Buffalo Hunt: International Trade and the Virtual Extinction of the North American Bison

M. Scott Taylor

American Economic Review, Vol. 101, No. 7, December 2011, 1-36.


In the sixteenth century, North America contained 25 to 30 million buffalo; by the late nineteenth century fewer than 100 remained. While removing the buffalo east of the Mississippi took over 100 years, the remaining 10 to 15 million buffalo on the Great Plains were killed in a punctuated slaughter lasting little more than ten years. I employ theory, international trade statistics, and first-person accounts to argue the slaughter was initiated by a foreign-made innovation and fueled by a foreign demand for industrial leather. European demand and American policy failure are jointly responsible for the “Slaughter on the Plains”

Important related work:

Carlos, Ann M., and Frank D. Lewis. 1993. "Indians, the Beaver, and the Bay: The Economics of Depletion in the Lands of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1700-1763." The Journal of Economic History, 53(3): 465-94

Dodge, Richard I. 1877. The Plains of the Great West and Their Inhabitants. New York: Archer House, Inc.

Foster, Andrew, and Mark. R. Rosenzweig. 2003. "Economic Growth and the Rise of Forests." The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(2): 601

Paterson, Don, and James E. Wilen. 1977. "Depletion and Diplomacy: the North Pacific Seal Hunt, 1886-1910." Research in Economic History , 2: 81-139.

Rosen, Sherwin, Kevin M. Murphy, and Jose A. Scheinkman. 1994. "Cattle Cycles." Journal of Political Economy, 102(3): 468-92.

Bison Reintroduced to Banff National Park

The Calgary Herald

February 2017

Parks Canada has successfully relocated 16 bison from Elk Island National Park to the remote Panther Valley in Banff National Park. This video by Parks Canada shows how the process worked.

In the press

American buffalo slaughter fueled by international trade (2007)
FirstScience News
Innovations Report
Science Blog

American buffalo wiped out to serve European market of the 1880s (2007)
Environment News Service

American buffalo's near extinction Europe's fault (2007)
China View
Mathaba News Agency

Blame Europeans for buffalo slaughter? (2007)
Newspaper Rock

Blame globalization for buffalo disappearance? (2007)

Don't blame buffalo bill (2007)

Europe now blamed for decimation of American bison (2007)

European hide trade blamed for bison's end (2007)
The Standard

Here's *something* you can't (quite) blame on America (2007)

International trade doomed the American wild buffalo: study (2007)
Agence France Presse

New suspected killer in old case (2007)

Study: US buffalo kills spurred by trade (2007)
AMA TechTel
Political Gateway
The Post Chronicle
United Press International

Study blames Europe for bison mass killings (2007)

Study blames Europeans for near-extinction of bison (2007)

They shoot bison, don't they? (2007)
The Atlantic

Were bison one of globalization's first victims? (2007)
The Globe and Mail

Wie der Welthandel die Bisons ausrottete (2007)
Zeit Online

World trade doomed wild buffalo - study (2007)