13 January 2021

The Last Great Bison Hunt

What was termed the ‘Last Great Bison Hunt’ occurred on Antelope Island in the 1920s.

Bison hunt on Antelope Island. Salt Lake Telegram 1921-01-24

100 years ago, Salt Lakers were outraged to discover that the private owner of Antelope Island and the associated bison herd, the Buffalo Island Stock Co, planned to kill most of the bison herd in a grand hunt to make way for cattle grazing, to begin Jan 1921.

For the price of $200 (~$3K today) a hunter was guaranteed one bison. An estimated 230 bison were on the island at the time.

Calls from SLC business leaders immediately went out to save the bison. The Elks Club vowed to raise money to buy the island. The national president of Humane Society and Utah’s congressmen were called on.

And a mock hunt with a taxidermied bison was staged in protest at the Brigham Young monument in downtown SLC.

All endeavors to save the bison failed, including an effort to make the island a National Bison Reserve, due to lack of funds to purchase the herd.

The Deseret News wrote an editorial calling the hunt a “grievous mistake” and “even if the herd must be destroyed, there is not reason why their killing should be made a bloody holiday.”

Regardless of the outcry, the first bison hunt began on Jan 12 1921. After reaching the island by boat from Saltair, each of the 5 hunters killed a large bull.

The grand slaughter of all the bison that was feared never materialized. After the bad press the Buffalo Island Stock Co stated they never intended to cull the entire herd and the hunting targeted only the older bulls.

According to the Buffalo Island Stock Co, 60 people purchased hunting permits. Several small parties continued to hunt the bison over the next few years, including heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey in 1923.

In 1923 they sold filming and hunting rights for production of the silent film “The Covered Wagon” which featured a bison stampede and hunt in which 7 bison were killed.

In 1926 the Buffalo Island Stock Co sold the bison herd.

And so begins Part 2.

Sources: SL Trib 1921-01-11, 1921-01-14; Des News 1921-01-10; Ogden Standard Examiner 1921-01-14; SL Telegram 1921-01-24, 1921-12-15; Davis Reflex-Journal 1923-09-27

Mock bison hunt at the Brigham Young monument. SL Trib 1921-01-13

Advertisement, Salt Lake Tribune 1921-11-27

Advertisement, Salt Lake Tribune 1921-01-16

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