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Historical biogeography of Nebraska pronghorns (Antilocapra americana)

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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 distribution of the pronghorn south of the Niobrara River in Nebraska at the begin-ning of the 19th century was along the western perimeter of the eastern deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie. This excluded most of the easternmost tier of counties in the state. This geographic arrangement persisted throughout most of the Holocene. The boundary, however, was never a straight line, but a dynamic system of fluctuating distribution. By the early 20th century, the pronghorn was nearly extirpated from Nebraska, with only scattered herds in the western panhandle. With a ban on hunting beginning in 1907 and management by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the population in the panhandle had increased to the point that a hunting season was reinstituted in 1953. To establish herds of pronghorns in previously occupied areas beyond the panhandle, 1,106 individuals were translocated between 1958 and 1962 primarily to the Sandhills region of Nebraska. Currently, the pronghorn possess stable populations throughout nearly half of Nebraska, including the panhandle and most of the Sandhills.
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153
Great Plains Research 21 (Fall 2011):15373
© 2011 Copyright by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
HISTORICAL BIOGEOGRAPHY OF NEBRASKA PRONGHORNS
(ANTILOCAPRA AMERICANA)
Justin D. Hoffman
Department of Biological and Health Sciences
McNeese State University
Lake Charles, LA 70609
jhoffman@mcneese.edu
Hugh H. Genoways
University of Nebraska State Museum
University of NebraskaLincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588
and
Rachel R. Jones
School of Natural Resources
University of NebraskaLincoln
Lincoln, NE 68583
ABSTRACT—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 distribution of the pronghorn south of the Niobrara River in Nebraska at the begin-
ning of the 19th century was along the western perimeter of the eastern deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie.
This excluded most of the easternmost tier of counties in the state. This geographic arrangement persisted
throughout most of the Holocene. The boundary, however, was never a straight line, but a dynamic system of
uctuating distribution. By the early 20th century, the pronghorn was nearly extirpated from Nebraska, with
only scattered herds in the western panhandle. With a ban on hunting beginning in 1907 and management by
the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the population in the panhandle had increased to the point that a
hunting season was reinstituted in 1953. To establish herds of pronghorns in previously occupied areas beyond
the panhandle, 1,106 individuals were translocated between 1958 and 1962 primarily to the Sandhills region of
Nebraska. Currently, the pronghorn possess stable populations throughout nearly half of Nebraska, including
the panhandle and most of the Sandhills.
Key Words: Antilocapra americana, distribution, historical biogeography, Nebraska, pronghorn
INTRODUCTION
The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) historically
was a widespread resident of the state of Nebraska. To-
gether with bison, elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer,
pronghorns constituted the “big game” of the plains
and forest edges of the western United States, northern
Mexico, and the prairie provinces of central Canada. The
population of pronghorns has undergone many changes
over the more than 200-year history of Nebraska, but the
species remains part of the fauna of some areas of the
state under regulation and management of the Nebraska
Game and Parks Commission (NGPC). The Lewis and
Clark expedition produced one of the earliest written
records of pronghorns based on observations made on
September 3, 1804, near the mouth of the Niobrara River
Great Plains Research Vol. 21 No. 2, 2011154
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
in northeastern Nebraska. William Clark noted in his
journal: “Several wild Goats Seen in the Plains they are
wild & eet” (Moulton 1987:44).
As was the case with Captain Clark, some early
writers considered the pronghorn to be a goat or re-
lated to goats. Many authors, including many modern
authors, refer to the species under the common name
of antelope. However, as noted by one early writer
(Paul Wilhelm 1973:332): “I consider the designation
Antilocapra americana as more tting since the head
and the hoofs would classify them among the goats,
their mode of living, however, among the antelopes.
Indeed, the genus name Antilocapra reects this dual
identity, Antilo- based on the Greek for a horned mam-
mal and the basis of the generic name Antilope for the
Indian blackbuck, and -capra from the Latin meaning
goat. Thus the name would mean the “antelope goat,
but the pronghorn is neither antelope nor goat. Both an-
telope and goats are members of the mammalian fam-
ily Bovidae, which originated in the Old World, being
members of the subfamilies Antilopinae (antelopes)
and Caprinae (goats and sheep), respectively. The
pronghorn, however, is the sole living representative of
the family Antilocapridae. This family is strictly New
World in its origin and distribution, and although there
is only one living genus and species, there are at least
20 fossil genera with a history extending back to about
20 million years ago in the Early Miocene (McKenna
and Bell 1997:422–23).
The pronghorn has been the subject of extensive re-
search dealing both with its basic biology as well as its
management as a game species (OGara 1978; OGara and
Yoakum 2004). However, in Nebraska along the eastern
boundary of the geographic range of the species, very
few research results have been published in the scientic
literature. It is our objective in this article to continue to
ll this gap in our knowledge of this important species
(Hoffman et al. 2010). We attempt to develop a picture
of the trends in geographic distribution of pronghorns in
Nebraska.
First, based on archeological and paleontological
literature, we assess the Holocene distribution of the spe-
cies. Second, we estimate the historical distribution of
pronghorns in Nebraska based on the written record of
direct observations, covering the period from Lewis and
Clark’s rst observation in 1804 through the beginning
of transplanting of herds in 1958. Finally, we determine
the current distribution of pronghorns in Nebraska based
on recent population surveys and reintroductions by the
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
METHODS
We identied records of pronghorns during the Holo-
cene by surveying the archeological and paleontological
literature. We dened the Holocene as that time period
from the end of Pleistocene glaciation (12,000 BC) until
1850. This literature, particularly reports on archeologi-
cal sites, is extremely scattered and presents signicant
challenges in completing a thorough survey. These re-
ports range from books published by major university
and commercial presses, to reports kept in the les of
individual investigators or historical organizations. Only
one or two copies of some reports have ever existed. We
hope that our efforts have found and evaluated as much
as 90% of this relevant literature. The identication of
pronghorn remains is based on the original reports. We
have included only those records in which the investiga-
tors denitively identied the remains as those of the
pronghorn. There are some challenges in interpreting
some archeology records. For instance, these records are
associated primarily with human hunting activity. This is
problematic because the location of the remains probably
represented the area where hunters brought the animal
to be eaten and not where it was killed. Skeletal remains
that were made into utilitarian and ceremonial objects
could be subject to even longer distance transportation by
humans.
The historical distribution was determined based
on written observations gathered from the published
literature, information noted in the accounts of early
expeditions that took place within the state, and mu-
seum records. These records cover a period from 1804 to
1958. Although there is overlap in time periods covered
by the Holocene (12,000 BC to 1850) and historical
(18041958) records, the nature of these records differen-
tiates the two. Holocene records are based on the physical
objects represented by the bones of the pronghorn. The
historical records are based solely on written reports of
human observations. Finally, we searched the MaNIS
(Mammal Networked Information System) website for
any museum specimens of pronghorn that were collected
in Nebraska.
The current distribution was estimated through data
collected from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commis-
sion, including harvest records, population monitoring,
relocation of populations, and observations made by
wildlife biologists. Information on current Nebraska
pronghorn populations primarily was taken from the
Pittman-Robertson W-15-R Pronghorn Job Completion
Report series compiled by the NGPC. This information
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 155
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
summarized all the work conducted in a calendar year by
the NGPC as it pertained to the management of prong-
horns in Nebraska. This included inventory and monitor-
ing of populations, harvest records, and various special
projects undertaken.
RESULTS
Holocene Records
Archeological and paleontological records provide
some insight into the early distribution of pronghorns in
Nebraska and indicate that this species has a long his-
tory of occurrence within the boundaries of the current
state (Fig. 1, Table 1). Our search of the literature has
identied 72 archeological and paleontological sites in 35
counties where remains of pronghorns have been found in
Nebraska. There is an almost continuous record in space
and time through the Holocene. There are records from
eastern Nebraska in Douglas and Cass Counties, from
western Nebraska in Scotts Bluff and Sioux Counties,
from northern Nebraska in Cedar and Cherry Counties,
and from southern Nebraska in Red Willow and Webster
Counties. The concentration of archeological records in
southwestern Nebraska is the result of intensive archeo-
logical surveys associated with dam building in Frontier,
Harlan, and Red Willow Counties. On the other hand,
southeastern Nebraska and the Sandhills of central Ne-
braska lack sites where pronghorn remains have been
found, at least in part because of the restricted number of
archeological surveys conducted in these areas.
The oldest records for Antilocapra americana in Ne-
braska come from two fossil sites in Red Willow County
(Rw-101, Rw-102) believed to date from the late Wiscon-
sin ice age, about 20,000 years ago. This was probably a
time near the end of the last continental glaciation when
there was a fauna of 24 species, of which half are now
extinct and another six no longer occur in the state (Cor-
ner 1977; Chorn et al. 1988). The oldest archeological site
(11,0007500 BC) from which pronghorn remains have
been recovered in Nebraska is the Allen site (25FT50)
in Frontier County, discovered as part of the work on
the Medicine Creek Reservoir (Bamforth 2002). At the
nearby site of Lime Creek (25FT41), remains of prong-
horns from 7500 BC were recorded. In western Nebraska,
a pronghorn found just above the Hudson-Meng bone bed
dates from nearly 8000 BC. These three sites are believed
to have been occupied by Paleoindians.
At a slightly younger site in eastern Nebraska, prong-
horn material was recovered from the Logan Creek site
(25BT3) in Burt County, which is believed to have been
occupied by Early Plains Archaic people by 5000 BC
(Snyder and Bozell 1983; Semken and Falk 1987). Other
Plains Archaic sites (6000 BC–AD 500) where prong-
horn material has been recovered include 25DW59 in
Dawes County, the Spring Creek site (25FT31) in Frontier
County, the Signal Butte site in Scotts Bluff County, and
two sites (25SX157, 25SX163) in the Agate Fossil Beds
Figure 1. Location of Holocene records of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Nebraska.
Great Plains Research Vol. 21 No. 2, 2011156
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
TABLE 1
HOLOCENE RECORDS OF THE PRONGHORN (ANTILOCAPRA AMERICANA)
FROM 72 ARCHEOLOGICAL AND PALEONTOLOGICAL SITES IN 35 COUNTIES IN NEBRASKA
County Site Specic location Age Reference
Boone Beaver Creek Site, 25BO23 4.5 miles south of Petersburg AD 1100–1400 Koch and Nelson 2002:87
Brown McIntosh Site, 25BW15 Enders Lake, ≈12 miles south,
12.5 miles west of Ainsworth
AD 12001450 Koch 2004:117
Brown 25BW252 16 miles north, 5.5 miles west of
Johnstown
Unknown Pepperl and Falk 1983:B81
Buffalo 25BF161 SE 1/4, NE 1/4, Sec. 18, T10N,
R17W
Unknown Ludwickson 1978b:35
Buffalo 25BF187 3.75 miles northwest of Amherst AD 1000–1350 Ludwickson 1978b:35
Burt Logan Creek Site B, 25BT3 Logan Creek, southwest of
Oakland
BC 4340 ± 120 Snyder and Bozell 1983:20
Graham et al. 1987:283
Widga 2006:67
Burt Logan Creek Site C, 25BT3 Logan Creek, southwest of
Oakland
BC 5020 ± 90 Snyder and Bozell 1983:20
Graham et al. 1987:283
Widga 2006:67
Burt Logan Creek Site D, 25BT3 Logan Creek, southwest of
Oakland
BC 5070 ± 110 Widga 2006:68
Butler Barcal Site, 25BU4 Near Abie AD 1700 1750 O’Shea and Ludwickson 1992:338
Cass Walker Gilmore, 25CC28 6 miles southeast of Murray AD 800–1285 Strong 1935:194
Cedar Ferber Site, 25CD10 Near Bow Valley Mill AD 800–1300 Ludwickson et al. 1981:22–23
Chase Lovitt Site, 25CH1 12 miles west of Wauneta Circa AD 1700 Hill and Metcalf 1942:204;
Gunnerson 1960:212–216
Cherry 25CE309 3 miles south, 0.4 miles west of
Sparks
AD 0–1000 Pepperl and Falk 1983:B85
Cheyenne Thurston Site, 25CN11 Lodgepole Creek, 6 miles east
of Potter
AD 0–1000 Jensen 1973:167
Colfax Schuyler Site, 25CX1 along Shell Creek, ≈3 miles
northwest of Schuyler
AD 1500–1650 Bozell et al. 1982:28
Graham et al. 1987:286
Dakota Hancock Site, 25DK14 1 mile southeast of Homer AD 1450–1500 Frantz 1963:97–98
Dawes 25DW59 0.70 mile west of Crawford BC 1000–AD 900 Bozell and Ludwickson 1988:86
Dawson 25DS118 SE 1/4, SW 1/4, SE 1/4, Sec. 16,
T10N, R19W
AD 1000–1350 Ludwickson 1978b:36
Douglas Ponca Creek District 2.25 miles north of former town
of Florence
Unknown Gilder 1907:706, 711
Duel Neumann Site, 25DU3 Lodgepole Creek, 3.5 miles
southeast of Chappell
AD 0–1000 Carlson 1973:104
Franklin Lost Creek Site Lost Creek, 2.25 miles south,
1.5 miles east of Bloomington
AD 1000–1350 Strong 1935:100
Frontier Owens Site, 25FT3 On Medicine Creek
AD 1000 Mick 1983:172
Graham et al. 1987:285
Frontier 25FT13 Vicinity of Medicine Creek Dam
AD 1010 Mick 1983:175
Graham et al. 1987:285
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier 25FT14 Vicinity of Medicine Creek Dam
AD 1250 –1400 Mick 1983:182
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier 25FT16 Vicinity of Medicine Creek Dam
AD 10201235 Mick 1983:185
Graham et al. 1987:285
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 157
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Frontier 25FT17 Vicinity of Medicine Creek Dam AD 10801240 Mick 1983:191
Graham et al. 1987:286
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier 25FT18 Near point where Lime Creek
originally entered Medicine Creek
AD 595 ± 225 Kivett and Metcalf 1997:212
Frontier 25FT20 Near point where Lime Creek
originally entered Medicine Creek
AD 1000–1350 Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier 25FT22 4 km upstream on Medicine
Creek from Medicine Creek Dam
AD 1000–1350 Nepstad-Thornberry et al. 2002:199
Frontier 25FT30 Near point where Lime Creek
originally entered Medicine Creek
AD 1100–1300 Mick 1983:202
Graham et al. 1987:286
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier Spring Creek Site, 25FT31 Red Willow Creek, adjacent to
Red Willow Dam
BC 3850–3500 Granger 1980:166
Widga 2004:29
Frontier Mowry Bluff Site, 25FT35 6 miles northwest of Cambridge
(in Furnas County)
AD 1020 1180 Falk 1969a:42, 1969b:48
Mick 1983:205
Graham et al. 1987:286:213
Nepstad-Thornberry et al. 2002:199
Frontier 25FT36 ≈4 km upstream on Medicine
Creek from Medicine Creek Dam
AD 1175 ± 25 Mick 1983:206
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier 25FT39 5 km upstream on Medicine
Creek from Medicine Creek Dam
AD 1200–1280 Mick 1983:210
Graham et al. 1987:286
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Frontier Lime Creek Site, 25FT41 North side of Lime Creek valley,
1 mile from original junction of
Lime and Medicine creeks
BC 7500–6000 Davis 1962:23
Graham et al. 1987:283
Wedel 1986:69
Frontier Allen Site, 25FT50 ≈3 miles upstream from
Medicine Creek Dam
BC 11,0007500 Holder and Wike 1949:261
Bamforth 2002:65
Hudson 2007:195
Frontier 25FT54 Red Willow Creek, 5 miles up-
stream from Red Willow Dam
AD 1310 Granger 1980:166
Mick 1983:169
Frontier 25FT70 Vicinity of Medicine Creek Dam
AD 690 1450 Mick 1983:210
Graham et al. 1987:286
Kivett and Metcalf 1997:213
Nepstad-Thornberry et al. 2002:199
Garden Ash Hollow Cave Site, 25GD2 3 miles southeast of Lewellen AD 01700 Champe 1946:43
Gosper Wallace Site, 25GO2 Plum Creek, 5.5 miles north, 9.5
miles east of Elwood
AD 425650 Winfrey 1991:83
Hall Hulme Site, 25HL28 16 miles west of Grand Island AD1170 1220 Bozell 1991:234
Harlan 25HN36 2 miles south of Alma AD 1050–1350 Adair and Brown 1987:154, 585
Harlan 25HN40 0.8 mile south, 2 miles east of
Alma
AD 400900 Adair and Brown 1987:194, 590
Hooker Humphrey Site, 25HO21 Middle Loup River, about 5 miles
east of Mullen
Circa AD 1700 Gunnerson 1960:204
Hooker Kelso Site, 25HO23 Middle Loup River, about 5 miles
east of Mullen
AD 0–1000 Kivett 1952:39–40
Howard Schmidt Site, 25HW301 Along North Loup River, near
Elba
AD 110 01550 Mick 1983:157
Graham et al. 1987:284
Merrick Tahaksu Site, 25MK15 4.8 miles north, 1.2 miles west of
Palmer
AD 1100–1400 Watson 1996:135
Morrill Greenwood Site Old Greenwood Stage Station,
Keenan Ranch, ≈9 miles south,
8 miles east of Redington
Unknown Renaud 1933:14
County Site Specic location Age Reference
TABLE 1 continued
Great Plains Research Vol. 21 No. 2, 2011158
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Nance Brown Site, 25NC8 Vicinity of Fullerton AD 12501450 Ludwickson 1978a:98
Mick 1983:160
Graham et al. 1987:285
Nance Cunningham Site, 25NC10 Vicinity of Fullerton
AD 12501450 Ludwickson 1978a:98
Mick 1983:163
Graham et al. 1987:285
Nance 25NC13 Vicinity of Fullerton
AD 12501450 Ludwickson 1978a:98
Mick 1983:166
Nance Palmer Locality (in part),
25NC29
5.5 miles south, 19 miles west
of Fullerton
AD 1100–1400 Meadow and Peterson 2001:157
Platte Hill-Rupp Site, 25PT13 1.5 miles north of Monroe AD 16501750 Metcalf 1941:34
Red Willow 25RW22 3 miles north, 6.25 west of
Indianola
AD 1000–1350 Granger 1980:166
Mick 1983:169
Red Willow Doyle Site, 25RW28 9.5 miles north, 0.75 mile west
of McCook
BC 60–AD 680 Granger 1980:167
Red Willow Gillen Pits, Rw-101 4.5 miles west of McCook Late Pleistocene
early Holocene
Corner 1977:79, 8586
Red Willow Davidson Pits, Rw-102 1 mile west of Bartley Late Pleistocene
early Holocene
Corner 1977:79, 8586
Sarpy Childs Point District ≈ 1.5 miles northwest of Bellevue Unknown Gilder 1909:72–73
Sarpy Lucien Fontenelle’s Post Bellevue AD 18221842 Bozell et al. 1990:30
Sarpy Patterson Site, 25SY31 ≈ 7 miles south of Gretna AD 1001300 Bozell and Ludwickson 1999:84
Scotts Bluff Signal Butte Site Signal Butte BC 3000–AD 500 Strong 1935:236
Sherman Bill Packer Site, 25SM9 Along Davis Creek in extreme
northeastern corner of county
AD 980–1050 Graham et al. 1987:285
Bozell and Rogers 1989:28
Sherman Sweetwater Site 0.5 mile northwest of Sweetwater
(in Buffalo County)
Unknown Champe 1936:268
Sioux Hudson-Meng Site, 25SX115 23 miles northwest of Crawford
(in Dawes County)
BC 7820 Agenbroad 1978:36
Sioux 25SX157 Agate Fossil Beds National Monu-
ment, 19.25 miles south, 5.75 miles
east of Harrison
BC 60001000 Bozell 1993:61
Bozell 1994:48, 62
Sioux 25SX163 Agate Fossil Beds National Monu-
ment, Agate Fossil Beds National
Monument, 19.25 miles south,
7.25 miles east of Harrison
BC 1000–AD 500 Bozell 1993:64
Sioux 25SX476 Agate Fossil Beds National Monu-
ment, 1.7 miles east of Agate
AD 900 Bozell 1993:67
Sioux
25SX486
Agate Fossil Beds National Monu-
ment, Agate Fossil Beds National
Monument, 19.25 miles south,
5.25 miles east of Harrison
Unknown Bozell 1994:50, 63
Sioux 25SX487 0.1 mile north, 0.15 mile east
of Visitor Center
Unknown Bozell 1993:67
Stanton 25ST1 1 mile east of Stanton AD 12001500 and
AD 1800–1833 (mixed
site)
Gunnerson n.d.
Webster Hill Site 2 miles south, 7 miles east
of Red Cloud
AD 1700–1850 Wedel 1936:62
Webster Shipman Site, 25WT7 South side of Republican River,
between Red Cloud and Guide
Rock
Post–AD 1350 Mick 1983:154
Graham et al. 1987:286
Note: County names and localities in roman lettering are plotted on Figure 1; those county names and localities in italics are not
plotted on Figure 1 to prevent overcrowding of symbols
County Site Specic location Age Reference
TABLE 1 continued
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 159
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
National 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 modications
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 modied and polished (Frantz 1963). Gilder
(1909:72) found ve pronghorn mandibles near Bellevue
in Sarpy County that had been modied 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
modied 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 modied
(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 ve 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
difcult to hunt, especially before the introduction of
the horse). However, there are at least two exceptions to
this rule, including the oldest zone (75006000 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 identied mammalian
remains, whereas the other large ungulates from the site,
bison (Bison bison) and elk (Cervus elaphus), accounted
for only 2.4% (Bozell 1991).
Historical Record
It appears that the rst 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 1987:4446).
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
scientic 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
Great Plains Research Vol. 21 No. 2, 2011160
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
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 numerous
Figure 2. Location of historical records (1804 to 1958) of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Nebraska.
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 161
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
TABLE 2
SEVENTY-EIGHT HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM RECORDS OF PRONGHORN
(ANTILOCAPRA AMERICANA) IN NEBRASKA
Reference Date of record Location in Nebraska Comments
Moulton 1987:44 September 3, 1804 Probably near the western boundary of the present
Santee Sioux Indian Reservation, east of relocated
town of Niobrara, Knox County.
“Several wild Goats Seen in the Plains they
are wild & eet
James 1823:191 February 1820 Elkhorn River, possibly Cuming County “Saw a few bisons and antelopes and Elks”
James 1823:348 April 23, 1820 “Beaver creek,” possibly Nance County
“In this vicinity several antelopes (Cervicapra
americana, Ord) were seen by the party”
James 1823:433 June 9, 1820 Platte County “Seen no game except a few antelope”
James 1823:454 June 15, 1820 HallBuffalo Counties “Some antelopes were seen during the day
James 1823:456 June 16, 1820 Buffalo County “Two of the hunters . . . bringing in a buck
antelope
James 1823:456 June 17, 1820 Near Odessa, Buffalo County Herd seen at a distance from which Lt. Swift
shot a buck
James 1823:462 June 20, 1820 DawsonLincoln Counties Mr. Peale killed an antelope and others killed
two antelope “all at a distance from camp.”
Paul Wilhelm
1973:332
August 11, 1823 Along Elkhorn River in central Cuming County “Toward evening we encountered our rst
antelopes. The French Creoles call it cabril,
also cabris.”
Townsend 1839:45 May 15, 1834 Along Blue River, probably Gage County We saw to-day several large white wolves,
and two herds of antelope.”
Townsend 1839:47 May 18, 1834 Along south side of Platte River near Grand
Island, probably Adams County
“Wolves and antelope were in great
abundance here.”
Townsend 1839:49 May 20, 1834 Along south side of Platte River, probably
Dawson County
“The antelopes are very numerous here. There
is not half an hour during the day in which
they are not seen.”
Townsend 1839:67 May 27, 1834 Along North Platte River, probably Keith County A few elk and antelopes”
Townsend 1839:68 May 28, 1834 KeithGarden Counties One pronghorn killed
Townsend 1839:69 May 30, 1834 Along south side of North Platte River near
Mitchell, Scotts Bluff County
“One of our men caught a young antelope.”
Frémont 1845:13 June 20, 1842 Near Big Blue River in southern Gage County To-day antelope were seen running over the
hills.”
Frémont 1845:45 June 24, 1842 On hills above Little Blue River, Clay County Now and then an antelope bounded across
our path.
Frémont 1845:16 June 26, 1842 Between Little Blue River and Platte River,
Adams County
Antelope were seen frequently during the
morning.”
Audubon and Coues
1897:504
May 21, 1843 Poncas Island, Knox County “Three Antelopes were seen this evening.”
Carleton 1943:35 August 19, 1844 Pawnee County Six antelopes sighted
Carleton 1943:39-40 August 20, 1844 PawneeGage Counties Saw “a great many antelope” during day’s
ride.
Carleton 1943:49 August 24, 1844 Seward County Nine antelope were also seen to-day.
Carleton 1943:59 August 28, 1844 In northeastern Polk County, in valley of Platte
River
“Saw a great many antelopes.”
Carleton 1943:194 May 27, 1845 Hamilton County Antelopes were seen from time to time.”
Carleton 1943:199 May 29, 1845 Hamilton–Adams Counties Several . . . of these animals we have seen this
afternoon.
Carleton 1943:205 June 1, 1845 Kearney County “Two ne antelopes . . . were aroused by the
noise of our column.”
Carleton 1943:216 June 4, 1845 Along South Platte River just west of conuence
with North Platte River, Lincoln County
One killed during bison hunt
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Carleton 1943:223 June 7, 1845 On divide between North and South Platte Rivers,
Keith County
“During the afternoon we saw a great many
buffaloes, antelope, and white wolves.
Carleton 1943:226 June 8, 1845 Ash Hollow, Garden County “Emigrants sent the Colonel a ne large
antelope this morning.”
Carleton 1943:241 June 11, 1845 Near base of Scotts Bluff, Scotts Bluff County A young antelope sprang out of the grass”
Stansbury 1852:28 June 17, 1849 Valley of Little Blue River, probably Adams
County
Among animals brought in was “one
miserably poor little antelope.
Stansbury 1852:50 July 8, 1849 North Platte valley near Chimney Rock, Morrill
County
“They had killed three elk and an antelope”
Bryan 1857:473 September 25,
1856
Along the Republican River, near Benkelman,
Dundy County
“To-day we have again reached the region
of game, buffalo and antelope having been
killed.”
National Museum of
Natural History
1857 “Platte River” probably near the mouth of the
Loup River, PlatteColfax Counties
Catalog numbers 3447, 3454, 3460, 3461
Hayden 1862:150 1850s Knox–Boyd Counties No pronghorns seen “below the mouth of the
Niobrara river”
Jones 1964:324 18561864 Vicinity of Elkhorn River, Douglas County From Swenk manuscript
Dunlap 1898:54 June 15, 1866 Northwestern Lancaster County “We saw the rst antelope.
Dunlap 1898:55 June 16, 1866 Near Dwight, Butler County The ranchman’s name is David Reed. He had
just killed an antelope.
Jones 1964:324 18671868 “Logan Creek ats” west of Oakland, Burt
County
From Swenk manuscript
Jones 1964:324 18671869 Plum Creek, east of Wisner, Cuming County From Swenk manuscript
Hardy 1902:210 Early 1870s Lancaster County “The buffaloes had all been driven west of
the Blue river. . . . Wolves, deer, and antelope
were often seen.
Cary 1905:14-15 1877 Near Neligh, Antelope County A doe . . . shot on the river bottom just south
of the town”
Car y 1905:15 1878 Verdigris Creek, northern Antelope County Another was killed”
Jones 1964:324 1870s Madison County From Swenk manuscript
Car y 1905:14 Fall 1880 Between North Fork of Elkhorn River and
Dry Creek, about 18 miles north of Norfolk, in
Pierce County
A band of ve antelope ranging the country
. . . and killed one”
Car y 1905:14 Fall 1881 Cache Creek, south of Ewing, Holt County “Killed ve”
Jones 1964:324 1888 Dismal River, south of Thedford, Thomas County From Swenk manuscript
Jones 1964:324 Late 1880s/early
1890s
West of Curtis, Frontier County From Swenk manuscript
Car y 1905:15 1893 Between Brewster and Dunning, Blaine County “Killed one”
Jones 1964:324 1896 North of Haigler, Dundy County From Swenk manuscript
Car y 1905:14 1890s South of Snake River, Cherry County Until a few years ago a small herd roamed
south of the Snake River
Car y 1905:15 1900 Western edge of Cherry County “Saw a band of a dozen antelope”
Cary 1902:68, 1905:13 Summer 1901 Hat Creek Basin, northern Sioux County “Conned to a small area of the Hat Creek
Basin”
Swenk 1908:75 Summer 1906 Nebraska-Wyoming state line west of Harrison,
Sioux County
A small herd was present
Swenk 1908:75 Fall 1906 Ogalalla, Keith County “One was shot
Wolcott and
Shoemaker 1919:7
1918 Near Sidney, Cheyenne County A young one was observed”
Reference Date of record Location in Nebraska Comments
TABLE 2 continued
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 163
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
on the prairie. It seems to me as if every forty acres must
have had at least one skeleton or a portion of the remains
of these animals” (MacMurphy 1894:17).
Samuel Aughey (1880) wrote about pronghorns in the
late 1870s: “It was formerly common to meet these on the
prairie in herds of 20 to 500. Only a few years ago it was
yet common to meet herds of hundreds of these beautiful
and graceful animals in Central and Western Nebraska.
They are now mostly conned to the northern and west-
ern portions of the State.
Wolcott and
Shoemaker 1919:7
1919 Nearly due west of Alliance, in Sioux County Stationary band present
Wolcott and
Shoemaker 1919:7
1919 Near Crescent Lake, Garden County Stationary band present
Nelson 1925:37 1920–1921 Along North Platte River north of Bridgeport,
Morrill County
A band of about 40 antelope”
Grinnell 1929:135 December 1921 Near Louisville, Cass County An Omaha newspaper item, December 28,
1921, tells of an antelope being seen.”
Nelson 1925:37 1922 Banner County There was a band of antelope present
Nelson 1925:37 1922 Scotts Bluff County There was a band of antelope present; secured
conviction for killing an antelope
Nelson 1925:37 1922 33 Ranch, Sioux County A band of about 12”
Nelson 1925:38 1922 Near Agate, Sioux County A band of about 25”
Nelson 1925:38 1922 About 10 miles west of Bushnell, Kimball County A band of about 5”
Nelson 1925:38 1922 Near state line south of Kimball, Kimball County “Band of 5”
Nelson 1925:38 1922 Between Dix and Potter, Cheyenne-Kimball
Counties
A band of 14”
Nelson 1925:38 1922 About 18 miles south of Sidney, Cheyenne County A band of about 40
Nelson 1925:38 Spring 1922 Near Sunol, in eastern Cheyenne County A band of 43 was reported . . . as grazing in
elds”
Nelson 1925:38 1922 About 12 miles south of Lisco, Garden County A band of 25”
Nelson 1925:38 1924 About 15 miles north of Sargent, in Loup County A band of 8”
Nelson 1925:38 September 1924 Fort Niobrara, National Wildlife Refuge, Cherry
County
“Ten young antelope, 6 females and 4
males, were placed on the Niobrara Game
Reservation. . . . These antelope were part of
the fawns captured in northwestern Nevada.
Grinnell 1929:138 1927–1928 Not very far from Scottsbluff, Scotts Bluff
County
“Two small bands estimated as about forty
in all.”
Grinnell 1929:135 1920s A very few miles west of Fremont, Dodge County “Saw a wild antelope”
National Museum of
Natural History
1932 Signal Butte, Scotts Bluff County Catalog number 257916
Leister 1932:187 1932 Fort Niobrara, National Wildlife Refuge, Cherry
County
13 are on the Niobrara Reservation
H. Genoways,
personal observations
Mid-1940s Good Streak Township, northwestern Morrill
County
Single pronghorn and small group up to ve
regularly observed
University of Nebraska
State Museum
1957 7 miles northwest of Orella, Sioux County Catalog number 12189, 12190
Notes: Records are arranged in chronological order based on the date of the observation. One locality set in italics could not be
located and the other duplicates an earlier locality. See Figure 2 for map of locations of records.
Reference Date of record Location in Nebraska Comments
TABLE 2 continued
Great Plains Research Vol. 21 No. 2, 2011164
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Through the 1880s and 1890s there are scattered re-
ports of pronghorns, primarily from the northern areas of
the state and the Sandhills. Near the end of the 19th cen-
tury, Grinnell (1897) was able to document only scattered
populations in extreme northwestern and southwestern
corners of the panhandle of Nebraska, although C. Hart
Merriam just a few years later mapped the geographic
range of pronghorns covering as much as the western
third of the state (Roosevelt et al. 1902). Cary (1902,
1905) believed that the species was essentially extirpated
from the state by the time he undertook his studies in
northern Sioux County in the summer of 1901, although
he saw sign of some individuals in Hat Creek Basin.
Hornaday (1904) showed possible herds in extreme north-
western Nebraska, probably based on Cary’s (1902) ob-
servations. Although pronghorns were almost extirpated
from the state, scattered records of individuals and small
herds were documented over the next two decades (Table
2), all conned to the panhandle of Nebraska. However,
Hornaday (1914) in his survey of pronghorn populations
throughout its geographic range mapped no herds in
Nebraska. Nebraska gave pronghorns full protection in
1907, which helped to keep the species from becoming
extinct in the state (Jones 1964).
E. W. Nelson (1925) presented the results of a compre-
hensive survey of pronghorns conducted between 1922 and
1924 by the U.S. Biological Survey. This survey identied
nine herds of pronghorns in Nebraska occurring in ve
counties. These herds were estimated to contain a total
of 187 individuals. Four of these countiesCheyenne,
Garden, Kimball, and Sioux—were in the panhandle, with
the rst three located adjacent to or near the Colorado
state line and the last two adjacent to Wyoming. The other
herd of eight individuals was located in southeastern Loup
County, probably near the town of Taylor in the eastern
Sandhills. The survey also received reports of pronghorns
in Banner, Morrill, and Scotts Bluff Counties, all in the
panhandle, but no herds were documented. Nelson (1925)
also documented the translocation of 10 young pronghorns
from northwestern Nevada to the Fort Niobrara National
Wildlife Refuge in Cherry County in 1924 by members of
the Biological Survey.
Grinnell (1929) reported single pronghorns from
Cass and Dodge Counties in eastern Nebraska during the
1920s, but Jones (1964) questioned the record from Dodge
County. There is little documentation on the development
of pronghorn populations during the 1930s and 1940s,
but by 1953, there were sufcient numbers for the begin-
ning of a hunting season. As noted by Jones (1964), these
pronghorn populations developed and increased in the
panhandle counties of Nebraska.
Current Distribution
The current distribution of pronghorns in Nebraska
closely resembles that presented in Figure 3. The primary
range of pronghorns is concentrated in the panhandle and
Sandhills of Nebraska, with small populations occurring
in the southwest portion of the state. Occasionally, sight-
ings of pronghorns beyond the geographic range limits
Figure 3. Current distribution (shaded area) of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Nebraska.
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 165
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
depicted in Figure 3 have been observed, especially in
northeastern and south-central Nebraska. However, these
individuals are not thought to be part of established, re-
productive herds.
The current distribution of pronghorn in Nebraska
was undoubtedly aided by certain management prac-
tices, specically reintroduction programs. Trapping of
pronghorn rst took place in January 1958 and continued
until February 1962. In the initial trapping session, 63
individuals were taken from the Pueblo Ordnance De-
pot, Pueblo County, CO. A total of 36 pronghorn were
released in Rock County, NE, and 27 pronghorns were
released in the Sioux Ordnance Depot, Cheyenne County,
NE (Fig. 4, Table 3). After the initial trapping session, all
other pronghorns were trapped in western Nebraska and
released throughout the Sandhills (Fig. 4, Table 3). Re-
lease sites were chosen based upon a cooperative agree-
ment between landowners and the NGPC and the overall
suitability of the habitat. A total of 1.6 million acres of
Sandhills habitat were signed up under the agreements.
DISCUSSION
The archeological and paleontological records provide
some insight into the early distribution of pronghorns in
Nebraska and indicate that this species has a history of at
least 20,000 years of occurrence within the boundaries
of the current state. Although the archeological and pale-
ontological records do not provide equal coverage to all
parts of the state, these data (Fig. 1, Table 1) are sufcient
to show that pronghorns were statewide in distribution
throughout much of the species history in the state.
Holocene records appear to conrm that pronghorns oc-
curred in the easternmost counties of Nebraska for at least
the last 6,000 years. There are records from six coun-
ties along the Missouri River south of the mouth of the
Niobrara River. The complication of interpreting these
records is that only the two from Burt and Cass Counties
apparently were based on bone that was not modied into
utilitarian or ceremonial/decorative objects.
Early authors (Cary 1905; Swenk 1908, 1915; Wol-
cott and Shoemaker 1919) writing about mammals of
Nebraska during historic times (after 1800) considered
the pronghorn to have been statewide in its original
distribution. However, Jones (1964:321) believed that
the geographic range of the pronghorn did not reach
the Missouri River in Nebraska except in the extreme
northeastern part of the state, its eastern distribution
being “sharply limited by the forested areas bordering
the Missouri River.” These counties contained the larg-
est tracts of eastern deciduous forest in Nebraska before
Euro-American settlement (Kaul and Rolfsmeier 1993).
Lewis and Clark did not encounter pronghorns until they
reached the area near the mouth of the Niobrara River
(Moulton 1987) in Knox County. Early expeditions in
southeastern Nebraska crossing Johnson, Otoe, Nemaha,
and Richardson Counties did not document pronghorns
until they reached farther west in more prairie-dominated
regions of western Cass, Pawnee, and Gage Counties
(Carleton 1943).
Figure 4. Release sites of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Nebraska. Numbers within the circles correspond to release sites
listed in Table 3.
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© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
TABLE 3
SUMMARY OF RELEASE SITE, RELEASE DATE, AND NUMBER OF PRONGHORN
RELEASED IN NEBRASKA
Site
no. County Locality Date
Number of pronghorn
Males Females Tota l
1 Cheyenne Sioux Orndance Depot January 25, 1958 10 17 27
2 Rock 23 miles south of Newport January 11, 1959 13 23 36
3 Cherry 16 miles south of Wood Lake January 16, 1959,
and February 2, 1960
31 40 71
4 Brown 10 miles south of Johnstown January 23, 1959,
and February 3, 1959
7 21 28
5 Blaine 15 miles east of Dunning December 3, 1959 28 33 61
6 Thomas 10 miles northwest of Halsey December 7, 1959 11 37 48
7 Thomas 11 miles northwest of Thedford December 9, 1959 22 22 44
8 Cherry 5 miles southwest of Merriman January 7, 1960 24 26 50
9 Cherry 3 miles east of Kennedy February 8, 1960 14 32 46
10 Dundy 16 miles north of Haigler January 13, 1960 33 28 61
11 Thomas Halsey National Forest January 27, 1960 24 48 72
12 Loup 16 miles north of Almeria January 28, 1960 23 38 61
13 Keya Paha 24 miles east of Springview February 3, 1960 21 20 41
14 Wheeler 12 miles southeast of Cumminsville January 20, 1960,
and February 3, 1961
15 65 80
15 Logan 16 miles north of Stapleton December 2, 1960 44 68 112
16 Cherry South of Cody December 10, 1960,
and January 6, 1961
42 75 117
17 Custer 15 miles northeast of Arnold January 12, 1961 17 40 57
18 Cherry Valentine National Refuge February 15, 1961 30 22 52
19 Cherry 7 miles north of Thedford February 22, 1962 13 29 42
Note: Numbers correspond to locations shown in Figure 4.
We believe these historical records conrm Joness
(1964) observation that pronghorns did not reach the
Missouri River 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
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 167
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
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 ight, 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 conrmed 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
denite 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
650950) 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 sufciently 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 southsoutheast 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 uctuating distribution. At times, because of shifting
climatic or environmental changes, such as prairie res
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 briey 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 afnity 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
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© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
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
conned 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 rst 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 elds
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 pronghornsnatural 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 signicant 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 the mid-19th century populations of pronghorn were
declining throughout the state, most likely the result of
increased harvest and habitat fragmentation by European
settlers. At the beginning of the 20th century, pronghorns
were restricted to small areas of native prairie in extreme
northwestern Nebraska. The restriction of pronghorn
hunting in 1907 allowed populations to slowly increase,
and the implementation of a relocation program in 1958
greatly increased the distribution of pronghorn in Ne-
braska. Presently, pronghorn possess stable populations
throughout nearly half the state and are considered an im-
portant game animal. As long as the pronghorn continue
to be managed, their status as an important member of
Nebraskas fauna should be secure.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We wish to thank Gayle Carlson for permitting access
and Kelli Bacon for facilitating the use of the outstand-
ing collection of archeological site reports held by the
Nebraska State Historical Society. We are grateful to
Alan Osburn for making archeological reports from the
University of Nebraska State Museum available for our
Historical Biogeography of Nebraska Pronghorns • Justin D. Hoffman et al. 169
© 2011 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
study. Special recognition is given to the interlibrary
loan librarians at Love Library of the University of Ne-
braskaLincoln for searching out many obscure reports
for us. George Corner was helpful in nding the neces-
sary publications covering Holocene paleontology in Ne-
braska. Chad Taylor, Ben Rutten, Todd Nordeen, Richard
Nelson, and Jeff Hoffman, wildlife biologists for the
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, provided help-
ful comments on the current distribution of pronghorn in
Nebraska. Angie Fox, technical artist for the University
of Nebraska State Museum, prepared the nal gures.
Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for providing
helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
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... Although Bee et al. (1981:225) suggest that the eastern margin of the Flint Hills was the boundary for pronghorn prior to Euroamerican settlement, historical Table 2; numbered records are in Table 3. Nebraska records are provided in Hoffman et al. (2011). ...
... Two eyewitness accounts are documented in Minnesota in counties that are near its border with North Dakota and South Dakota. Again, this pattern is an extension of a series of sites documented in Nebraska just west of the Missouri River, a study that suggests that pronghorn were relatively abundant in eastern Nebraska (Hoffman et al. 2011). Holocene records for pronghorn in Nebraska total seven sites in five different counties that border the Missouri River; an eighth site in Cedar County, Nebraska, is situated across the Missouri River from southeastern South Dakota, and only a short distance west of the Iowa state line (Hoffman et al. 2011:155). ...
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Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana Ord) remains from archaeological sites in west-central Missouri and northwest Arkansas record the presence of the taxon in middle Holocene contexts as far east as the Cherokee Plain- Ozark Highland border. Pronghorn appear initially during the onset of middle Holocene warming and prairie expan- sion (ca. 9000 cal B.P.) and persist until ca. 1000 cal B.P. Historical documents suggest that pronghorn range had receded westward by the time of Euroamerican settlement, but pronghorn were still present in the tallgrass prairies of the Prairie-Plains of Oklahoma, Osage Cuestas east of the Flint Hills in Kansas, and the loess uplands and till plains of eastern Nebraska. The pattern of occasional eastward move- ment into the tallgrass prairie south of the Missouri River compares favorably with records of similar range extensions into the grasslands of the northern Prairie Peninsula.
... 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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This study provides evidence of the value of using isotopic data from faunal remains to understand human diet and mobility patterns when human remains are not available for examination. In this research, bone apatite, bone collagen, and enamel apatite from fauna recovered from recent excavations of the Dixon site (13WD8), an Oneota complex site (AD 1300-1400) in western Iowa, were analyzed for δ 13 C, δ 15 N, δ 18 O, and 87 Sr/ 86 Sr values. The goals of this study were to gather information about human and animal diet and mobility and faunal procurement strategies of humans in the late prehistoric period of upper midwestern North America and to contribute to the growing literature using domesticated dogs as surrogates for humans in isotopic studies of dietary patterns. The results of this study find that the people occupying the Dixon site were subsisting on agricultural products, including maize, in conjunction with the gathered wild resources and hunted fauna, which included both large and small local game. While the Oneota complex is thought to be associated with some amount of seasonal migration, there is no evidence of these movements offered via this study's data nor is there strong evidence of long-distance hunting. Domesticated canids were an important part of the Dixon settlement and were fed human foodstuffs and scraps, including maize. At times, these canids were also a source of food. As a substitute for analyses of human remains, this study uses the canine surrogacy approach (CSA) and argues that the canid data would be similar to the human data from the Dixon settlement. A Bayesian stable-isotope mixing model (MixSiar) was used to quantitatively interpret the stable-isotope values of the Dixon canids, and it suggests that bison hunting was a specialization of the human population occupying the Dixon site.