William Temple Hornaday and his Bison
First, congratulations to shadyufo for correctly identifying Friday’s 2nd Freak of the Week as the skull of an Elephant Shrew! Many of you guessed some kind of shrew, which was interesting because there has been much discussion about the superficial similarities between shrews (Order Soricomorpha) and elephant shrews (Order Macroscelidea). There wasn’t much attempt at answering the 1st Freak of the Week, but I will let you rest assured that they are not, in fact, human bones, and will leave it open-ended for now!
We are currently working on a new exhibit for our 1st floor display case, highlighting the oldest and most famous specimens of our collection. This has led me to doing additional research about my absolute favorite specimens in the collection, and arguably the most historically significant: the Hornaday Bison. William Temple Hornaday was the first chief taxidermist for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and in 1886 he was sent out here to the Montana territories in order to procure bison specimens for the National Museum that were certain to be the last collected before the entire species went extinct. Dismayed by the scenes of carnage and waste that spread across the land, Hornaday was transformed by his experiences out west and vowed to take control of a seemingly lost cause. His efforts resulted in the conservation, preservation, and ultimate salvation of the entire species from being absolutely eliminated off of the face of the planet.
I will be talking about William Hornaday a lot more in the coming weeks as I delve deeper into our connection with his legacy — it is quite the story!
“Even so, Hornaday’s grim prediction, in 1889, that all the wild buffalo would be gone within ten years proved prophetic. In the winter of 1893-94, poachers killed 114 of the last band of wild buffalo cowering in the newly created Yellowstone National Park. And in 1897, the last four free-roaming buffalo were found in a high mountain valley in Colorado and shot. The hunters must have been exultant. They had succeeded in killing off the very last wild buffalo in the planet. It was only because there were a few animals still sheltered in private reserves or zoos, which would later be used to seed new herds, that the buffalo survived at all.”
— Excerpt from Mr. Hornaday’s War: How a Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife that Changed the World, by Stefan Bechtel