Center of Excellence awards Bison Research Projects

June 3, 2021

RAPID CITY, S.D. – A new era in bison research formally began this week as the recently established Center of Excellence for Bison Studies funded eight projects to study topics ranging from ecosystem impact to meat quality.

The Center awarded more than $300,000 in funding to support the first year of each project, some of which may extend for up to three years.

“The projects authorized this week will contribute extensively to the pool of knowledge in a variety of areas regarding bison production, herd health, ecosystem management, cultural impacts, and meat quality,” said Dr. Kristi Cammack, executive director of the South Dakota State University Center of Excellence for Bison Studies.

The center’s board of directors began this year’s funding process by reviewing 32 letters of intent submitted by applicants from across the United States and Canada. Of those applicants, 16 were invited to submit formal research proposals.

The National Bison Association’s Science and Research Committee formally reviewed the proposals and identified the top applications for funding. The funding for the proposals was provided by the National Buffalo Foundation, which is engaged in a major fundraising effort to support the center’s work.

“One of the overriding priorities for the center is to fund proposals that meet the needs of the bison industry,” said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association. “The newly-authorized projects will benefit not only North American bison ranchers, but tribal producers and public herd managers as well.”

The Center of Excellence was chartered last September through a cooperative effort among South Dakota State University, the National Bison Association, and the National Buffalo Foundation.

Projects authorized by the Center of Excellence include:

  • A baseline inventory assessment of biological and cultural impacts of buffalo restoration in Indian country (InterTribal Buffalo Council)
  • An integrated approach to assess parasite burden and anthelmintic treatment success in North American bison (Kansas State University)
  • Benchmarking live animal and carcass quality outcomes at slaughter to identify factors impacting bison carcass value (Colorado State University)
  • Bison on the move: How translocations affect bison production and disease prevalence across space, time, and organization (South Dakota State University)
  • Characterization of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) in bison (South Dakota State University)
  • Comparison of ground nesting bee (Apoidea) abundance and diversity between bison wallows and adjacent prairie (USDA – Agricultural Research Service)
  • Habitat use and avoidance in a large, patchy landscape by American plains bison: Implications for management and conservation of the species (University of Nebraska – Kearney)
  • Investigating the ruminal metagenome of grass fed bison to uncover metabolic activities that impact the efficiency of forage utilization (South Dakota State University)

Projects are expected to begin July 1st

Dave Carter, Executive Director

National Bison Association

303-594-4420

dcarter@bisoncentral.com

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Buffalo Trucking for 24 Years

Buffalo Trucking for 24 Years

Tim Omilusik is a 42-year-old Canadian trucker from Coronation, Alberta, who runs a short- and long-haul livestock business from one end of Canada to the other, with 2,000-mile trips across the border down into Texas in between—or maybe a leg to Missouri or Wyoming.

Bison loads preferred. In fact, he says, he now hauls only buffalo to the USA.

Omilusik shares his bison-moving adventures on Twitter. A man of few words—Twitter is an ideal platform for him. 

Omilusik shares his bison-moving adventures on Twitter. Bison loads preferred. Photo courtesy of Tim Omilusik.

Day by day he briefly describes his load, in terse, but positive terms: “Beautiful set of bulls.”

“Bunch of beauties!

“Oh my goodness. These are big boys.

“Majestic!

“Beautiful set of bull calves. Very quiet. It was a long journey for them.

Speedy ladies…..Don’t matter how fast you think you are, you ain’t beating no bison. So incredibly athletic”

 There’s an appreciation for the scenery:

“You can’t beat the fresh mountain air.

“Scenic rip through Montana

“Idaho skies.” A brilliant sunrise—or sunset.

On some days he only gives his viewer-readers a video—no words.

Sure enough, a video tells it all.

He provides great movies of buffalo charging into the big trailer—with large grunting, groaning sound effects.

Big bulls duck their gigantic heads to avoid scraping the ceiling—as they lunge up or down a ramp to other decks. Credit TO.


Big bulls duck their big heads to avoid scraping the ceiling—as they lunge up or down a ramp to another deck.

 Now and then it’s a startled-looking gang of youthful horned heads standing together. Loaded, but turned back toward you—the viewer—as if wondering whether a full charge out the back door might succeed.

 Omilusik apparently lets them know in a calm way that’s not going to work. From a corner of the camera you see a wave of his flag-on-a-long-stick—and he swings shut a divider gate.

 Sometimes there’s a ‘thank you’ from a happy customer:

“Announcing the arrival of a lovely group of 23 Canadian bison heifer calves from Wolverine Bison. This has been a long journey from the seed of an idea a year ago to their arrival today. Special thanks—Tim from Eastland Transport Ltd. who safely transported these bison calves all the way from Saskatchewan—and was totally amazing during the unload!”

Sometimes Tim’s videos show the buffalo running full-tilt out of the trailer.

Or—already unloaded—they are investigating a new green pasture, a corral or galloping through a long narrow chute.

Omilusik’s big new truck might be washed shiny clean and brilliant red in the sunshine, cruising toward home.

Or it might have the full load of a long trip, splashed with mud, manure, and gobs of buffalo hair bristling out the airholes.

At times it’s just a video of a narrow highway, running ahead of that bright red truck hood taking the curves down a mountain road through Black Hills pine trees—Hiway 85, the scenic route back home to Alberta, I think.

Yes, this is a man of few words—and yet, he’s not. Just get him started on his favorite subject—Bison.

Omilusik Loves his Bison

“I just love them,” he’ll say. And you know he’s grinning into the phone.

“They are so big. So majestic, so strong. Magnificent!

“It’s awesome to see Bison walking the land again.”

“I just love their nature. Their strength. Bison move at full strength all the time. Always going at full speed. You really have to be on your game. 

“It’s 40 miles an hour coming on to the trailer. And 40 miles an hour coming off.

‘It’s not something somebody can do alone. It takes a good group of people.”

Tim likes to work alone inside the trailer. And outside, just a few people who know what they’re doing—not many just standing around.

Stout bull buffalo horns broke through the side of the trailer one day, and the bull could have escaped—ripped it like a tin can, Tim says. But he did not. “Never had nothing come out yet,” he chuckles. TO

“That’s what happened one time.” When a bull buffalo smashed out a hole in the side of the trailer.

“Too many people working the outside got ahead of the bull and seeing them he spooked while I was trying to close the gate.”

He definitely prefers working alone inside the trailer when loading or unloading. It helps keep “these animals’ stress level at a minimum—better for the Bison.”

“Beautiful set of bull calves. Very quiet. First time on a truck an very little pressure to load an pretty much open the gate an they walked out behind me to unload.”

He loads them up—in the video you can see Tim’s boot and half a leg as he waves his flag—and deftly swings the divider gate at the same time.

Can that be a grocery-store plastic bag on the end of the long stick he’s waving?

He dips his head to the lower gate as a ‘Load of little ladies’ heads down a ramp into the front ‘Nose.’

A final wave and sweep of the plastic flag, shut the gate, and one more compartment is loaded and ready to go.

Tim Omilusik calls riding in his truck, driving a load of yearlings or the big guys, being in his Happy Place. TO.

He calls hauling bison his “Happy Place.”

Riding his truck, driving a load of yearlings or maybe ‘the big guys.’ Getting out on the open road that stretches ahead for hundreds of miles—travelling south, east or west. That’s being in a happy place.

Winter Driving and Icy Roads

And yes, there’s some winter driving in January. Of course, there is, when you live 10.5 hours north of Minot, ND, with a full load of Bison and a huge truck!

On Jan 14, 2021, he shared: “Never have I ever felt the true force of the wind until last night. I’m loaded in this pic, parked. Highway is a sheet of ice. The wind literally blew my trailer sideways towards the shoulder. Scary stuff.”

He’s realistic. Frustrated, probably, but mostly concerned about those buffalo on the trailer. What’s best for them?

“I was NE bound–but forced to turn back.”

 On March 17, “Wyoming got hit hard. Interstate I25 finally opened. I only was shut down for 12 hours but lots of trucks had been parked since Saturday when the storm hit.”

Another time he writes, “Been sitting at the truck stop for 2 days waiting for Sunday to load and I’m getting bored.

I had a close call a few years ago at a rest area in Montana. I was coming out of the restroom and caught a couple of animal rights activists trying to open the liftgate on my trailer and release the bison. They figured what I was doing was cruel and they should be set free to roam.

“After a heated argument, they got into their car and drove away.

“Now I padlock every door and gate to keep that from happening. Somebody could have been seriously injured or even killed.

“They had no idea what they were dealing with or the situation they were putting themselves and others in.

One day an insurance agent friend tells him about a retired veterinarian who was awarded a medal for bravery. He had fought off a bison bull who had another fellow down in a chute and dragged that fellow to safety.

Tim’s comment, “Very lucky he was there to help.”

Tim’s a bit reticent about who and where he’s serving his clientele—which I expect, many bison ranchers appreciate.

He gets the load where it’s going in the best shape possible, and no complaints.

His 2013 Kenworth Truck

I first encountered Tim Omilusik last year on the internet when John Hitch, editor of the magazine ‘American Trucker’ wrote an article on a ‘Day In The Life Of A Bison Hauler,’ featuring his work, dated Oct 21, 2020.

Turned out to be more than one day. In fact, Omilusik has been doing this for 24 years, and he told Hitch he learns something new every day when working with Bison.

Readers of the trucking magazine, of course, wanted to know about the kind of truck he drove—and the big trailer he hauled behind.

“What’s your current truck-trailer set up?” asked Editor Hitch.

A 2013 Kenworth W900L. I ordered it brand new September of 2012. It was my first truck with a DPF (diesel particulate filter) on it. It took a little bit to get used to. It is equipped with a Cummins 550 ISX/1850 torque.

“I’ve had Cummins all my life and was pretty impressed with the performance of the new emission engine. I have got just under 950,000 miles on it.

“I’ve spec’d out a new truck, but with the way the economy is and the new prices, it’s pretty scary to jump into a new one. A truck I spec’d a little while ago came in at $265,000 Canadian (US $219,685). That’s just a lot of money.
As for the big trailer: “I have a 2017 Merrick quad-axle trailer—built a little bit heavier than your typical regular livestock trailer. It’s still pretty weak when it comes to hauling bison.”

A New Truck in Viper Red

But that was last year.

Since then Omilusik has upgraded to a new 2022 Peterbilt 389-special truck.

After all, he had driven his 2013 Kenworth nearly a million miles in less than 9 years—a total of 950,000 miles.

He ordered the new one in December—in a bright shiny red—a color called ‘Viper Red,’ his father’s favorite color—purchased in his honor, he says.

Tim ordered his new 2022 Peterbilt 389-Special in Viper Red—his father’s favorite color. Here it’s hooked up to his ‘Mobile Barn’ and ready to pick up a load of Bison. He can haul 100 feeder calves or about half that many cows at once. TO.

Unfortunately, his father had a stroke on New Year’s Eve and passed away soon after. He never got to see the new brilliant red truck.

For a time in March Tim was between trucks. His old one was sold. The new one hadn’t arrived.

“8.5 years of my life I put into driving this truck and now she’s on her way to the new owner. I’m impatiently waiting to get into my other one so we can start some new miles.”

On April 7, 2021 the truck arrives, and he reports, “We are back in action!! Time to make some miles.”

A few days later the trailer—which Tim refers to as his ‘Mobile Barn’–is attached and ready to roll.

“I think it looks pretty darn good hooked up to the mobile barn.”

Next day he’s off. “Wow !! I missed this.”

A Day in the Life of a Buffalo Hauler

So what’s a day like in the life of a Bison hauler?

Lots of prep work. I’ll get up, do my precheck, and get myself psyched up for the day. Hauling bison is no easy task.

“It’s a lot different than just hauling regular cattle. They’re quite a bit bigger and more aggressive and can cause quite a bit of damage to you, themselves and each other.

“You need to be calm and cool about it. Relax and have a plan in your head if something goes wrong.

“For instance, one night I stopped just north of the U.S. for a morning border crossing. I had a lot of bulls on, and they started fighting in the trailer. I was up all night keeping an eye on all the bison so they wouldn’t tear my trailer apart.

“I’ll haul slaughter bison or fats used for meat, most of which are to packing plants in Canada or the U.S.

“I haul feeder bison to feedlots and breeding stock all over as well. I have done some stuff for the Canadian government that was for scientific research, such as tuberculosis testing in bison.

“One load will be 55,000 to 60,000 lbs.

“You can get about 100 feeder calves on board or 45 to 50 fats at 1,200 lbs. each. Most runs usually take a few days to complete.

Tim Omilusik prefers working alone inside the trailer when loading or unloading. It’s better for the Bison, he says. It helps keep stress levels down. Credit TO.

“If I load in Canada, it’s a day to the border and then another one or two to the destination.

“USDA law mandates the time the animals can be on the trailer is 28 hours before they have to be unloaded for feed an water.”

Canada has similar rules.

“These runs could be short or long. I’ve hauled bison up to 2,000 miles on one trip. It can be a pretty stressful ordeal.

“I’ve also brought yak from the U.S. over the years. I had to quarantine them on the trailer for three days. They’re smaller, but a little more intimidating because their horns are so much longer.

“14 deer 1 moose. Driving wide eyed !!”

Partitioning the Load

Tim tells me that his latest trailer with two decks can divide into 6 or 7 compartments, depending on what he’s hauling.

“I try to load the same weights together. We never load buffalo of different sizes in one compartment—they would just kill each other.”

“I load the top first—depends on how the trailers are set up. For some in the Nose—the front compartment, which is a little narrower—they have to go down a ramp to get there.

“The Nose can also be in 2 decks—so they might go up or down a ramp. For big animals there’s only 1 level in the nose. For smaller animals of 400 to 700 pounds, it’s a double layer in the nose.

“The ‘dog house’ is on the back end.”

If the bison have been living together they have already established their ‘pecking order’ and they usually get along fine, he says.

“Recently I took a big load of 25 bigger bulls—from 3 different herds—2,000 to 2500 pounds. Put them together in smaller bunches.

“I have several dividers—can make 6 or 7 partitions in 2 decks. I had 3 in one pen in the nose, 4 in another, 5 and then 6.

“It went really good, smoothly.

“Some compartments are smaller than others on the trailer, so you have to watch where you place them. You could really run out of room before you can get them all on.

“Hauling Bison is a lot different than hauling cattle. Bigger, more aggressive and can cause quite a bit of damage to you, themselves and each other.” TO.

A reader asks, “If you end up with the least dominant one last and it won’t go into a compartment do you swap it out or ever just give up on filling the compartment?”

“I have never had to give up. Patience always seems to work,” Tim replies.

 “If I have cows and small calves—I separate them into different compartments.

“I have never had any issues with bulls but cows seem to get pretty aggressive with one another.”

He loads them up. In the video you can see a boot and half-leg of Tim Omilusic waving his long-handled flag—and swinging the divider gate.

He dips his head to the lower gate as a ‘Load of little Ladies’ head down a ramp into the front Nose.

A final sweep of the flag, shut the gate and one more compartment loaded.

Then they are off. Mostly things go smoothly.

“These guys escaped an been hiding in the bush for quite some time before being caught. Loaded up an hauled out. They were very unhappy.

“This load of bulls this week definitely were a little on the wild side. No respect for anything. Kept me on my toes.”

The trailer looks strong and well built, and is re-enforced. But with the size and strength of the big bulls, Tim says they could smash through and get out if they really wanted to.

“One time when I was hauling herd bison weighing just under 3,000 pounds, a big bull didn’t like me on the roof an tore a hole through it trying to get at me.”

Tim was unloading from the roof, prodding with his flag to get one pen to leave the trailer.

“He ripped through the roof like it was a tin can. His horn came through right by my foot. A big hole—he could have come right through it.

“Bison horns have the strength to rip open even a re-enforced trailer like a tin can, so staying alert is key to staying safe for a bison hauler, Tim Omilusik warns.

“Never had nothing come out yet, though.

“Occasionally a ruckus is going on the the trailer.”

What do you do then? I wondered.

“Really can’t do anything. Usually there’s less fighting if you just keep going.”

Watering and Feeding Hay

“Feed and water can be a problem. You can’t unload bison and then load them up again. You can do that with cattle, but not bison.

“Their welfare is all I care about. I worry about the welfare of the animals. How to get them to their destination an unload safely

“On super long trips we have 2 drivers.

“If I think it’s going to be a problem I take a long garden hose, tubs for water and connect to a hydrant.

“Tubs are about the size of a half 50 gallon drum—I usually tie them to the walls so they can’t tip. All that has to be put together before leaving home.

“It’s a lot of work. I took a load to Missouri where we didn’t have access. I had to have hay and water. Setting all that up before we leave, it’s just a lot of work.

When they stop he tries to fill the animals up. They can also drink while travelling.

Sleeping in the Truck

“I always sleep in the truck—the trailer is behind, but they move around a lot more when we’re stopped. It all depends on their mood. Sometimes they are good. Other times they will thrash around the whole time.

“After 24 years of trucking you get used to it. Sometimes I stick in ear plugs.

“You definitely feel the movement with the larger ones. Most of the time they are pretty calm. It’s when you get stopped, there can be trouble. 

“The animals mostly are bumping the walls and when you stop, they kick a lot and bump the walls. 

“Little calves just weaned—300 to 500 pounds—they are agitated and paw the floor a lot.

“Buffalo carry their head low and sometimes one gets stuck between another animal’s legs. Sometimes they can get all tangled up together.

 “Just gotta stop, use flags to split them up—usually just a couple animals together, but sometimes more. Need to reposition them.

 “Bison are very smart—If one is tired they position themselves against the wall to lie down—out of the way. Where they have room to lie down.

 You learn something new every day when you’re working with bison. It’s a job that takes focus and patience. You always have to be alert and ready for anything.

“These runs could be short or long. I’ve hauled bison up to 2,000 miles on one trip. It can be a pretty stressful ordeal.”

 At the end of the run, he reports a delicious meal.

“Friday night supper in the truck. Bison tenderloin compliments of my good friends of Bison Coulee Contracting. Baked potato, broccoli and a salad. I’m going to sleep well tonight!”

When Buffalo Don’t Want to Get Out

Then sometimes he arrives at the destination and the bison don’t want to leave the truck.

“On a long haul they get attached to their surroundings and sometimes they don’t want to get out.

“It’s happened to me three times this year with big herd bulls—they didn’t want to get out.

“Bison have their own mindset. If they don’t want to go, they’re not going to go. You can’t really force them.

And they have to come off the trailer in reverse order of the way they entered, right? One pen at a time? Right.

“Get off the ones you can. I went to bed in the truck with the trailer backed up to the unloading chute.

“You get whatever sleep you can. Some of them will walk off in the night, others early morning when it gets light and they can see where they’re going.”

“I love them to death, so much it’s hard to describe. They are a magnificent animal, so awesome.”

What age do you like the most, I asked Tim. The young ones? The big bulls? The grumpy old bulls?

“All of them. I like them all. The little calves right up to the big guys.

“The little red dogs—(as they call the newborns)—so frisky. I get to watch them bound around, so exciting to watch. How can you not just sit there and watch them?

“And the big guys—I’m just astonished how big and how strong they are. I love hauling them.

“Load of little ladies,” is his verbal output for one day.

It’s a stressful job, yet it’s very enjoyable for me. Their welfare is all I care about.

“Hauling bison is no easy task.

“Once in a while I have to haul cattle—usually in the spring. But I’d rather just haul bison.

“I’d move them 365 days a year if I could, but it’s seasonal work.

Cleaning the Trailer after Hauling a Load

Tim cleans his trailer after every load—to keep down any spread of disease. He’s usually alone for the job, wielding a shovel, bar and pitchfork.

And no, it’s not just manure and wood chips.

There’s more. There’s the hair, coming off in huge clumps in the spring.

Buffalo shed winter hair in huge clumps in spring. TO.

Yes the Hair!

How does he clean buffalo hair out of the truck?

“It can be pretty overwhelming. During shedding season, you have more hair in the trailer than wood shavings or straw. I’ll find a place to shovel out everything and then find a washout [with a hydrant] to finish the cleaning.

“There’s usually so much hair it plugs up their system. I have been kicked out of more places than I can count.”

“The buffalo shed worst in spring. Yearlings and adults shed the most hair. And then they are also stressed from getting loaded in the transport trailer, so they rub on the walls. Not so much the calves.”

Some of his Twitter comments about hair:

“Shedding season. There will be more hair in the trailer than shavings when I’m unloaded.

“More hair than shavings on the floor by the end of the trip.

“Aftermath of hauling bison in the spring. Hair for days. Most loads during shedding season will leave more hair than there will be manure an shavings.

“And this is why washouts don’t like me coming around.”

“Get a leaf blower,” suggests one reader.

He rejects that with a genial, “Haha ya right. It’s packed in like concrete. Hence the pitchfork.”

And later: “Concrete. Exactly why it was used for many building projects for ages—hair, dung, straw.”

He’s right. I’ve seen those early homes in our Ukrainian communities! Hair, dung, straw and mud. Who knew you could build a home with that kind of ‘lumber?’ They did. And some are still standing—after more than a hundred years!

Beautiful set of bull calves. Very quiet. First time on a truck an very little pressure to load an pretty much open the gate an they walked out behind me to unload. TO.

How Tim got Started Trucking

Tim explains how he got into trucking:
“After high school, I wanted to be a cowboy and started working on a feed lot close to home.

“They had their own truck and trailer, and they needed an extra driver, so I got my commercial driver’s license in 1998 and started driving an old 1980s Ford LTL 9000 and pulling a Wilson 50-ft. tandem.

“I did that for a couple of years.

“There was a commercial cattle hauler back home in Alberta. He had three trucks and I started working for him. and it took off from there.

“I just loved it. I got my first truck in 2009 and pulled as a lease operator until I got my own in 2010. I hauled cattle for quite a few years and hauled bison in between.”

Today Tim Omilusik owns the trucking company—Eastland Transport. He also has a wife and a 15-year old daughter who are involved in the business.

His daughter is into 4-H and Rodeo. She’s feeling somewhat disappointed right now because of Covid-19 restrictions and cancellations, which are still widespread throughout Canada. (I wish her many successful shows. As a former 4-H Leader and Extension Agent, I know how hard these kids work and what the shows mean to them. It takes patience—she will get through this and things will soon be better!)

Tim owns no buffalo, but would like to. “Maybe when I retire. Like to have a herd someday, maybe—20 to 50 cows.

“Every year is different—summer months trucking tends to dry up some until fall.

“Feed prices are so high this year—corn prices—that hurts the livestock feeders

Tough to feed animals—When that changes, more animals will be moving.”

Finally, there’s a photo of Tim’s shiny new red truck proudly parked, clean and ready to go again.

“Wow !! I missed this. Happy to be back in my happy place.” TO.

“Ah. That’s looks better. The bugs were starting to take control.

“Washed up. Washed out. Ready to rock n roll in the morning!”

Next day he’s off.

“Wow !! I missed this. Happy to be back in my happy place.”

And off goes Tim Omilusik in a clean truck to pick up another load of Bison.

All’s well in his Happy Place.

(Twitter @eastland09) Eastland Transport Ltd. Is for “Hire’ for all your Bison hauling needs locally and or long distance Canada or the USA. People can reach out to me at

Eastland Transport Ltd; Box 817; Coronation, Alberta Canada; T0C 1C0. Cell Phone: 1-403-578-8705. Email: eastland.transport09@yahoo.ca

Next: Secrets of the Buffalo Jump

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

White Buffalo Calf Woman Brings Gifts, as told by Lame Deer

White Buffalo Calf Woman Brings Gifts, as told by Lame Deer

There are many versions of the White Buffalo Woman tradition, passed down in the Lakota Sioux culture from one storyteller to another. This version was told by John Fire Lame Deer at Winner on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, 1967. Although the White Buffalo Woman tradition differs in details, at its core it is the same—and each telling adds yet another layer of beauty to the traditional story.

 

Storytelling was an important way Native traditions and history were passed down through the generations. John Fire Lame Deer told of the White Buffalo Calf Woman tradition at a gathering in Winner in 1967.

 

One summer so long ago that nobody knows how long, the Oceti-Sakowin, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Oyate, the nation, came together and camped.

The sun shone all the time, but there was no game and the people were starving. Every day they sent scouts to look for game, but the scouts could find nothing.

Among the bands assembled were the Itazipcho, the Without-Bows, who had their own camp circle under their chief, Standing Hollow Horn.

Early one morning Chief Standing Hollow Horn sent two of his young men to hunt for game.

They went on foot, because at that time the Sioux didn’t yet have horses. They searched everywhere but could find nothing.

Seeing a high hill, they decided to climb it so they could look over the whole country. Halfway up, they saw something coming toward them from far off, but the figure was floating instead of walking.

Map of the Rosebud Reservation communities covers four counties in South Dakota. At a 1967 gathering in the town of Winner, Tripp County, John Fire Lame Deer told of the White Buffalo Calf Woman tradition on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

From this they knew that the person was “wakan”—or holy.

At first they could make out only a small moving speck and had to squint to see that it was a human form. But as it came nearer, they realized that it was a beautiful young woman, more beautiful than any they had ever seen, with two round, red dots of face paint on her cheeks.

She wore a wonderful white buckskin outfit, tanned until it shone a long way off in the sun. It was embroidered with sacred and marvelous designs of porcupine quill, in radiant colors no ordinary woman could have made.

This wakan stranger was Ptesan-Wi, White Buffalo Calf Woman.

In her hands she carried a large bundle and a fan of sage leaves. She wore her blue-black hair loose except for a strand at the left side, which was tied up with buffalo fur. Her eyes shone dark and sparkling, with great power in them.

The two men looked at her with mouths open. One was overawed, but the other desired her body and stretched his hand out to touch her.

This woman was ‘lila wakan,’ very sacred, and could not be treated with disrespect.

Lightning instantly struck the brash young man and burned him up, so that only a small heap of blackened bones was left. Or some say that he was suddenly covered by a cloud, and within it he was eaten up by snakes that left only his skeleton, just as a man can be eaten up by lust.

To the other scout who had behaved well, the White Buffalo Calf Woman said, “Good things I am bringing, something holy to your nation. A message I carry for your people from the buffalo nation.

“Go back to the camp and tell your people to prepare for my coming. Tell your chief to put up a medicine lodge with 24 poles. Let it be made holy for my coming.”

This young hunter returned to the camp. He told the chief, he told the people, what the sacred woman had commanded.

The chief told the ‘eyapaha,’ the crier.

And the crier went through the camp circle calling: “Someone sacred is coming. A holy woman approaches. Make all things ready for her.”

So the people put up the big medicine tepee with 24 poles and waited. After four days they saw the White Buffalo Calf Woman approaching, carrying her bundle before her.

Her wonderful white buckskin dress shone from afar. The chief, Standing Hollow Horn, invited her to enter the medicine lodge. She went in and circled the interior in the direction the sun moves through the sky.

The chief addressed her respectfully, saying: “Sister, we are glad you have come to instruct us.”

She told him what she wanted done. In the center of the tepee they were to put an ‘owanka wakan,’ a sacred altar, made of red earth, with a buffalo skull and a three- stick rack for a holy thing she was bringing.

They did as she directed, and she traced a design with her finger on the smoothed earth of the altar.

She showed them how to do all this, then circled the lodge again in the same direction. Halting before the chief, she now opened the bundle. The holy thing it contained was ‘chanunpa,’ the sacred pipe.

She held it out to the people and let them look at it. She was grasping the stem with her right hand and the bowl with her left, and thus the pipe has been held ever since.

Again the chief spoke, saying: “Sister, we are glad. We have had no meat for some time. All we can give you is water.”

They dipped some ‘wacanga,’ sweet grass, into a skin bag of water and gave it to her, and to this day the people dip sweet grass or an eagle wing in water and sprinkle it on a person to be purified.

White Buffalo Calf Woman showed the people how to use the pipe. She filled it with ‘chan-shasha,’ red willow-bark tobacco.

She walked around the lodge four times after the manner of Anpetu-Wi, the great sun. This represents the circle without end, the sacred hoop, the road of life.

The woman placed a dry buffalo chip on the fire and lit the pipe with it. This was ‘peta-owihankeshni,’ the fire without end, the flame to be passed on from generation to generation.

In the holy woman tradition the White Buffalo Woman brought the Pipe and showed the Lakota how to use it in a prayerful way. In this 1898 photo, Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud smokes the pipe on the South Dakota Rosebud Reservation. Photo by Jesse H. Bratley.

She told them that the smoke rising from the bowl was Tunkashila’s breath, the living breath of the great Grandfather Mystery.

The White Buffalo Calf Woman showed the people the right way to pray, the correct words and the gestures to use.

She taught them how to sing the pipe-filling song and how to lift the pipe up to the sky, toward Grandfather, and down toward Grandmother Earth, to Unci, and then to the four directions of the universe.

“With this holy pipe,” she said, “you will walk like a living prayer. With your feet resting upon the earth and the pipe stem reaching into the sky, your body forms a living bridge between the Sacred Beneath and the Sacred Above.

“Wakan Tanka smiles upon us, because now we are as one—earth, sky, all living things, the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged ones, the trees, the grasses. Together with the people, they are all related, one family. The pipe holds them all together.

“Look at this bowl,” said the White Buffalo Woman. “Its stone represents the buffalo, but also the flesh and blood of the red man. The buffalo represents the universe and the four directions, because he stands on four legs, for the four ages of creation.

“The buffalo was put in the west by Wakan Tanka at the making of the world, to hold back the waters. Every year he loses one hair, and in every one of the four ages he loses a leg.

“The sacred hoop will end when all the hair and legs of the great buffalo are gone, and the water comes back to cover the Earth. The wooden stem of this ‘chanunpa’ stands for all that grows on the earth.

“Twelve feathers hanging from where the stem—the backbone—joins the bowl—the skull—are from Wanblee Galeshka, the spotted eagle, the very sacred bird who is the Great Spirit’s messenger and the wisest of all flying ones. You are joined to all things of the universe, for they all cry out to Tunkashila.

“Look at the bowl: engraved in it are seven circles of various sizes. They stand for the seven sacred ceremonies you will practice with this pipe, and for the Oceti Sakowin, the seven sacred campfires of our Lakota nation.”

The White Buffalo Calf Woman then spoke to the women, telling them that it was the work of their hands and the fruit of their bodies which kept the people alive.

The White Buffalo Woman told Native American women “You are from Mother Earth. What you are doing is as great as what the warriors do.” In this 1923 photo Sicangu women with baby and young child show off their fine clothing on Rosebud Reservation.

“You are from the mother earth,” she told them. “What you are doing is as great as what the warriors do.”

And therefore the sacred pipe is also something that binds men and women together in a circle of love.

Man and woman with tepee. When a man takes a wife, they both hold the pipe at the same time and red trade cloth is wound around their hands, thus tying them together for life, said the White Buffalo woman. This photo is said to be of a Lakota wedding, possibly taken on the Rosebud reservation about 1912. Credit Tuell.

It is the one holy object in the making of which both men and women have a hand. The men carve the bowl and make the stem; the women decorate it with bands of colored porcupine quills.

When a man takes a wife, they both hold the pipe at the same time and red trade cloth is wound around their hands, thus tying them together for life.

The White Buffalo Woman had many things for her Lakota sisters in her sacred womb bag— corn, ‘wasna’ (pemmican), wild turnip. She taught them how to make the hearth fire.

She filled a buffalo paunch with cold water and dropped a red-hot stone into it. “This way you shall cook the corn and the meat,” she told them.

The White Buffalo Calf Woman also talked to the children, because they have an understanding beyond their years.

She told them that what their mothers and fathers did was for them, that their parents could remember being little once, and that they, the children, would grow up to have little ones of their own.

She told them: “You are the coming generation, that’s why you are the most important and precious ones. Some day you will hold this pipe and smoke it. Some day you will pray with it.”

She spoke once more to all the people: “The pipe is alive; it is a red being showing you a red life and a red road. And this is the first ceremony for which you will use the pipe. You will use it to keep the soul of a dead person, because through it you can talk to Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery Spirit.

The Buffalo woman spoke to the people telling them that they were the purest among tribes and that is why they were chosen to be caretakers of the pipe for all people. This early photo shows a group of Sicangu Lakota men and women leaders from Rosebud Reservation.

“The day a human dies is always a sacred day. The day when the soul is released to the Great Spirit is another. Four women will become sacred on such a day. They will be the one to cut the sacred tree—the ‘can-wakan’—for the sun dance.”

She told the Lakota that they were the purest among the tribes, and for that reason Tunkashila had bestowed upon them the holy ‘chanunpa,’ They had been chosen to take care of it for all the Indian people on this turtle continent.

She spoke one last time to Standing Hollow Horn, the chief, saying, “Remember: this pipe is very sacred. Respect it and it will take you to the end of the road.

“The four ages of creation are in me; I am the four ages. I will come to see you in every generation. I shall come back to you.”

The sacred woman then took leave of the people, saying: “Toksha ake wancinyankin (wacinyanktin) ktelo—I shall see you again.”

The people saw her walking off in the same direction from which she had come, outlined against the red ball of the setting sun.

As she went, she stopped and rolled over four times. The first time, she turned into a black buffalo; the second into a brown one; the third into a red one. And finally, the fourth time she rolled over she turned into a white female buffalo.

The fourth time she rolled over, the White Buffalo Woman turned into a white buffalo and disappeared over the horizon. Credit White Cloud mounted in the National Buffalo Museum, Jamestown Sun.

A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter. The White Buffalo Calf Woman disappeared over the horizon. Sometime she might come back.

Great herds of buffalo came to the Lakota in the White Buffalo woman tradition—and she brought many other gifts. Today Native Americans celebrate their modern tribal Buffalo herd on the Rosebud Indian Reservation—as on most other reservations in the Plains states. Credit Rosebud Tribe.

As soon as she had vanished, buffalo in great herds appeared, allowing themselves to be killed so that the people might survive.

And from that day on, our relatives, the buffalo, furnished the people with everything they needed—meat, skins for their clothes and tepee’s and bones for their many tools. 

Other versions:
www.ilhawaii.net/~stonylore30
www.blackelkspeaks.unl.edu/appendix2
www.think-aboutit.com

NEXT: Buffalo Trucker for 24 Years

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

5M Donation made for new Custer State Park Bison Center

5M Donation made for new Custer State Park Bison Center

Over the decades, the Custer State Park roundup and auction grew in popularity, becoming the spectacle it is today. About 20,000 people show up every September to watch horseback riders herd bison into corrals. Credit Matt Gade.

A charitable organization—the Helmsley Charitable Trust—is giving $4 million to the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation to build a new Bison Center at Custer State Park.

The park will use the money to build the new center near the existing buffalo corrals. The center will educate visitors about the park’s bison herd, which numbers nearly 1,300.

Actually, the first additional $100,000 has already been pledged by Walter Panzirer, of Pierre. He’s one of the trustees of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. He’s also a grandson of the late Leona Helmsley, one of the trust’s namesakes.

“At the Helmsley Charitable Trust, we’re into rural healthcare,” Panzirer said. “That’s what we do for the seven upper Midwest states. And this, in my mind, ties to health. This encourages people to get out into the open—to get into the outdoors, enjoy the parks, be more physically active and be out here loving nature.”

Panzier told planners this will be a huge upgrade, “Picnic facilities and an interpretive center to tell the true story of the buffalo here. To tell why we are vaccinating buffalo, why the park manages the herds to such pristine levels as they do now. And really lay out the history that this was one of the five genetic lines that saved the buffalo in the United States.”  

“We are excited to lead the funding effort to make the Custer State Park Bison Center possible,” said Walter Panzirer. “To help ensure the park’s educational opportunities reflect the grandeur of the park, Helmsley has made significant investments, providing funding for the Custer State Park Visitor Center and the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center.”

The history of buffalo in the park began in 1914, when South Dakota bought 36 bison from Fort Pierre rancher Scotty Philip.   

The park conducted roundups every few years in those early days to manage the herd’s size, and butchered the excess bison. Annual roundups began in the 1960s, and park officials started auctioning the surplus animals instead of sending them to slaughter. 

The $5 Million Bison Center in Custer State Park Galloping Toward Ground-Breaking

From the Grand Forks Herald, Apr 12, 2021

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota’s legislature chipped in $500,000 during the recently completed legislative session for a bison interpretive center in Custer State Park, and state officials say plans for the structure are moving along briskly.

“Next week, we’ll get our first look at an interpretive design,” said Matthew Synder, Superintendent of CSP, speaking before the Game, Fish and Parks Commission’s regular meeting that convened last week. “Things are tracking really well.”

Snyder said he hopes to be “breaking ground” in June.

The bison center sprung from the mind of Helmsley Charitable Trust trustee Waltzer Panzirer, who worked on a Boy Scouts project in the park with his son, say park officials.

The trust donated $4 million, with Panzirer giving $100,000 of his own money to fuel the $500,000 in private donations needed. The legislature also authorized spending $500,000 on the project.

One question raised by Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, a Democrat and enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, during the debate on the legislature’s portion is whether or not the center would be “telling the correct story” of the bison.

During committee questioning, the state director of parks and recreation, Scott Simpson, assured Heinert the park had “learned our lesson” and would “provide input sessions” to hear from the public.”

Park officials plan to open the Bison Center by the spring of 2022.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Rare White Buffalo Donated to Turtle Mountain Chippewa

Rare White Buffalo Donated to Turtle Mountain Chippewa

Ernie and Beverly Fischer purchased a white buffalo from the Wahpeton Zoo for their Bar 33 Bison Ranch near Selfridge, North Dakota.

Then they changed their minds. They knew the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe had been struggling to bring their community back together from severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The gift of a white buffalo was sure to lift their spirits. And it did!

They contacted Murton Gillis, the buffalo manager for the Turtle Mountain Tribal herd.
“I said: ‘Yes, we would want that right away,’” said Gillis.

He can still hardly believe their good fortune.

“They mean a lot for hope and integrity. With everything going on with COVID, and everybody around the world being shut down. This could bring our tribe together in a good way, through prayer. So, I hope it does have a great influence on our people,” said Gillis.

A white buffalo holds significant cultural importance to Native Americans. It is believed the animal brings hope, healing and good times ahead.

“Just the fact that we have [a white bison] we can share with other Native Americans, just very special,” said Beverly Fischer.

“My husband and I have tried to do a lot with other people. We reached out to Turtle Mountain, and they said they would take him. So, being he’s a white buffalo, and that’s got a lot of significance for the Native Americans, we gave it to Turtle Mountain.”

When the white buffalo arrived in Belcourt in mid-April, crowds gathered to get a glimpse of the rare animal.

“People that had never seen it before thought it was a myth—like a unicorn, they told us,” said Gillis, as reported by the KFYR radio/TV station.

“We actually have one now and they’re like: ‘We can’t believe that was real. We only heard about it through books.’”

The community honored the buffalo with a drum ceremony.

Jeff DesJarlais, a tribal member, hopes the white buffalo will boost Belcourt’s tourism.

“That’ll be great for our community to bring it some outside visitors,” DesJarlais pointed out.

The Turtle Mountain tribe will have the white buffalo on display just outside Belcourt.

The tribe plans to breed the buffalo hoping to add another white bison to the herd. Plans are to eventually return the buffalo to the home ranch.

The Fischer Ranch in Selfridge plans to continue providing educational opportunities and plans to continue to develop and expand their ranch. They also hold an annual bison sale every winter.
Located in Belcourt ND, the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation is a 12 x 6 mile area. (Reported April 16, 2021, by KFYR and Nexstar.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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