Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2021

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Daniel Herman

Second Committee Member

Roxanne Easley

Third Committee Member

Stephen Moore


The focus of this thesis are the American bison and wild horse conservation movements. The goal is to address how these movements utilized and manipulated gender as a driving force for conservation. Throughout the nineteenth century, bison and bison hunting became identified with American manliness, which provided an opportunity for men like Theodore Roosevelt to establish and develop their masculinity through bison hunting narratives. When bison populations plummeted in the late nineteenth century, these men turned conservationists, and equated bison preservation with preservation of white American manliness. They developed idiosyncratic views of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which allowed conservationists to advocate for sport hunting as way to distinguish themselves from non-white subsistence hunters, whom they blamed for the bison’s demise, and preserve their own manliness. Around a half a century later in the 1950s, Velma Bronn Johnston, a secretary from Reno, Nevada turned this paradigm on its head. In her advocacy for wild horses, Johnston both drew on older tropes of Western manliness and incorporated her own gendered tropes, which triggered a lasting feminization of the West and its resources.

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