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Wild Animals You May Know

"As I watched the wild life of the park today, unconcerned and unmindful of the human beings about them, manifesting their confidence in the security of the situation, I thought how helpful it would be to humankind if we could have a like confidence in one another in all the relations of life."

President Harding, who was moved to make the foregoing observation following a visit to Yellowstone Park, is not the only visitor who has thrilled at this neighborliness of the animals of the national parks. Having no one to fear, other than their natural enemies of the forest, the other animals have followed the lead of the bears and made friends with mankind.

Though the bears have been the favorites of the Dudes and the Sagebrushers, they are by no means the most numerous of the wild animals of the parks. In all the parks together there are probably not more than twenty-five hundred bears, of which perhaps five hundred are grizzlies, the latter found only in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mount McKinley, and Glacier Parks. On the other hand, there are more than fifty thousand deer, scattered through the parks and monuments. In Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Wind Cave together there are over one thousand antelopes. In Yellowstone, Olympic, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain Parks there are over twenty thousand elk. In Glacier and Mt. Rainier there are about fifteen hundred mountain goats. In Glacier, Grand Teton, Mount McKinley, and Yellowstone Parks there are over sixteen hundred moose. In Mount McKinley, Glacier, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Canyon parks are perhaps two thousand mountain sheep. And so on. Of smaller animals and birds there are countless legions, well distributed through all the parks. The rangers are often asked how they know how many wild animals there are in the parks.


"We go out and count them," is the answer. Dudes usually take that to be a joke and laugh. The rangers do take a census of the animals each year, and the job is no joke. It is not as impossible as it sounds, for the reason that many of the wild animals congregate in the wintertime, when the snows are deep, in certain sheltered areas where the rangers provide them with food. True, the count is not entirely complete, but is sufficiently so to enable the rangers to estimate the number of animals each winter, so that they know whether or not the wild life is prospering and increasing. Caring for the wild life, providing it with food in the wintertime and protecting fur-bearing animals from poachers, is one of the major jobs of the rangers, authorized in the organic acts creating the national parks. Since civilization has driven the wild animals out of their natural winter feeding grounds at the lower levels outside the parks, the rangers must not only protect the animals but in many instances must provide them with food through the long winters.

Next to the bears, the wild animal of the greatest interest to visitors is the buffalo, found only in Yellowstone Park except for a small herd at Wind Cave Park and a few individuals found in Platt Park in Oklahoma. Strange ideas prevail regarding the animals. Nearly everybody thinks the buffalo may become extinct. Every visitor to Yellowstone wants to see a buffalo before the last of the Thundering Herd has passed to the Great Beyond.

"How many are there left?" they inquire solicitously.

"Oh, there were about a thousand last season and there are a couple of hundred calves born each year," the rangers explain. "They're increasing so fast we have a hard time finding feed for them. We are trying to give away some of them. Can you use a nice buffalo?"

This strikes most people as astounding. The effective publicity of the wild life conservationists, which actually did save the buffalo from extinction a half century ago, has created a sympathy for the buffalo that is long enduring. The number of buffalo in existence today is pitifully small compared to the vast herds that blackened the plains in the days of the 'Forty-niners. But there are several fine herds and they are increasing all too rapidly for the peace of mind of their custodians. A buffalo is a huge animal, with a voracious appetite. He weighs a ton and it takes nearly a ton of hay some years to feed him through a bad winter. Finding forage for a thousand buffaloes is a serious problem in a national park where the grazing lands are limited in area. Rather than have the herds short of food, it has been the policy to give surplus young buffaloes to zoological gardens, city parks, or private owners who have the land on which to graze small herds; or kill the surplus and give the meat to needy Indians.

(From the Stanford University Press edition)

Owners of some of the private herds, finding their buffaloes increasing too rapidly, conceived the idea of selling buffalo meat to give present-day Ameridans a chance to enjoy a taste of the food that was so important to the Indians and to the pioneer settlers of the West. It could not be sold! Sympathy for the poor buffalo had ruined the market for the meat. A railroad, traversing the great buffalo country, undertook to popularize the delicacy on its trains, and met with the same opposition. In Canada, where public officials found it necessary to curtail the natural increase of the most numerous buffalo herd in the world, the government was obliged to reduce the buffalo meat to pemmican by drying, and furnish it to hunters and trappers of the Hudson Bay region. The Canadians have been more successful in popularizing the buffalo steak on the Western trains serving their national parks.

This keen public interest in the buffalo dates back to the early 'nineties when the American Bison Society undertook to save the buffalo from extinction, which at that time seemed practically inevitable. The late Emerson Hough, representing Forest and Stream, and George Bird Grinnell, famous editor of that magazine, visited the Yellowstone in the dead of winter in 1894, just at the time that Scout Burgess caught Ed Howell, the notorious poacher, in the act of skinning some buffaloes he had killed in the park. Because of the inadequacy of the laws protecting the buffalo, the only punishment that the rangers inflicted was to eject Howell from the park, after which he returned to his poaching. This thoroughly aroused both Grinnell and Hough. In a series of articles and editorials, these two writers warned the nation of the passing of the buffalo. Congress was moved to legislate in 1894 for the punishment of poachers in Yellowstone. In 1901 a sum of $15,000 was set aside to establish a new herd of buffaloes in that park.

By that time, the herd in Yellowstone had been reduced by avaricious poachers to twenty-two animals roaming wild in the park, four held in captivity at the lake by E. C. Waters, operator of a boat line, and four more at Henry's lake, captured and saved by R. W. Rock. The only other wild buffaloes were fifty animals at large in northern Colorado. These were subsequently wiped out by poachers. There were, however, two fair-sized herds in captivity outside the parks, one in Texas, known as the Goodnight Herd, and another in Montana, the Pablo-Allard Herd. The latter was subsequently sold to the Dominion of Canada and established in the Canadian national parks. There were a few small herds in city parks and some buffaloes running wild in Canada. The total number of buffaloes in the world was estimated at sixteen hundred.

The turning point for the Yellowstone buffalo was 1902, when Colonel C. J. ("Buffalo") Jones arrived in the park to serve as game warden. He negotiated the purchase of eighteen buffalo cows from the Pablo-Allard Herd and they were delivered at Mammoth by Howard Eaton, the famous Wyoming guide. "Buffalo" Jones went to Texas and brought back three bulls from the Goodnight Herd. Two calves were captured from the wild herd on the Lamar River. This gave the park three strains of blood for the little herd at Mammoth that grew into the herd made famous by the filming of the famous motion picture, "The Thundering Herd."

By 1911 the so-called "tame" herd, which was not tame at all except that it was provided with hay in winter and was kept under control by the gamekeeper, had increased to 147 animals. In that year, hemorrhagic septicemia attacked some of the younger animals and fifteen per cent died. It was then that the rangers began vaccinating the buffaloes. Dudes and Sagebrushers think this is another whopper. Quite the contrary! Three times the disease has threatened the herd and each time it has been checked by vaccination. One of the really strenuous jobs for the ranger, when he has nothing to do until tomorrow, is rounding up the buffalo calves, herding them into a corral, and vaccinating them with a serum developed by the United States Bureau of Animal Industry.

The Yellowstone herds have thrived. The "new" herd long ago outgrew the quarters Buffalo Jones built at Mammoth and was relocated on the Lamar River. It grew to more than twelve hundred animals and long since would have been three to four thousand had not a considerable number been given away or killed.

A herd was established for the Crow Indians, northeast of the Park in Montana, and smaller herds have been re-established in the higher parts of Yellowstone, in the Lower Geyser Basin, in Hayden Valley and other sections where there is ample grass and forest shelter in winter. Whether these herds will be driven back to the Lamar by exceptionally heavy storms remains to be seen. The total number of buffalo is now maintained at about 800 head which, considering the size of other herds in the United States and Canada, is probably reasonable.

A ranch is operated on the Lamar to feed the herds in severe winters. Otherwise the big animals would range out of the park when the snows are heavy. Once in a while a buffalo does that. One day the rangers received a frantic long distance phone call from one of the residents of Gardiner, Montana.

"Say, come down and get your buffaloes, will you?" he urged anxiously. "Two are loose in our main street and business is at a standstill. It's serious!"

The situation in Gardiner, as the rangers found it, was not only serious, but funny. Two big buffalo bulls were parading up and down the main street. Not another creature was stirring. Every door was closed, every store was empty, every window was full of faces peering apprehensively at the new bosses of the town. There was a sigh of relief when the rangers drove the buffaloes back to the park. Then Gardiner came to life again.

In 1923, Congress authorized the park service to give away surplus buffaloes to zoos, parks, and private individuals who had the proper facilities for handling them. When this announcement was made through the press, the rangers received a flood of inquiries from people interested in buffaloes. The letters indicated the hazy notions that people have about the size and habits of the buffalo.


One little girl wrote from New York asking for a "cute, gentle little buffalo to play with." Two boys wanted a calf apiece as pets. One farmer from Nebraska wrote for some buffaloes to entertain guests on Sundays. "It's kind of quiet around here," he said. "We're great hands to entertain and we'd like a couple of buffaloes." A man from Georgia sent a check for shipment of three buffaloes, then wired, just before they were caught, to withhold shipment. "My wife has convinced me that with four children and three buffaloes, our two-acre lot would be too small," he said. "She is afraid the buffaloes might hurt the children." Another family wanted a buffalo because their children had tired of playing with their cats, dogs, and rabbits, and perhaps a buffalo would interest them.

After the buffaloes had been shipped, some unique complaints came in from the new owners of the animals. Some said that the buffaloes were too large; they wanted small ones. The rangers ship only the young ones, as a matter of fact, because the crating and expressing of a full grown one-ton buffalo is some job in itself. The cost of catching and crating a buffalo is about seventy dollars. The animals are shipped by express so that they will arrive promptly and in good condition. Preference is given to game preserves, forest reserves, zoos, and parks, but many buffaloes have been sent to private estates and asylums. A herd of sixteen was shipped to the Famous Players-Lasky Company for use in the movies. Yellowstone buffalo have been shipped to practically every state in the union. Each autumn the rangers join the buffalo-keepers in a great round up, at which time the animals are counted, the herd is inspected, and the animals for shipment are singled out. These round ups are about the last opportunities to see in this country the fearful and impressive buffalo stampedes.

(From the Stanford University Press edition)


Because of the prevalent idea that buffaloes would make good pets, it was necessary to get out a public warning to applicants for buffaloes a few seasons ago. Some of the letters from new owners were made public, and this caught the fancy of the newspapers of the country. It was the occasion of a headline writers' holiday, and some of them stretched themselves to compose such lines as these: "Buffaloes not affectionate—won't wag tails or make pets." "Buffaloes not good pets, puppies better." "Little girls mustn't play with bad buffaloes." "Can't tickle buffalo's hoof and get away with it." "Buffalo not family pet, Hoosier learns." "Pet buffalo so resents petting." "Buffalo just ain't nice pet." "Uncle Sam informs little girl 'affectionate' buffalo just isn't." And there were hundreds of others!

One other newspaper headline about a buffalo cost us a very distinguished visitor. A wealthy American woman who had married into the nobility of Europe and had become a duchess was traveling in the West with a private car in which was built a specially made apartment with bath for her two-pound Pekinese dog. Her secretary telegraphed, asking that the park rangers set aside the rule forbidding dogs and cats in the park so that the Duchess could visit Yellowstone with her Pekinese. If she could not bring the dog, she would not come. She was finally advised that she could bring in the two-pound Pekinese if she would keep it on a chain, a courtesy extended to all through travelers with dogs. Someone laughingly remarked to the chief ranger, "You'd better make provision to protect our buffaloes."

The rangers got a laugh out of the idea and told it to a newspaper man. The next day it was in newspapers all over the country. The Duchess saw it and was so angered that she refused to visit the park either with or without her Pekinese. So the buffaloes are still safe.

In the fall of 1924, a buffalo cow was sent to Lincoln Park, Chicago. In May of the next year, there came to the park a card in a small envelope, a typical "stork" announcement, with a stork carrying a baby in its bill at the top of the card. Below was the following:

"Arrived May 8, 1925
Baby Buffalo
Weight 120 pounds
Mr. and Mrs. Buffalo"

One of the regrets of the rangers is that they cannot keep all the Yellowstone buffalo herds near a road where the Dudes and Sagebrushers can see hundreds of animals in action. Obviously the herds are too powerful and unwieldy to be kept close to tourist camps and hotels. However provision was made a few years ago for fencing a large area on the northern slopes of Mount Washburn and the Antelope Creek basin. Here, in summers before the war, a buffalo herd was brought from the Lamar country and released. Motorists coming or going over the Dunraven Pass-Tower Falls Road could always see the great, shaggy animals in the Antelope Creek region, but the fence was so carefully placed that it did not enter the picture. Of course every body interested in these noble animals hopes funds will be available to continue this display amid such beautiful surroundings. By 1947 another buffalo herd can be easily seen in Jackson Hole National Monument south of Yellowstone.

The rangers hope to establish buffalo herds in some of the other parks, particularly Glacier National Park, where there is ample room and good conditions. However, the cost of establishing such a herd would be considerable. Perhaps the project may be carried out at some future time on the adjacent Blackfeet Indian Reservation. There is no doubt about the great public interest in the comeback of the American bison which used to roam the plains in millions, the wonderful animal which Theodore Roosevelt called "the most distinctive game animal on this continent and certainly the animal which played the greatest part in the lives of the Indians and most deeply impressed the imagination of the old hunters and the early settlers."


Next to the bear and the buffalo, it is the beavers that interest the visitors in the parks. These ingenious and resourceful little animals are like the bears in that they have many almost human attributes, though a very different set of them from the traits that are bruin's. The beavers are like humans in that they are always trying to improve upon Nature. They are forever damming a stream or changing its course, or cutting down a tree, or building a new house. A beaver is never satisfied to let well enough alone. There are plenty of natural shelters in the woods, but these are not good enough for Mr. Beaver. Like his two-legged friend, Mr. Man, the beaver must gather all his family about him, even the distant relatives, build a tenement house, and crowd into it. The house is always overflowing, it always needs additions, new gables, or new roofs, or new rooms. Life in a beaver colony is just about as unsettled as it is in a great city. Perhaps that is why people are fascinated by beavers and their work.

Fortunately the beavers are prospering in many of the national parks. The beaver, like the buffalo, was threatened with extinction years ago, though his number never decreased in proportion to those of the buffalo. However, game laws protect the beavers now, even outside the parks. The most numerous beaver colonies in the national parks are in Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Rainier National Parks, where water is plentiful and where streams run all year long. No beaver can live happily without the daily opportunity to build or patch up the dam. The beavers live in a house built of logs and sticks surrounded by fairly still water, but they also burrow into stream banks in places, instead of constructing houses. If a lake doesn't exist, the beavers make one by damming a stream. The top of their house projects well above the water, but the entrance is always under water, and the beavers have to swim home and then go up stairs to dry quarters.

"Busy as a beaver." This figure of speech has amused many a Dude, after watching the ways of beavers in the parks. Beavers do their work at night. They sleep all day, which is unfortunate, for it makes it hard for visitors to get a good glimpse of them. The beaver does most of his work with his long, sharp teeth. With them he cuts down trees much as a woodsman would do with an axe. Aspens and other species of cottonwoods are the beaver's favorite trees. The bark, especially the inner layer of bark, is a favorite beaver food, while the logs go to make his house bigger or his dam higher.

A colony of from thirty to fifty beavers can accomplish an amazing amount of work. In Beaver Lake Valley, near Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone Park, they have erected a dam which is a third of a mile long. After they had cut all the trees in the lake they had formed, an operation which took several years, they cut the dam to let the water out, probably in order that the trees might grow again. Since the park service wanted to keep the lake for exhibition purposes, the engineers repaired the dam the beavers had cut. The beavers cut it again. The engineers repaired it again. The beavers cut it once more. The engineers finally gave up the contest. The beavers are the only form of life in the national parks that can defy the rangers and get away with it. Incidentally, outside interests are not allowed to build dams in the park for irrigation purposes, but the beavers do it right along and kill and cut thousands of trees. There is nothing to do about it. The beavers stay right on the job and rebuild their dams as often as the rangers blow them out, or they cut a dam as often as the men repair it, if that happens to be their wish at the time.


Beaver colonies usually make their homes in the vicinity of aspen groves. They will cut down cottonwoods two feet in diameter, but prefer small trees. Once cut down, the trunks and branches of the smaller trees are cut in sections, from one to three feet long. These are carried over to the beaver house and are "salted down" under water for the winter. When the beaver family wants breakfast in a hurry of a winter morning, one or more beavers select a log from the pile and take it into the house, and the whole family gathers around for a snack. The beaver holds the stick in his fore paws and gnaws fast and furiously.

Beavers use various types of construction. They make dams, lodges, burrows, and canals. The latter are often enterprises that call for considerable engineering skill. These canals are used to float logs to the house, thus solving the transportation problem for the beavers. The large flat tail of the beaver is popularly supposed to be useful for slapping mud on the house to plaster it, but this is not the case. The tail is the rudder by which Mr. Beaver steers his log and himself to his house, when swimming with a load. He uses it as a rudder and a propeller, too; he also slaps it on the water to warn other beavers of what he thinks is danger. The beaver is as skilful with his fore paws as is the squirrel. He uses them in much the same way to hold his food, to build his house, and to dig. His teeth seem to grow as he uses them, sometimes becoming so long that a beaver starves because he cannot close his mouth. They are constructed mainly for gnawing tree trunks, in felling them and in cutting the branches for food and construction purposes.

"How can I see a beaver?" This question is hard to answer. It takes much patience. The beaver dams are easy to locate in streams or lakes near aspen groves. The little animals are cautious about showing themselves during the daytime, particularly if strangers are about. The best way to see them is to take a location not too near a beaver headquarters and remain perfectly quiet until activities begin. Some beaver will be smitten with the urge to add a new stick to the dam or to put a gable on the house. Or perhaps the engineer beaver will be out inspecting things, planning a night's work for the whole construction gang, which incidentally includes the women and children as well as the men of the colony. If you are patient and quiet in your movements, you may see the beavers in action.


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap4.htm — 06-Sep-2004