Historical Events

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The hunting habits of the wood bison and the musk-oxen are described in the Arctic by the Eskimo.

June 1, 1908

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My Life with the Eskimo - Bison and Musk-Oxen

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Man The Fat Hunter
Facultative Carnivore
Eskimo
Carnivore Diet

Bison bison athabascæ Rhoads. Wood Bison. 


According to the estimates made by Major W. H. Routledge, R.N.W.M.P., who was in charge of the Buffalo protection at Fort Smith in 1908, there are probably not more than three hundred left. The number of Buffaloes in the region is difficult to estimate, as they range in small scattered bands west of the Slave River, from Salt River on the south to Hay River on the north. This remnant of the once great herds is pretty thoroughly protected now, although the wolves are said to kill a good many. 


Ovibos moschatus (Zimmermann ). Musk-ox. U -miñ -mŭk (Es kimo). Et-jir -er (Slavey Indian, Great Bear Lake). 


No living Musk - oxen have probably been seen in Alaska at a later date than 1860-1865, although horns, skulls, and bones in a good state of preservation are to be found in various places from Point Barrow to the Colville River. None have been seen west of Liverpool Bay within the past twenty-five years. Around Franklin Bay, Langton Bay, and the lower part of Horton River, Musk-oxen were fairly common until about 1897. The first vessel that went into Langton Bay to winter (fall of 1897) saw Musk-oxen on the hills, looking from the deck of the ship. During 1897–1898 four ships wintered at Langton Bay, and over eighty Musk-oxen were killed, mainly by Alaskan Eskimo hunting for the ships. Some of the meat was hauled to the ships, but most of the animals were killed too far away for the meat to be hauled in, and the bulk of the robes were left out too late in the spring thaws, so that very little use was made of anything. Since that time no traces of living Musk-oxen have been seen in the region, either by natives who occasionally hunt there, or by our party during nearly three years. In March, 1902, a party of Alaskan Eskimo made an extended journey to the southeast and east of Darnley Bay and killed twenty-seven . This was without doubt the last killing of Musk-oxen by Eskimo west of Dolphin and Union Straits. In the summer of 1910 Mr. Stefánsson and his Eskimo found numerous Musk-ox droppings of the previous winter around the Lake Immaëřnrk, the head of Dease River. We spent the greater part of the winter of 1910–1911 on the east branch of Dease River and eastern end of Great Bear Lake, but saw no recent signs of Musk-oxen. That same winter the Bear Lake Indians made an unsuccessful hunt to the northeast of Great Bear Lake. Two or three years before they had made a big hunt in this region and killed about eighty. In February or March, 1911, the Indians killed three Musk -oxen near the end of Caribou Point, the only specimens seen in the whole region that winter. Apparently the Musk-ox is seldom if ever found in the region of western Coronation Gulf around the mouths of Rae River, Richardson River, or the lower portion of the Coppermine River. Quite a number of Eskimo hunt in this region, and they say that the Musk -oxen are all farther to the east. Some old men in the Rae River region had never seen a Musk-ox . The number of Musk-oxen now living west of the lower Coppermine River is very small and probably confined to the rather small area of high, rocky barrens comprised in the triangle whose apices are Darnley Bay, Coronation and the north side of Great Bear Lake. From all the information we could get from the Coronation Gulf Eskimo, Musk-oxen are seldom if ever seen near the mainland coast less than seventy - five miles east of the mouth of the Coppermine River. It seems probable from in formation which Mr. Stefánsson received from numerous groups of Eskimo in Coronation Gulf, Dolphin and Union Straits, and Prince Albert Sound, that no Musk-oxen at all are found in either the southern or central portions of Victoria Island (i.e. Wollaston Land, Victoria Land, Prince Albert Land). Some of these Eskimo remember of the former occurrence of the Musk-ox around Minto Inlet and Walker Bay, but say there are now none in that region. It is their belief, however, that Musk-oxen are still found near the north coast of Victoria Island. Musk-oxen are said to be still common on Banks Island. The Musk-oxen are so readily killed, often to the last animal in a herd, that the species cannot hold its own against even the most primitive weapons, and the advent of modern rifles means speedy extinction .