"The combination of Indian predation and environmental change decimated the bison" (Isenberg, p.3).
As such, this book contradicts massive amounts of primary historical sources that show, un-arguably, that the destruction and near extinction of the Bison herds was a direct result of Anglo predation in a direct attempt to destroy the resource base of the Plains Tribes in order to force them onto reservations.
As the other reviewers have pointed out, it is true that the Plains Tribes were not nomadic hunters for all of their history.It is true that the Tribes adopted nomadic hunting as a primary subsistence strategy only after being forced to do so by Anglo aggression and encroachment.
But from that truth, Isenberg
moves on to a series of unproven theories based on questionable ecological assumptions that are rooted in the "new ecology" - an ecological theory that describes nature as a disordered, chaotic and individualistic struggle for survival (For info on the "new ecology" see my review of "Discordant Harmonies: A new ecology for the 21st century).
For example, Isenberg bases one of his
arguments on the un-proven theory that early Tribal Peoples, thousands of years ago, hunted to extinction many species of large land mammals.
But the story of the Bison is not a pre-historic story.It is a story of modern history and Isenberg
presents no historical proof that the Tribes were responsible for the near extinction of the Bison.
makes subjective philosophical arguments against "romanticizing" wilderness and Native American cultures.
From there Iverson uses these arguments as a backdrop to a series of environmental statistical analyses.
Basically, Iverson lays out an exponential statistical model where by he
argues that, given the estimated number of Bison deaths necessary to sustain the Plains Tribes, eventually the Bison would have been rendered extinct by the Tribes at some point in the future.
...Andrew Isenberg, professor of History at Princeton University, has produced a brilliant monograph documenting the relationship between the Plains Indians, whites and the bison that once thrived on the Great Plains. Isenberg
carefully presents the ecology of the Great Plaines, demonstrating how tenuous the environment is to begin with: drought and fires can easily destroy the short grass that the bison depend on, causing sudden fluctuations in the herds.Given the already sensitive nature of the bison population, Isenberg
then discusses the effect of human hunting.Many readers, accostomed to thinking of the Plains Indians as ancient cultures, practicing a lifestyle as old as time, will be surprised to learn that the tribes of the great plains were largly recent developments.The introduction of the horse in the late 17th century dramatically altered the lifesyles of the plains tribes.Now that horses could be used to follow the bison herds year round, many groups abandoned agriculture and became full time bison hunters.Isenberg
documents the rise of trade networks, and the material wealth that Indians were able to accumulate in the beaver and bison pelt trade.
"The Destruction of the Bison" shows that the interaction between ecology, culture and economy contributes the the destruction of bison.Unlike most historians who contributes the environmental degradation to Euro-Americans, Isenberg
shows that Native Americans also play a role in modifying the ecology.He
is able to show how introduction of horses, made Native Americans became more mobile and therefore were able to hunt the bison while riding their horses.