Hudson-Meng Bison Kill

By Melissa Jech and Ariel McNare

Hudson-Meng, located approximately 18 miles northwest of Crawford, Nebraska, was discovered when Albert Meng, in 1954, was building a livestock pond or dam. The land that Mr. Meng was doing this on was and still is National Forest Service land. During the 1940s and 1950s Forest Service land was permitted out to people. When the bison bones were discovered, Mr. Meng first talked to his friend, Bill Hudson, and the two men then contacted Dr. Larry Agenbroad from Chadron State College.

Dr. Agenbroad identified the bones as ancient bison bones. He also thought that the site was maybe a human advantage situation. The thought for why the bones were there was due to the fact of a natural water spring in the area that had been there for thousands of years. The round top hill that is not far from the site was explained as a possible vantage point for people of the past that were maybe responsible for the kill site.

There was research that followed the discovery of the bison bones. Through the years of 1971-1974 the site had reached the size of a football field. The Hudson-Meng Visitor Center and facilities were built in 1997. Hudson-Meng opened May 15, 1999. There was a hand-drawn map placed in the visitor’s center that roughly showed just how large of an area the bone bed covers.

Figure 1. Hand-drawn map of the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Site and what has been discovered so far for bison remains (Photo by Ariel McNare).
Figure 1. Hand-drawn map of the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Site and what has been discovered so far for bison remains (Photo by Ariel McNare).

Within the map as shown in Figure 1, there is a small red square that signifies only the part of the bone bed that is unearthed and is located under the visitor center building which is the first initial dig. The Hudson-Meng staff are unsure of the size of the entire site. As the years go by, more research is conducted and more ground is excavated to unveil more bones. The site travels further up the hill located behind the visitor center, but it takes a lot of time, money, and man power to move a whole hill, so further uncovering has been postponed.

With all of the digging and time spent, there have only been six bison skulls uncovered. The few skulls that were discovered made it difficult to determine a total number of bison, so the researchers used the number of shoulder blades that were found and divided that number by two to find the total number of animals. Two of the researchers were Larry Todd and David Raspon; through the method of using shoulder blades to total the number of bison they came up with 225 bison (Figure 2), as well as remains of coyotes and rabbits.

Figure 2. Anatomy of a bison to help identify bones found in dig site (Photo by Melissa Jech).
Figure 2. Anatomy of a bison to help identify bones found in dig site (Photo by Melissa Jech).

There have been researchers from Colorado State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and from Saint Cloud, Minnesota that have been coming to the site since 2005 to study the remains and the site. Dr. Mark Muniz, a student of Dr. Agenbroad from Saint Cloud, Minnesota discovered over 500 bison by expanding the site. Through the process of carbon dating, the type of bison, and with the help of archeologists, it has been determined that the bison remains are around 10,000 years old.

Why was such a large bison kill site located at this particular spot? This question is asked by many scientists and archeologists today with still no answer as to “why?” There have been some suggestions such as a bison cliff jump in which the bison were run off of a cliff, but in this particular spot there are no cliffs. This leads back to the remaining question as to the reason for the location of such a large bison kill site as well as another question regarding where the people that are possibly responsible for it may have come from. Hudson-Meng is important due to the fact that it is the largest extinct bison bone site in the United States because the species of bison that was found at Hudson-Meng is extinct. Therefore, it has attracted many tourists, archeologists, and scientists since it was founded in 1954. The site is named after the founder, Albert Meng, and his best friend, Bill Hudson. Hudson-Meng impacted our group by providing information on the site, raising many questions, and through the information it allowed us to link the site to what it means to make a home on the range.

The main impact of this site on our group was that it raised many questions that have not been answered even by the researchers and archeologists. Not all of the site has been uncovered, so how big is it really? Due to the landscape, not all of the site can be uncovered to continue further research on certain parts of it. What is underneath the bison bone layer? We not only asked this question, but so have researchers and it is still unanswered. When research was first conducted on the bones, they were uncovered and then covered up again to help preserve them from the elements. In this time, archaeologists uncovered the bones a second time and noticed a distinct change in the soil differentiation. Previously, scientists had believed that soil differentiation took thousands of years longer to occur. The interesting soil aspect that was discovered maybe has something to do with what is under the bones. This factor could also lead to an explanation as to why all these bison are located in this exact spot in the first place.

There were spear points and evidence of people, but where were the people from? Who were the people living here and where did they go?

Figure 3. Bison bone dig site inside of the Hudson-Meng facility (Photo by Melissa Jech).
Figure 3. Bison bone dig site inside of the Hudson-Meng facility (Photo by Melissa Jech).

What did these people use the bison for? The bison kill site was comparable to Wal-Mart today due to the fact that the bison provided so much for the people at that time (Figure 3). Several items of weaponry such as spear tips were found among the bones along with cut marks and breaks that occurred when the bones were green, indicating at least some human involvement. To this day, the items found at the bone bed have been only the remnants of any humans near the area. The tribes that were in the area were thought to be nomadic due to a lack of any established villages near the site. It is believed that the people simply took what they needed and went home.

The questions that we had were shared with researchers and other visitors of the site. Hudson-Meng is a part of history that is not always found. Through this site it has provided research into people of the past when it comes to how the bison were harvested as well as the differences of bison compared to then and now. Hudson-Meng demonstrates just how fascinating and mysterious the Great Plains truly are. Albert Meng, when he was building a livestock pond (Figure 4) and found the first bones, was making his life on his home on the range.

Figure 4. The pond that was built as a way to remember how Hudson-Meng was founded (Photo by Melissa Jech).
Figure 4. The pond that was built as a way to remember how Hudson-Meng was founded (Photo by Melissa Jech).

If Albert Meng had not leased the land for his cattle operation, it is probable that the site would not have been discovered and remained an undisturbed grave of the past. Instead of Albert Meng and Bill Hudson just ignoring what they found they looked into the matter further and this has helped with research about bison kill sites, bison, and people of the past. It was through this small act that these two gentlemen uncovered historic remains from about 10,000 years ago. While the two were living their lives on the range they were able to reveal how other people many years before had lived on the range. The people of the past had spear points to gain food which at that time proved to be bison and today we have many ways to obtain food. Over the years the way of life and ways to make a home on the range have changed. Hudson-Meng proved this fact specifically by how obtaining food has changed. Some questions about Hudson-Meng may not ever be answered. The same problem of unanswered questions occurs when it comes to the questions that arise when making a home on the range. What it takes to make a home on the range varies for all, and so do the answers to questions asked about Hudson-Meng. This variation of answers makes Hudson-Meng and making a home on the range quite similar in comparison.

Work Cited

All information provided through the tour guide Kristina Hill or other information provided at the site.