Date: c. 1860
Description: This is a Stuart American Plains Rifle, made by the Charles Stuart Company of Binghamton, New York. It is very heavy, as its large octagonal barrel made of thick metal. The stock is wooden with a metal trim, with a deer silhouette on one side. However this rifle dates to about 1860 and would not have been used for deer, but for the scores of bison that roamed the North American plains at this time. White settlers hunted bison in the plains for a wide variety of reasons. Some hunted for profit. Bison hide was thick and in high demand to stave off the Midwestern winter, and bison tongue was considered one of the highest delicacies on the 1800s table. Others merely hunted for the sport of it. The American Buffalo or bison numbered nearly 50 million before European settlement and were thought to be in inexhaustible supply. Sporting a bison trophy on the wall communicated that settlers here were living the true life of the great American West. Still others were encouraged by the U.S. government to eradicate the bison as they were the primary food source of the plains Native American tribes. The goal was to force the tribes into smaller areas by limiting their hunting ground and open more land for white settlement. Due to this encouraged hunting bison populations in were decimated, and the Native Americans suffered greatly from starvation. By the 1890s the American Buffalo was nearly extinct, with numbers estimated less than 2,000 in the whole plains. Today specialized breeders and caretakers have been breeding the herds back up to a much safer 500,000 estimate, but it is still a far cry from where they were before the “bison gold rush” of the 1800s.
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