Home on the Range – American Bison
Limited Edition of 200, 20″ x 25″ – $180.00
Open Edition 10″ x 13″ – $40.00
The original home of bison in Alberta consisted of spruce, aspen, and birch trees scattered among a network of sedge lands, meadows, lakes, and ponds. Sixty-five million bison roamed wild and free in North America around the 18th century. This number would be enough bison to form a continuous file ten abreast from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico. In less than a century, the large scale slaughter reduced herds collectively to a few hundred. Today bison are seen by tourists on farms or in national parks, but they still evoke images of large bison populated tracts of land to be explored.
The change of seasons creates changes in the social structure of herds of bison. Cows and juveniles roam separately from adult bulls over the winter months. In the spring, cows give birth, and during the summer, the herds of cows and calves are the groups most often observed by tourists. Later in summer, the cow – calf herds unite with bulls to produce breeding congregations. Olsen, in his book, Portraits of Bison, states, “The constant roaring of thousands of males, the clicking and clacking of hooves, and the soft grunting of calves and cows amid a choking pall of dust and flies would have left the human spectator feeling a tad small and insignificant.” July and August is rut season when the cows are bred by dominant bulls. As fall approaches and rut ends, the large breeding congregations split into smaller groups. The dominant breeding bulls leave to form bachelor groups, while cows, their calves, and some younger cows and bulls form matriarchal groups led by one or more older cows. Bachelor and matriarchal bands do not come together again until the following July and August.
In the composition, “Home on the Range,” two bulls, a cow and a calf are near a watering hole. The mature cow and dominant bull are centrally grouped with a younger bull and calf on either side. The belly of the dominant bull has begun to sag with age, and the horns are ringed around their upper third. The scaling and flaking of the horns distinguishes dominant bulls from mature bulls. The mature bull on the left has horns that are smooth to the tip. The cow’s horns are curved backwards and have smaller diameter at the base than a mature bull. The calf on the right is about three months old and has lost its baby hair by September. The drawing shows the mix in bison groups in early fall before the aspen and birch drop their leaves and before the ponds freeze or the snow falls. The breeding bulls will soon form bachelor groups and leave the other bison to search for rich winter pastures where they can regain weight in preparation for the next seasonal cycle in their social structure.