The Germination of Ideas

The OlympianTen years ago, I had completed my first manuscript, The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas and had placed it confidently in the hands of a prominent agent in NYC.  The Olympian was not a retelling of the stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, but the incident plays prominently in the final chapters of the book.

With the battle concluded, Theagenes and Simonides watch the Persian host march through the pass from their hidden perch atop the cliffs.

“Midway through the third day, the last of the Persian host was gone, and a rag tag assemblage of carts followed xerxes armythat moved haphazardly and without the discipline and organization of the armed men who marched before it.  Three days it took for the behemoth to pass through Thermopylae ….”

As I begin earnest research on my new project following the publication of my sixth novel, Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ in August, I am reading The Extermination of the American Bison published in 1889 by William T. Hornaday, the Superintendent of the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.  In his book, Hornaday recounts a personal letter he received from a Col. R.I. Doge who describes a vast herd of buffalo he saw on his travels west of the Mississippi River.

The whole country appeared one great mass of buffalo ....
”The whole country appeared one great mass of buffalo, moving slowly to the northward … The great herd on the Arkansas River was … not less than 25 miles wide, and from reports of hunters and others it was about five days in passing a given point, or not less than 50 miles deep. From the top of Pawnee Rock, I could see from six to 10 miles in almost every direction. This whole vast space was covered with buffalo…”

Hornaday continues,

The number seen on that day was in the neighborhood of 480,00 ....
“According to his [Dodge’s] recorded observation, the herd extended along the river for a distance of 25 miles … This gives a strip of country 2 miles wide by 25 long, or a total of 50 square miles covered with buffalo, averaging from fifteen to twenty to the acre. Taking the lesser number, in order to be below the truth rather than above it, we find that the number actually seen on that day by Colonel Dodge was in the neighborhood of 480,000, not counting the additional number taken in at the view from the top of Pawnee Rock, which, if added, would easily bring the total up to a round half million! … If the advancing multitude had been at all points 50 miles in length (as it was known to have been in some places at least) by 25 miles in width, and still averaged fifteen head to the acre of ground, it would have contained the enormous number of 12,000,000 head. But, judging from the general principles governing such migrations, it is almost certain that the moving mass advanced in the shape of a wedge, which would make it necessary to deduct about two-third from the grand total, which would leave 4,000,000 as our estimate of the actual number of buffaloes in this great herd, which I believe is more likely to be below the truth than above it.

 

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells of the million-man army that the 300 Spartans faced.  Multiply that by four and you get an idea of the vast number of buffE.S. Kraayalo in this single herd that graced the American landscape in the 19th century before Euro-Americans determined that it was in the best interests of American Manifest Destiny to exterminate these beautiful creatures.

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