“When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this, nothing happened.” –Alaxchiiaahush (Plenty Coups or Plenty Achievements), Chief of the Crow tribe, 1880
Herd of Buffalo Crossing the Missouri River on Ice
If dragonflies can mate atop the surface tension
of water, surely these tons of bison can mince
across the river, their fur peeling in strips like old
wallpaper, their huge eyes adjusting to how far
they can see when there’s no big or little bluestem,
no Indian grass nor prairie cord grass to plod through.
Maybe because it’s bright in the blown snow
and swirling grit, their vast heads are lowered
to the gray ice: nothing to eat, little to smell.
They have their own currents. You could watch a herd
of running pronghorn swerve like a river rounding
a meander and see better what I mean. But
bison are a deeper, deliberate water, and there will
never be enough water for any West but the one
into which we watch these bison carefully disappear.