As American settlers pushed West in the early 1800s, a lucrative trade for the fur, skin, and meat of the American bison began in the Great Plains.
Bison slaughter was even encouraged by the US government as a means of starving out Native American populations, which relied on the bison for food. In fact, hunting of bison became so prevalent that travelers on trains in the Midwest would shoot bison during long-haul train trips.
Once numbering around 20 to 30 million in North America, the population of the American bison decreased to less than 1,000 by 1890, resulting in the near-extinction of the species. By the end of the century, only 325 were thought to survive in America.
This mountain of bison skulls shows how quickly the population was being depleted in the 1800s. Wikimedia Commons
Unspecified location, 1905. New York Public Library
In the 1870's, one railroad company shipped almost 500,000 bison hides to the East. Pinterest
Hunters charge at a herd, 1917. Library of Congress
"Geronimo standing over dead buffalo, with Native men and boys in ceremonial dress standing behind him, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1906." Library of Congress
This photo of a woman on a cart drawn by two bison was understandably titled "A Daring Act." It was taken in 1910. Library of Congress
A herd of American bison drinking at a lake in Yellowstone National Park, 1905. Library of Congress
A man holds a rifle on top of a dead bison in an 1897 print titled "Glory enough for one day's hunt." Library of Congress
A Teton Native American performs the Hu Kalowa Pi ceremony with a bison skull, 1907. Edward Curtis
A herd in Montana, 1909. Library of Congress
By the end of the 19th century, only 325 bison were still living in North America. Blogspot
Unspecified location, circa 1904. New York Public Library
A 1908 photo features a painting of Native Americans hunting for bison by covering themselves in bison skins and lying on top of their horses. Library of Congress
Yellowstone, circa 1895-1920. New York Public Library
South Dakota, 1911. New York Public Library
Cowboys pursue bison in Butte, Montana, 1909. Library of Congress
Unspecified location, circa 1903. New York Public Library
Bison hunting in Yellowstone, date unspecified. New York Public Library
American bison grazing in Wichita National Forest, circa 1860-1920. New York Public Library
Minnesota hunters with their trophies, 1926. Wikimedia Commons
Buffalo graze at Yellowstone, 1904. Library of Congress
This photo taken in Yellowstone National Park in 1903 was captioned the "Last remnants of the American Bison." Library of Congress
American bison grazing at unspecified location, circa 1900. Library of Congress
A 1916 photo shows California bison grazing. It was captioned: "The famous American Bison that once roamed in countless thousands over our vast prairies." Library of Congress
Today, because of aggressive conservation efforts, the American bison population has rebounded to approximately 500,000.
Pictured: Bison roam the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2001. David McNew/Getty Images
Thanks in large part to conservation efforts undertaken by Theodore Roosevelt and by the US government, there are now more than 500,000 bison in America.
Above, take a look at photos and drawings from a time when bison-killing was an unchallenged -- even promoted -- part of life in the Wild West.
Next, read about how experts fear that giraffes are being driven to extinction. Or learn how an extinct cave lion species might be brought back to life.