Reflecting the Sublime: The Rebirth of an American Icon


Creator: Coffman, Douglas


Date: 2013


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Coffman traces the remarkable history of the bison group prepared by the noted taxidermist William Temple Hornaday for the United States National Museum at the Smithsonian. The author opens with Hornaday's completion of an iconic museum display of American bison in 1888 and the note he tucked into its base for his successors. He follows the specimens as they are removed in the Exhibits Modernization Program at the National Museum of Natural History in the 1950s and their transfer to Montana and dispersal to a several sites, the University of Montana at Missoula, the Montana Office of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Museum of the Rockies. Coffman traces the detective work necessary to locate all the specimens, document their ownership, and restore and recreate Hornaday's American bison group at the Museum of the Northern Great Plains in Fort Benton, Montana, in 1996. The story is filled with twists and turns, and captures the dedication and determination of those, especially Coffman himself, who sought to "give the devil his due" (to quote Hornaday) and preserve his display for generations to come.


  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • United States National Museum
  • United States National Museum Division of Mammals
  • National Collections
  • South Hall of the United States National Museum
  • Exhibits Modernization Program United States National Museum
  • Montana Agricultural Center and Museum Museum of the Northern Great Plains
  • University of Montana--Missoula
  • University of Montana (Missoula, Mont. : 1965-1994)
  • Montana Fish and Game Commission
  • Montana Board of Game and Fish Commissioners
  • Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission
  • Museum of the Rockies


Smithsonian History Bibliography

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • American bison
  • Endangered ecosystems
  • Zoology
  • Mammals
  • Taxidermy
  • Animals
  • Habitat conservation
  • Wildlife
  • Taxidermists
  • Specimens
  • Exhibitions
  • Collection and preservation
  • Buffaloes
  • Zoological specimens--Collection and preservation
  • Wildlife conservation
  • Buffalo
  • Endangered species





Physical description

Number of pages : 67; Page numbers : 1-54

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