Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/51

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
41
THE BUFFALO AND HIS FATE.

Young animals are of a darker, richer brown than the old ones, age bleaching the thick masses of long, woolly hair, which falls so abundantly over the shoulders and face, to a light yellowish-brown. In the spring the hinder parts are almost naked through the molting of the hair, while that upon the shaggy fore parts remains permanently. Pied coats are occasionally met, and examination and measurements of skulls and skeletons show much individual variation in form and proportions.

In Mr. J. A. Allen's recent book[1] upon “The Bison, Past and Present, in this Country,” which is one of the most complete and admirable monographs ever written on any subject, and from which I derive my facts, an extended account of the animal's history and habits is given.

As is well known, the buffalo is preëminently gregarious—herds numbering millions of individuals, and blackening the whole landscape, having formerly been met with constantly on the Plains. Emigrant trains used to be delayed by the passing of dense herds, and during the first years of the Kansas Pacific railway its trains were frequently stopped by the same cause. These masses seem to have some sort of organization, consisting of small bands which unite in migration or when pursued, but separate when feeding. The cows, with their calves and the younger animals, are generally toward the middle of the small herd, while the older bulls are found on the outside, and the patriarchs of the herd bring up the rear. Much romancing has been wasted on this simple and natural grouping by writers who have described the supposed regularity and almost military precision of their movements. The sluggish, partly disabled old males constitute the “lordly sentinels” of such tales, who are supposed to watch with fatherly care over the welfare of their “harems.” The truth is that these protectors, fancied so alert, are the most easily approached of any of the flock, and the real guardians are the vigilant cows themselves, who usually lead the movements of the herd.

The rutting-season is July and August. The period of pregnancy is nine months, and rarely more than a single calf is born, which follows the mother for a year or more. During the rutting-season the bulls wage fierce battles, but they rarely result fatally. The short horns are not very dangerous weapons, and the masses of hair on the forehead break the force of the stunning collisions. At this season the bulls become lean, regaining their flesh in autumn, while the cows are fattest in June. During its molting in midsummer the animal possesses a very ragged and uncouth appearance, the hair hanging here and there in matted, loosened patches, with intervening naked spaces; and it endeavors to free itself from this loosened hair, by rubbing

  1. Volume I., Part II., “Memoirs of the Geological Surrey of Kentucky,” Professor N. S. Shaler, Geologist, in charge; and reprinted by the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy as one of its “Memoirs.” Cambridge, 1875.