Since the 16th century, the American West has created its own legacy forged from legends with unparalleled grandeur and an unmistakable image. Mountain men and fur trappers such as Jim Bridger and Hugh Glass followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, paving the way for the mass migration of settlers seeking the hope for a better future in the untamed frontier. Soon after, the Oregon Trail would be etched by the determination of homesteaders and ore miners. Waterways gave way to railways, which soon transformed into roadways. People were making their way to the Wild West in droves, and boom town settlements slowly transformed into thriving metropolises and bustling cities. To some, the way of the American western frontier seemed to change in the blink of an eye. But was this change for the better?

The American West's flagship stories of change

Stories of Western American history have been told countless times in movies, documentaries, songs, and books. Some of these stories are more well-known than others. The culling of the great bison herds is often referred to when discussing native American Indian culture. In a mere 59 years, the American bison herds went from an estimated 40 million in 1830 to just 541 individuals in 1889. The U.S. Government was put in charge of culling vast herds of American Bison to prevent collisions with the newly acquired transcontinental railroad while it was crossing the great plains. By the late 1870s, bison hide prices averaged $2.50 per hide, and some hide collection outfitters could make upwards of $13,000 in a season, an equivalent purchasing power to about $304,000 today.

The famous photo below depicts the “bison skull mountain”. This photo was taken around 1892 in a railyard in Kansas City. The bison skulls had been collected and shipped from the western states to be crushed down and turned into fertilizer. This illustrates the magnitude of the American bison hunting efforts that nearly led to their extinction.