20 Following


Currently reading

Excelling at Chess
Jacob Aagaard
The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on The Wall Street Journal Guide
William E. Blundell

Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West

Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West - Michael Punke "Last Stand" by Michael Punke is powerful account of the opening of American West -- and the rapid destruction of that frontier.The story opens with a bang; Punke leads with a chilling account of a hunter killing 107 buffalo without leaving his stand, setting the stage for his engaging narrative about the death of the American west.A better story than most of the fiction I’ve read, Punke’s book is set in the late 1800s, and revolves around George Bird Grinnell – a man largely responsible for the conservation of much of the American west, but whom remains mostly unknown today.Opposing him were all the usual suspects: short-sightedness, a belief that the frontier was infinite, a desire to deal with the “Indian problem,” commercial interests, and of course, naked greed.Punke does a commendable job of weaving together the myriad storylines affecting the west, connecting threads from Lewis & Clark to Custer to Bird’s battle against congressional inaction in the face of a strong railroad lobby.George Bird – editor of Forest and Stream magazine – was an early convert to the cause of preserving the American west, and the climax of the book details his last-ditch efforts to preserve the handful of remaining buffalo.With the help of a US Army Captain fighting a wave of poachers in the park, Bird marshaled his few allies in congress, beat back the railroad lobby (who wanted half of Yellowstone for their own use), and finally – with the help of an outraged public – succeeded in legislating protections against poaching in the National Parks.The rapid decimation of the buffalo herds is a recurring (and distressing) theme in Punke’s book: “The numbers paint the stark picture at the end. In 1882, the Northern Pacific Railroad alone shipped 200,000 hides to eastern processing facilities, an amount that filled an estimated 700 boxcars. In 1883, the railroad shipped 40,000 hides. In 1884, the total harvest fit in a single boxcar, and according to a Northern Pacific official, ‘it was the last shipment ever made.’”Punke even details the lamentable efforts by many hunters to be the “last to kill a wild buffalo.”By 1902, the US Army estimated that only 23 wild buffalo remained alive in Yellowstone National Park – the pitiful remnants of the massive herds that once blanketed America.It’s impossible to read Last Stand without drawing some parallels to the perils facing today’s parks and wilderness areas – privatization, commercialization, and how to preserve wild game stocks in the face of encroaching domestic stocks.Today, of course, the Old West is long gone, and the landscape surrounding Yellowstone National Park is populated with cattle, ranches, seasonal towns and hordes of automobile-bound tourists.It’s all the more reason to read Punke’s interesting and compelling book, and anyone who has ever read an account of the Lewis & Clark expedition will likely find Last Stand an outstanding read.