Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

October 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:2 (Fall 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Because plains bison have come to symbolize open spaces and freedom to Americans, as well as past ecological insensitivity, stories about them have widespread appeal. Harold Danz's contribution to this large and growing literature is an overview, a brief treatment of the animal's evolution, demise, and eventual recovery. Mr. Danz brings a varied background to his writing: long-time service with the National Park Service, a PhD, and the first executive directorship of the American Bison Association (ABA). This experience produces an unusual book, one that mixes detached analysis with enthusiastic promotion. The promotion sections, in my opinion, are the most successful.

The first half of the text relates basic facts of bison biology, nomenclature, population, and predators. None of this material is original, and it is presented in a flat manner reminiscent of a mediocre high-school text. The best parts of this section are the frequent quotations from nineteenth-century journals, and where the author lets down his scholarly guard. He asserts, for example, that the bison symbolizes the untamed West better than the bear, deer, or wolf because it "does not slink in shadows and darkness [but] ... courageously occupies the land!" (p. 13)