[Narrator 1:] It was a clear, sunny Oklahoma spring day. The train slowly lumbered to a stop at the kennel pens alongside the railroad track. On one side of the pen a small gathering of Indians came awaiting the train's arrival. As the doors, opened one by one, 17 buffalo were herded off the trains and into the pens. Tears streamed down the faces of the Indians as they watched this scene. The buffalo had come home, an image of Oklahoma's past, returned.
[Narrator 2:]They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities, a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1:] Since the beginning of time, for the Indian of the plains, the buffalo had meant food, shelter and much more. In a unique, mystical way, the existence of the Plains Indians of Oklahoma and the buffalo were intertwined. Legend goes back thousands of years to tell us the Pawnee belief of creation, of how the buffalo led people from deep underground to the surface of the Earth and of how the buffalo spread over the prairie to become the basis of Indian existence. To the Plains Indians of Oklahoma, the buffalo supplied the most basic of needs: food for life, skins for clothing and shelter, utensils and much more. The buffalo even supplied implements for Indian religious ceremonies and rights. The buffalo was an integral part of the life of the plains.
[Narrator 1:] But it was a delicate balance that existed between the Indian and the buffalo and with the coming of European settlers that balance was upset. Because there has probably never been or will be again, an animal so completely adjusted and acclimated to its surroundings as was the buffalo. They fed on the grasses of the prairies and the open woodlands. Disease was virtually unknown and they grew to some 60 million in number, ample buffalo for the Indian.
[Narrator 1:] But some 300 years after the arrival of colonists, the vast roaming herds of 60 million were reduced to less than 1,000. The final death knell for the buffalo rang with the coming of the railroad. Professional buffalo hunters, such as Buffalo Bill Cody, killed as many as 3,000 buffalo just to feed the crews building the railroad. During the years after the Civil War, as many as 1 million buffalo were slaughtered annually.
[Narrator 1:] From 60 million, to 1,000, not enough for food or shelter, no great image for worship. The very existence had paralleled the existence of the Plains Indians. The passing of the buffalo resulted in significant changes for the Indians of the plains. They were asked to give up their old ways for farming. Instead of moving with the seasons, the nomadic Plains Indians were asked to stay in one place, on one square of ground, in one house.
[Narrator 1:] In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Wichita Mountain area of southwestern Oklahoma as a national wildlife preserve. Funds were provided by Congress to buy 17 buffalo from the New York Zoological Society. The buffalo were brought back to the plains and on November 16th, Statehood Day, in 1907, the first buffalo calf was born. The old Indians that had waited for the return of the buffalo saw this as a good omen but surely mused at the irony that it was necessary for buffalo to return to Oklahoma aboard the railroad that spelled their death and from New York, a part of the country that had to originally import the buffalo. Surely those Indians felt the same irony applied to them. That members of the Plains tribes that had once so freely roamed Oklahoma had to be brought back also. Together, the mighty buffalo and the noble Indian share a common history, one that has become an indelible image in Oklahoma's heritage.
[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station. Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
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Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, Promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series.
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