Alaska biologists say wood bison reintroduced to the wild are thriving

Alaska biologists say wood bison reintroduced to the wild are thriving

Alaska wood bison. Wood bison are the largest native land mammals in the Western Hemisphere. (Photo by Laura Whitehouse/USFWS)

August 21, 2021 by Mary Auld, KUAC – Fairbanks

State biologists completed an annual survey of the Innoko-Yukon River wood bison population earlier this summer, and they say the results show the animals are doing well six years after a seed group of bison was released in the area.

Biologists counted 103 wood bison this summer — an increase of more than 10% from last year’s herd size. Twenty-six calves joined the herd this year — the most the herd has produced since it was established in 2015. The survey also showed that the animals are in better physical condition than in previous years.

Darren Bruning,  a regional wildlife conservation supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the survey shows the bison are succeeding in the wild.

Bruning flew along in the plane that took photos for the count. He said seeing a thriving herd of wood bison in the Innoko-Yukon River area is a testament to members of the public who advocated for the reintroduction and Fish and Game.

“So to see them in the wild is almost indescribable. It’s extremely rewarding, and I feel good for everyone, knowing the bison are there,” he said.

According to Bruning, the herd’s success in the last year is related to weather. The population tends to decline when a layer of ice forms on top of the snow during spring rains. That barrier prevents bison from accessing the food they need, so fewer animals survive. That wasn’t the case this year, Bruning says.

“The bison probably had more consistent access to forage, which led to healthier cows that were carrying calves, and therefore more calves were born,” he said.

The wood bison were released onto the landscape in 2015 after years of planning. Ken Chase represented Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk and Holy Cross on the Alaska Wood Bison Management Planning Team. Chase said people who live in his area supported the reintroduction because they wanted to hunt the bison.

“We just wanted to see something positive done, you know, with our area, we have no oil development, we have no gas development and so we look to the food source instead,” he said.

Despite the herd’s success this year, biologists say it will be several years before there are enough animals to hunt. But Chase said local people are willing to be patient.

“The main thing is just to try to maintain the herd and let the animals get used to the environment and how to survive,” he said.

Chase hopes once the bison are available for hunting it will provide opportunities for local people. Residents could get involved in managing the bison. Hunters from out of state could bring revenue to the villages. Bison meat could be processed locally. Animals from the herd could be transported to other places to re-establish wild bison. But mostly, Chase wants his people to eat the meat themselves.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2; Métis hunts in Canada

Part 2; Métis hunts in Canada

Paul Kane painted many scenes of Métis men hunting buffalo, including this one. The red sash worn by the man on the ground in front was typical of the capote worn by Métis.

 Paul Kane was an artist and writer who followed the Buffalo hunting Métis onto the western Canadian plains and observed, painted and wrote about them. Born in 1810—while he was still a boy his family emigrated from Ireland to the Toronto area.

Always interested in art, he spent 4 years in Europe studying painting, mostly copying the style of old masters. In England he may have met George Catlin and seen some of his 1830s paintings of Native tribes on the Great Plains of the US. This inspired him to bring together a visual record of the Native people of Canada.

In June 1846 Kane left his home in Toronto to hunt buffalo with the Red River Métis—pronounced Mah tee’ or Mah tees’—from Ft. Garry (now Winnipeg).

Kane soon found that to get safely into the interior of Canada where he could paint many different tribes, he needed a sponsorship from the Hudson Bay Company.

He was fortunate in being able to meet with Sir George Simpson of Hudson Bay, who gave him the papers he needed. Simpson granted Kane free board, lodging and transportation to trading posts in Hudson Bay territory (which was roughly one quarter of North America)—in exchange for a dozen sketches of Native American life for Simpson’s personal museum of “Indian curiosities.”

Kane set off across Canada all the way to the Pacific Ocean—going from one trading post to the next. Sometimes he travelled by water with a fleet of voyagers—sometimes he rode horseback, alone with an interpreter or guide.

He missed by only a few days a Métis group that had just left on a buffalo hunt. Without delay he purchased a cart for his tent, a saddle-horse for himself, hired a Métis helper to drive and hurried to catch up.

Three days later they joined one of the bands of “200 hunters, besides women and children” who welcomed him “with the greatest cordiality.”

Self Portrait by Paul Kane, artist, painted about 1845.

The Métis at Ft. Garry, he wrote: “are more numerous than whites and now amount to 6,000. These are the descendants of the white men in the Hudson’s Bay company’s employment and the Native Indian women. They all speak the Cree language and the Lower Canadian Patois.

“Here the tribe is divided into three bands, each taking a separate route for the purpose of falling in with the herds of buffaloes. These bands are each accompanied by about 500 carts, drawn by either an ox or a horse,” he writes.

“Their cart is a curious-looking vehicle, made by themselves with their own axes and fastened together with wooden pins and leather strings—nails not procurable. The tire of the wheel is made of buffalo hide and put on wet. When it becomes dry it shrinks and is so tight that it never falls off and lasts as long as the cart holds together.

“The carts containing the women and children—each decorated with some flag or other conspicuous emblem on a pole, so that the hunters might recognize their own from a distance–wound off in one continuous line, extending for miles, accompanied by the hunters on horseback.

Traveling to buffalo ranges, the carts with Métis women and children extended for miles, accompanied by hunters on horseback. In recording their travels, Paul Kane’s method was to sketch as many scenes and portraits as he could on the spot in pencil, oils or charcoal, and then later spend more time in painting similar scenes.

Attack by Sioux Hunters

“A very hardy race of men, [they are] capable of enduring the greatest hardships and fatigues—but they make poor farmers, neglecting their land for the more exciting pleasures of the chase.

“Their camps while on the move, are always preceded by scouts, for the purpose of reconnoitering either for enemies or buffaloes. If they see the latter they give a signal by throwing up handfuls of dust. And if the former, by running their horses to and fro.

Métis and the caravan, taking a break for lunch, while scouts went on ahead to scan the horizon for enemies or buffalo. The Sioux deeply resented the Métis’ wholesale slaughter of large herds on what they considered their own hunting grounds.

Three days later the scouts in the distance were seen riding back and forth—the signal of enemies being in sight.

Kane writes, “Immediately 100 of the best mounted hastened to the spot and, concealing themselves behind the shelter of the bank of a small stream, sent out two as decoys—who exposed themselves to the view of the Sioux.

“The latter, supposing them to be alone, rushed upon them, whereupon the concealed [Métis] sprang up and poured in a volley amongst them, which brought down eight. The others escaped, although several must have been wounded—as much blood was afterwards discovered on their track.

“The following afternoon we arrived at the margin of a small lake, where we camped earlier than usual for the water. Next day I was gratified with the sight of a band of about 40 buffalo cows in the distance and our hunters in full chase. They were the first I had seen but were too far off for me to join in the sport.

Buffalo Hunting

“They succeeded in killing 25, which were distributed through the camp and proved most welcome to all of us, as our provisions were getting rather short—and I was abundantly tired of pemmican and dried meat.

The hunters, “Succeeded in killing 25, which were distributed through the camp and proved most welcome to all of us, as our provisions were getting rather short—and I was abundantly tired of pemmican and dried meat,” wrote Kane.

“The fires being lighted with wood we had brought with us in the carts, the whole party commenced feasting with a voracity which appeared perfectly astonishing to me, until I tried myself and found by experience how much hunting on the plains stimulates the appetite.

“For the next two or three days we fell in with only a single buffalo, or small herds of them, but as we proceeded they became more frequent.

“At last our scouts brought in word of an immense herd of buffalo bulls about two miles in advance of us. They are known in the distance from the cows by their feeding singly and being scattered wider over the plain—whereas the cows keep together for the protection of the calves, which are always kept in the center of the herd.

According to Kane, a Métis named Hallett “who was exceedingly attentive to me, woke me in the morning to accompany him in advance of the party, that I might have the opportunity of examining the buffalo whilst feeding before the commencement of the hunt.

“Six hours’ hard riding brought us within a quarter mile of the herd. The main body stretched over the plains as far as the eye could reach. Fortunately the wind blew in our faces. Had it blown towards the buffaloes they would have scented us miles off.

“I wished to have attacked them at once but my companion would not allow me until the rest of the party came up—as it was contrary to tribal law. We therefore sheltered ourselves from the observation of the herd behind a mound, relieving our horses of their saddles to cool them.

“In about an hour the hunters came up, about 130 and immediate preparations were made for the chase. Every man loaded his gun, looked to his priming and examined the efficiency of his saddle-girths.

“The elder men strongly cautioned the less experienced not to shoot each other. A caution by no means unnecessary—as such accidents frequently occur.

“Each hunter then filled his mouth with balls, which he drops into the gun without wadding. By this means loading much quicker and being enabled to do so whilst his horse is at full speed. It is true that the gun is more liable to burst, but that they do not seem to mind.

“The scene now became one of intense excitement. The huge bulls thundering over the Plain in headlong confusion, whilst the fearless hunters rode recklessly in their midst, keeping up an incessant fire at but a few yards’ distance from their victims.

“Upon the fall of each buffalo, the successful hunter merely threw some article of his apparel—often carried by him solely for that purpose—to denote his own prey—and then rushed on to another. These marks are scarcely ever disputed, but should a doubt arise as to the ownership, the carcass is equally divided among the claimants.

“The chase continued only about one hour, and extended over an area of from 5 to 6 square miles, where might be seen the dead and dying buffalos to the number of 500.

“In the meantime my horse which had started at a good run, was suddenly confronted by a large bull that made his appearance from behind a knoll within a few yards of him. Being thus taken by surprise, he sprung to one side and getting his foot into one of the innumerable badger holes, with which the plains abound, he fell at once. I was thrown over his head with such violence that I was completely stunned.

“Some of the men caught my horse and I was speedily remounted. I again joined in the pursuit and coming up with a large bull, I had the satisfaction of bringing him down at the first fire.

“Excited by my success I threw down my cap and galloping on soon put a bullet through another enormous animal. He did not however fall, but stopped and faced me pawing the earth, bellowing and glaring savagely at me. The blood was streaming profusely from his mouth and I thought he would soon drop.

“The position in which he stood was so fine that I could not resist making a sketch. I accordingly dismounted and had just commenced when he suddenly made a dash at me. I had hardly time to spring on my horse and get away from him, leaving my gun and everything behind.

“When he came up to where I had been standing, he turned over the articles I had dropped, pawing fiercely as he tossed them about and then retreated towards the herd. I immediately recovered my gun and having reloaded, again pursued him and soon planted another shot in him. This time he remained on his legs long enough for me to make a sketch.

“I have often witnessed an Indian buffalo hunt since, but never one on so large a scale.”

As he returned to camp, he came upon “One of the hunters coolly driving a wounded buffalo before him. In answer to my inquiry why he did not shoot him, he said he would not do so until he got him close to the lodges as it would save the trouble of bringing a cart for the meat. He had already driven him seven miles and afterwards killed him within 200 yards of the tents.

“That evening while the hunters were still absent a buffalo, bewildered by the hunt, got amongst the tents and at last got into one—after having terrified all the women and children, who precipitately took flight.

“When the men returned they found him there still. And being unable to dislodge him, they shot him down from the opening in the top.”

Buffalo Hunting methods

The hunting methods used by the Métis were far different from that of their Indian ancestors. Instead of driving bison off cliffs or into pounds and corrals on foot, they had horses and guns from the first, provided by their fathers and grandfathers. Their Native mothers taught them buffalo culture.

They ran their trained buffalo horses into the herd, picked out a fat cow and fired point-blank at full gallop. Experienced hunters on buffalo horses could kill 10 to 12 buffalo in a two-hour run.

The Métis hunters had horses and guns from the first, provided by their fathers and grandfathers. They trained their horses to move in close to the targeted buffalo—they could kill 10 to 12 buffalo during a two-hour run.

“The sagacity of the animal is chiefly shewn in bringing his rider alongside the retreating buffalo, and in avoiding the numerous pitfalls abounding on the prairie. The most treacherous of the latter are the badger holes.

“Considering the bold nature of the sport, remarkably few accidents occur. The hunters enter the herd with their mouths full of bullets. A handful of gunpowder is let fall from their powder horns—a bullet is dropped from the mouth into the muzzle, a tap with the butt end of the firelock on the saddle causes the salivated bullet to adhere to the powder during the second necessary to depress the barrel, when the discharge is instantly effected without bringing the gun to the shoulder.”

Kane recorded the Métis’s buffalo adventures not only in paintings and sketches, but also in colorful narratives, collected later in his book “Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America” published in London in 1859.

As Canada’s first artist of national significance he has an interesting and important place in the history of Canadian art and ethnography. However, he does not escape criticism and questions about his authenticity—it was said his final paintings did not always match with the sketches he had made on site.

During his 2 voyages through the Canadian northwest in 1845 and from 1846 to 1848 Kane sketched and painted Métis people who lived around the forts as well as Indians from a variety of tribes who came to visit or trade at the forts. Everywhere along the way he made sketches, in pencil, watercolor or oil.

He made two voyages through the Canadian northwest—in 1845 and from 1846 to 1848.

During those years Kane sketched and painted Métis people who lived around the forts as well as Native people from other tribes who came to visit or trade at the forts. Everywhere along the way he made sketches, in pencil, watercolor or oil.

Hudson Bay after 1821 had a monopoly and operated about 100 isolated outposts along the major fur trade routes.

What he found in the Métis, Kane wrote was, “A race, who, keeping themselves distinct from both Indians and whites, form a tribe of themselves. Although they have adopted some of the customs and manners of the French voyageurs.”

Metis settlements on the Red River were located upstream as far as Pembina, ND, and downstream to Lake Winnipeg and Hudson Bay.

Métis hunts involved organizing hundreds of men, women, children, Red River carts and horses for the westward journeys which covered vast stretches of the Plains to harvest the buffalo where they grazed. On the return trip, tons of processed buffalo meat and hides were shipped for the fur and hide trade.

Buffalo hunts provided the Métis with an impressive organizational structure. By 1820 it was a permanent feature of life for all individuals on or near the Red River and other Métis communities.

The Red River Métis became famous for their buffalo hunts. However, experts say this was largely because of the abundance of writers and observers who passed through that area along the Red River between Winnipeg and Pembina publicizing their large hunts and pemmican trade.

Actually the Red River Métis were on the eastern edge of the pemmican commerce and only came late to the game.

Métis buffalo hunting and the making of pemmican for trade actually began in the late 1700s farther north and west. Fur trading companies looked for food items that could last their traders on long trips. The buffalo hunters showed them that pemmican was an ideal product, since it could be stored for long periods of time without spoiling.

During the early 1800s, Canadian Métis established themselves as suppliers of pemmican to the new world.

The first Métis communities appeared in Ontario, particularly around the Great Lakes, and Eastern Canada. As the fur trade moved west, so did the French-Canadian fur traders. Métis settlements were located as far west as British Columbia, and as far north as the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories.

Some who participated in the northern hunts preferred to stay out on the Prairie in winter camps. Roughly 30 such settlements have been found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana. Their small villages consisted of about 40 or 50 rough-hewn, flat sod-roofed cabins.

Métis lived in log cabins near or within fur trading forts. They were first and foremost buffalo hunters.

Among their many other names, the Métis were also known as Buffalo Hunters. Although they sustained themselves in a variety of ways—such as fishing, trapping for furs, practicing small-scale agriculture and working as wage laborers for the Hudson Bay Company—they were first and foremost buffalo hunters.

There were usually two organized hunts each year: one in the spring and one in the fall. The buffalo hunts of this time were carried out through almost militaristic precision.

Often a priest accompanied the devout Métis hunters and one of their rules was ‘No Hunting, No travel’ on Sundays.

Kane reported that the first organizational meeting for the hunt was held and a President selected. A number of captains were nominated by the President and the people jointly. The captains then proceeded to appoint their own policemen, the number assigned to each not exceeding ten.

Their duty was to see that the Laws of the hunt were strictly carried out. Guides were responsible for the camp flag that remained raised until it was time to settle for the night. At the end of the day the captains took charge.

Arrival at Fort Edmonton

A favorite fur trading fort for Paul Kane was the Edmonton trading post on the Plains of central Alberta. There he arrived in deep snow amid temperatures of 40 and 50 below. He rode across the Continental Divide the end of November and spent the rest of the winter there.

Kane observed the men working in the ice pits. He wrote “The buffaloes range in thousands close to the fort. The men had already commenced gathering their supply of fresh meat for the summer in the ice pit.

 “This is made by digging a square hole capable of containing 700 or 800 buffalo carcasses. As soon as the ice in the river is of sufficient thickness, it is cut into square blocks of a uniform size with saws. With these blocks the floor of the pit is regularly paved and the blocks cemented together by pouring water in between them and allowing it to freeze solid.

“In like manner the walls are solidly built up to the surface of the ground.

 “The head and feet of the buffalo when killed are cut off, and the carcass without being skinned is divided into quarters and piled in layers in the pit as brought in, until it is filled up, when the whole is covered with a thick coating of straw, which is again protected from the sun and rain by a shed.

“In this manner the meat keeps perfectly good through the whole summer, and eats much better than fresh killed meat, being more tender and better flavored.”

 Five or six gentlemen prepared for a buffalo hunt to which Kane was invited.

First they selected their horses. “We had our choice of splendid horses, as about a dozen are kept in the stables for the gentlemen’s use from the wild band of 700 or 800. Which roam about the fort and forage for themselves through the winter, by scraping snow away from long grass with their hoofs.

“They have only one man to take care of them, he follows them about and camps near them with his family. This would appear a most arduous task. But instinct soon teaches them that their only safety from their great enemies, the wolves, is by remaining near the habitations of man.

“These horses are kept and bred for the purpose of sending off pemmican and stores to other forts during the summer. In winter they are almost useless, on account of the depth of snow.

After going about 6 miles on a wagon trail the hunters saw a band of buffalo on the bank.

“A dog who had sneaked after us—running after them, gave the alarm too soon—and they started off at full speed. We caught the dog and tied his legs together and left him lying in the road to await our return.

“About 3 miles further we came to a place where the snow was trodden down in every direction and on ascending the bank, we found ourselves in the close vicinity of an enormous band of buffaloes, probably nearly 10,000.

“The snow was so deep they were either unable or unwilling to run far, and at last came to a dead stand. We therefore secured our horses and advanced towards them on foot to within 40 or 50 yards. We commenced firing, which we continued to do until we were tired of a sport so little exciting.

“For strange to say, they never tried either to escape or attack us.

“Seeing a very large bull, I thought I would kill him for the purpose of getting the skin of his enormous head and preserving it. He fell. But as he was surrounded by three others that I could not frighten away, I was obliged to shoot them all before I could venture near him—although they were all bulls and are not generally saved for meat.

“The sport proving rather tedious, from the unusual quietness of the buffaloes, we determined to return home and send the men for the carcasses and remounted our horses.

“But before we came to the river we found an old bull standing right in our way. Mr. Harriett, the chief, for the purpose of driving him off, fired at him and slightly wounded him. Then he turned and made a furious charge. Mr. Harriett barely escaped by jumping his horse on one side. So close, indeed was the charge, that the horse was slightly struck on the rump.

”The animal still pursued Mr. Harriet at full speed and we all set after him, firing ball after ball into him, as we ranged up close to him without any apparent effect than that of making him more furious and turning his rage on ourselves.

“This enabled Mr. Harriett to reload and plant a couple more balls in him. We were now all close to him and we all fired deliberately at him. At last after receiving 16 bullets in his body, he slowly fell.

“On our return, we told the men to bring in the cows we had killed, numbering 27, with the head of the bull I wanted. Whereupon the women—who have always this job to do, started off to catch the requisite number of dogs.

“These dogs are quite as valuable as horses, as it is with them that everything is drawn over the snow,” Kane observed. The snow at Edmonton was so deep in winter that horses could not be used. “Yet no care is taken of [the dogs] except that of beating them sufficiently before using them, to make them quiet for the time they are in harness. Painting by Paul Kane.

“About the fort there are always 200 or 300 who forage for themselves like the horses and lie outside. These dogs are quite as valuable as horses, as it is with them that everything is drawn over the snow. Two of them will easily draw in a large cow. Yet no care is taken of them except that of beating them sufficiently before using them, to make them quiet for the time they are in harness.

“It would be almost impossible to catch them were it not for the stratagem of tying light logs to them, which they drag about. By this means they soon catch as many as they want and bring them into the fort where they are fed—sometimes—before being harnessed.

“Early next morning I was roused by a yelling and screaming that made me rush from my room, thinking we were all being murdered. And there I saw the women harnessing dogs.

“Such a scene! The women were like so many furies with big sticks, threshing away at the poor animals, who rolled and yelled in agony and terror until each team was yoked up and started off.

“During the day the men returned, bringing the quartered cows ready to be put in the ice-pit. And my big head, which before skinning I had put in the scales and found that it weighed exactly 202 lbs. The skin of the head I brought home with me.

The Métis women often decorated with beadwork borrowed from French floral designs. These Muckluks were worn in winter time.

“The fort at this time of the year presented a most pleasing picture of cheerful activity. Everyone was busy; the men, some in hunting and bringing in the meat, some in sawing boards in the saw-pit and building boats.

 “The women find ample employment in making moccasins and clothes for the men, putting up pemmican in 90-pound bags, and doing all the household drudgery, in which the men never assist them.

“Evenings are spent round their large fires in eternal gossiping and smoking. The sole musician a fiddler is now in great requisition amongst the French part of the inmates, who give full vent to their national vivacity, whilst the more sedate Indian looks on with solemn enjoyment.

‘No liquor is allowed to the men or Indians. But want of it did not in the least seem to impair their cheerfulness.

Christmas at Ft Edmonton

On Christmas day the flag was hoisted and by 2 o’clock they sat down to a delicious dinner in the spacious dining hall, which was about 50’ by 25’.

Boiled buffalo hump, a boiled unborn buffalo calf, white fish browned in buffalo marrow, buffalo tongue—all considered delicacies—were served along with beavers’ tails and roast wild goose. Also piles of potatoes, turnips and bread.

“Long will it remain in my memory, although no pies, puddings or blanc manges shed their fragrance over the scene.

That evening they held a dance for all the inmates of the fort. The dancers were “glittering in every ornament they could lay hands on. Whether civilized or savage, all were laughing and jabbering in as many different languages as there were styles of dress.

Kane says that about 130 people–traders, their Native wives and children—the Métis —lived within the walls of the Edmonton trading post in comfortable log houses, supplied with abundant firewood.

“English was little used—as none could speak it but those who sat at the dinner table.

“Occasionally I led out a young Cree [woman] who sported enough beads round her neck to have made a peddler’s fortune.

“Having led her into the center of the room, I danced round her with all the agility I was capable of exhibiting to some highland-reel tune which the fiddler played with great vigor. Whilst my partner with grave face kept jumping up and down, both feet off the ground at once.

A half-Cree girl—her poetic name was Cunne-wa-bun—or ‘One that looks at the Stars.’ Posing for a picture, she held her swan’s wing fan with an ornamental handle of porcupine quills “in a most coquettish manner,” according to Kane, who later painted her in two styles.

“Another lady with whom I sported the light fantastic. . . whose poetic name was Cunne-wa-bun—or ‘One that looks at the Stars’ was a half-Cree girl. I was so much struck by her beauty that I prevailed upon her to promise to sit for her likeness, which she afterwards did with great patience—holding her fan made of the tip end of swan’s wing with an ornamental handle of porcupine’s quills in a most coquettish manner.”

Making a Calf

A few days later Kane went out hunting with Francois Lucie, a Métis voyageur and his friend.

“We fell in with a small band of buffaloes and Francois initiated me into the mysteries of ‘making a calf.’

“This ruse is performed by 2 men, one covering himself with wolf skin, the other with buffalo skin. They then crawl on all fours within sight of the buffaloes and as soon as they have engaged their attention, the pretend wolf jumps on the pretend calf, which bellows in imitation of a real one.

‘As the bellowing is generally perfect, the herd rush on to the protection of their supposed young with such impetuosity that they do not perceive the cheat until they are quite close enough to be shot.

“Indeed, Francois’ bellowing was so perfect that we were nearly run down. As soon as we jumped up they turned and fled [leaving 2 dead cows behind].

“We shortly afterwards fell in with a solitary bull and cow and again ‘made a calf.’ The cow attempted to spring towards us, but the bull seeming to understand the trick, tried to stop her by running between us.

“The cow however dodged and got round him and ran within 10 or 15 yards of us—with the bull close at her heels, when we both fired and brought her down.

“The bull instantly stopped short and bending over her, tried to raise her up with his nose—evincing the most persevering affection for her. Nor could we get rid of him so as to cut up the cow, without shooting him also—although bull flesh is not desirable at this season of the year, when the female can be procured.

“Having loaded our horses with the choice parts of the 3 cows we had killed, we proceeded home.”

Another day, another trick—taught Kane by Francois was “making a snake.” For this the 2 men crawled on their bellies, dragging themselves along by their hands.

“Being first fully certain that we were to the leeward of the herd, however light the wind, lest they should scent us—until we came within a few yards of them, which they would almost invariably permit us to do.

“Should there be 20 hunters engaged, each follows exactly in the track of his leader, keeping his head close to the heels of his predecessor.

“The buffaloes seem not to take the slightest notice of the moving line, which the Indians account for by saying that the buffalo supposes it to be a big snake winding through the snow or grass.”

Exhausted as he was after the days’ hunt, Kane stayed up late that night watching a dazzling performance of the northern lights.

“It extended from the east to the west across the zenith. In its center, immediately overhead appeared a blood-red ball of fire—of greater diameter than the full moon rising in a misty horizon. From the ball emanated rays of crimson light, merging into a brilliant yellow at the northern edges.

“The belt also on the northern side presented the same dazzling brightness, while the snow and every object surrounding us was tinted by the same hues.

“I continued lost in admiration of this splendid phenomenon until past one in the morning, when it still shown undiminished if not increased brilliance.

“The Indians have a poetical regard for the Aurora Borealis, which is in this high latitude remarkably brilliant, shooting up coruscations of surprising splendor. These they think are the spirits of the dead dancing before the Manitou or Great Spirit.”

A group of war chiefs from a large party of 1500 warriors headed for Fort Edmonton in pursuit of Crees and Assiniboines. Paul Kane, who painted them, said they included Big Snake in the center, Miskemekin “The Iron Collar” a Blood Indian chief with his face painted red, and Little Horn on the left with a buffalo robe draped round him. “As they were expecting to have a fight with the Crees next day, they got up a medicine dance in the afternoon and I was solemnly invited to attend, that I might add my magical powers,” he wrote.

Travelling home that fall Kane joined a brigade of voyagers, making portages with Mr. Harriet in the lead boat—“being lighter and generally better built than the rest.”

Homeward Bound

Their fleet arrived at Grand Rapids. “And the whole brigade shot down them—a distance of three and a half miles,” writes Kane.

“No rapid in the whole course of navigation on the eastern side of the mountains is at all to be compared to this in velocity, grandeur or danger. The brigade flies down as if impelled by a hurricane, many shipping a good deal of water in the perpendicular leaps which they often had to take in the descent.

“The whole course is one white sheet of foam from one end to the other!”

They arrived in Sault Ste Marie by Oct 1 and he finished the trip by steamboat.

Paul Kane brought home to Toronto some 500 sketches, from which he completed 100 paintings and published the book Wanderings—a detailed record of his travels throughout Canada. He has been criticized for romanticizing the Native people in a European way, giving viewers what they expected, rather than what he saw.

Kane married Harriet Clench in 1853. She was an accomplished artist and a drawing and painting instructor. They had four children, two sons and two daughters.

Kane’s home in Toronto, built upon his marriage to Harriet Clench in 1853. Now a historic site. They had four children, two sons and two daughters. Paul Kane died Feb. 20, 1871.

The oil paintings he completed in his studio are considered an essential part of Canadian heritage in recording those early times, although it was said he embellished some of them considerably, departing from the accuracy of his field sketches in favor of more dramatic scenes.

In 1857, Kane fulfilled his commissions of more than 120 oil canvases for his patron George W Allan, the Parliament and Simpson of Hudson Bay. His works were shown at the World’s Fair at Paris in 1855, where they were reviewed very positively.

In 1879 the hunters on the prairies of Canada reported that only a few buffalo were left of the great herds and within two years the last of the buffalo herds in Montana Territory were also gone.

Source: Wandering of an Artist Among the Indians of North America: From Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon, Through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again, by Paul Kane, published in London by Longman, Brown, Green and Roberts in 1859. Respectfully dedicated to George William Allan, ESQ. as a token of gratitude for the kind and generous interest he has always taken in the Author’s labors, as well as a sincere expression of admiration of the liberality which, as a native Canadian, he is ever ready to foster Canadian talent and enterprise. Toronto: July 9, 1858.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Conservationist aims to replace old bridge with bison preserve

Conservationist aims to replace old bridge with bison preserve

Sketch of possible future wildlife crossing links Iowa and Illinois across Mississippi. Photo credit Bison Bridge Foundation.

To benefit environment and spotlight Native American history

Between Iowa and Illinois, spanning a stretch of Mississippi River that flows from east to west, sits an exhausted 55-year-old concrete bridge. Each day 42,000 cars drive across the ageing structure, which is slated to be torn down and replaced.

But when Chad Pregracke looks at the bridge, he has a different vision entirely—not an old overpass to be demolished, but a home for the buffalo to roam.

The conservationist and local hero hails from the Quad Cities, a 300,000-person metropolitan area spanning two states on either side of the Mississippi River. It is known for its four cities: Bettendorf and Davenport in south-eastern Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in northwestern Illinois.

Pregracke spends months every year living on barges and cleaning up refuse from the Mississippi and he has brought his passion for the river to his latest project: converting the ailing bridge into a buffalo preserve. The idea came to him four years ago as he drove across the bridge one day, he says: “I thought, what if we made this a wildlife crossing?”

Now, his unlikely vision is being taken seriously. The departments of transportation in Iowa and Illinois are considering the proposal, which would break ground in as little as five years.

If completed, the bridge would become the longest human-made wildlife crossing in the world. The plan would see a new bridge built further down the river, where car traffic will be rerouted, and the existing bridge converted for use by humans and American bison—colloquially known as buffalo.

On one side would stand a pedestrian path and bike path and on the other an enclosed bison paddock that would let visitors see eye to eye with the huge creatures. The herds would be free to roam between Iowa and Illinois in the grassy expanse, and the project would establish the first national park in either state.
(The Guardian: Kari Paul Jun 27, 2021 06.00 EDT,

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

BSC Bison Symposium Agenda

Welcome! We are looking forward to hosting Bismarck State College’s 5th symposium in 2021. We appreciate your interest and hope you will join us in September.

**To Register for Bismarck State College Dakota Bison Symposium,
Call 701-224-5600, or click HERE:

BSC Bison Symposium Agenda

Day 1—Bismarck State College and the North Dakota Heritage Center (Breakfast, lunch, reception appetizers provided)
Day 2—Tours to Southwestern North Dakota and Northwestern South Dakota (lunch, dinner provided)
Day 3United Tribes Technical College (lunch provided)

The past, present, and future of the American Bison impacts us all more than we probably realize.

 Mark your calendar for the Dakota Bison Symposium, an event that will educate and inform attendees on the American Bison through presentations, conversations, film, art, tours, exhibits, music, dancing, and culinary art. Bismarck State College will host this event September 16–18, 2021 in Bismarck, North Dakota.

This event is the fifth in a series of symposia led by the college to promote the arts, humanities, and history through major topics that shape our culture and heritage as a state and nation, promote mutual respect for diverse beliefs, and broaden our understanding of humanity.

Registration fees are listed below and registration is open!
September 16 only—$65 (includes light breakfast, lunch & evening reception)
September 17 only—$45 (includes bus transportation, lunch, snacks, Bison dinner)

September 16-17—$99
September 18 only—$35 (includes lunch; transportation not provided)
September 16, 17, 18—$125

Save 10% on registration with your OLLI @ BSC membership!

Agenda (BSC Campus)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

7:00 am           Onsite check-in; Registration
    National Energy Center of Excellence, BSC

7:45 am           Welcome, Dr. Doug Jensen,
    Bismarck State College President

8:00 am           Bison: From Whence They Come
    John Eagle Sr., Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

8:45 am           Why Does the Bison Matter?
    Dan Flores, Author, A. B. Hammond
    Professor Emeritus of the History of the American West at the University of Montana-Missoula

9:30 am           Break/Book Signing

10:00 am         The Bison Arrival to North America
    Dr. Duane Froese, University of Alberta

10:45 am         Cultural and Historical Significance of the American Bison
    Dakota Goodhouse, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, United Tribes Technical College

11:30 am         Lunch & Field Trip Synopsis
    Francie Berg, author
    Cody Two Bears, Indigenous Energy

12:45 pm         Destruction of the Bison
    Andrew C. Isenberg, University of Kansas

1:30 pm           Return of the Bison: A Panel Discussion
    Arnell D. Abold, Oglala Lakota (Sioux), Executive Director for the InterTribal Buffalo Council
    Jason Baldes, Eastern Shoshone, Wind River native
    Corissa Busse, The Nature Conservancy
    Brendan Moynahan, National Park Service/Dept. of Interior’s Bison Working Group

3:00 pm           Break/Book Signing

3:30 pm           Bison and Healthy Indian Communities:, A Panel Discussion
    Scott J. Davis, Executive Director of Indian Affairs, Sanford Health – Moderator
    Donald Warne, Indians Into Medicine (INMED) & Public Health Programs at UND
    Melissa Sobolik, President, Great Plains Food Bank
    Chairman Mike Faith, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
    Lorraine Davis, President and CEO, Native American Development Center

6:30 pm           Reception and Dance by Kevin Locke
    North Dakota Heritage Center

7:00 pm           Film Viewing Bring Them Home (Documentary)
    Iniskim (fiction film) Produced by Daniel Glick

Friday, September 17, 2021 (Day Trip)

7:15 am           Check-in, Bus Assignments

7: 45 am          Buses Depart BSC

9:00 am           Kokomo Sculpture Gallery, Petrified Park (Lemmon, SD)
    Shadehill Buffalo Jump

11:45 am         Lunch, Shadehill Recreation Area

1:45 pm           Johnson Buffalo Herd, Jim Strand Herdsman
    Hiddenwood Hunt Historic Site

4:30 pm          Last Stand – Sitting Bull Hunt

5:30 pm           Buffalo Dinner, Dakota Buttes Museum (Hettinger, ND)

7:30 pm           Depart for BSC/Bismarck

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Events scheduled for United Tribes Technical College

8:30 am           Check-in

9:00 am           Opening Prayer

9:15 am           Significance of the Buffalo for Ocethi Sakowin & Local Nations

10:00 am         Indigenous Singing & Dance Performance

10:15 am         Dignitaries Speak –
    Political leaders, representatives from multiple tribal nations & other dignitaries

10:30 am         Indigenous Singing & Dance Performance

12:00 pm         Buffalo Lunch – prepared in traditional Northern Plains Indigenous way

Local Indigenous art vendors onsite from 10 am – 1 pm

     **To Register for Bismarck State College Dakota Bison Symposium,

         Call 701-224-5600, or click HERE:

Selection of Confirmed Speakers

Francie M. Berg is a teacher, historian and author of 17 books, with strong homestead and ranching roots in the Old West. Born at home in the Missouri River Breaks, she grew up on a Montana ranch and lives in Hettinger, North Dakota, within a few miles of her grandparents’ South Dakota homestead and the center of a fascinating buffalo heritage of which she writes in Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes and its companion book Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains.

For over 35 years she has been researching buffalo, read most all the books on the subject, visited many public, commercial and tribal herds, talked and visited with bison ranchers, climbed some of the most famous buffalo jumps in the Rocky Mountains, US and Canada, and wrote three books about buffalo. Her other books on western history include: Montana Stirrups, Sage & Shenanigans, North Dakota Land of Changing Seasons, South Dakota Land of Shining Gold, Wyoming Land of Echoing Canyons and Ethnic Heritage in North Dakota.

Francie Berg has worked as a county extension agent, and taught high school, college and adult education.  A licensed nutritionist and graduate of Montana State University in Bozeman, she has a master’s degree in Family Social Studies and Anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

Books on Buffalo include: Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains, winner of three national awards, Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes, a Self-Guided Tour, and The Last Great Buffalo Hunts: Traditional Hunts in 1880-1883 by Teton Lakota (back ordered).


Dr. Duane Froese is Canada Research Chair in Northern Environmental Change at the University of Alberta, and has been working on the fossil record of Ice Age mammals in Northern Canada and Alaska for the last 25 years.  His research group focuses on environmental changes in the North, and undrstanding the ecosystems that supported the diverse grazing megafauna of Ice Age North America.


Dan Flores: A native of Louisiana and currently a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, he has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and numerous magazines. He is the author of ten books, most recently American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains, the Stubbendieck Distinguished Book Prize winner in 2017, and Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, which is a New York Times Bestseller, winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, and a 2017 Finalist for PEN America’s E. O. Wilson Prize in Literary Science Writing. His current project, “Wild New World: America’s Animals Confront Humanity” is a big history of the human/wild animal story and will be published by W. W. Norton in 2022.


Dakota Wind Goodhouse is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Goodhouse has a B.A. in Theology and a M.A. in History. He is a PhD candidate at NDSU in History. Goodhouse teaches U.S. History and Native American Studies at United Tribes Technical College. He is the editor and writer of “The First Scout,” a blog about the history and culture of the Northern Plains.


Daniel Glick is an Emmy-winning director, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor who has worked on projects of all types including documentaries, narrative films, comedies, commercials and web series.

These projects have garnered more than a dozen awards and span a range of topics that Daniel is passionate about: social justice, indigenous rights, wildlife, the arts, science, conservation, and prison reform.

His diverse range of clients have included The Wilderness Society, LL Bean, FICO, Wildlife Conservation Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and Colliers International.


Andrew Isenberg is the Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas.  He is the author, co-author, or editor of seven books, including The Destruction of the Bison:  An Environmental History, 1750-1920 (2000; second edition, 2020); Mining California:  An Ecological History (2005); and Wyatt Earp:  A Vigilante Life (2013).

From his book The Destruction of the Bison, “The interaction between Indians and Euroamericans in the western plains created bison hunters on both sides of the encounter:  notably equestrian Indian nomads and Euroamerican hide hunters.  By the second half of the nineteenth century… Indians and Euroamericans were engaged in a destructive battle over control of resources in the plains.”


The Dakota Bison Symposium will draw a diverse audience from across the state and region September 16-18, 2021, to experience and learn about the American Bison through presentations, panel discussions, film, art, tours, exhibits, music, dancing, and culinary arts. This three-day event is the fifth in a series of symposia led by the BSC to promote the arts, humanities, and history through major topics that shape our culture and heritage as a state and nation, promote mutual respect for diverse beliefs and broaden our understanding of humanity.

Presentations will be chronological, beginning with ancient origins of the bison and arrival to North America; the cultural and historical significance of the bison to Native American peoples and settlers; the exploitation and destruction of the bison; and modern efforts to re-introduce and conserve bison herds from both a Native American and farming/ranching perspective, as well as health benefits of the return of the bison to Native American communities.

The Dakota Bison Symposium—September 16-18, 2021. A symposium to explore the rich history of the bison, see its impact on where we are today and learn about the opportunities that are waiting in the near future. We hope you can join us—registration is open!

A 3-day event to discuss the history, near destruction and remarkable revitalization of the Bison, and how it has played a staring role in living traditions and art from ancient to modern times.


Adams County Prepares for BSC Bison Symposium Tour

Viewing hint: To enlarge type simply hold down your Control key and roll the wheel on the mouse.

Adams County Record, July 15, 2021 by Frank Turner, editor, with permission

Thank you to our confirmed Sponsors & Partners!

Bismarck State College has been approved for a $30,000 Grants for Arts Projects award to support the college’s 2021 Dakota Bison Symposium. This project is among the more than 1,100 projects across America totaling nearly $27 million that were selected during this second round of Grants for Arts Projects fiscal year 2021 funding. 

As the country and the arts sector begin to imagine returning to a post-pandemic world, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is proud to announce funding that will help arts organizations such as Bismarck State College reengage fully with partners and audiences,” said NEA Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “Although the arts have sustained many during the pandemic, the chance to gather with one another and share arts experiences is its own necessity and pleasure.”

Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is proud to announce funding that will help arts organizations such as Bismarck State College reengage fully with partners and audiences,” said NEA Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “Although the arts have sustained many during the pandemic, the chance to gather with one another and share arts experiences is its own necessity and pleasure.”

The Dakota Bison Symposium will be an event that brings a diverse audience from across the state and region to experience and learn about the American Bison through presentations, panel discussions, film, art, tours, exhibits, music, dancing, and culinary arts. This three-day event is planned for September 16-18, 2021 in Bismarck, North Dakota. This event is the fifth in a series of symposia led by the college to promote the arts, humanities and history through major topics that shape our culture and heritage as a state and nation, promote mutual respect for diverse beliefs, and broaden our understanding of humanity.

“This is an exciting and enriching event that we are proud to be hosting on our campus with a great number of partners and stakeholders,” said BSC President Doug Jensen. “We look forward to working with the Arts Endowment on this endeavor.”

 Agenda details and registration for the event are available online at 

For more information on the projects included in the Arts Endowment grant announcement, visit


Sponsorship is a great opportunity to become involved in the Dakota Bison Symposium,
the 5th Symposia offered by Bismarck State College. Sponsor level details below:

Gold sponsor                                              $5,000

  • Full color 1/4 page ad in the Symposium program book.
  • Social media recognition.
  • Company logo included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Verbal name recognition during program.
  • Logo recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Symposium sessions will be streamed to schools, and the stream will feature Gold company logos.
  • Logo recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • Priority seating at Symposium for complimentary registrations.
  • Four complimentary registrations to the full symposium, including Thursday evening speakers and Friday/Saturday tours.
  • Name tags will indicate Sponsorship level.

Silver Sponsor                                          $2,500

  • Company name listed in program book.
  • Verbal name recognition during program.
  • Social media recognition.
  • Company name recognition included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Company name recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • Priority seating at Symposium for complimentary registrations.
  • Four complimentary registrations to the full Symposium, including Thursday evening speakers and Friday/Saturday tours. 
  • Name tags at Symposium will indicate Sponsorship.

Supporting Sponsor                                                                        $1,000

  • Program book listing with company name and logo.
  • Company logo included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Logo recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Logo recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • Two complimentary registrations to the full Symposium, including Thursday evening speakers and Friday/Saturday tours. 
  • Nametags at Symposium will indicate sponsorship.

Community Sponsor                                                 $500

  • Program book listing with company name and logo.
  • Company logo included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Logo recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Logo recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • One complimentary registration to the Thursday’s Symposium events.

Name tags at Symposium will indicate sponsorship.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison Sponsor, Sen. Enzi Dies After Bicycle Accident

Bison Sponsor, Sen. Enzi Dies After Bicycle Accident

Former U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, a longtime champion for bison producers, died Monday
after sustaining serious injuries in a recent bicycle accident near his home in Gillette, Wyoming.

Enzi, who was 77, “passed away peacefully” while surrounded by his family, a statement read. “His family expresses their deep appreciation for all of the prayers, support and concern. They now ask for privacy and continued prayers during this difficult time.”

Enzi’s family said he was admitted to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado. He was unconscious and unable to recover from his injuries, which included a broken neck and ribs, the family said.

Enzi fell near his home about 8:30 p.m. Friday, a family friend said, around the time Gillette police received a report of a man lying unresponsive in a road near a bike.

Enzi, a Republican, led the drive in the early 2000s to have the U.S. Mint issue a limited-edition Buffalo Nickel in commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery. When the coin was officially issued in February 2005, Enzi helped preside over a Capitol Hill ceremony that featured Cody the Buffalo from Dances with Wolves.

He was also the original sponsor of the annual Senate resolution designating the first Saturday in November as National Bison Day and was an original co-sponsor of the Bison Legacy Act, which resulted in bison being designated as the National Mammal of the United States in 2016.

He was honored in 2010 with the National Bison Association’s first-ever Friend of the Buffalo Award. The plaque presented to Enzi at the 2010 Winter Conference honored the Senator, “For His Leadership and Commitment to the Stewardship of a Species, The Success of our Producers, And the Integrity of our Products.”

John Flocchini, former NBA president and Wyoming bison rancher, noted, “Senator Enzi was a strong and consistent ally of the NBA, and everyone in our business. He was always available to meet with our annual delegation in Washington, D.C. and eager to support our legislative priorities.

“Having known him personally for many years, he was a genuinely good man, and was committed to bipartisan cooperation throughout his time in the Senate.”

Enzi, a Republican, retired in January after four terms as Senator. He previously was a state lawmaker and mayor of Gillette, where he owned a shoe store.
NBA Weekly Update, Aug 6, 2021.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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