The Collapse of the Bison-Hunting Societies on the Great Plains
41 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2012
Date Written: April 19, 2012
In this essay I examine the economic history of bison-hunting societies as an application of Diamond’s collapse thesis. I merge the theory of property rights with the theory of renewable resource use and argue that changes in property rights regimes, in market forces, and changes in legal-political institutions ultimately determined the fate of native bison societies. Some of my findings are consistent with the thesis advanced by Diamond while others are not.
In particular I argue that bison societies declined (nay collapsed), after rising rapidly, as a result of the following forces. First, these groups were under pressure (for land and resources) from white immigrants to the east. Second, these pressures and the emergence of the horse into native societies changed the structure of native societies and initially allowed extensive exploitation of the bison on the Great Plains, under both common property and open access regimes. During this period intertribal conflicts led to the demise of prairie societies at the hand of the plains societies. Third, on the emergence of a bison hide market and the inability of tribes to enforce property rights to land and the bison led to rapid and dramatic depletion of the bison herds. I do not find evidence of dramatic changes in climate or the natural environment to have been an important factor.
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