"Give me a home where the buffalo roam." Children and adults alike have all sung the tried-and-true tune. The mere thought of the American range brings to mind visions of waving wheat, graceful antelope and bison noshing on grass. But, as Neil Waldman explains in his newest book, They Came from the Bronx, our American ideal was almost destroyed when the bison neared extinction in the late 1800s.
Waldman was inspired to write about the plight of our native beasts after hearing the term "the Mother Herd" in a conversation. The phrase triggered Waldman's memory of a visit to the Bronx Zoo with his grandfather, during which he heard visitors using the phrase. After much research, Waldman discovered that "the Mother Herd" referred to the original group of American bison bred by the American Bison Society and reintroduced to the American West in the early 1900s. They Came from the Bronx describes the ways in which the American bison, commonly referred to as buffalo, were systematically eradicated from the American range. Waldman shows us the devastating effects of these events through the eyes of a Comanche woman as she explains to her young grandson her tribe's reliance on the buffalo for food, shelter and supplies.
But Waldman's book is not meant to be a tongue-lashing about the thoughtless exploits of the encroaching white man. Instead, he focuses on the repopulation of the same buffalo to the American West. Waldman describes the extraordinary journey of five bison part of "the Mother Herd" who traveled via wagon and train through the heart of New York City, the plains of the Midwest and finally to a range in Oklahoma. They were met there by a group of Comanche children who had never seen a real buffalo. A truly insightful and thought-provoking tale, They Came from the Bronx is a much-needed history lesson for children and adults of all ages. It reminds us how close we came to losing not only one of our country's native inhabitants but also an American ideal.
Gabrielle Lewis is a freelance writer in New York City.