For Your Library: Last Stand Lessons

Posted: July 14, 2016

Last Stand is a rare three-in-one book that works. It is an excellent biography of an important American scientist and conservationist (George Bird Grinnell), a thoughtful history book about the decimation of North America’s buffalo herds, and an interesting exploration into the human psyche concerning the tragedy of the commons, in this case why people were willing to kill off the last few buffaloes even though they knew the next one they killed might well be the last.

Last Stand, written by Michael Punke, author of two other books: The Revenant and Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, is a historical narrative story that is both compelling and insightful.

The book is filled with surprising connections and fascinating historical circumstances: such as the profound influence Lucy Audubon (elderly widow of John James Audubon) had on Grinnell; she was his neighbor, mentor, and teacher. That the unofficial policy followed by the US Army encouraged killing off of the vast buffalo herds (once numbering over 30 million animals) in an effort to end the war with Native Americans who relied on them for their existence. Interestingly, saving the last few buffalo became the first national environmental battle for saving a species. And, that there was a lack of public and political support for protecting our first National Park, Yellowstone, from rampant human exploitation.

Perhaps most inspiring in Last Stand is the tale of how Grinnell learned as a young zoologist, anthropologist, and writer, about the power of the pen as he took over the editorship of an outdoor magazine (Forest and Stream, a precursor to today’s magazine of the same name). Through his writing, lobbying, and personal friendships with influential people such as George Armstrong Custer and Theodore Roosevelt, Grinnell swayed public opinion and moved the government into action.

Does this book have value to forest landowners and others interested in modern day environmental issues? It certainly does, and it may just move you to take action for natural things that concern you most.

  • Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West by Michael Punke, Harper Collins, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-06-089782-6.

Reviewed by Sanford Smith, Natural Resources and Youth Extension Specialist

Contact Information

Sanford S. Smith, Ph.D.
  • Teaching Professor in Forest Resources and
Phone: 814-865-4261