Working Paper

The Slaughter of the Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains

Abstract: In the late 19th century, the North American bison was brought to the brink of extinction in just over a decade. We show that the bison?s slaughter led to a reversal of fortunes for the Native Americans who relied on them. Once the tallest people in the world, the generations of bison-reliant people born after the slaughter were among the shortest. Today, formerly bison-reliant societies have between 20-40% less income per capita than the average Native American nation. We argue that federal Indian policy that limited out-migration from reservations and restricted employment opportunities to crop based agriculture hampered the ability of bison-reliant societies to adjust in the long-run, generating lasting regional disparities associated with other indicators of social dislocation, such as suicide and unrest.

Keywords: North American Bison; Buffalo; Extinction; Economic History; Development; Displacement; Native Americans; Indigenous; Income Shock; Intergenerational Mobility;

JEL Classification: I15; J15; J24; N31; N32;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Part of Series: Center for Indian Country Development series

Publication Date: 2019-01-14

Number: 1-2019