"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 12, Number 3, March 2009

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org]

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“Sir, We Want to See Jesus”

 

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), in the Preface to his history-altering Greek New Testament (1516) wrote:

 

“These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind.  They will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising, the whole Christ in a word; they will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your eyes.”

 

Quoted from A. T. Robertson,

A Grammar of the Greek NT in the Light of Historical Research,

Broadman Press, 1934

4th edition, p. xix

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Spanish Bible Versions: a Great Heritage, part IV

“Revisions of the Reina-Valera”

Copyrighted by author, 2009

 

[Note: this study is appearing in multiple parts.  A complete bibliography of sources will appear with the final installment]

 

If the information in Darlowe and Moule’s Catalogue of Printed Editions of the Holy Scriptures is correct and complete--or nearly so--, there was apparently a great dearth of further Spanish Bible editions and New Testaments after the Reina-Valera appeared in1602 until almost 1800.  During that two century span, there are no reported reprints of the complete 1602 Spanish Bible and only two reprints of the NT portion.  The first of these was made in 1625 and based on the 1602 edition; publication was in Amsterdam (a Spanish Psalter is reported for the same year).  Another New Testament edition was printed in 1708 being virtually a reprint of the 1596 Valera New Testament; in the 1708 edition, the words “por fe” [“by faith”] are omitted in Romans 3:28, as also occurred in the 1569 Reina Bible, but not in the 1602 Valera revision.  This 1708 edition was prepared by “Sebastian de la Enzina,” who is described as “minister of the English church and preacher at the illustrious congregation of the honorable merchants in Spain.”  And once again, Amsterdam was the place of publication.

 

Spanish editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer were occasionally published (these of course contained the text of the Psalms complete as well as selected other portions of the Bible).  The first of these was in 1623 (London), with all Old Testament portions, including the Psalter, taken from the Reina Bible of 1569, while the New Testament portions agree with Valera’s revised New Testament of 1596.  In 1707, a revised and enlarged Spanish edition of the 1623 Book of Common Prayer was published in London.  This edition employs Valera’s 1602 Bible for the Old Testament portions, and Valera’s original “exhortation” to the readers is reproduced, with some omissions and changes.  Another edition of this publication appeared in 1715.

 

As previously noted, Darlow and Moule do list numerous reprints and editions of the Ferrara Spanish OT or portions of it in this period (no doubt printed for Spanish Jews living in exile from Spain), but no further editions of the complete Bible after 1602, and but two reprints of the Reina-Valera New Testament in two centuries, neither of which was printed in Spain or the Spanish colonies in the New World.  This period constitutes a 200-year-long near total famine of having the word of God in Spanish, a consequence of the intensity and ferocity of the Spanish Inquisition’s suppression of the translation and distribution of the Bible in Spain and its colonies.  Not until Catholic versions of the Bible in Spanish began to appear in the 1790s was there a break in this famine.

 

Ultimately, in 1806, a new edition of the 1708 Spanish New Testament (which in turn was made from the Valera New Testament of 1596) was printed in London, under the auspices of the British and Foreign Bible Society.  Some 2,000 copies were printed.  The omission of “by faith” at Romans 3:28 in this edition (as in the 1708 edition) apparently proved controversial.  A separate edition of 1,000 copies of the Gospel of Matthew appeared the same year.  A second edition of the complete New Testament in 1807 is reported, and demand for the New Testament in Spanish required continued reprints in large editions in the decades that followed--1808, 1813, 1817, etc.  In 1831 Valera’s New Testament was reprinted (in a revised form) by the Glasgow Bible Society (another printing appeared in 1849).  The American Bible Society issued its own edition of this revision in 1845.  The text base for these two revisions--whether the 1708 edition (which I suspect), the 1596 or the 1602 edition, is not stated.

 

In the meantime (and as noted in the previous article), in the early decades of the 19th century numerous editions of the Spanish Bible (or parts thereof) translated from the Latin Vulgate by Scio and by Amat were repeatedly being reprinted and distributed by the British and Foreign Bible Society and others.  In 1850, a hybrid complete Bible (without apocrypha), combining the Latin Vulgate-based version of Scio and the 1602 Valera Bible came from the American Bible Society.  A separate edition of the Spanish New Testament from this version was issued the same year with a parallel English text.

 

It should be noted that some Christian leaders in England vigorously objected to the actions of some Protestant-controlled Bible societies there which were sponsoring the printing and distribution of Roman Catholic Spanish versions.  Among these was prominent London Baptist pastor Charles H. Spurgeon, who in his monthly magazine The Sword and the Trowel for August 1874 (pp. 384-5) wrote:

 

The Committee of the Trinitarian Bible Society is also sending aid to Spain.  This agency was started by those friends of evangelical truth who felt that they could not conscientiously countenance the action of the British and Foreign Bible Society in circulating corrupt versions of the Scriptures.  Several glaring instances of willful perversion occur in versions prepared by the Roman Church, the text teaching the doctrines of transubstantiation, penance, Mariolatry, and human merit.  Better to circulate these than none at all, it may be said.  Nay, let us not do evil that good may come.  It is hoped that the authorities at Blackfriars [that is, the B & FBS] may yet see their mistake in this respect and refuse any longer to bolster up the falling system of Rome.

Cited in Andrew J. Brown

The Word of God Among All Nations, p. 69

 

The Gospel of Matthew from Valera’s version was issued in 1857, the New Testament, revised, in 1858 (and repeatedly thereafter) by the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Psalms according to Valera in 1859.  These were probably based on the 1602 text itself and may mark the return to the use of the original Reina-Valera Bible of 1602, rather than the 1708 edition.  Almost certainly the Psalms would presuppose the direct use of a copy of the 1602 Bible (since the 1708 edition had only the New Testament) unless the Psalms were taken from one of the Books of Common Prayer in Spanish. 

 

Finally in 1861, Valera’s complete Bible, now revised and without apocrypha, was once again put in print, after a lapse of 259 years, by the British and Foreign Bible Society.  Similar editions appeared again and with considerable frequency in 1862, 1863, 1864, and beyond.  Numerous editions of a revised Reina-Valera New Testament were published after 1865. 

 

Why the Bible societies chose to print primarily the Catholic Bible versions of Scio and Amat for the first half-century and more of the societies’ existence, and did not reprint the Reina-Valera Bible in whole until the 1860s, I cannot say with certainty.  Perhaps they were simply unaware of its existence, or had no access to a copy.  After all, as of 1804 when the British and Foreign Bible Society was founded, the Reina-Valera 1602 had been out-of-print for two centuries, with the few thousand original copies scattered who-knows-where or long since destroyed by the Inquisition, or the natural toll of time and circumstance.  And the Reina-Valera New Testaments that did appear earlier in the 19th century were made from the 1708 edition of the New Testament, the last one produced before the 19th century.  I suspect that sometime in the 1850s, a copy of the 1602 Bible became available or was first used, and was employed in the printing of these particular Bible portions, and of the complete Bible in 1861.  But whatever the explanation, once the Reina-Valera complete Bible (sans Apocrypha) began to be reprinted, it immediately became the preferred Bible of the Bible societies and Bible publishers, and the editions of Scio’s version (and Amat’s) became noticeably fewer in number, though they did continue to appear even into the 20th century

 

The American Bible Society issued its own revision of the Reina-Valera Bible in 1865.  The revision work was begun in 1861 by a Spaniard Angel H. de Mora and H. B. Pratt, an American Presbyterian missionary at Bogotá.  All of the Old Testament revision work and some of the New Testament was done by de Mora alone.   Chiefly their work consisted of revising the spelling of the Reina-Valera 1602, since it was very much out-of-date.  The whole Bible was in a third edition by 1868.  The New Testament was printed separately in 1865 and as part of an English-Spanish diglot in 1872.

 

In 2007, I examined the 1865 de Mora-Pratt revision in a visit to the archives of the British and Foreign Bible Society, now housed in the library at Cambridge University, and found, other than spelling, that it differed little from the Reina-Valera of 1602.  The edition had no notes, variant translations or cross references (which abounded in the 1602), but presented the Bible text alone.

 

In 1865, an edition of the 1831 reprint of the Valera New Testament was printed at Malaga in Spain in some 2,000 copies.  This was the first time a complete Testament in the Reina-Valera version was printed in Spain, almost 300 years after Reina’s New Testament was first printed--in Basle, Switzerland (an edition of Matthew’s Gospel in this version was printed earlier at Tolosa, Guipuzcoa, in the Basque region of Northern Spain in 1857).

 

 

 

Pratt’s Version 1893

 

H. B. Pratt, who had assisted de Mora in the revised edition of Reina-Valera which was published in 1865, labored for an extended period on a new and separate Spanish version.  His translation of the Psalms was based on Valera’s version, but in consultation with the Hebrew text and numerous translations ancient and modern.  This was published in 1876, in a small preliminary edition of 150 copies, followed by another edition in 1879, and as part of a Valera Bible edition of 1883.

 

In 1877, his new edition of Matthew appeared, again in 150 copies; the intention being to ultimately revise the whole New Testament.  His Spanish version of John was published in 1879, of Galatians -Revelation in 1880, and of Genesis in 1885.  Pratt’s completed translation, carried out with some assistance from others, and called “Version Moderna,” was issued by the American Bible Society in 1893.  Corrected reprints of this translation are reported for 1929 and 1939.

 

Meanwhile, Fritz Fliedner, a German Lutheran, was busy with a new translation of his own.  His work was issued in parts: Matthew 1885, Luke 1886, Mark 1887, John 1889; Acts 1889; Romans to II Corinthians, 1895.

 

In 1888, a committee of Spaniards and others was formed by the British and Foreign Bible Society to undertake a systematic revision of E. Reeves Palmer’s tentative 1887 revised translation.  This committee included J. B. Cabrera of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain, C. Tornos of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Fritz Fliedner (previously mentioned), A. R. Fenn of the Brethren, and J. Jameson, the chief reviser, of the Bible Society.  The first two of these men are the only names I can locate that are associated with the 1909 revision (see below).  This group issued in Madrid revised editions of the four Gospels and Acts in 1893, but seems to have done nothing more.

 

Reina-Valera 1909

 

In 1905, a revision of the Reina-Valera Old Testament was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society.  It was prepared chiefly by J. B. Cabrera and C. Tornos (as previously noted).  The revisions are said to have been limited to the correction of obvious errors and the substitution of modern forms of expression in place of those that had become antiquated.  Since these two same men are expressly linked to the 1909 revised Bible, I think it safe to assume that this revised Old Testament was incorporated into the complete Bible issued in 1909.  By whom and by what means or from where the New Testament portion was added to make the complete 1909 Bible, I can not discover (indeed, finding out anything concrete about the production of the 1909 Reina-Valera revision has been surprisingly difficult).  In one source, there is a hint of a suggestion that the Trinitarian Bible Society may have sponsored the complete 1909 Reina-Valera, but I can find no confirmation of this.

 

This translation was for a number of years the standard Spanish Bible version among Protestants and is still used by some; it is readily available even now (I have three or four editions of it from various publishers, all acquired in recent years).

 

Reina-Valera 1960

 

By a very wide margin, the translation most widely used among conservative Christians in the Spanish-speaking world today is the 1960 Reina-Valera revision.  It is itself a revision of the 1909 edition.  By the late 1940s, there was a broad consensus among conservative Protestant leaders in Latin America that the 1909 Reina-Valera was in need of revision due to changes in the meaning of a number of words in that version which hindered its usefulness in communicating God’s word to Spanish speakers.  A committee was appointed to carry out this revision.  The six men chosen were all scholars, were all conservative Protestants from several denominations (two  Methodists, three Presbyterians and a Baptist) and from a cross-section of Latin American countries (to insure that truly international Spanish was employed), and were all active in ministry.  In addition, all had taught at the seminary level.  They met for four two-month sessions over a six-year period, completing their work by 1957.  Three years were consumed in the process of putting their translation into print.  It was issued in 1960, in an edition of 100,000 copies.  It very quickly became the most popular Spanish version.

 

The work of revision was based on the Hebrew Old Testament (Masoretic text) and a form of the Greek textus receptus in the New Testament, the texts the original Reina and Reina-Valera Bibles used.  The subject of textual variants, and the merits or demerits of adopting readings as found in the so-called “critical” Greek texts instead of the textus receptus were not addressed.  (Many scholars today, I among them, would say that this is the chief weakness of the 1960 revision--it failed to adopt certain readings found in the critical Greek texts which have very strong claim to being the exact original wording of the New Testament). The translation is, like the editions of the Reina-Valera before it, a “formal equivalence,” essentially literal translation.  Some 10,000 words in all were altered in up-dating the Spanish of the 1909 version. 

 

Calvin George’s book, The History of the Reina-Valera 1960 Spanish Bible gives a thorough accounting of the making of this version, with biographical sketches of the translators.  He ably defends this translation against the usually unfair and regularly grossly inaccurate criticisms that have been lately directed against it, primarily by radical adherents to the “King James only” theory.  In some extreme cases, critics of the 1960 edition have even led gullible students to wantonly desecrate and destroy this Bible in a most shameful and blasphemous way, falling so low as to call it “the Devil’s Bible”.  Inexcusable folly!

 

Further Reina-Valera Revisions

 

CLIE, a Christian literature publisher in Spain, sponsored a revision of the Reina-Valera which came out in 1977.  Francisco Lacueva was coordinator of the committee of revision.  It was published by the International Bible Society of Colorado (publishers of the New International Version and the Nuevo Version Internacional).  It unfortunately, at least in the copy I own, has no introduction and no notes, in short no information about its origin, purpose or design.  Who made it? and why?  What previous edition of the Reina-Valera is it a revision of?  From an examination of the translation itself, it evidently follows some form of the “textus receptus” closely, even when the textus receptus has no or very limited Greek manuscript support behind its readings (Revelation 22:19; Colossians 1:14; I John 5:7; etc.), and it does not conform to the KJV (as some earlier Reina-Valera revisions did) in those places where the KJV abandons the textus receptus (Hebrews 10:23; Acts 19:20; etc.).  As for whether its language is archaic, or contemporary, my limited knowledge of Spanish and of this version make it impossible for me to say.  At any rate, the Reina-Valera 1977 has so far not found widespread use or popularity.

 

In 1989, Biblia Actualizada was published by Editorial Mundo Hispano in El Paso, Texas.  It is said to be a Reina-Valera revision, with the New Testament text revised to follow a critical base text, similar to that behind the New International Version and the Nuevo Version Internacional.  Some have objected that calling such a translation a “Reina-Valera” is inappropriate since the original Reina and Reina-Valera Bibles as well as all major revisions of them have been based on some form of the textus receptus, rather than a critical text.  I have not seen or examined this translation, and as yet know nothing about its origin or characteristics.

 

Another revision of the Reina-Valera was issued in 1995, and is known as Reina-Valera 95.  Like the 1960, its copyright is held by the United Bible Societies.  It seems to follow the 1960 closely, with relatively minor alterations.  The text is commendably set up in paragraph form (like the NIV) rather than with each verse as its own paragraph (as in the 1960, the KJV and the NASB).  Long complex sentences are sometimes broken up into two or more parts.  Transitional words that introduce paragraphs or verses are sometimes handled differently, and occasionally synonyms are substituted for words in the 1960 edition.  The revisions in no case that I discovered involved following a different reading in the Greek text, even when the text followed by the 1960 is unquestionably not the original reading and where revision could be easily justified (Revelation 22:19; Colossians 1:14; I John 5:7; and other places).

 

As with the 1977 revision, the Reina-Valera 95 has to this point not generated much interest.  For the present, and the foreseeable future, the Reina-Valera 1960 revision will likely continue its dominance as the Bible of choice among conservative evangelicals in Latin America and other Spanish-speaking places.

---Doug Kutilek

[Next: Other Spanish Versions of the 20th century]

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BOOK REVIEWS

 

Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ by Alfred Edersheim.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970 reprint of 1876 edition.  342 pp., hardback.

 

Our understanding of the New Testament (as with the Old) is hindered by large “gaps” between our present 21st century world, and the 1st century world of Christ and the Apostles--there is the language gap (we speak and think in English; Jesus and the Apostles thought and spoke and wrote in Greek and Aramaic and to some extent in Hebrew).  There is the geographical gap--we in North America are thousands of miles removed from the scenes in the New Testament in the Holy Land and the greater Mediterranean world.  There is the history gap--we are two millennia distant from the time of New Testament events.  And there is the cultural gap--the events in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels and much of Acts, occurred in the cultural milieu of 1st century Judaism, with its culture, customs, traditions, laws, practices, ideas and perspective.  If we are to correctly interpret the New Testament, we must, as far as we are able, bridge these gaps and transport ourselves mentally, as it were, into that ancient context, to know its situation, hear its sounds, smells it smells, see its people and absorb its atmosphere.  Close familiarity with Jewish writings actually or roughly contemporary with the New Testament can effectively return us to that day and time and place.

 

Alfred Edersheim (pronounced E-ders-heim [commonly mispronounced E-der-sheim]; 1825-1889), was a Hebrew of Austrian birth who was converted to faith in Jesus as the Messiah under the influence of a Presbyterian chaplain in Pest, Hungary, where he had gone to study.  Edersheim was a thorough student of Jewish literature from the centuries before and after Christ--the Apocrypha, Josephus, Philo, the Targums, Mishnah, Midrashs, Talmuds, vego”--and sifted this huge corpus of complicated literature for whatever light that it could cast on the words and content of the New Testament.  His findings are preserved in a series of exceptionally valuable works:

--History of the Jewish Nation after 70 A. D. (1856);

--The Temple, Its Ministry and Service at the Time of Jesus Christ (1874);

--Bible History (7 vols. 1876-1887);

--The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (2 vols., 1883--no doubt the most famous “Life of Christ” in the English language; 1883); and

--Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah (1880-84; 1885);

Each of these has its own focus and interest.

 

The particularly valuable volume here under review, originally published in 1876, focuses on the cultural background of the New Testament--the historical, political, social and religious context of the life of Jesus and the Apostles: Jews and Gentiles, Galilee, travel, Jewish home life, education, death and burial practices, the place and treatment of women, business life, the various religious sects, and synagogue worship, with a brief survey of Jewish theological literature.  In two appendices, we are given excerpts from the Mishnah which is a codification of traditional rabbinic law (circa A. D.  200), and from the Babylonian Talmud (circa A. D. 500), which is a very diffuse discussion of the Mishnah.

 

Though much has occurred in New Testament studies and the exploration and excavation of the Holy Land since Edersheim wrote, this book is still valuable and authoritative.  I first read it through during my first semester in Bible college in the fall of 1971, with the re-reading of selected portions in the decades since.  On a second full reading just now of the whole, I came across several quotes and incidents that I have remembered over the years, but could never recall just where I’d originally encountered them: “Oh, so it was Edersheim!” I said to myself more than once.

 

Edersheim is always informative and worthwhile reading.  One remains ignorant of his works to his own detriment.  (And I have made a personal resolution to read or re-read all of his published works in the near future).

---Doug Kutilek

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Selected quotes from Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim--

 

“Philo might indeed, without exaggeration, say that the Jews ‘were from their swaddling clothes, even before being taught either the sacred laws or the unwritten customs, trained by their parents, teachers, and instructors to recognize God as Father and as the Maker of the Work,’ . . . To the same effect is the testimony of Josephus that ‘from their earliest consciousness’ they had ‘learned the laws, so as to have them, as it were, engraven upon the soul.’ “ (pp. 110-1)

 

“. . . the obligation to train the child rested primarily upon the father, . . .” (p. 112)

 

“In the case of heathenism every advance in civilization has marked a progressive lowering of public morality, the earlier stages of national life always showing a far higher tone than the later.” (p. 122)

 

“In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other--in fact, denounced it--than that of the law of God. . . . To the pious Jew . . . the knowledge of God was everything; and to prepare for or impart that knowledge was the sum total, the sole object of his education.  This was the life of his soul--the better, and only true life, to which all else as well as the life of the body were merely subservient, as means towards an end.” (pp. 124-5)

 

“The Talmud itself (Menahot 99b) furnishes the clever illustration of this [i.e., the prohibition of heathen learning], when, in reply to the question of a younger Rabbi, whether, since he knew the whole ‘Torah’ (the Law), he might be allowed to study ‘Greek wisdom,’ his uncle reminded him of the Words (Joshua 1:8), ‘Thou shalt meditate therein day and night.’  ‘Go, then, and consider,’ said the older Rabbi, ‘which is the hour that is neither of the day nor of the night, and in it thou mayest study Grecian wisdom.’ “ (p. 126)

 

“Ordinarily, a young man was expected to enter the wedded state (according to Maimonides) at the age sixteen or seventeen, while the age of twenty may be regarded as the utmost limit conceded, unless study so absorbed time and attention as to leave no leisure for the duties of married life.  Still it was thought better even to neglect study than to remain single.” (p. 147)

 

Cremation was denounced as a purely heathen practice contrary to the whole spirit of Old Testament teaching.” (p. 169)

 

“In general, it may be said that the NT teaching concerning original sin and its consequences finds no analogy in the Rabbinical writings of that period.” (p. 177)

 

“. . .it was a Rabbinical principle, that ‘whoever does not teach his son a trade is as if he brought him up to be a robber.’” (p. 190; quoting the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Kiddushim 29)

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The Great Buffalo Hunt by Wayne Gard.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960.  324, xii pp., hardback.

 

The total number of buffalo (Bison bison) that inhabited North America when the first Europeans settled in the Western hemisphere, from Mexico to Canada, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but especially abundant in the Great Plains of the present United States, is variously estimated at between 60 and 75 million (and they of course were not the only grass-eating ruminants present--they shared their habitat with countless deer, antelope, and elk).

 

Though buffalo had been extensively hunted by Indians, explorers and increasing numbers of white settlers, as of 1850 there still remained an estimated 40 million, by then limited to the region west of the Mississippi River.  They blackened the plains in numerous and huge roaming herds composed of thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of individuals.  Yet so massive, so swift, so widespread was the exploitation, the wanton slaughter of these animals which followed, that within a bare three decades, considerably less than a mere thousand remained on the entire continent (some say as few as 88), existing as isolated individuals or in small groups.  What convergence of circumstances led to the near-extinction of North American’s largest mammal?

 

The spread of American explorers and then settlers ever more to the west began to affect the prairies and plains west of the Mississippi River early in the 19th century.  The bison were hunted for meat and robes (taken in winter when in prime condition) by plainsmen, mountain men, and the military before the 1850s.  But this had relatively small impact on the vast herds.

 

Railroads began to span the plains in the 1860s, and the prolific buffalo were a very convenient and necessary source of meat for the thousands of workers that constructed the railroads from the Missouri to the Rockies.  There was then nearly full utilization of this resource, with little waste.  However, the railroads also enabled “sport” hunters to flood in from the east, and the wanton slaughter of train-side bison for nothing more than the thrill of the kill by eastern hunters became commonplace, leaving carcasses to rot (and stink) along the track for miles.  And of course the railroads also brought settlers and their necessary supplies and equipment to the plains (and provided a suitable means to carry their farm products to markets in the east).

 

The presence of bison in anything like their original numbers was incompatible with the intended farming and ranching of the new settlers, since bison would compete with domestic cattle for forage, and would be devastating to crops.  And so their decimation would not be viewed with dismay or alarm.  But more ominous was a deliberate policy expressly followed by some in the U. S. government (including General Phil Sheridan) of intentionally destroying the bison as a means of subjugating the sometimes bellicose Plains Indians, who were almost completely dependent on the great bison herds for their survival.

 

Just as the coming of the railroads to the Great Plains in the 1860s and 1870s made cost effective the trans-shipping of trail-driven live Texas longhorn cattle to eastern markets, so it also made possible the efficient shipping of selected buffalo products.  A process for turning buffalo hides into leather was developed about this same time (apparently, they required a process different than that used for cowhides), making this a valuable and readily marketable commodity.  Buffalo meat in quantity had little value, since the absence of refrigeration (except the natural refrigeration of winter months) made preserving the meat impossible, except for small quantities that could be salted.  And that meant chiefly buffalo tongue for which there was a large demand (‘no fat, no bone, all meat--and tasty, too!’).  Live shipping of bison by rail was exceptionally difficult and rarely successful.

 

So, with a ready market for hides and tongues, and ease of shipping by rail, along with express government sanction, the slaughter of the bison commenced in earnest.  In the hundreds, small teams of hunters and skinners would regularly kill as many as a hundred or so bison in a day, a thousand in a matter of weeks, and tens of thousands in a season, taking only the hides and tongues, and leaving hundreds of pounds of fresh meat from each bison for the scavengers--wolves, coyotes, buzzards, maggots and bacteria, while Indians confined to nearby reservations were near starvation.  The decimation of the herds first took place in Kansas in the early 1870s; the herds there were all but gone by 1874, a mere three years after the work began; then it shifted to Texas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where it was technically illegal.  The slaughter there was complete by the late 1870s, and shifted once again, this time to the northern plains of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakota.  And there, not long into the decade of the 1880s, the slaughter was complete.  So few and scattered were the remaining bison that the hide-and-tongue hunters found other occupations more remunerative.  And almost too late, the government passed laws to spare the remaining bison.

 

While the Plains Indians, heavily dependent on the buffalo for almost the whole of their existence--meat, tools, shelter, clothing--did not engage in the wholesale slaughter of bison for the sake of a mere fraction of the animal (tongues and hides), they nevertheless often were wasteful in their use of the bison--they would stampede large numbers off cliffs (sometimes in the hundreds) to obtain the meat, hides and bones from the 20 or 30 needed to meet their current needs.  (It is true that the Ameri-Indians were responsible for relatively less exploitation of the environment in North America, vis-à-vis the whites, though this was chiefly a matter of inadequate technology, and a substantially smaller population.  The slaughter-to-extinction of 75 million bison with stone-tipped spears and arrows by the few hundred thousand Plains Indians was technologically impossible.  Give them guns, ammunition, horses, and a ready cash-market for hides and tongues, and their track record for plunder would have differed little from the white settlers).

 

The hide-and-tongue hunters had cared little for the meat of the bison (beyond their own consumption, and the saleable tongues) or for the bones at all; these they left to the elements and scavengers.  Even so, in short order, the bones became a valued asset to new settlers.  With the buffalo gone, the Indians subjugated and the land opened up for farming and ranching, many migrated to the Plains States and began farming.  One major obstacle to their success was the lack of ready money to sustain themselves until their first crop came in.  The whitening bones of the bison which littered the grasslands could be a valued asset, for use as a commercial fertilizer and in the process of refining sugar, if they could somehow be transported east at a reasonable cost.  As it happened, the very railroads which facilitated the opening up of the plains to white immigration, and facilitated the shipping of buffalo hides and tongue to markets in the east (along with longhorn cattle driven from Texas to Kansas--another story), was an ideal means for hauling the multiplied millions of pounds of sun-bleached bison bones to points east, and thereby provided that necessary first-year income for new stake-claimers.  As the slaughter of bison had progressed from Kansas to Texas to the Northern Plains, so the bone collecting followed the same sequence.  Usually the bone collecting and shipping was at a peak the first year, and lasted in all three years, until the diminishing supply was exhausted.

 

(Had the buffalo been fully or nearly-fully utilized by the whites--for meat, for hides, for bones--a continuous supply of at least 4-5 million animals, and likely closer to 10 million, especially “surplus” bulls, could have been perpetually harvested annually, providing about five billion pounds of meat, 40 million pounds of bone and 10 million hides or robes every year.  We wisely do practice this principle of “herds to perpetuity” with our domestic cattle, sheep, hogs, and goats--and now with the bison.

 

The present bison population, some in zoos, some in National Parks and State preserves, but most in private herds, is some 350,000 to 400,000 and growing.  The perpetuation and proliferation of the bison has not been accomplished through the rigid preservation and protectionism that currently is the policy intended to preserve and protect the African elephant and rhinoceri (but which will inevitably lead to their extinction), but one of wise use.  Private owners can buy and sell and dispose of bison for use as food, hunting trophies, hides, souvenirs, and mascots at a market-set price.  As long as bison can be kept and propagated at a self-sustaining profit, their survival is assured.  The road to extinction would be to simply impose a federal prohibition of their sale or use for food, etc.)

 

Gard provides a very extensive bibliography (though he only generally documents his account), and a good index.  Contemporary newspaper accounts, published books, and articles, manuscript memoirs of buffalo hunters and plainsmen, and interviews late in life of surviving hunters make up Gard’s sources.  His illustrations are mostly drawings expressly done for the book or period lithographs.  His style is readable and interesting.  (We favorably reviewed his book The Chisholm Trail in AISI 6:12).

 

While other books on the American bison are numerous, the one other volume on the topic that I strongly recommend is The Buffalo Book by David Dary (Swallow Press, 1989).  While there is limited overlap between the two books, they have different foci and well-supplement each other; Dary’s is by a wide margin the better illustrated of the two.

---Doug Kutilek

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