Postcards That Intrigue Me, Part II: Bison/Cow Hybrids and “Domesticated Buffalo”

When discussing the history of the North American West, the disappearance of the vast “buffalo” (bison) herds must inevitably make an appearance. Over hunting (largely by Europeans and arguably the Métis in Canada during the late fur trade period), competition with domestic cattle in the United States, fencing in previously open prairies, droughts, and the barriers created by railway tracks all contributed to the decline of herds that once contained millions of animals. Photographs of small mountains of bison skulls are a dramatic and tragic depiction of European excess and appear frequently in museums and basic histories of the West.

However, as early as the first decades of the twentieth century, some individuals were seriously trying to tackle new questions of animal conservation. At the now-defunct Buffalo National Park (1909-1939), near Wainwright, Alberta, a new “breed” of animal was created: the “cattalo” (cattle + buffalo), created by breeding together domesticated cattle with bison. These animals were bred back with full-blooded bison to remove their cattle-like physical characteristics, which are still evident in the photographs below of animals that are 5/8 bison. These photographs largely date from the 1910s and 1920s and most were taken in Wainwright.

Edit: I have since also been informed that at Buffalo National Park also conducted hybridization experiments with yaks (“yakkalo“?), under the belief that yaks were a transition species between buffalo and domesticated cattle – that given the right conditions, bison would become yak-like and then cow-like.

PC005148

‘”Quintoporto 5/8 Buffalo Bull, Wainright Park.” PC005148. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

PC010948. http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/postcards/PC010948.html Courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces.

“5/8   Buffalo Bull.” PC010948.
Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

PC005145. Courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces.

“Pretty Maid 5/8 Buffalo Mother of Cattalo in Wainright Park.” PC005145. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

PC005144

“Hybrid Buffalo Cow, Wainright Park, Alta.” PC005144. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

PC005146

“Fort Royal Cattalo Bull, Buffalo Park, Wainright.” PC005146. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Herd of Cattalo at Wainright, AB, circa 1910: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/postcards/PC005142.html

Herd of Cattalo at Wainright, AB, circa 1910. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

And speaking of “domesticated” bison, I would be remiss in not including this fascinating postcard, for which I have unfortunately little context: “The only chariot buffalo team in the world, owned by Bob Yokum and Edd Carr.” Only in Calgary, eh?

The Only Chariot Buffalo Team in the world owned by Bob Yokum and Edd Carr. [Calgary: cca. 1912. peel.library.ualberta.ca/postcards/PC006004.html

PC006004. “The Only Chariot Buffalo Team in the world, owned by Bob Yokum and Edd Carr.” Calgary: cca. 1912. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Side note about terminology: though they are colloquially known as “buffalo” and referred to almost exclusively by that name in the nineteenth-century historical record, “bison” is the preferred term in my generation. “Buffalo” was a misnomer imposed on the animal by European explorers who believed they resembled buffalo from Africa. “Bison” is considered the correct term by many, though some, particularly some Métis groups, still argue that the term “bison” is prescriptivist and “buffalo” still enjoys popular usage and cultural recognition. (“Li buffalo” is still how one says “bison” in Michif, the most widely-spoken Métis language.)

Further Reading:

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4 Responses to Postcards That Intrigue Me, Part II: Bison/Cow Hybrids and “Domesticated Buffalo”

  1. Pingback: Postcards That Intrigue Me #3: Cattle Roping in Moose Jaw | History Research Shenanigans

  2. Pingback: Postcards That Intrigue Me, #4: Moose-Drawn Carriages | History Research Shenanigans

  3. Pingback: The Great Roundups: Getting Michel Pablo’s Bison Herd To Canada, 1907-1912 | History Research Shenanigans

  4. Pingback: The (Historical) Dangers of Photographing Bison | History Research Shenanigans

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