McHugh, a zoologist and occasional camera man (Walt Disney's The Vanishing Prairie and White Wilderness), surely knows more about the buffalo than any man alive. What's more he has a happy facility for combining some fairly recondite scientific information with the romance of the Great Plains in the days when vast herds of the shaggy bison ranged from Canada to Mexico. Gathering together Indian ceremonials, hunting lore and legends, and accounts of white settlers and explorers, McHugh weaves an absorbing narrative of the intimate relationship between man and beast in the ecosystem of the grasslands. A spiritual as well as material force in the culture of the prairie, the buffalo was for centuries the base of Indian tribal economies (""Plains Indian culture was the buffalo culture""); from the animal's various parts the Indian derived ""shoes, garments, bedding, tableware, vessels, fuel, saddlery, tools, musical instruments, toys, cosmetics and jewelry."" McHugh also mines the journals of Lewis and Clark and other frontier scouts for whom buffalo trails served as ""compass lines for colonization"" further developing the tale of the remarkable symbiosis which persisted throughout the epic days of the Old West. Although most of the book is devoted to a re-creation of bygone American splendors, McHugh also incorporates archaeological data on the buffalo and his ancestors from the Ice Age, first-hand observations of his courting, feeding and migratory activities in present-day sanctuaries, and the history of conservationists' efforts to save the species from extinction. You don't have to be a naturalist to appreciate McHugh's poignant tribute to this doleful prairie denizen.