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Location of historical records (1804 to 1958) of pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) in Nebraska. 

Location of historical records (1804 to 1958) of pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) in Nebraska. 

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Archeological and paleontological records indicate that the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) have a history of at least 20,000 years of occurrence within the current boundaries of Nebraska. Pronghorns occurred throughout the state for much of its history. With the evidence at hand we concluded that the eastern boundary of the geographic distributi...

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... in Nebraska except in Boyd and Knox Counties in the northeast. If the easternmost historical records are connected by an imaginary line, it would appear that pronghorns did not occupy the easternmost counties along the Missouri River. Jones (1964) hypoth- esized that pronghorns were not in this area because of the forests bordering the Missouri River. We disagree, at least in part, with this idea because the forest in the area of eastern Nebraska along the Missouri River was historically very limited and fragmented (Genoways and Ratcliffe 2008). We believe that in addition to the trees, and more importantly, tallgrass prairie restricted the oc- currence of pronghorns in eastern Nebraska. Grinnell (1897:5) observed that “the antelope never seemed to like the tall grass.” Given that the survival strategy of prong- horns is based on sight and flight, both of which would be impeded by the tallgrass prairie, this seems a logical conclusion. The pronghorns’ avoidance of eastern forests and tallgrass prairie is further confirmed by the paucity of records of pronghorns in Iowa and Missouri. Grinnell (1897) could not document any occurrences of prong- horns in Iowa, but Jones (1960) presented historical re- cords based on sightings of pronghorns made in 1850 near the Little Sioux River in Harrison and Monona Counties. Bowles (1970, 1975) reviewed all information available on pronghorns in Iowa and found general historical ac- counts in several counties in western Iowa, but the only definite sighting was that reported by Jones (1960). The Holocene record in Iowa is restricted to two sites, includ- ing the Hanging Valley site in northwestern Harrison County (Tiffany et al. 1988: 229, 238–39) and the Arthur site (13DK27) in Dickenson County (Semken 1982). The Hanging Valley site (AD 190–700) is near the mouth of the Little Sioux River into the Missouri River across from Tekamah in Burt County, NE, and the Arthur site (AD 650–950) is on East Okoboji Lake near the drainage of the Little Sioux River far to the north, close to the Minnesota state line south of Jackson in Jackson County. The prong- horn material from Hanging Valley consists of two partial crania, with one appearing “to have been coated with red pigment after the horn was removed from the horncore” (Tiffany et al. 1988:229). At the Arthur site the evidence for pronghorn is more equivocal, as Semken (1982:130) only tentatively assigned a metapodial fragment as “an artiodactyl the size of a pronghorn.” The situation in Missouri seems to be similar to that in Iowa. McKinley (1960:504) studied the historical refer- ences to the pronghorn in the state and concluded: “These county history references are uncertain as to the time and place, and are not sufficiently elaborated in personal narratives to be accepted with assurance.” There are two archeological records of the pronghorn, but only one of these, Brynjulfson Cave No. 2, is east of the Missouri River at a place six miles south–southeast of Columbia in Boone County (Parmalee and Oesch 1972). This record is based on two isolated teeth that date to approximately 510 BC. The other site, which is south and west of the Missouri River, is the Rodgers Shelter in Benton County along the western edge of the Ozark Highlands. The three pronghorn molars recovered from the site cover the time from 6200 BC to 500 BC (Parmalee et al. 1976). Our conclusion based on the evidence at hand is that the eastern boundary of the geographic distribution of the pronghorn south of the Niobrara River in Nebraska at the beginning of the 19th century was along the western perimeter of the eastern deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie. This would have excluded most of the eastern- most tier of counties in the state. This geographic ar- rangement persisted throughout most of the Holocene; its boundary was never a straight line but a dynamic system of fluctuating distribution. At times, because of shifting climatic or environmental changes, such as prairie fires or decreased rainfall, short- and midgrass prairies pen- etrated to the east of the Missouri River, and the prong- horn followed these habitats, but the record indicates that these forays did not persist through time. Therefore, as Euro-Americans entered Nebraska, pronghorns were relatively abundant and were widespread in distribution, occurring anywhere that shortgrass and midgrass prairies were present. Although Zebulon Pike when he briefly visited south- central Nebraska in 1806 (Coues 1895) did not note the presences of pronghorns, many early historical records are concentrated along the Big Blue, Little Blue, and cen - tral Platte Rivers in this area. These areas were along the route of the emigrant trails heading to the western United States. There also are a number of records of pronghorn from along the North Platte River, as these trails followed that valley of the river to the current border between Nebraska and Wyoming. The concentration of historical records (Fig. 2, Table 2) seems to be in the midgrass and mixed-grass prairies along the Elkhorn River and the Platte River from the mouth of the Loup River to about the location of the modern town of Cozad in Dawson County. Whether or not this is an artifact of the historical record or was the area of highest pronghorn populations cannot be determined with the information at hand. Although some recent authors (Walker 2000; Shaw and Lee 1997) claim that pronghorns are primarily adapted to the shortgrass prairie, the affinity of pronghorns for the midgrass prai - rie should be considered as one examines the historical records from other areas of the Great Plains. By 1850, pronghorn numbers were declining notice - ably in Nebraska. This trend also was apparent elsewhere in the geographic range of the pronghorns, as Sexson and Choate (1981) documented that pronghorn populations were declining in eastern and central Kansas during this same period. Almost certainly sport and subsistence hunting continued to place pressure on the pronghorn populations, but also the settlement of the land was restricting and fragmenting the habitat available to the species. Farms of 160 acres were being established and the prairie was plowed for the growing of row crops. Cattle and sheep ranchers negatively affected pronghorn populations by erecting fences and shooting pronghorns because they potentially competed with domestic animals for food. The populations of pronghorns continued to re- treat to the west so that the only reproducing herds were confined to the panhandle region. These events led many to believe that the pronghorn had been extirpated from the state (Cary 1902, 1905; Hornaday 1914) by the begin - ning of the 20th century, but apparently the species was never extirpated from Nebraska (Roosevelt et al. 1902). The reproduction of these local populations probably aided the increase in numbers in the first half of the 20th century, but undoubtedly the increase was enhanced by emigration of herds from the adjoining states of Colorado and Wyoming where populations were estimated to be 2,000 and 25,000, respectively, in 1932 (Leister 1932). The shortgrass Sandhills prairies in the panhandle are considered favorable habitat, but pronghorns were absent from the areas due to intensive cultivation (i.e., in the North Platte River valley). Pronghorns clearly favored ar- eas of open grassland pastures and large, unfenced fields planted to winter wheat. There is a marked difference in the current distribu- tion of pronghorn in Nebraska compared to distribution based on archeological and historical records. While the latter suggests that pronghorns possessed a near state- wide distribution, the current distribution shows that pronghorns are restricted to areas of the panhandle and Sandhills of Nebraska. Since the early 1900s, pronghorns have been recolonizing parts of their historic range, which can be attributed in large part to management strategies implemented by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Harvest of Nebraska pronghorn was banned in 1907. Pronghorns responded favorably to the lack of hunter harvest, and in 1953 a hunting season was reimplemented in western Nebraska, primarily in Sioux and Dawes Counties. Prior to 1958, pronghorns were restricted to portions of the western and southern panhandle. The process of pronghorns’ natural dispersal and colonization of unoccupied areas of suitable habitat was extremely slow, probably for several reasons, including distance to be traveled, habitat fragmentation, and fencing. To facili- tate the return of pronghorns to unoccupied portions of their historic range in Nebraska, the NGPC implemented a pronghorn relocation program (Mathisen 1958). One of the areas selected for colonization was the Nebraska Sandhills, which was part of the historic range of the pronghorn (Figs. 1 and 2). The Sandhills is an ecoregion of approximately 20,000 square miles comprised of sharply rolling hills, sandy soils, and short- and mixed- grass prairies with an abundance of native forbs. Because of the soil characteristics, early attempts to cultivate this area by settlers generally were unsuccessful, resulting in primarily undisturbed habitat that was highly suitable for pronghorns. Therefore, between 1958 and 1962 the relocation program conducted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission moved 1,106 pronghorns into suitable habitat areas of the Sandhills. Most areas of the Sandhills currently possess reproducing populations of pronghorn, and pronghorn hunting seasons have also been estab- lished in these areas. In conclusion, the distribution of pronghorn in Ne- braska has experienced significant changes in the past 20,000 years. The paleontological record suggests that pronghorns were found statewide in Nebraska. At the beginning of the 19th century, the distributional limit of pronghorn in Nebraska had retreated to the western edge of the deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie habits. By ...
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... Monument in Sioux County. All other prong- horn remains in Nebraska come from sites that are less than 2,000 years old. Because eastern Nebraska is at or near the eastern boundary of the geographic range of the species, records along the eastern edge of the state and their basis are of particular interest. Material from the Logan Creek site (25BT3) in Burt County (Snyder and Bozell 1983) and the Walker Gilmore site (25CC28) in Cass County (Strong 1935), although fragmentary, showed no modifications or working by humans. The historic period remains from the Euro-American trading post operated by Lucien Fon- tenelle in northeastern Sarpy County were probably the result of subsistence hunting and could have originated anywhere within travel distance of the post (Bozell et al. 1990:30). The remains from the Hancock site (25DK14) in Dakota County consisted of two right mandibles that had been modified and polished (Frantz 1963). Gilder (1909:72) found five pronghorn mandibles near Bellevue in Sarpy County that had been modified to attach a handle and “having a higher polish than any other of the bone implements.” These latter implements, like those from Dakota County, have been hypothesized to be used as a sickle or corn sheller. At the site north of Florence in Douglas County, Gilder (1907) recovered a pronghorn horn core and a small portion of attached cranium that had a hole drilled through it and a scapula that had been modified into a small hoe. The former object probably was used for ornamentation or for a sacred purpose and the latter clearly had a utilitarian purpose. In southwest- ern Sarpy County, at least one of several pronghorn bones found at the Patterson site (25SY31) had been modified (Bozell and Ludwickson 1999). Another site with numer - ous utilitarian objects produced from pronghorn bones was the Sweetwater site in Sherman County, where Champe and Bell (1936) recorded: “Ten complete bone awls made from the front metapodial or cannon bone of the antelope ( Antilocapra americana ) were found, and four fragments of awls.” At a majority of sites, pronghorns account for only a small portion of the faunal remains, with the mini- mum numbers of individuals being five or less at each site (Granger 1980; Semken and Falk 1987). At the vast majority of sites the remains of bison ( Bison bison ) far outnumber those of other game mammals, followed by deer ( Odocoileus sp.) and elk ( Cervus elaphus ), with pronghorn usually the fourth most abundant. There may be several reasons for this ranking of pronghorns among the hunted game animals, including availability (size of local populations), palatability, and huntability (these weary and speedy animals would have been particularly difficult to hunt, especially before the introduction of the horse). However, there are at least two exceptions to this rule, including the oldest zone (7500–6000 BC) of the Lime Creek site (25FT41) in the southwestern part of the state, where beaver and pronghorn bones dominated, whereas in younger layers Bison bones were most abun- dant (Davis 1962). At the Hulme site (25HL28) pronghorn remains predominate, with a minimum of 306 individuals in addition to 248 individuals that were either pronghorn or deer. The site, which is located on an upland area in the Platte River drainage in western Hall County, dates from about 1250 AD. Pronghorn and deer ( Odocoileus sp.) accounted for 66.2% of the identified mammalian remains, whereas the other large ungulates from the site, bison ( Bison bison ) and elk ( Cervus elaphus ), accounted for only 2.4% (Bozell 1991). It appears that the first written record of a pronghorn (Fig. 2, Table 2) within the current boundaries of the state of Nebraska was by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition on September 3, 1804. The expedition at this point was passing up the Missouri River between Knox County, Nebraska, and Bon Homme County, South Da - kota (Moulton 1987:44). That night the party camped on the Nebraska side of the river “at the edge of a Plain” that was probably near the western boundary of the present Santee Sioux Indian Reservation, east of the relocated town of Niobrara in Knox County (Moulton 1987:44–46). On September 14, 1804, when the party was well into present-day South Dakota, Captain Clark killed a prong- horn in Lyman County (Moulton 1987:71–72). Both Lewis and Clark described this individual in detail in their journals, which later probably formed part of Ord’s scientific description of the species (Ord 1815). Other early explorers (Brackenridge 1814; Bradbury 1819; Maximilian 1843; Luttig 1920) that primarily moved along the Missouri River did not encounter the species until the river turned northward into present-day South Dakota. It was not until 1843 that another explorer, James J. Audubon, noted the pronghorn along the Mis- souri River in extreme northeastern Nebraska (Audu- bon and Coues 1897:504). Later, it was Hayden (1862, 1875:95) who, based on his travels in 1856 and 1857, stated that the pronghorn occurred no farther south in this part of Nebraska than the “mouth of the Niobrara River.” Members of the Stephen H. Long expedition spent the winter of 1819–20 along the Missouri River at Engineer Cantonment in southern Washington County, just north of Omaha in central eastern Nebraska. They did not en - counter pronghorns until February 1820 when members of the expedition were exploring farther to the west along the Elkhorn River, probably in Cuming County (James 1823:191). Again in April, they observed pronghorns as they were visiting the Pawnee village in Nance County even farther to the west. Duke Paul (Paul Wilhelm 1973:332) observed pronghorns along the Elkhorn River where Plum Creek enters in central Cuming County in 1823. We believe that the record given by Jones (1964:324) for Engineer Cantonment in Washington County is incor- rect because it was based on an erroneous reading of James (1823:370) (see Genoways and Ratcliffe 2008). The easternmost historical record that we have been able to locate in central eastern Nebraska is from the vicinity of the town of Elkhorn in western Douglas County. This record is based on the observation of Lawrence Bruner, an early noted naturalist and professor at the University of Nebraska, that a few were reported on the high ground east of the Elkhorn River in Douglas County, or possibly in Sarpy County (Jones 1964:324). In southeastern Nebraska, the easternmost record for the pronghorn appears to be the observation of Carleton (1943) made on August 19–20, 1844. As his party was traveling along a branch of the Big Nemaha River in Paw - nee County, he sighted “six antelopes,” and the following day, as they progressed farther to the west and into Gage County, he noted that they saw “a great many antelope” during their day’s journey. Examination of the remainder of the records in Table 2 supports the idea that pronghorns occurred historically in all other areas of the state. However, by 1849, Captain Howard Stansbury already was noting that hunting was poor along the Little Blue River valley because of “the game having been driven from the vicinity of the traveled route by the unintermitted stream of emigration which had already passed over the road” (Stansbury 1852). Subsistence hunting along the various emigrant trails, such as the Oregon, Mormon, and Deadwood Trails, had a negative impact on populations of pronghorns and other game species. Beyond need-based hunting, however, was the impact of the “slaughter every day, from the mere wantonness and love of killing, the greenhorns glorying in the sport, like our stripling of the city, in their annual murdering of robin and sparrows,” noted naturalist John Townsend as he journeyed along the Platte River in 1834 (Townsend 1839). Both C. Irvine and John A. MacMurphy remarked on the deadly impact of the weather during the winter of 1856–57, which began “with deep snow about December 1 of nearly four feet, ending with a blizzard” (Irvine 1902:158). As the result of starvation and killing by Native and pioneer hunters during this winter, “[t]he bones of elk, antelope, deer and buffalo were ...

Citations

... The δ 15 N value (6.8‰) for the pronghorn matches those of the bison and the elk, but the δ 13 C col value (−19.6‰) points to this animal consuming mainly C 3 grasses and plants and, therefore, not subsisting on the same tallgrass-prairie ecosystem. While pronghorns are not found in Iowa today, historically they were in the far west of the state, with a habitat range throughout most of the Great Plains and into the far western states (Hoffman et al. 2011). Today their habitat is much reduced. ...
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