The most popular symbols among the Great Plains states are the cottonwood, western meadowlark, and bison. Kansas and Wyoming are the only states that adopted all three.
An estimated 20 million bison (aka “buffalo”) once roamed the Great Plains. Many settlers in territorial Kansas hunted bison so they could sell the meat and hides.
Dodge City, Kansas became a major shipping point for buffalo meat and hides. In the first three months of 1872, more than 43,000 hides and nearly 1.5 million pounds of meat were shipped to the East on the Santa Fe Railway. Bone pickers made money by picking up dried bones, which could be made into combs, buttons, dice, fertilizer and even bone china dishes.
Railroad companies hired people to hunt bison, which sometimes wandered onto tracks. In fact, bison migrations could stall trains for long periods.
Other people paid large sums of money for Wild West safaris. In 1872, George Armstrong Custer took the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a sport hunting trip through Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas.
In the meantime, the U.S. military encouraged the destruction of the bison, which was an important food source for Plains Indians. The Indians got some revenge when they killed General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. Sadly, they killed Custer too late to save Kansas’ bison.
Fortunately, a few bison survived in Wyoming and Canada. Today, a few bison can be found in Kansas on private land and state parks.
Bison can also be seen retreating towards the West on Kansas’ state seal. It’s one of the most beautiful state seals, though it ironically depicts one of the saddest chapters in American history.
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