Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Malta, Montana - The Sleeping Buffalo

Graham and I are now cycling across the vast plains of Montana, once the home of Cree and Sioux Indians, where huge herds of buffalo used to roam the landscape. On an afternoon when golden sunlight broke through gunmetal grey skies, we came to a prominent ridge where there was an ancient rock the Native Americans called “The Sleeping Buffalo”. They revered and worshipped the rock which they believed safeguarded the buffalo herds on which they depended. At the time those herds numbered 60 million. How wonderful it must have been to watch them migrate across the grasslands or to feel the ground rumble with the thunder of a million hooves.

When the Europeans arrived they decimated the buffalo herds to just 200 beasts as part of their war against the Native Americans. Then, when the Native Americans were themselves decimated, the railroad came, pushing west and bringing settlers that turned the vast plains over to agriculture and cattle. The Sleeping Buffalo was moved to the city park in the nearby settlement of Malta but the Native Americans claimed that it was restless, constantly changing position and bellowing in the night. Eventually the rock was returned to the position it occupies today but corralled in a wooden structure that separates it from the very elements of which it was once a part.

The story of The Sleeping Buffalo is just one example of the devastating impact mankind has had on the landscape and its natural inhabitants. But the landscape watched us arrive and, one day, it will watch us leave. Maybe then the wooden walls will fall and The Sleeping Buffalo will awake to once again watch over vast grasslands and huge herds of buffalo.

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