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And one by one, driven to exhaustion, trapped by fence and horses and bewilderment, under an immaculate sky the mythic creatures died. They died not in mercy, not in the majesty which was their due, but as the least of life, accursed of nature. They died in the dust of insult and the spittle of lead.

There was more here than profaned the eye or ear or nose or heart. There was more here than mere destruction. The American soul itself was involved, its anthropology.

We are born with buffalo blood upon our hands. In the prehistory of us all, the atavistic beasts appear. They graze the plains of our subconscious, they trample through our sleep, and in our dreams we cry out our damnation. We know what we have done, we violent people. We know that no species was created to exterminate another, and the sight of their remnant stirs in us the most profound lust, the most undying hatred, the most inexpiable guilt. A living buffalo mocks us. It has no place or purpose. It is a misbegotten child, a monster with which we cannot live and which we cannot live without. Therefore we slay, and slay again, for while a single buffalo remains, the sin of our fathers, and hence our own, is imperfect. But the slaughter of the buffalo is part of something larger. It is as though the land of Canaan into which we were led was too divine, and until we have done it every violence, until we have despoiled and murdered and dirtied every blessing, until we have erased every reminder of our original rape, until we have washed our hands of the blood of every other, we shall be unappeased. It is as though we are too proud to be beholden to Him. We cannot bear the goodness of God.


Glendon Swarthout

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