by Francie M. Berg | Apr 6, 2021
by Francie M. Berg | Mar 23, 2021
On a bleak cold day—April 24, 1886—Buffalo Jones struck out with Charley Rude and Newton Adams with a team of 3-year-old mules harnessed to a light spring wagon and another team hauling a heavier lumber wagon.
They took provisions for a 6-week expedition in Texas desert country determined to capture buffalo calves for Jones’ Kansas ranch.
Their point of departure was the little Kansas town of Kendall, on the Arkansas River not far from the west border of that state.
by Francie M. Berg | Mar 9, 2021
by Francie M. Berg | Feb 23, 2021
William Hornaday published his amazing report on the slaughter of the buffalo herds in a government book in 1889, which he titled The Extermination of the American Bison.
It was intended to be the last word on bison.
by Francie M. Berg | Feb 9, 2021
In essence, the saving of buffalo focused on two major factors.
On the one hand were westerners, both Native American and whites, who saw what was happening to the buffalo and cared about saving them.
With boots on the ground, these people rescued, nourished and protected fragile buffalo calves until they multiplied into healthy and prolific herds.
Without them American bison would likely have gone extinct. There’d be no buffalo in North America today. It almost happened.
by Francie M. Berg | Jan 26, 2021
“The meat that has ‘ping’ to it—the meat that satisfies.”
That is how Lakota hunters from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe described the taste of buffalo to the missionary Thomas Riggs on the way to their last winter hunt in December of 1880.
For 15 years buffalo had been gone from their Great Sioux Reservation, due to settlement pressures from the east, but mysteriously they had returned and the older hunters were eager to taste their favorite meat again.
Snow fell almost continuously and the hunting party of 101—about half men and half women and children—followed the Moreau River valley west with buckboard wagons and extra pack horses. Some days they made only three or four miles in deep snow that crusted and grew deeper day by day.
The hunters grew excited that last day as they neared the Slim Buttes, where scouts told them the buffalo had returned.
They talked of how tired they were of eating porcupine, skunk, venison and badger meat. During their journey the party had killed and eaten 148 porcupines and 200 deer.
by Francie M. Berg | Jan 12, 2021
From the time he learned of it, Robert “Robbie” Magnan director of the Fort Peck Fish and Wildlife Department in northeastern Montana was troubled by the annual buffalo slaughter of excess buffalo in Yellowstone Park.
It was not enough that the bison meat was distributed to Indian tribes in neat frozen packages.
Magnan and other founding members of the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) cherished the Yellowstone Park genetics that had flowed from free-roaming bison for more than a hundred years. They wanted those genetics in their own tribal herds.
Not quite the same as “always having lived wild” in Yellowstone Park. They knew that only a reported 23 buffalo survived poaching in the Park—back in the 1890s—and the wild Yellowstone pastures had been replenished by relatively tame buffalo from half a dozen sources, both US and Canadian. So not many were actually “pure.”
Still, the Yellowstone buffalo are special and many Native people deeply desire those genetics in their tribal buffalo herds.
by Francie M. Berg | Dec 29, 2020
Over and over delegates testify: As we bring the buffalo back to health, we also bring our own people back to health. And that’s what it’s all about.
In February 1991, a meeting in the Black Hills of South Dakota, hosted by the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, brought Native people from all four directions, as is traditional, to talk about a topic that concerned them all.
How can Indian tribes with experience raising buffalo help other tribes restore buffalo to their lands? Why is this important to us?
by Francie M. Berg | Dec 15, 2020
The American Bison was named the national mammal of the United States on May 9, 2016. This majestic animal joins the ranks of the Bald Eagle as the official symbol of our country—and much like the eagle, it’s one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time.
In prehistoric times, millions of bison roamed North America—from the forests of Alaska and the grasslands of Mexico to Nevada’s Great Basin and the eastern Appalachian Mountains. But by the late 1800s, there were only a few hundred bison left in the United States after European settlers pushed west, reducing the animal’s habitat and hunting the bison to near extinction. Had it not been for a few private individuals working with tribes, states and the Interior Department, the bison would be extinct today.
by Francie M. Berg | Dec 1, 2020
by Francie M. Berg | Nov 17, 2020
Wallbanger, a formidable sprinting buffalo seen on racetracks of the 1980’s and ‘90s across America, Canada and Mexico, here ridden to a win by his owner and trainer Collin ‘TC’ Thorstenson.[/caption]
Harvey was an orphan buffalo who thought he was a horse, according to his owner, trainer and jockey Collin ‘TC’ Thorstenson and many fascinated spectators who watched him race.
Thorstenson said he was raised on a Sioux Indian reservation in the hills of North Dakota, was always fond of animals and trained small pets as a youngster.
He drove coal trucks in Wyoming and became a jockey and trainer.
Harvey’s story began in 1980 when his mother was shot by a poacher.
by Francie M. Berg | Nov 3, 2020
We’ve reported stories to you in this space about the early days of hard-riding buffalo wranglers running half-wild buffalo. Some amusing. Some tragic.
Often, they rounded-up and stampeded buffalo into makeshift corrals and loaded them into boxcars in some of the roughest ways possible, even dragging them at the end of several ropes.
At the time, it seemed to men who were used to working cattle like the only way to get the job done was to run the buffalo hard, and stay ahead of them.
by Francie M. Berg | Oct 18, 2020
In our BLOG of June 23, 2020, we published “American Serengeti—What is going on in Montana?,” which discusses the enormous wildlife project that is shaking the foundations of community development and progress in Phillips County, Montana, and Malta, its county seat, and nearby communities.
The American Prairie Reserve—APR, or simply the Prairie Reserve–on the upper Missouri River is a plan to develop a huge grazing unit—the largest nature reserve in the continental United States.
by Francie M. Berg | Oct 6, 2020
If you’re a traveler coming into the Hettinger-Lemmon area from the east or west, you will likely plan to complete your tour by visiting Sites 9 and 10 either before or after the main section of your tour.
Otherwise, separate trips might take you through Fort Yates and Jamestown—which are somewhat to the northeast.
Tribal herds can be viewed at Ft. Yates, and other reservations. The “largest buffalo,” and a National Buffalo Museum that includes a full-body mount of the famed White Cloud reside in Jamestown.
by Francie M. Berg | Sep 22, 2020
by Francie M. Berg | Sep 8, 2020
At the center of the Northern Plains is a rugged section of Badlands, buttes and fertile grasslands, where buffalo, cattle and sheep graze, and deer and antelope still roam.
We’d love to have you join us on the 10-site tour we’ve put together of the last great hunts and other historic and contemporary buffalo events, each clearly marked by a yellow sign.
These sites include three of the last great buffalo hunts, including the valley of the last stand—the final harvest of the last 1,200 wild buffalo by Sitting Bull and his band on October 12 and 13, 1883.
At the center of these events are previously untold stories and authentic, unspoiled places to envision where they took place.
This region, bordered by the North Dakota towns of Hettinger, Reeder and Scranton, and the South Dakota towns of Lemmon, Bison and Buffalo, is where Native people conducted the last traditional hunts of the majestic wild buffalo that once roamed here in huge herds on what was then the Great Sioux Reservation.
by Francie M. Berg | Aug 25, 2020
The most famous white buffalo that ever lived was probably Big Medicine, born in 1933 on the National Bison Range in Western Montana.
Soon after birth he was dubbed “Big Medicine” by the local Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people of the Flathead Valley. He lived there all of his 26 years.
White buffalo are sacred to many Native American tribes and they believed he brought good news and supernatural powers. The Blackfeet tribe farther east also considered him the property of the sun as well as “good medicine.”
by Francie M. Berg | Aug 11, 2020
In 1907 Canada purchased the Pablo Buffalo Herd from the western plains of Montana. Banff received 77 of these animals, and a new paddock of 300 acres was built north of the railroad to hold the increasing herd.
Sir Donald was a handsome bull. It was said he represented well the ideal that Native hunters preferred—a bull with well-built forequarters and large head.
by Francie M. Berg | Jul 28, 2020
In 1907 the Michel Pablo herd from western Montana began arriving in Canada. At their end of the railroad, Canadians cheered the buffalo’s arrival.
They knew they had scored a coup in getting “the finest buffalo herd in America,” as William Hornaday, president of the new American Bison Society, called Michal Pablo’s half-wild herd from Montana.
by Francie M. Berg | Jul 14, 2020
When Michel Pablo sold all of his buffalo to the Canadian government, it took 6 years to get them rounded up and loaded. He expected the job to take one summer.
They were wild, and did not take kindly to being chased to the railway station in Ravalli, Montana—or getting loaded into railway cars. Especially the renegade bulls.
Pablo’s buffalo—he thought there were somewhere between 300 and 700 head—were grazing in the Bitterroot Mountain Range and the Lolo National Forest along the Flathead River.
by Louis Garcia | Jun 30, 2020
For the Plains Indian nothing is more exciting and exhilarating than hunting buffalo or more enjoyable than feasting on their flesh.1
To the Plains Indian the buffalo was the source of life; this bovine scientifically called a Bison (Bison bison) provided everything required to exist in a plains environment. Every part of the buffalo was utilized including their excrement which was used for fuel.
The Dakota term for a buffalo hunt is Wanasapi which appears to be contraction of a descriptive name. During the period named Dog Days, before the coming of the horse, when dogs were used as burden carriers, the hunt was more individualized.
by Francie M. Berg | Jun 23, 2020
In northcentral Montana an enormous wildlife project is taking shape in a bold new way that is shaking the foundations of community development and progress—to bring about what has been called the American Seringetti.
by Francie M. Berg | Jun 16, 2020
By January 2019, the buffalo at Banff had been free-roaming for 5 months, after being released from their small enclosed pasture in the remote Panther Valley. They are being tracked and monitored by the Banff bison scientists with the help of GPS collar data, remote cameras and field observations.
by Francie M. Berg | Jun 9, 2020
For over a century, Parks Canada has been leading the charge to restore wild bison in Canada.
One of its first ventures was the display buffalo herd placed in a small 300-acre paddock near Banff in 1885.
Canada’s oldest national park—Banff National Park—is near the mountain resort of Banff and Lake Louise.
The scenery is spectacular, with rugged mountains rising on every side. The tree line is at about 2,134 m (7,000 ft), and above this is mostly rocks and ice.
Unlike other western mountain towns that focused on mining or agriculture, Banff was built as a tourist destination from the beginning. Planners for the Canadian Pacific Railroad built across Canada in 1885, discovered hot springs there and pronounced it tourist-worthy. The original Chalet Lake Louise was built on the lake shore in 1890.
by Francie M. Berg | May 26, 2020
Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones started out as a commercial hide hunter on southern buffalo ranges.
His life adventures took him from his home in Kansas to the frozen Canadian North and the steaming jungles of Africa.
He prospered and suffered as a farmer, buffalo hunter, town developer and rancher. An expert roper, he captured calves in Texas and New Mexico. And, as a friend of President Teddy Roosevelt through the new American Bison Association, he was appointed as the first Superintendent of Yellowstone Park, in charge of restoring that depleted buffalo herd.
His greatest contribution was—not only capturing and raising a profitable buffalo herd—but finding ways to buy and sell buffalo and ship them across North America to help start new herds.
As a child, Jones caught and tamed small animals. He made his first money by capturing and selling a squirrel. That “transaction” Jones said “fixed upon me the ruling passion that has adhered so closely through my life.”
Jones said that he conceived his buffalo rescue plan in 1872.
He said he had killed “thousands of buffalo” in his hunting days and he regretted it.
“I am positive it was the wickedness committed in killing so many that impelled me to take measures for perpetuating the race which I had helped almost destroy.”
Filled with remorse, he set aside his big buffalo rifle, gathered some of the last wild buffalo calves and committed himself to helping the buffalo survive and thrive throughout North America.
He bought buffalo from as far north as Winnipeg in Canada and sold buffalo across the North American continent to help get parks and private owners started.
According to Ken Zontek, in Buffalo Nation: American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison, during the last days of the wild buffalo, Buffalo Jones and his assistants went four times out to the buffalo ranges from his ranch near Garden City, Kansas, down into the Texas Panhandle, and captured 60 buffalo of all ages. Not all, however survived, or made the trip home.
by Francie M. Berg | May 19, 2020
Clearly, the buffalo were headed for extinction. No one seemed to care.
The “bottleneck”—as it’s been called—drew even closer each year after the last great buffalo hunt on the Great Sioux Reservation in 1883.
The low point came in the 1890’s, or perhaps later, around the turn of the century. That was when the “safe and protected” Yellowstone Park herd, estimated at 200, was suddenly decimated by poachers seeking trophy heads.
Fewer than 25 buffalo, well hidden in remote and rugged canyons, survived that slaughter in Yellowstone Park.
The species was nearly choked off completely at that time. Even the few hundred remaining seemed destined to dwindle.
William Hornaday voiced his despair over the buffalos’ nearly-inevitable extinction in his 1889 book, “The Extermination of the American Bison.” He wrote:
“The wild buffalo is practically gone forever, and in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water-courses, a few museum specimens, and regret for his fate.”Hormaday despaired that ‘when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton were picked up and shipped East’ the only memory of buffalo would be trails to water, regret for his fate, and a few specimens in museums. Photo National Park Service.
by Francie M. Berg | May 12, 2020
Buffalo are social creatures. They like living together in herds.
But not just any herd. Their own herd. The one in which they know everyone else intimately. Usually they are relatives. Cows with young calves, still red-gold hair. Buffalo like living in herds of animals that they know. Photo by F.Berg
And not too large a herd—30 to 60 seems a good size.
Except sometimes it’s the “bigger the better.” That happens in late July and August when historically the great herds came together for breeding season.
Professor Dale F. Lott writes that the relationships between bulls and cows become especially intense at that time. But that, however, the intensity is shifting and short-lived.
In his book American Bison: A Natural History, he describes the buffalo’s social behavior as “too marvelous a tale to go untold. The most complex relationships play out.”
It’s true. Who knew those sometimes sleepy-looking animals have such complexity and intensity in their relationships?
Maternal Herds—an older Grandmother Leads
For most of the year, the buffalo sort themselves into “cow groups” or maternal herds and “bull groups.” The Vasquez de Coronado expedition exploring Texas in 1543 reported their surprise in seeing “innumerable herds of bulls without a single cow, and other herds of cows without bulls.” Kansas Historical Society.
The Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado travelled across the southwest as far north as Kansas following buffalo and Indian trails searching for gold. His great expedition of 300 soldiers and some 1,000 Indians often shot buffalo for food, but found no riches.
by Francie M. Berg | May 5, 2020
What shall we call this magnificent monarch of the Plains—buffalo or bison?
Some people are adamant: the term buffalo correctly refers only to water buffalo in South Asia and Cape buffalo in Africa. We are simply wrong, misinformed, or ignorant to even think of calling the American bison—Buffalo.
Amy Tikkanen, writing in the Encyclopedia Britannica lays it all out. In her world it comes down to “Home, Hump and Horns.” Bison have one set, and buffalo the other.
But not so fast.
Many people who know the science simply prefer the term buffalo. I think most of us in the west—where the buffalo still roam in rather large numbers—do prefer it.
It rolls off the tongue in a friendlier way.
Yes, in scientific usage we agree, it is bison—as is bovine, equine and canine.
My husband Bert, a veterinarian, often used those terms when explaining treatments.
But do we call the cow, horse or dog those scientific names—bovine, equine and canine—in everyday talk?
Of course not. We don’t even think of them, our beloved friends, that way, do we?
Historic use of Buffalo in America
The word Buffalo actually came from early French fur traders and trappers who called the animals les boeufs, a Greek word for “the beeves” meaning oxen or bullocks.
In that context both names, bison and buffalo, have a similar meaning.
by Francie M. Berg | Apr 28, 2020
Welcome to our first issue of Buffalo Tales & Trails! Everything you ever wanted to know about buffalo!
Thanks for your interest in buffalo! We are bringing you a combination blog and website.
My assistant Ronda Fink and I have produced books and websites, but never before a blog. So this is more than a first issue—it’s a new venture for us!
But not a new topic. Buffalo are old as the hills in the northern plains. We know them. Yet they are still surprising us with their wild nature and amazing capers.
Our mission is first of all—to help young people get to know and love the magnificent buffalo/ bison—America’s new National Mammal! This means teachers need to be involved.
So this is first of all for teachers and their students! Especially Native American students who have a special awe and pride in their buffalo.
And of course, we invite everyone who has a soft spot in your heart for buffalo. Come along on this incredible journey. We won’t let you down!
You can be an expert of sorts on this very specific subject. It’s a fun topic.
It’s a great milestone for an animal that played a central role in America’s history and culture, helped to shape the lifestyle of Native Americans on the open Plains, and then declined within a hair breadth of becoming extinct.
Today, buffalo live in all 50 states and across Canada, and serve as a symbol of American unity, resilience and healthy lifestyles and communities.
My name is Francie M. Berg. I didn’t know much about buffalo when my husband, a veterinarian, and I moved our family to Hettinger, North Dakota.
Sure I’d seen them in herds here and there, grazing up a green coulee or standing sleepily in a corral.
Much like cattle, I thought. As I said, little did I know.
Where the Buffalo stories Come Together
Then I discovered we’d come to the place where all the buffalo stories come together, now and in the distant past. It happened right here on the western border between North and South Dakota.
This area of the Northern Plains was home to buffalo from ancient times.