George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938) lived in New York but his heart always belonged to the West. His life and career spanned a pivotal time in history, where the old west meets the new west; the end of the frontier.
Michael Punke’s book Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West is a biography of someone the New York Times called the “father of American conservation”. Yet many modern conservationists and environmentalists no little to nothing about the man.
Last Stand is also an important history of the destruction and near extinction of the American Bison.
Grinnell was never a great student but learned vital life lessons from a few important people, including Lucy Audubon, wife of the late and great John James Audubon. Grinnell’s trips out west also provided real-world education. He hunted bison with the Pawnees and sought dinosaur bones with Professor Othniel Marsh.
Despite a disliking for education, Grinnell did earn a doctorate, his thesis fittingly on the roadrunner.
George Bird Grinnell’s list of conservation accomplishments is pretty astounding.
He was president and editor of Forest and Stream for 35 years. This magazine provided critical lobbying power to push conservation ideas.
In 1887, Grinnell launched the Audubon Society and with it the publication Audubon Magazine.
In 1888 along with Theodore Roosevelt, Grinnell founded the Boone and Crockett Club, an elite hunting club limited to 100 members. The club would focus on pressing conservation ideas, as many hunting organizations do to this day.
Somehow, George Bird Grinnell also managed to write 29 books, many which focused on his ethnological studies of Native Americans. He was so liked by the Blackfeet that they made him an honorary tribe member.
As for the American Bison, their numbers dwindled throughout Grinnell’s life. Despite residing in Yellowstone National Park, the herd was left unprotected and reached an estimated low of 23 individuals. Grinnell led an ongoing charge to protect these noble mammals, and persuaded the Department of Interior to find supplemental animals to add to the herd, keeping their genes “pure”.
To top off his full life, Grinnell was largely responsible for the creation of Glacier National Park in Montana.
Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West is a wonderful blend of biography and western history, focused on the plight of bison and a true conservation hero.