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At one time, bison spread from the Pacific to the Appalachians—but their main habitat
was the Great Plains. Bison roamed there in herds that often numbered three to five
million animals. Plains tribes developed a culture that depended on bison. Almost all
parts of the bison provided something for their way of life—food, tools, shelter, or
clothing. Hunting bison required skill and cooperation to herd and capture the animals.
After tribes acquired horses from the Spanish in the 1600s, they could travel farther to
find bison and hunt the animals more easily.

But European American settlers moving west during the 1800s changed the balance.
Market hunting, sport hunting, and a U.S. Army campaign in the late 1800s nearly
caused the extinction of the bison.
Yellowstone was the only place in the lower 48 states where a population of wild, freeranging bison persisted.

The U.S. Army, which administered Yellowstone at that time,
protected these few dozen bison from poaching as best they could. The protection of
bison in Yellowstone and their subsequent recovery is one of the great triumphs of the
American conservation movement.

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