America's Great Plains once possessed one of the grandest wildlife spectacles of the world, equaled only by such places as the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, or the veld of South Africa. Pronghorn antelope, gray wolves, bison, coyotes, wild horses, and grizzly bears: less than two hundred years ago these creatures existed in such abundance that John James Audubon was moved to write, "it is impossible to describe or even conceive the vast multitudes of these animals".
In a work that is at once a lyrical evocation of that lost splendor and a detailed natural history of these charismatic species of the historic Great Plains, veteran naturalist and outdoorsman Dan Flores draws a vivid portrait of each of these animals in their glory – and tells the harrowing story of what happened to them at the hands of market hunters and ranchers and ultimately a federal killing program in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Great Plains with its wildlife intact dazzled Americans and Europeans alike, prompting numerous literary tributes. American Serengeti takes its place alongside these celebratory works, showing us the grazers and predators of the plains against the vast opalescent distances, the blue mountains shimmering on the horizon, the great rippling tracts of yellowed grasslands. Far from the empty "flyover country" of recent times, this landscape is alive with a complex ecology at least 20,000 years old – a continental patrimony whose wonders may not be entirely lost, as recent efforts hold out hope of partial restoration of these historic species.
Written by an author who has done breakthrough work on the histories of several of these animals – including bison, wild horses, and coyotes – American Serengeti is as rigorous in its research as it is intimate in its sense of wonder – the most deeply informed, closely observed view we have of the Great Plains’ wild heritage.
Dan Flores is A. B. Hammond Professor Emeritus at the University of Montana, Missoula. His many books include The Natural West: Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains and Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest.
"Flores provides a sharpened focus with a richly detailed examination of six large species common in the 1840s. His writing is never dull and frequently bites with wit."
– Mountain Town News
"A passionate elegy to the American Great Plains and their former fauna. Historian Dan Flores draws deeply from his professional expertise and life as a denizen of this eco-region to create a poetic book that functions as both conservation manifesto and memoir. Writing for a general audience, the author masterfully renders an evocative portrait to elucidate all that has been lost – vast herds of free-ranging antelope and bison, with attendant predators such as wolves, coyotes, and grizzly bears."
"A fascinating and approachable book that is suitable for students, scholars and nonacademic audiences who enjoy reading about the intersections between natural history and the environmental history of the American West."
– H-Net Reviews
"A big and haunting history stuffed with big animals and big ideas that reveals the fragility and resilience of the Great Plains ecosystem over the past 10,000 years."
– Karl Jacoby, author of Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation
"American Serengeti is Dan Flores's love song to the Great Plains, with each verse a fond embrace of one of its own – grizzlies and bison, pronghorns and coyotes. Beautifully written, it strikes just the right note for those of us drawn to this magnificent part of America. For those yet to know it, this book is a loving invitation to come and see."
– Elliott West, author of The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado
"A highly personal book reflecting the vast knowledge of a leading cultural and environmental historian."
– David Dary, author of The Buffalo Book and True Tales of the Prairies and Plains
"Dan Flores has written an engaging and provocative account of ecological change in the Great Plains by tracing the interaction of the large animals and humans in this grassland during the past 13,000 years. This is a book worth reading by anyone interested in the history of the American West."
– R. Douglas Hurt, Head Fellow of the Agricultural History Society, Associate Fellow of the Center for Great Plains Studies
"As sweeping and expansive as the Great Plains themselves, Dan Flores's American Serengeti is 'Big History' at its best. Personal, passionate, and scholarly, his essays on pronghorns, coyotes, horses, grizzly bears, bison, and wolves give these ancient, durable animals their historical due."
– Frank Van Nuys, author of Varmints and Victims: Predator Control in the American West