The Bison: American Icon

The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), proudly presents The Bison: American Icon. Originating from the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, MT, this exhibit explores the meaning and significance of the iconic creature from the Plains Indian culture of the 1800s through the commercial and national symbol of today. The Bison documents the dramatic changes that occurred to the creature and its habitat, and to the people who depended upon it for their daily survival. The exhibit also illuminates the human response that eventually led to the bison’s preservation as a species and a symbol in the 20th century.

On Saturday, January 29th, the Museum invites the general public to its grand opening events. At 2 pm, Dr. Fred Smeins will give a presentation about prairie ecosystems in Texas. At 3 pm , Dr. Alston Thoms will talk about the history of the bison in the Brazos Valley. From 4 - 6 pm, there will be music and refreshments. These events are free to members and free to non-members with general museum admission!

The Bison: American Icon provides visitors with a look into the primary mystery: For thousands of years until the early 1860s, there were tens of millions of bison roaming the plains of North America. By 1890, there were fewer than 300. What happened? Focusing on this question, the exhibit will examine the multiple thematic paths that led to the “before” and “after” of the bison’s dramatic decline. The exhibit will also include an interactive look at how Indian peoples used almost every piece of the animal, from hooves to hide, including ceremonial objects, tipi coverings, tools, and clothing. The story continues to expand by providing a look into how the demand for bison hides eventually led to a market for other bison products that helped fuel the industrial revolution. A combination of objects, graphic kiosks, and interactives will also explore these stories, adding new culprits that contributed to the decline of the bison, like climate changes that affected the region in the 1800s, to more familiar factors like the expansion of the railroad and the legendary commercial buffalo hunters.

The Bison is not all about decline and destruction. The exhibit also shows how conservationists ultimately averted the bison’s close extinction. In charting this positive outcome, the exhibit explores the many ways that the bison’s identity was transformed into a symbol of America and a popular image that appeared on everything from drink cans to national currency. The Bison also shows how the animal continues to be an inspiration for contemporary Native American artists.

This exhibit was made possible in part through Hotel Tax Revenue funded from the City of College Station through the Arts Council of Brazos Valley, through underwriting provided by the William Knox Holt Foundation and by NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is brought to you by Mid America Arts Alliance. The Bison: American Icon was organized by the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, MT.


The artwork pictured is entitled Running Free by Marion Rose.