Current Museum Exhibit
Jan. 28 through March 15, 2014
By Mary Alice Hobbs
For 500,000 years until the early 1860s, 50 million bison roamed the plains of North America. By 1890, there were fewer than 300. An exhibit that explores the “before” and “after” of the bison’s dramatic decline opens at the Brigham City Museum of Art and History Jan. 28 and continues through March 15. Admission is free.
The museum is located at 24 North 300 West. The entrance is on the west side. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 .m. and Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. For further information, please phone (435) 226-1439 or visit www.brighamcitymuseum.org.
The exhibit dramatizes the emergence of the bison as an “American icon” with kiosks, banners, photographs, sculpture and such objects as a bison skull, a contemporary painted bison hide and a shield designed and painted by Allan Houser, a renowned Apache artist. Also on view are artifacts made out of buffalo hides, including a berry pounding bowl, a beaded child’s dress and moccasins, and a powder horn.
Bison were the source of food, shelter, clothing and tools for the Plains Indians who lived in a vast region between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, from Mexico into Canada. This region was known as the Great Plains. For centuries, the Plains hunters used ingenious methods to hunt bison on foot, including chasing bison into enclosures or running them over cliffs at sites now called bison jumps.
When bison became a commodity for non-Indian people, they were harvested in such numbers that the species nearly became extinct. A chemical process created in the 1860s turned bison hide into durable, industrial belting for factories. The industrial revolution in America and Europe ran on bison hide. The bones of the bison were used to produce fertilizer, pigments and bone china.
The extinction of bison was averted by independent conservationists, including both tribal members and former hide hunters. They established captive breeding programs with the few existing animals. These animals became the seed herds for later bison preservation efforts. Today, there are 30,000 wild bison in the United States and Canada. The herds are managed by federal, state and provincial governments, by Plains Indian tribes and by private ranchers.
Utah’s Henry Mountain range is home to between 250 and 400 free-roaming bison, which are direct descendants of the Yellowstone Park bison. The population of the bison herd on Utah’s Antelope Island fluctuates between 550 and 700. Both are maintained by the State of Utah.
Through the years, the bison image has appeared on the nickel, centennial medals, product labels, stamps, patches, tipis and artists’ canvases, to name a few.
The exhibit “The Bison: American Icon” was originally developed by the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, and co-curated by Anne Morand and Dr. Lynn Spriggs. Morand, who died in July 2013, said, “Bison represent universal ideas of an American Wild West; they remind us how the transformation of the West brought lasting environmental and social changes. Their tragic demise and near extinction bring a realization that nature has its limits.”
The exhibit has been made possible by the Box Elder County Tourism Tax Advisory Board and NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibit is toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance through NEH on the Road.
The Brigham City Museum is an art and history facility in Box Elder County that opened in 1970. Exhibitions include at least one national traveling show a year as well as a variety of temporary art and history exhibitions of four to eight weeks each. The museum’s dedicated history section includes activities for children. Guided group tours are available with two-weeks’ notice. The facility is a department of Brigham City Corporation.
Photo: “Shooting Buffalo on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad,” illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 3, 1871.