primary food and clothing source.