Learn more about America’s national mammal, the buffalo, inside Dan Flores’s “American Serengeti.” America’s Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, or the veld of South Africa. Buffalo, pronghorn antelope, gray wolves, bison, coyotes, wild horses, and grizzly bears—less than two hundred years ago these creatures existed in such abundance that John James Audubon was moved to write, “it is impossible to describe or even conceive the vast multitudes of these animals.”
In a work that is at once a lyrical evocation of that lost splendor and a detailed natural history of these charismatic species of the historic Great Plains, veteran naturalist and outdoorsman Dan Flores draws a vivid portrait of each of these animals in their glory—and tells the harrowing story of what happened to them at the hands of market hunters and ranchers and ultimately a federal killing program in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Great Plains with its wildlife intact dazzled Americans and Europeans alike, prompting numerous literary tributes. “American Serengeti” takes its place alongside these celebratory works, showing us the grazers and predators of the plains against the vast opalescent distances, the blue mountains shimmering on the horizon, the great rippling tracts of yellowed grasslands. Far from the empty “flyover country” of recent times, this landscape is alive with a complex ecology at least 20,000 years old—a continental patrimony whose wonders may not be entirely lost, as recent efforts hold out hope of partial restoration of these historic species.
Written by an author who has done breakthrough work on the histories of several of these animals—including bison, wild horses, and coyotes—”American Serengeti” is as rigorous in its research as it is intimate in its sense of wonder—the most deeply informed, closely observed view we have of the Great Plains’ wild heritage.
Nearing 60, William D. Street (1851–1911) sat down to write his memoir of frontier life. Now, Warren R. Street, William’s great-grandson, collects those stories inside “Twenty-Five Years among the Indians and Buffalo: A Frontier Memoir.” Street’s early years on the plains of western Kansas were both ordinary and extraordinary; ordinary in what they reveal about the everyday life of so many who went out to the western frontier, extraordinary in their breadth and depth of historical event and impact. His tales of life as a teamster, cavalryman, town developer, trapper, buffalo hunter, military scout, and cowboy put us squarely in the middle of such storied events as Sheridan’s 1868–1869 winter campaign on the southern Plains and the Cheyenne Exodus of 1878. They take us trapping beaver and hunting buffalo for hides and meat, and driving cattle on the Great Western Cattle Trail. They give us insight into his evolving understanding of his multi-decade relationship with the Lakota. And they give us a front-row seat at the founding and development of Jewell and Gaylord, Kansas, and a firsthand look at the formation of Jewell’s “Buffalo Militia.”
In later life Street rose to prominence as a newspaper publisher, state legislator, and regent of the Kansas State Agricultural College. At the time of his death—noted in the New York Times—he was still at work on his memoir. Handed down through his family over the past century and faithfully transcribed here, Street’s story of frontier life is as rich in history as it is in character, giving us a sense of what it was to be not just a witness to, but a player in, the drama of the plains as it unfolded in the late nineteenth century. This memoir is history as it was lived, recalled in sharp detail and recounted in engaging prose, for the ages.
Popping up this spring, Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds by Michael John Haddock, Craig C. Freeman, and Janét E. Bare. 1,163 species of Kansas flora researched and resourcefully documented, along with 742 color photographs. Spring has sprung!