From Buffalo to Cattle and Back to Buffalo

The Pouce Coupe Prairie, stretching from Fort St. John to beyond Spirit River, was once a favourite wintering ground for great herds of buffalo.  They provided plenty of meat for the Natives and white settlers – up to 1830 or so.

Then the demands upon the herds became noticeable.  Fewer and fewer buffalo roamed the vast prairie as more and more meat was taken.  Fur traders were willing to pay well to supply brigades headed to Lake Superior.  Hunters were willing to decimate the buffalo for the money.

The winter of 1830 was especially harsh.  The snow was deep and heavy.  Buffalo moved slowly, starving and slicing their legs on the snow crust.  Native hunters on snowshoes had easy work.

The remaining buffalo scattered in small herds to remote areas.  There was no more buffalo pemmican available to Fort Dunvegan.

For a while, moose filled the demand but, by 1840, it was Spirit River’s domestic cattle that supplied local forts with meat, butter and cheese.  Beef from Spirit River was sent as far as Fort Chipewyan (and by 2011, as far as Hong Kong!).

Now we have buffalo (bison) on the great Pouce Coupe (Spirit River) prairie once again. They have gone the way of the cattle and become domestic herds behind tall fences, but once again the buffalo are used to meet the demands of the market.

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