•  
  •  
 

Abstract

Over the last 150 years, the North American Great Plains, once a region of native grasses and wildlife, has become largely agricultural. During the same time, however, many have responded to the changes' environmental, social and economic costs by proposing preservation. In the December 1987 issue of Planning, we contended that the future of the rural parts of the region lay in a vision we called the Buffalo Commons. To us the Buffalo Commons meant more bison and less cattle, more preservation and ecotourism and less conventional rural development and extraction--in short, a Great Plains that nurtured land uses that fell between intensive cultivation on the one side and wilderness on the other. The Buffalo Commons provoked much debate and led, directly or indirectly, to many public and private Plains initiatives that went in its direction. This article places our idea in historical context by examining it, its precedents, and the implications of both. In the Native American period the Plains amounted to a sort of Buffalo Commons. In the Euroamerican period numerous observers have suggested variations on Buffalo Commons-style preservation, conservation, or set-asides. George Catlin offered the earliest suggestion for a Great Plains Park in 1842, and the photographer L.A. Huffman had a similar idea in the early 1880s. The environmentally and politically restorationist Plains advocacy of the Indian prophet Wovoka led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In the twentieth century proposals for versions of the Buffalo Commons came from the Agriculture Department official Lewis Gray; Interior Department Secretary Harold Ickes; biologist V.H. Cahalane; economist Herbert Stein; geographers Daniel Luten and Bret Wallach; and novelists Sharon Butala, Tom Clancy, James Michener and (in the twenty-first century) Annie Proulx, among many others. The Buffalo Commons is effective in part because it echoes this broad and varied group of thinkers. We suggest that the long-term persistence of such a controversial idea means that portions of it will continue to find success as well as resistance.

Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

References

1. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 1987. "The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust." Planning 53 (12): 12-18. Also available in American Planning Association. 1989. The Best of Planning. Chicago: American Planning Association, 572-577.

2. Popper, Frank J. and Deborah E. Popper. 1994. "Great Plains: Checkered Past, Hopeful Future." Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy. 9 (4): 89-100.

3. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 1998a. "The Bison are Coming." High Country News 30 (2): 2 February, 15, 17.

4. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 1999. "The Buffalo Commons: Metaphor as Method." Geographical Review 89 (4): 491-510.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/216099

5. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 2004. “The Great Plains and the Buffalo Commons,” pp. 245-249 in Donald Janelle, Donald, Barney Warf, and Katherine Hanson, (eds.) WorldMinds: Geographical Perspectives on 100 Problems. Norwell, Mass.: Kluwer.

6. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 2006. “The Onset of the Buffalo Commons.” Journal of the West. 45(2): 29-34.

7. Isenberg, Andrew C. 2000. The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press.

8. Matthews, Anne. 2002 [1992]. Where the Buffalo Roam. New York and Chicago: Grove Weidenfeld and University of Chicago Press.

9. Ettling, John, ed. 1996. North Dakota Quarterly, special issue on the Buffalo Commons. 63 (4). Grand Forks: University of North Dakota.

10. Vogel, Jennifer. 2006. “No.1 Hard: Notes on the emptying of North Dakota.” February. The Rake. http://www.rakemag.com/stories/section_detail.aspx?itemID=14632&catID=146&SelectCatID=146.

11. Stegner, Page. 2000. "Beyond the Sunset," Sierra. 85 (3): 44-46.

12. Herring, Hal. 2006. “Prairie Dreaming.” Orion. September/October. http://oriononline.org/pages/om/06-5om/Herring.html.

13. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Region. 1999. Proposed Land Resource Management Plan, 1999 Revision, Thunder Basin National Grassland. U.S. Forest Service: Chadron, Nebraska.

14. Matthews, Anne. 2002 [1992]. Where the Buffalo Roam. New York and Chicago: Grove Weidenfeld and University of Chicago Press.

15. Brown, Lawrence. 1995. Buffalo Commons Memoirs. Bowman, North Dakota: Grapevine Press.

16. Dickenson, James R. 1995. Home on the Range: A Century on the High Plains. New York: Scribner.

17. Manning, Richard. 1995. Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie. New York: Viking.

18. Callenbach, Ernest. 2000 [1996]. Bring Back the Buffalo! A Sustainable Future for America's Great Plains. Washington, D.C., and Covelo, California: Island Press.

19. Licht, Daniel S. 1997. Ecology and Economics of the Great Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

20. Wheeler, Richard S. 1998. The Buffalo Commons. New York: Forge.

21. Fargo [North Dakota] Forum. 1999. "Forum editorial: Buffalo Commons metaphor is about change." 7 February.

22. Engel, Matthew. 2003. “The Buffalo Roam Again.” The [Manchester] Guardian. February 8. http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,889935,00.html.

23. Rich, Doug. 2004. “The Idea of a Buffalo Commons is slowly but surely becoming a reality in the Great Plains.” February 4. High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal. http://www.hpj.com/archives/2004/feb04/TheideaofaBuffaloCom monsiss.CFM.

24. Limerick, Patricia Nelson. 1987. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: W. W. Norton.

25. Mitchell, Lee Clark. 1981. Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

26. Catlin, George. 1973 [1841]. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, Volume 1. New York: Dover Publications.

27. Catlin, George. 1973 [1841]. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, Volume 1. New York: Dover Publications.

28. Catlin, George. 1973 [1841]. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, Volume 1. New York: Dover Publications.

29. Catlin, George. 1973 [1841]. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, Volume 1. New York: Dover Publications.

30. Mitchell, Lee Clark. 1981. Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The Nineteenth-Century Response. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

31. Nash, Roderick. 1982 [1967]. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

32. Opie, John. 1998. Nature's Nation: An Environmental History of the United States. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

33. Weber, Ronald. 1998. "`I Would Ask No Other Monument to My Memory': George Catlin and a Nation's Park." Journal of the West 38 (1): 15-21.

34. Michener, James A. 1974. Centennial. New York: Random House.

35. Michener, James A. 1974. Centennial. New York: Random House.

36. Michener, James A. 1974. Centennial. New York: Random House.

37. Michener, James A. 1974. Centennial. New York: Random House.

38. Licht, Daniel S. 1997. Ecology and Economics of the Great Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

39. Brown, Mark H. and W.R. Felton. 1955. The Frontier Years: L. A. Huffman, Photographer of the Plains. New York: Bramhall House.

40. Cahalane, Victor H. 1940. "A Proposed Great Plains National Monument." Scientific Monthly 51: 125-139.

41. Vale, Thomas R., ed. 1986. Progress Against Growth: Daniel B. Luten on the American Landscape. New York: Guilford Press.

42. Bonnifield, Paul. 1979. The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

43. Kirkendall, Richard S. 1966. Social Scientists and Farm Politics in the Age of Roosevelt. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

44. Worster, Donald. 2004 [1979]. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

45. Wallach, Bret. 1985. "The Return of the Prairie." Landscape 28 (3): 1-5.

46. Little, Charles E. 1992. Hope for the Land. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

47. Coffman, Douglas, Charles Jonkel and Robert Scott. 1990. "The Big Open: A Return to Grazers of the Past." Western Wildlands. Fall: 40-44.

48. Hittman, Michael. 1997 [1990]. Wovoka and the Ghost Dance. Yerington, Nevada: Grace Dangburg Foundation.

49. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 1999. "The Buffalo Commons: Metaphor as Method." Geographical Review 89 (4): 491-510.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/216099

50. Robinson, Elwyn. B. 1966. History of North Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. [back]51. Popper, Frank J. 1991. "Viewpoint." Planning 57 (1): 50.

52. Blake, Michael. 1988. Dances with Wolves. New York: Ballantine paperback. Available in hardback from New York: Newmarket, 1991.

53. Doig, Ivan. 1990. Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. New York: Atheneum.

54. Doig, Ivan. 1990. Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. New York: Atheneum.

55. Doig, Ivan. 1990. Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. New York: Atheneum.

56. Doig, Ivan. 1990. Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. New York: Atheneum.

57. Doig, Ivan. 1990. Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. New York: Atheneum.

58. Doig, Ivan. 1990. Ride with Me, Mariah Montana. New York: Atheneum.

59. Proulx, Annie. 2002. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner.

60. Proulx, Annie. 2002. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner.

61. Proulx, Annie. 2002. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner.

62. Proulx, Annie. 2002. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner.

63. Proulx, Annie. 2002. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner.

64. Clancy, Tom. 1998. Rainbow Six. New York: Putnam's Sons.

65. Clancy, Tom. 1998. Rainbow Six. New York: Putnam's Sons.

66. Turner, Frederick Jackson. 1962 [1920]. The Frontier in American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

67. Turner, Frederick Jackson. 1962 [1920]. The Frontier in American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

68. Lang, Robert E., Deborah E. Popper and Frank J. Popper. 1995. "'Progress of the Nation': The Settlement History of the Enduring American Frontier." Western Historical Quarterly 46 (3): 289-307.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/970654

69. Lang, Robert E., Deborah E. Popper and Frank J. Popper. 1997. "Is There Still a Frontier? The 1890 U.S. Census and the Modern American West." Journal of Rural Studies 13 (4): 377-386.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0743-0167(97)00029-6

70. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 1998b. "The Re-emergence of the American Frontier." Studies in History and Contemporary Culture 2 (1): 5-11.

71. Bowman, Isaiah. 1931. The Pioneer Fringe. New York: American Geographical Society.

72. Sears, Paul B. 1959 [1935]. Deserts on the March. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

73. Webb, Walter Prescott. 1959 [1931]. The Great Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

74. Kraenzel, Carl Frederick. 1955. The Great Plains in Transition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

75. Popper, Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper. 1987. "The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust." Planning 53 (12): 12-18. Also available in American Planning Association. 1989. The Best of Planning. Chicago: American Planning Association, 572-577.

76. Matthews, Anne. 2002 [1992]. Where the Buffalo Roam. New York and Chicago: Grove Weidenfeld and University of Chicago Press.

77. Duncan, Dayton. 1993. Miles from Nowhere: Tales from America's Contemporary Frontier. New York: Viking.

78. Williams, Florence. 2001. “Plains Sense.” High Country News. January 15. http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=10194.

79. Lang, Robert E., Deborah E. Popper and Frank J. Popper. 1995. "`Progress of the Nation': The Settlement History of the Enduring American Frontier." Western Historical Quarterly 46 (3): 289-307.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/970654

80. Lang, Robert E., Deborah E. Popper and Frank J. Popper. 1995. "`Progress of the Nation': The Settlement History of the Enduring American Frontier." Western Historical Quarterly 46 (3): 289-307.
http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/970654

81. Turner, Frederick Jackson. 1962 [1920]. The Frontier in American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

82. Leopold, Aldo. 1970 [1953]. A Sand County Almanac, with Essays on Conservation from Round River. New York: Ballantine.

83. Flores, Dan. 1999. Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

84. Flores, Dan. 1997. "The West that was, and the West that can be." High Country News 29 (15): 18 August, 1, 6-7. Also available in slightly different form in Flores, "Making the West Whole Again: A Historical View of Restoration," pp. 58-68 in Robert B. Keiter (ed.), Reclaiming the Native Home of Hope: Community, Ecology, and the American West. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1998, where the quote appears on p. 65.

Share

COinS