The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 2

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 2

Buffalo resting in the junipers at Teddy Roosevelt National Park, ND. Credit National Park Service.

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.

William Hornaday hunted buffalo in remote canyons of central Montana, shot, killed and mounted his large, majestic bull with its family of six for the Smithsonian—which became an icon for the nation–wrote his amazing book on how buffalo were being exterminated, and then devoted the rest of his life to saving live buffalo in Parks and wildlife refuges throughout the country. Photographer unknown.

Determined to get it right, he spared no effort in contacting every possible source of buffalo knowledge, from Army officers at far-flung western forts to fur traders, railroaders, hide hunters and cowboys.

He learned that the end of the big herds came in Dakota Territory—on the Great Sioux reservation—but offered few details. Except to state that Sitting Bull and his band were there at the end.

He soon discovered that small herds of buffalo here and there were not only surviving—but thriving and multiplying.

Upon publishing his greatest book—on extermination of the buffalo—Hornaday could have rested on his laurels, but fortunately for us, he did not.

Instead, he spent the rest of his life fighting for the conservation of healthy, live buffalo.

No longer solely interested in carcasses, he developed a vision for living buffalo—a way they could be kept safe in parks and public lands across America.

He had a new mission—to save buffalo and other game animals in refuges where they could live out their lives in safety.

In Washington, DC and New York he lectured and wrote impassioned articles on the need to set aside national reserves for buffalo and other wildlife.

But Congress did not act.

In no uncertain terms, Hornaday expressed his anger and despair.

“We are weary of witnessing the greed, selfishness and cruelty of ‘civilized’ man toward the wild creatures of the earth. We are sick of tales of slaughter and pictures of carnage.

“It is time for sweeping reformation; and that is precisely what we now demand,” he wrote.

“If the majority of the people of America feel that so long as there is any game alive there must be an annual two months or four months open season for its slaughter, then assuredly we soon will have a game-less continent.”

A gameless continent! A sobering thought indeed.

Yet, the west teemed with wildlife and the risk of that seemed impossible.

Westerners generally opposed laws to restrict hunting, knowing many desperate pioneers on the frontier survived by hunting and selling hides and meat.

Congress shrugged the conservation concerns aside.

As for using public land for grazing buffalo, that was highly unlikely when the public clamored for even more homestead land.

As an early leader in conservation and the passionate editor of Field and Stream Magazine Grinnell, too, played an important role in influencing the saving of buffalo in America.

An early conservation writer, George Bird Grinnell earned his PhD and editorship of Field and Stream Magazine, after first joining the Pawnee’s in their last great buffalo hunt of 1872 while still in college. Credit William Notman, c 1880.

George Bird Grinnell wrote often about the need for saving the buffalo.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Grinnell lived in Audubon Park and had connections with the Audubon family, which likely helped spur his interest in the natural world.

Like fellow conservationists Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt, Grinnell had a special interest in the west.

Like them he hunted buffalo and in fact, had joined the Pawnee’s last great buffalo hunt of in 1872 while still in college.

He rode with General Custer’s 1874 Black Hills expedition and the next year went with Col. William Ludlow’s expedition to Yellowstone Park.

For the Ludlow report he documented the poaching of buffalo, deer, elk and antelope that was going on in Yellowstone.

Grinnell earned a PhD from Yale in 1880, where he was already an editor of Field and Stream Magazine. He continued his long-term career as senior editor and publisher of that magazine.

On his western ranch Theodore Roosevelt—who came to Dakota in 1883 to hunt big game and stayed to set up a ranch business—soon realized that the elk, bighorn sheep and buffalo that he so admired would not survive relentless overhunting or the destruction of their grasslands under modern civilization.

A frail asthmatic child, Theodore Roosevelt learned hard-riding cowboy ways on his badlands North Dakota ranch and built up his strength and endurance. He hunted big game and grew convinced of the need to preserve all forms of wildlife.

He became increasingly convinced of the need to protect the magnificent buffalo and provide large, safe places for them to live.

When the long and bitterly cold winter of 1886–1887 wiped out his herd of cattle and those of other ranchers, and with them over half his $80,000 investment, Roosevelt returned to the East.

The badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park after a rain, at sunset—rugged ridges, clay banks and fertile green bottomlands. Good ranching country. NPS.

After that disastrous winter, he let go of most of his ranch holdings but continued to maintain some cattle interests in the badlands.

In 1886, after his first wife’s death, Roosevelt married Edith Carow, a childhood friend.

He entered politics—first as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, then president of the NY City Board of Police Commissioners, and next as governor of NY where he battled corruption and fought for reform.

He launched the rules for his Square Deal: “Honesty in public affairs, an equitable sharing of privilege and responsibility, and subordination of party and local concerns to the interests of the state at large.”

Appointed assistant secretary of the navy by President William McKinley, Roosevelt worked for a stronger navy and railed against Spain for its interference in Cuba and North American affairs.

When war with Spain was declared in 1898, Roosevelt organized the Rough Riders and was sent to fight in Cuba. The successful charge of the Rough Riders up Kettle Hill July 1, 1898, during the deadly Battle of Santiago was well publicized and made him a national hero.

TR became Vice President of the United States in 1901—a powerless office. However, he gave one memorable speech at the Minnesota State Fair.

“I have always been fond of the West African proverb,” he told the crowd. ‘Speak softly and carry a big stickyou will go far.’”

The cartoonists picked up on his “big stick.”

It was a hint of the style he would soon put into practice. Within six months he was President, upon the assassination of William McKinley.

He continued to visit western North Dakota to hunt, renew himself and refresh his soul in the badlands, where he said “the romance of my life began.”

The American Bison Society

The American Bison Society arranged a donation of bison from the New York Zoological Society to the new Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve in Oklahoma. On Oct 11,1907, 15 of “the finest buffalo from the New York Zoological Park were shipped by rail to Oklahoma.’ Here the six bulls and nine cows were being safely returned to the plains and mountains of Oklahoma. Credit US FWS Archives.

Grinnell founded the Audubon Society of New York, and organized the New York Zoological Society. He wrote articles against market hunting and in favor of realistic game laws.

With Theodore Roosevelt he founded the Boone and Crockett Club, dedicated to the restoration of America’s wildlands. Together he and Roosevelt wrote the club’s first book in 1895.

For 35 years, until 1911, Grinnell had an ideal platform in Field and Stream for publicizing his passion on conservation and environmental issues.

Grinnell took hunting trips to what is now Glacier National Park in Montana, with the well-known guide James Willard Schultz.

In a 1885 visit they hiked over the St. Mary Lakes region naming outstanding features including the glacier named for him—Grinnell Glacier.

These experiences spurred him to write many articles urging protection of the buffalo and the American West. He spent many years studying the natural history of the region.

He was influential in establishing Glacier National Park when the park system began in 1910.

Grinnell also took a deep interest in Native Americans.

On his many trips west, he often lived with Indian tribes and became an advocate for them in the East. He wrote many books on the Native Americans, some of the most popular on the Cheyenne, the Pawnee and the Blackfeet. Also Blackfeet Indian Stories, When Buffalo Ran, and Native American Ways: Four Paths to Enlightenment

As a young man Grinnell lived with and became a friend of several Indian tribes. Later he became an advocate for them.

 

Then Hornaday discovered an amazingly effective route to his conservation goals.

The idea came on a lecture tour, when a listener asked, “Why not form a society dedicated to the permanent preservation of the buffalo?”

Americans could be mobilized for a cause, as Henry Osborn, president of the New York Zoological Society, wrote in his foreword to William Hornaday’s new book,   Our Vanishing Wildlife:

“Americans are practical. Like all other northern peoples, they love money and will sacrifice much for it, but they are also full of idealism, as well as moral and spiritual energy.

‘The influence of the splendid body of Americans and Canadians who have turned their best forces of mind and language into literature and into political power for the conservation movement, is becoming stronger every day.”

Hornaday passed the idea on to the new president, who often voiced his regrets at the state of conservation in his country.

“The extermination of the buffalo has been a veritable tragedy of the animal world,” Theodore Roosevelt said.

In his message to Congress on Dec 5, 1905, the Conservation President Teddy Roosevelt called for a buffalo refuge.

“The most characteristic animal of the western plains was the great shaggy-maned wild ox, the bison, commonly known as buffalo.

“Small fragments of herds exist in a domesticated state, here and there. Such a herd as that on the Flathead Reservation should not be allowed to go out of existence.

“Either on some reservation or on some forest reserve or refuge, provision should be made for the preservation of such a herd.”

At last, a president who understood both buffalo and ranching—from his time as a western rancher—and with a heart for conservation!

Three days later, on Dec. 8, the American Bison Society was born, with William Hornaday as president and Roosevelt, honorary president.

Memberships poured in and suddenly Hornaday had the power he wanted.

He immediately proposed a federal range—on or next to the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, where Michel Pablo still ran his half of the original Walking Coyote herd.

Within six months Congress appropriated money to enclose 8,000 acres of the National Wichita Forest Reserve in southwest Oklahoma with a high wire fence for a wildlife refuge and stocked it with 15 donated buffalo.

One of the first wildlife parks to get buffalo was the National Wichita Forest Reserve in southwest Oklahoma, stocked with 15 donated buffalo.

 

By 1909 the US government owned 158 buffalo.

Most were in Yellowstone National Park, along with 40 head on the National Bison Range, 19 on the Wichita Game Reserve in Oklahoma, and 7 in the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC.

Fourteen Buffalo donated to Wind Cave National Game Preserve in the Black Hills, SD, leave New York City after a send-off by men of the American Bison Society. Credit Wildlife Conservation Society.

The American Bison Society stocked Wind Cave National Game Preserve in the Black Hills with 14 buffalo, surprisingly from the New York City Zoo, and later added six from Yellowstone Park.

This remains a special herd that tests genetically pure because of its unique origins.

Grinnell founded the Audubon Society of New York, and was an organizer of the New York Zoological Society.

He was a founding member, with Theodore Roosevelt, of the Boone and Crockett Club, dedicated to the restoration of America’s wildlands. Together he and Roosevelt wrote the club’s first book in 1895.

Buffalo arriving at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. NPS.

He campaigned intensely against market hunting and for realistic game laws and was influential in the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty in Great Britain in 1916 as well as the adoption of strong regulatory control of hunting in all states.

Hornaday came up with another startling new idea that took root: Forever prohibit the sale of wild game.

Another federal herd of six donated buffalo, launched in the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, failed to grow. The last lone buffalo died there a couple of decades later.

The Teddy Roosevelt Legacy

Perhaps spurred on by the popularity of their successes with the American Bison Society, President Theodore Roosevelt wielded his “big stick” and went on to establish numerous wildlife refuges stocked with buffalo and teeming with wild animals and bird life.

As president—from 1901 to 1909—he became one of the most powerful voices in the history of American conservation.

Roosevelt set aside almost five times as much land as all of his predecessors combined, and earned himself a place on Mt. Rushmore as this country’s greatest conservationist, along with three of its greatest leaders, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Teddy Roosevelt earned his place on Mt. Rushmore as the Conservation President. NPS.

The Park System grew rapidly. When the National Park Service was created in 1916—seven years after Roosevelt left office—there were 35 sites to be managed by the new organization. Roosevelt helped create 23 of those.

He took the view that the President as a “steward of the people” should take whatever action is necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution.

“I did not usurp power,” he wrote, “but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.”

When it came to setting aside land and resources for use of the general public he did not hesitate. He said:

”We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources.

“But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

After becoming president, Roosevelt:

  • Created the United States Forest Service (USFS) and established
  • 150 national forests
  • 51 federal bird reserves
  • 4 national game preserves
  • Set aside 230 million acres of public land

National parks are created by an act of Congress. Roosevelt worked with his legislative branch to establish these 5 parks:

  • Crater Lake National Park (OR) – 1902
  • Wind Cave National Park (SD) – 1903
  • Sullys Hill (ND) – 1904 (now managed by USFWS)
  • Platt National Park (OK) – 1906 (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area)
  • Mesa Verde National Park (CO) – 1906
  • Also added land to Yosemite National Park (CA)
  • Named for him is Theodore Roosevelt National Park (1978)
    in the badlands of North Dakota, where he owned two cattle ranches

and where his Presidential Library is scheduled to be built soon.

Since he did not need congressional approval for national monuments, Roosevelt could establish them much easier than national parks. He dedicated these 18 sites as national monuments:

  • Devil’s Tower (WY) – 1906
  • El Morro (NM) – 1906
  • Montezuma Castle (AZ) – 1906
  • Petrified Forest (AZ) – 1906 (now a national park)
  • Chaco Canyon (NM) – 1907
  • Lassen Peak (CA) – 1907 (now Lassen Volcanic National Park)
  • Cinder Cone (CA) – 1907 (now part of Lassen Volcanic National Park)
  • Gila Cliff Dwellings (NM) – 1907
  • Tonto (AZ) – 1907
  • Muir Woods (CA) – 1908
  • Grand Canyon (AZ) – 1908 (now a national park)
  • Pinnacles (CA) – 1908 (now a national park)
  • Jewel Cave (SD) – 1908
  • Natural Bridges (UT) – 1908
  • Lewis & Clark Caverns (MT) – 1908 (now a Montana State Park)
  • Tumacacori (AZ) – 1908
  • Wheeler (CO) – 1908 (now Wheeler Geologic Area, part of Rio Grande National Forest)
  • Mount Olympus (WA) – 1909 (now Olympic National Park)

Roosevelt also established Chalmette Monument and Grounds in 1907, site of the Battle of New Orleans, now part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.

Sagamore Hill, New York, was the home of Theodore Roosevelt and his family from 1885 until his death in 1919. Called his “Summer White House,” during his time in office it is now a Historic Site with 83 acres of park grounds and historic buildings. NPS.

TR’s words and actions continue to affect how we approach and appreciate the natural world.

Though his many writings describe numerous hunting trips and successful kills, they are filled with his regret for the loss of species and habitat. He wrote:

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird.

“Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals—not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.

“But at last it looks as if our people are awakening.”

Today, Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy is found across the country.

His words and actions continue to affect how we approach and appreciate the natural world.

He saw the effects of overgrazing, and suffered the loss of his ranches because of it.

Here in North Dakota, where many of his personal concerns inspired his later environmental efforts, Roosevelt is remembered with a national park that bears his name and honors the memory of this dedicated conservationist.

Roosevelt continued to maintain some cattle interests in the badlands until he became Vice President of the United States in 1901.

For the rest of his life he continued to visit good friends he made in the badlands and to enjoy the renewal and inspiration—and what he called the ‘hardy life’—he found here.

“I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.

“It was here that the romance of my life began.

“I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me.

“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.

“The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.

“Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.”

At age 42 TR also expanded presidential power for support of the public interest in conflicts between big business and labor.

Although he promised continuity with McKinley’s policies, he transformed the public image of the presidency at once.

He led the nation toward an active role in world politics, particularly in Europe and Asia.

Theodore Roosevelt riding with others into Yellowstone Park from the train station in Gardiner, MT. NPS.

Roosevelt wielded his big-stick diplomacy in 1903, when he helped Panama pull away from Colombia and gave the United States a Canal Zone.

He secured the route and began construction of the Panama Canal (1904–14). In 1906 Roosevelt visited the Canal–the first president to leave the US while in office.

He reached an agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of the world.

He won the Nobel Prize for Peace (posthumously) for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

He renamed the presidential home “the White House” and opened its doors to entertain an array of people who fascinated him—cowboys, prizefighters, explorers, writers and artists.

He gained the respect and affection of ordinary working Americans everywhere despite his wealthy upbringing.

His refusal to shoot a bear cub tied to a tree on a 1902 hunting trip inspired a toy maker to name a stuffed bear after him—and a teddy bear fad swept the nation.

The North Room in TR’s Sagamore Hill home at Oyster Bay displays his buffalo head, his hunting skills and love for the natural world, along with a touch of elegance. NPS.

TR and Edith lived all their adult lives at Sagamore Hill, an estate near Oyster Bay, Long Island. They had five children: Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin.

The Roosevelt family with Theodore and Edith seated in front; oldest daughter Alice, center back. NPS.

His young children played on the White House lawn—along with TR himself at times. The marriage of his oldest daughter Alice in 1905 to Representative Nicholas Longworth of Ohio became a major social event.

Always the reformer, Roosevelt gave speeches from the presidency’s “bully pulpit,” aimed at raising public consciousness about the nation’s role in world politics, the need to control the trusts that dominated the economy, the regulation of railroads and the impact of political corruption.

He appointed young college-educated men to administrative positions.

“While President, I have been President,” he said. “Emphatically; I have used every ounce of power there was in the office . . . “

“I do not believe that any President ever had as thoroughly good a time as I have had, or has ever enjoyed himself as much.”

Roosevelt’s last visit to the North Dakota badlands came in the fall of 1918, just a few months before his death January 6, 1919 at the age of 60, in Oyster Bay, New York.

His Presidential Library begins construction in 2021 within the borders of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the badlands, where his two ranches—the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn—were located.

Who Really Saved the Buffalo?

 So who really did save the buffalo?

William Hornaday took special delight in the new buffalo refuge in western Montana when it was finished with its magnificent view of the snow-packed Mission range.

At last his wildest dreams had come true.

“It is beautiful and perfect beyond compare,” he marveled.

Indeed. It is perfect!

There, in the shadow of the Rockies, buffalo still graze across the open grasslands of Montana’s beautiful Flathead Valley, rising in the stunning foothills and narrow canyons of what the Natives call Red Sleep Mountain to the high Missions beyond.

Big Medicine, the famous white buffalo, was born there and lived out his 26 years on the National Bison Range.

The refuge is kept as a natural, controlled ecosystem, with a target population of around 350 buffalo, 130 elk, 200 mule deer, 175 white-tailed deer, 100 antelope, 40 bighorn sheep and 30 mountain goats.

About 125,000 visitors come every year to enjoy its delights. Many drive the one-way 19-mile road that climbs up and over the mountain among grazing buffalo and other wildlife.

No going back once committed!

The road to the top and along the ridge is delightful—high switch-backs but no heart-stopping drop-offs. It’s a two hour drive—maybe somewhat longer with summer traffic. And well-worth it!

The main herds are often found with their calves along the creek bottoms.

Here and there up high on the mountain can be seen a lone buffalo bull or two.

And at the summit of Red Sleep Mountain the view of the valley and the rugged Mission Range beyond is nothing short of spectacular!

History rightly gives a great deal of credit for saving the buffalo to the Duprees and Philips, Walking Coyotes, Pablo and Allard, McKay, Goodnights and Buffalo Jones.

We honor these five family groups with ‘boots on the ground’ who rescued buffalo calves and kept them alive, healthy and multiplying.

Without them, there’d be no American bison today.

Buffalo roundup in Badlands of North Dakota via helicopter. NPS.

Still, we also need to honor these visionary conservatists for their dedication and determination to provide the buffalo with safe places to live out their lives.

For their persistence in developing wildlife sanctuaries for buffalo throughout the United States, making them available for the enjoyment of people everywhere—William Hornaday, George Bird Grinnell and President Theodore Roosevelt are Buffalo Conservation heroes.

And yes, I believe Teddy Roosevelt well deserves his place on Mt. Rushmore as our greatest Conservation President!

Bully for him!

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Red Sleep Mountain Range Returned to Flathead Reservation

Red Sleep Mountain Range Returned to Flathead Reservation

Long in the works, the 250 to 300 buffalo that live on this refuge as well as the National Bison Range itself have been turned over to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as of Dec. 27, 2021, when President Donald Trump signed it into law. These tribes have strong historical, geographic and cultural ties to the land and the bison. Credit Ryan Hagerty, US FWS.

On Dec. 27, President Donald Trump signed into law an act that returns “all land comprising the National Bison Range including all natural resources interests and appurtenances of that land to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).”

The Act further states that this restored land shall be a part of the Flathead Indian Reservation, administered as tribal trust land and managed by the Tribes. This includes all bison on the range, as well as all buildings and structures located on the land.

 The law establishes a 2-year transition period, during which the Secretary will cooperate with the Tribes in transition activities regarding the management of land, bison, and other resources. This includes providing to the Tribes, as determined appropriate by the Secretary, funds, personal property, equipment, or other resources.

 The range has been transferred to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). Red Sleep Mountain is the historic name of the mountain which contains the National Bison Range and its one-way tourist auto route over the Red Sleep Mountain.

 The local Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people convey how important the buffalo is to their traditional way of life. Today, the Tribe keeps their culture vibrant and alive with an annual River Honoring, Pow Wows, Native language schools, active cultural committees, and a tribal museum at the People’s Center.

“The CSKT have strong and deep historical, geographic and cultural ties to the land and the bison, and their environmental professionals have been leaders in natural resources and wildlife management for many decades,” Interior Assistant Secretary Tara Katuk Sweeney wrote in her statement. “Interior is pleased to continue its partnership and work with them on the restoration of the (National Bison Range) to federal trust ownership for the Tribes.”

Tribal Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said the transfer returned care of the bison to the people who had made it a mainstay of their culture, the Missoulian reported.

It was included as part of the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, co-sponsored by all three members of Montana’s congressional delegation: Senators Steve Daines (R) and JonTester (D) and Rep (now Gov.) Greg Gianforte (R).

That act also settled a long-standing treaty negotiation that gave the CSKT rights to major water resources inside the Flathead Indian Reservation in return for releasing claims on more than 10,000 water rights outside its boundaries.

“The restoration of this land is a great historic event and we worked hard to reach this point,” Fyant said.

“This comes after a century of being separated from the buffalo and the Bison Range, and after a quarter-century-long effort to co-manage the refuge with the FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).”

CSKT spokesman Robert McDonald said the public would see little change on the 18,800-acre wildlife refuge covering Red Sleep Mountain south of Pablo.

The Tribal Council agreed to continue following the conservation plan developed by FWS that controls how the refuge is managed for wildlife and the public.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is still in place,” McDonald said on Friday. “The Tribal Council is in regular contact with them, and we’re working on an agreement for how things will progress and operate in the future.

“There are a lot of questions about staffing, positions, what should be added or remain—things like maintenance crews, biologists, people in the gift shop and cultural interpretation. We’re in the early process of hashing out how it’s going to go.”

McDonald said the mission of the refuge to be a publicly accessible landscape focused on preserving wild bison would not change.

On Thursday, CSKT officials announced they were replacing federal regulations governing hunting, fishing and recreation on the refuge with an essentially identical set of rules authorized by the Tribes.

The replaced regulations include rules governing user fees to enter the refuge, prohibition of fireworks, weapons or explosives except under authorized circumstances, prohibition of hunting or taking of resources from the refuge except as authorized, and use of motorized vehicles.

McDonald said the exceptions would apply to actions previously allowed by FWS. Boy Scout troops, for instance, have been allowed to gather shed elk antlers and biologists have conducted studies involving capturing or occasionally killing specimen wildlife. Those exceptions would continue under tribal management, he said.

The original herd of bison released in 1909 was purchased with private money raised by the American Bison Society and then donated to the Refuge.

Today, 250-300 bison live on this refuge. To keep track of herd health, the Refuge conducts an annual Bison capture. And to ensure the herd is in balance with their habitat, surplus bison are donated and/or sold live, according to the US Fish and Wildlife.

(ORDER NO. 3390 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management to the Bureau of lndian Affairs and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 1

The Buffalo Conservationists—Part 1

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.

 On the other hand were outstanding Conservationists from the east—who came west to hunt buffalo, yes—but who also understood what was going on and fought for refuges and wildlife parks where they could live out their lives in safety.

The Buffalo Conservationists we know best are President Theodore Roosevelt, William Hornaday and George Bird Grinnell. Each made a significant impact on wildlife conservation in the United States—particularly on buffalo.

As young men, their early lives were influenced by nature, by wildlife—and by the west and western values.

Theodore Roosevelt Travels West

Theodore Roosevelt came west to hunt buffalo at age 24—just as the last of the great wild herds vanished forever. He nearly missed them all together.

Roosevelt was considered an eastern dude when he arrived in Medora. But he learned to love the badlands, developed a broad-minded viewpoint as a rancher, became an advocate for the strenuous life and the Conservationist President of the United States.

In fact, he arrived on September 8, 1883 in Medora, Dakota Territory, on the newly finished stretch of the Northern Pacific railway. It was only a month later—in mid-October—that Sitting Bull and his band killed the last 1,200 wild buffalo ranging on the nearby Great Sioux Reservation.

Born in 1858 in New York City into a wealthy family, he struggled as a frail child, was taught by a private tutor and quickly discovered a passion for the outdoors and nature.

A 6-year-old Roosevelt with his younger brother Elliott watched Lincoln’s funeral procession from the second-floor window of their grandfather’s mansion (building at center far left). Photographed at the window, as confirmed by wife Edith, who was also there as a childhood friend. Manhattan, April 25, 1865.

His favorite activities included hiking, rowing, swimming, riding, bird-watching, hunting and taxidermy.

Creating a vast collection of specimens, he filled his boyhood home and later his adult estate with insect collections and mounted animals. Some are still on display in the Smithsonian.

Roosevelt’s youth was dominated by poor health and asthma. He suffered sudden nighttime asthma attacks that terrified both him and his parents. Doctors had no cure. Here photographed in Paris at age 11.

Roosevelt graduated from Harvard and studied law at Columbia. In 1880 he married Alice Lee, a socialite he met there.

Then, deciding not to finish law school, he took an opportunity that opened to him in politics.

 Elected as a Republican to the New York State Assembly at 23, Roosevelt quickly made a name for himself as a foe of corrupt machine politics.

In Medora Roosevelt found and hired a local guide, Joe Ferris. Riding horseback on a 10-day hunt well outside the reservation they flushed out a few lone bulls and one small band of buffalo in the badlands of the Little Missouri River Valley, southwest of Medora.

In his book The Works of T Roosevelt, Memorial Edition, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Roosevelt writes about that hunting adventure.

As he relates it, the first buffalo bull they saw plunged out of a little side coulee, taking both he and the guide by surprise.

“A shabby looking old bull bison galloped out and, without an instant’s hesitation, plunged over a steep bank into a patch of broken ground around the base of a high butte.

“So quickly did he disappear that we had not time to dismount and fire. Getting our horses over the broken ground as fast as possible, we rode round the butte only to see the buffalo come out and climb up the side of another butte over a quarter of a mile off.

“In spite of his great weight and cumbersome, heavy gait, he climbed up the steep bluff with ease and even agility, and when he had reached the ridge stood and looked back at us for a moment.

“In another second he made off . . . he must have traveled a long distance before stopping, for we followed his trail for some miles, yet did not again catch so much as a glimpse of him.”

Later they saw three black specks—three more old bulls. They dismounted and crawled on hands and knees.

“We got within about 125 yards and as all between was bare ground I drew up and fired. The bullet told on his body with a loud crack, the dust flying up from his hide; but did not in the least hinder him, and away went all three with their tails up.

“I drew up and fired. The bullet told on his body . . . but did not in the least hinder him, and away went all three with their tails up.” Credit Missoulian, Kurt Wilson.

“For seven or eight miles we loped our jaded horses, occasionally seeing the buffalo far ahead.

“When the sun had just set, we saw all three had come to a stand in a gentle hollow. They faced us and made off, while the ponies put on a burst that enabled us to close in with the wounded one.

“Within 20 feet I fired my rifle, but the darkness and violent labored motion of my pony made me miss.

“I tried to get in closer, when suddenly up went the bull’s tail and, wheeling, he charged with lowered horns. My pony spun round and tossed his head.

“My companion jumped off and took a couple of shots, missed in the dim moonlight and to our unutterable chagrin the wounded bull vanished in the darkness.

A day or so later in the rain they came over a low divide and saw black objects in the distance. Again they crept toward them on hands and knees upwind.

“The rain was beating in my eyes and the drops stood out in the sights of the rifle so I could hardly draw a bead—and I either overshot or else at the last moment must have given a nervous jerk and pulled the rifle clear off the mark.

“At any rate, I missed clean and the whole band plunged down into a hollow and were off before I could get another shot.”

Finally, on the 10th day they passed the mouth of a steep ravine along the Little Missouri River, on Cannonball Creek, close to the Montana border.

Suddenly both horses threw up their heads and looked with alarm toward the head of the gully. 

“I slipped off and ran quickly but cautiously up along the valley. Before I had gone a hundred yards, I noticed in the soft soil at the bottom the round prints of a bison’s hooves and immediately afterward got a glimpse of the animal himself—a great bison bull—as he fed slowly up the ravine not 50 yards off.

“As I rose above the crest of the hill he held up his head and cocked his tail in the air. Before he could get off I put the bullet in behind his shoulder. 

“The wound was an almost immediately fatal one.

“Yet with surprising agility for so large and heavy an animal, he bounded up the opposite side of the ravine, heedless of two more balls, both of which went into his flank and ranged forward—and disappeared over the ridge at a lumbering gallop, the blood pouring from his mouth and nostrils. 

“In the next gully we found him stark dead, lying almost on his back, having pitched over the side when he tried to go down it. 

“He was a splendid old bull, still in his full vigor, with large, sharp horns and heavy mane and glossy coat, and I felt the most exulting pride as I handled and examined him.” 

Roosevelt shot his buffalo on September 20, 1883 on upper Little Cannonball Creek near where it is joined by the Little Missouri, just across the Dakota Territorial line into Montana, according to Joe Wiegand, Theodore Roosevelt scholar, who portrays TR with the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in Medora. 

At the time Wiegand says Roosevelt and Joe Ferris were using the Nemilla Ranch as a base camp, hosted by Gregor Lang and his 16-year-old son Lincoln, north of today’s Marmarth, ND.  

Roosevelt was so delighted with his hunting adventure in the scenic badlands with rugged buttes and fertile green bottoms all around that he impulsively decided to become a cattle rancher.

Painted Canyon, TR National Park, at sunset. Roosevelt was so delighted with his hunting adventures in the badlands with its rugged buttes and fertile green bottoms that he invested in two cattle ranches. Medora Foundation.

He invested in two cattle ranches—the Maltese Cross seven miles south of Medora and the Elkhorn, 35 miles north. 

The next year TR suffered a double tragedy when his mother and his wife both died on the same day—Valentine’s Day. His wife had given birth two days before to a daughter, also named Alice.

He returned to Medora and spent much of the next two years on his ranch in the Badlands of Dakota Territory.

Roosevelt threw himself into ranching, determined to get a taste of the American frontier before it was gone forever, and to restore his health by living a vigorous life.

In Medora, Roosevelt lived in the saddle, learning to be an authentic cowboy, ranching, driving cattle, hunting—and at the same time overcame his physical weaknesses.

He fell in love with the Little Missouri badlands and admired the strenuous life of the outdoorsmen who lived and worked there, trying to follow their example.

In the North Dakota badlands he lived in the saddle, learning to be an authentic cowboy ranching, driving cattle—he even captured an outlaw and at the same time overcame his physical infirmities.

In Dakota Territory Roosevelt changed from the frail, New York “dude” who arrived there—into a democratic advocate for ranching and the strenuous life who became the 26th President of the United States.

William Hornaday Seeks Buffalo Carcasses

in 1886 William Temple Hornaday also came west to hunt buffalo—if he could find any. 

As chief taxidermist of the Smithsonian Museum, when he learned that buffalo were almost extinct, he surveyed the Smithsonian’s storage closets for buffalo bones and carcasses.

Shocked, he found only one poorly mounted female, a few tattered bison hides and an incomplete skeleton. 

How would future generations of Americans be able to visualize the magnificent mammal that once stampeded across the plains and prairies by the millions, if the greatest museums in the nation had none?

He wanted some buffalo carcasses for mounting, so that future Americans could view them.

William Hornaday and an unidentified man working in the taxidermy lab behind the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. A bird hangs from the ceiling, and mounted animals line the shelves. Skulls and animal skins are scattered throughout the room. Credit Smithsonian Institution Archives, c. 1880.

Hornaday immediately requested permission to travel west to collect bison carcasses—dead buffalo—lots of them, preferably as many as 80. If that many still existed. 

He planned to shape them into a dramatic new Smithsonian exhibit, unlike any seen before, and share the rest with the foremost museums in the United States, so that when buffalo became totally extinct—as he had no doubt would soon happen—future generations could still view the pinnacle of America’s great wildlife heritage.

Thus began Hornaday’s fascination with the buffalo that continued all his life.

Little did he know then that American Bison would become his obsession, that he’d spend the rest of his life fighting for their survival. 

The last of the great wild buffalo herds had disappeared in October 1883, when Sitting Bull and his band killed the last 1,200 on the Great Sioux Reservation in Dakota Territory. 

But, chasing rumors, Hornaday set forth by train with two museum assistants for the little cow town of Miles City, Montana on May 6, arriving after four days. 

Since his journey was a government project, Hornaday had some clout, and managed to pry loose a few soldiers from nearby Fort Keogh to come along on a buffalo hunt. 

All inquiries, both in Miles City and at Fort Keogh, two miles distant, got the same reply, “There are no buffalo anymore and you can’t get any anywhere!” 

However, one distant rancher on the Little Dry Creek sent a message that was still a chance to find a few buffalo around the Big Dry. 

Five days later their party crossed the Yellowstone River and headed up Sunday Creek to the northwest, where a few survivors might still be living farther north in the rough badlands country known as the Missouri River Brakes.

By this time they had an escort of a Sergeant and four soldiers from Fort Keogh, plus a cook, teamster, wagon, and six-mule team. They purchased two saddle horses for hunting. 

His party rode horseback more than a hundred miles farther, deep into the most rugged country they had ever seen. 

There they had a series of hunting adventures unlike any other, as detailed in Hornaday’s government report, later published as his despairing book on how the “extinction” came about. 

They finally found and captured a lone buffalo calf, which exhausted, had been unable to catch up with its mother. But they never found the herd it came from. 

On the 10th day they found a couple of bulls. They shot one and realized he was shedding his winter coat—leaving his hide so tattered and seedy looking it could not be mounted.

The Hornaday party arrived in May and hunted the remote badlands northwest of Miles City. But when they did shoot a bull, its hide was so tattered and seedy looking they decided to return in September for hides in prime winter condition. Credit NPS, J Schmidt, 1977.

They decided to wait till fall for hides in prime winter condition.

After beseeching local ranchers to spare their intended targets, they took the live calf and returned to Washington.

In late September they returned to the same remote badlands, some 135 miles northwest of Miles City.

“Wild and rugged butte country, its sides scored by intricate systems of great yawning ravines and hollows, steep-sided and very deep and bad lands of the worst description.

“Such as persecuted game loves to seek shelter in,” wrote Hornaday.

In two months of hard riding they found a few small bands of extremely wild stragglers—a lone buffalo bull here, two or three cows with calves there. Seven in one bunch.

By this time they had 10 saddle horses and the help of a few more soldiers from Ft. Keogh.

Splitting up, they rode 25 miles or more each day in different directions.

Searching out “the heads of those great ravines around the High Divide . . . where the buffalo were in the habit of hiding,” they eventually killed 22 buffalo—bulls, cows and calves.

Not the 80 carcasses Hornaday had hoped for, but a raging November blizzard with bitter cold cut short their hunt.

Hornaday felt some pride at the big bull he shot himself.

“A prize! A truly magnificent specimen. A stub-horn bull about 11 years old. His hair in remarkably fine condition, being long, fine, thick and well colored—16 inches in length in his frontlet.”

His bull stood a full six feet tall when they added the four-inch-long hair on the hump—standing two inches taller than their next largest bull.

He was nine-feet-two inches, head to tail. In circumference, eight-foot-four around the chest just behind the foreleg.

The bull had been shot several times before. Within the carcass he carried four old bullets of various sizes—as did nearly every bull they killed in those hidden canyons.

Cover of Hornaday’s book Campfires in the Canadian Rockies. This is the story of a trip he made in 1905 with John M. Phillips to high mountain crags and ledges in the Canadian Rockies. They spent more than a month studying, as no trained naturalists ever had before, the habits of the mountain goat at close range. Phillips photographed them, he said “under conditions of utmost peril.” Photo by JM Phillips.

Returning to Washington, Hornaday and his assistants set to work.

After a full year they unveiled their masterpiece.

There in a huge glass case, visitors to the Smithsonian Museum viewed an enchanting scene.

The grouping of six buffalo in an authentic Montana setting, included Hornaday’s prize stub-horn bull.

The Washington Star described the exhibit on March 10, 1888:

A little bit of Montana—a small square patch from the wildest part of the wild West—has

been transferred to the National Museum. . .The hummocky prairie, the buffalo-grass, the sagebrush, and the buffalo.

 It is as though a little group of buffalo that have come to drink at a pool had been suddenly struck motionless by some magic spell, each in a natural attitude, and then the section of prairie, pool, buffalo, and all had been carefully cut out and brought to the National Museum.

A triumph of the taxidermist’s art!

It was a sight Hornaday feared no one would ever see alive again.

He hid a message voicing his despair in a small sealed metal box in the Montana dirt of the display.

Discovered nearly 75 years later when the exhibit was moved to Montana, curators read Hornaday’s heartfelt plea:

My illustrious Successor

Enclosed please find a brief and truthful account of the capture of the specimens which compose this group.

When I am dust and ashes, I beg you to protect these specimens from deterioration and destruction.

W.T. Hornaday

Chief Taxidermist, March 7, 1888

But Hornaday was not finished. He still had his official report to write: (ital) The Extermination of the American Bison, for the National Museum’s 1887 annual report. It was reprinted as a book in 1889.

George Bird Grinnell Joins the Cause

 

George Bird Grinnell and hiking party on Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park, MT. Credit Morton Elrod, University of Montana, Mansfield Library.

George Bird Grinnell joined the cause of saving buffalo early.

Like fellow conservationists Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt, Grinnell had a special interest in the west—where he made more than 40 trips from his New York headquarters.

Like them he had hunted buffalo, and in fact, joined the Pawnee’s last great buffalo hunt in 1872, at the age of 22, while still in college.

That year in August Grinnell and a friend took the train to what they considered an exciting new travel destination: Nebraska.

The Pawnee were living on a small reservation along Nebraska’s Loup River. Twice a year, the army allowed the tribe to travel south to hunt buffalo in their historic Kansas hunting grounds.

These “hunts of the Indians [had] been described to me with a graphic eloquence that filled me with enthusiasm as I listened to the recital, and I determined that if ever the opportunity offered I would take part in one,” wrote Grinnell.

With the help of a guide, they found the Pawnee hunting village of 200 lodges spread across the prairie.

The head chief received them warmly telling them the hunt so far, had not been successful.

“But tomorrow,” he promised, “a grand surround will be made.” His young scouts had reported a large herd about 20 miles away.

“Here were 800 warriors, stark naked, and mounted on naked animals,” said Grinnell. “A strip of rawhide, or a lariat, knotted about the lower jaw, was all their horses’ furniture.

“Among all these men there was not a gun nor a pistol, nor any indication that they had ever met with the white men . . . Their bows and arrows they held in their hands.”

Grinnell and 800 hunters thundered across the Kansas plains.

He marveled at the skill of the bareback riders, so perfectly in tune with their horses, that the plains appeared to be “peopled with Centaurs.”

Despite the excitement of the hunters, tight discipline governed their advance. At regular intervals in the front of the procession rode the “Pawnee Police,” whose authority during the hunt was absolute.

Much was at stake. The food supply of the tribe for the next six months would be determined in the moments about to unfold.

Ten miles from camp, the lead riders, Grinnell among them, carefully crested a high bluff.

“I see on the prairie four or five miles away clusters of dark spots that I know must be the buffalo.

“Close now, the hunters change course, using the line of bluffs to conceal their advance.”

Finally, only a single ridgeline separated the mass of hunters from the mass of their prey.

“The place could not have been more favorable for a surround had it been chosen for the purpose,” according to Grinnell.

The terrain before them consisted of an open plain, two miles wide, surrounded by high bluffs.

“At least a thousand buffalo were lying down in the midst of this amphitheater.”

In a classic surround, Indians encircled the herd before the great charge. In this hunt, though, they would employ a variant of the strategy.

“All 800 hunters would ride into the herd from the same side. The objective was for the fastest riders to pass all the way through the herd, then turn back to face it.

Grinnell said great clouds of dust quickly filled the air, along with flying pebbles and clods kicked up by fleeing hooves. He realized that some buffalo were now coming back—directly at him. The herd had been turned. CM Russell painting.

 “If successful, the herd too would turn—into the charging bulk of the hunters.”

Behind the ridgeline, the hunters assembled in a long, crescent-shaped formation. Then over the hill they rode.

“[W]hen we are within half a mile of the ruminating herd a few rise to their feet and soon all spring up and stare at us for a few seconds.

“Then down go their heads and in a dense mass they rush off toward the bluffs.

“The leader of the Pawnee Police gave a cry,  “Lo?-ah!”

“Like an arrow from a bow each horse darted forward,” recalled Grinnell. “Now all restraint was removed, and each man might do his best.”

Grinnell, who had only one horse, soon fell behind the Indians on fresh mounts. Great clouds of dust quickly filled the air, along with flying pebbles and clods kicked up by fleeing hooves.

As he galloped forward, Grinnell could just make out the fastest riders, disappearing into the herd. Soon he could no longer see the ground, relying completely on his horse to navigate the field, aware that falling could mean death.

Halfway across the valley, Grinnell realized that some buffalo were now coming back—directly at him. The herd had been turned.

“I soon found myself in the midst of a throng of buffalo, horses and Indians.”

Grinnell began shooting, “and to some purpose.”

Two-thousand-pound animals tumbled and skidded to the earth around him. Shooting from a galloping horse required a skilled mount, steady hands, and even steadier nerve.

Riders attempted to come alongside a running buffalo, aiming behind the shoulder. It was difficult and dangerous.

“The scene that we now beheld was such as might have been witnessed here a hundred years ago. It is one that can never be seen again.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Grinnell lived in Audubon Park as a young man, on what was previously the estate of John James Audubon. His school, conducted by Madame Audubon likely encouraged his interest in the natural world.

As a graduate student and naturalist he rode with General Custer’s 1874 Black Hills expedition. The next year he went with Col. William Ludlow’s expedition to Yellowstone Park, and wrote a scathing report on the poaching of buffalo, deer, elk and antelope that was going on there.

While still a student, George Bird Grinnell went with Col. Ludlow’s expedition to Yellowstone Park and wrote a scathing document relating the disastrous poaching of buffalo and other wildlife, attached to Ludlow’s report.

Grinnell graduated from Yale University in 1870, earned a PhD in 1880 and became an anthropologist, historian, naturalist and prolific writer.

In 1876 Grinnell became editor of Field and Stream magazine and remained there as senior editor and publisher for 35 years. This gave him an excellent platform for his writings on conservation and environmental issues.

He took hunting trips with the well-known guide James Willard Schultz. During a 1885 visit they hiked over the St. Mary Lakes region, naming many of the features in what is now Glacier National Park in Montana—including Grinnell Glacier.

About this area he wrote:

“Far away in Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies an unmapped northwestern corner—the Crown of the Continent.

“The water from the crusted snowdrift which caps the peak of a lofty mountain there trickles into tiny rills, which hurry along north, south, east and west, and growing to rivers, at last pour their currents into three seas.

“From this mountain-peak the Pacific and the Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico receive each its tribute. Here is a land of striking scenery.

“There is a solitude, or perhaps a solemnity, in the few hours that precede the dawn of day which is unlike that of any others in the 24, and which I cannot explain or account for. Thoughts come to me at this time that I never have at any other.”

But he also wrote, “We are a water-drinking people and we are allowing every brook to be defiled.”

Hornaday Voices his Despair

In his 1889 book, The Extermination of the American Bison, Hornaday regarded the buffalo extinction as inevitable.

“There is no reason to hope that a single wild and unprotected individual will remain alive 10 years hence,” he wrote.

“And in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up,” wrote Hornaday. “Nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water courses, a few museum specimens and regret for his fate.” NPS.

“The nearer the species approaches complete extermination, the more eagerly are the wretched fugitives pursued to the death whenever found.”

His official count of the surviving buffalo in 1889 totaled only 1,091 head for all of North America. Half of that total he credited to “very old rumors” of 550 wood buffalo in northern Canada.

That was likely an exaggeration, he admitted. But, “We will gladly accept it.”

However even this number was destined to drop lower. The lowest official number fell to 800 in 1895, according to the count of Canadian historian Ernest Thompson Seton.

The 200 counted in Yellowstone Park had dropped to a low of only 23, as the herd was nearly annihilated by hide hunters lurking at its borders and poachers within, according to the National Park Service.

Hornaday voiced his despair.

“If the majority of the people of America feel that so long as there is any game alive there must be an annual two months or four months open season for its slaughter, then assuredly we soon will have a game-less continent!” he said.

“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.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Buffalo Stone

The Buffalo Stone

A small stone, which is often a fossil shell, or sometimes only a queer shaped piece of flint, is called by the Blackfeet I-nĭs´kĭm, the buffalo stone.

This stone has great power, and gives its owner good luck in bringing the buffalo close, so that they may be killed.

The stone is found on the prairie, and anyone who finds one is thought to be very lucky.

Sometimes a man who is going along on the prairie will hear a queer faint chirp, such as a little bird might make. He knows this sound is made by a buffalo stone.

He stops and searches for it on the ground, and if he cannot find it, marks the place and comes back next day to look for it again. If it is found, he and all his family are glad.

The Blackfeet tell a story about how the first buffalo stone was found.

Long ago, one winter, the buffalo disappeared.

The snow was deep, so deep that the people could not move in search of the buffalo; so the hunters went as far as they could up and down the river bottoms and in the ravines, and killed deer and elk and other small game, and when these were all killed or driven away the people began to starve.

One day a young married man killed a prairie rabbit. He ran home as fast as he could, and told one of his wives to hurry and get a skin of water to cook it.

She started down to the river for water, and as she was going she heard a beautiful song. She looked all about, but could see no one who was singing.

The song seemed to come from a big cottonwood tree near the trail leading down to the water. As she looked closely at this tree she saw a queer stone jammed in a fork where the tree was split, and with it a few hairs from a buffalo which had rubbed against the tree.

The woman was frightened and dared not pass the tree.

Soon the singing stopped and the I-nĭs´kĭm said to the woman,

“Take me to your lodge, and when it is dark call in the people and teach them the song you have just heard.

“Pray, too, that you may not starve, and that the buffalo may come back. Do this, and when day comes your hearts will be glad.”

The woman went on and got the water, and when she came back she took the stone and gave it to her husband, telling him about the song and what the stone had said.

As soon as it was dark, the man called the chiefs and old men to his lodge, and his wife taught them the song that she had heard.

They prayed too, as the stone had said should be done.

Before long they heard far off a noise coming.

It was the tramp of a great herd of buffalo.

Then they knew that the stone was powerful, and since that time the people have taken care of it and have prayed to it.

Story told by Blackfeet and recorded by George Bird Ginnell.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Geist: All buffalo today likely descended from under 300

Geist: All buffalo today likely descended from under 300

The Pablo buffalo herd of 716 head arrived in Canada between June 1907 and 1912. They were a mix of genetics from calves captured originally in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. Photo credit Wainwright, Canada.

Valerius Geist, for 27 years a Professor of Zoology, Program Director of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and author of Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison — estimates that all Plains Bison originated from 88 bison calves captured between 1873 and 1889, plus 23 Yellowstone survivors—for a total of 111.

Geist says the Woods Buffalo of Canada survived back then in somewhat larger numbers than Plains Buffalo.

“In the 1890s, the herd of northern Bison in what is now Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, may have shrunk to 300 to 500 animals. It is even possible that as few as 250 survived,” he writes.

“Allowing for the fact that we do not know how many of the captured calves grew up to reproduce, all North American bison alive today are likely descended from fewer than 300 individuals, including northern Wood Bison, the 88 captured bison, the 23 in Yellowstone, and a few in zoos.”

Of these, only the 5 Plains Bison calves rescued by the Duprees in South Dakota did not contribute to the genetics of the Plains Bison assembled by the Canadian government by 1914 in Buffalo National Park near Waianwright and Elk Island National park near Edmonton.

The Duprees did not sell South Dakota buffalo from their herd, but let them multiply, running free on the Great Sioux Reservation.

When that herd was purchased by Scotty Phillip, he did engage in some buying and selling, as he built it up to 1,000 head or more—a tourist attraction.

The various herds in private hands were soon mixed, since Buffalo Jones participated in a great deal of buying and selling from herds far and wide.

“The Pablo herd contained bison captured originally in Montana or Alberta, Saskatchewan, Texas, and probably individuals from Kansas and Nebraska,” states Geist.

Some of the pure Canadian Mckay herd went to Sir Donald A. Smith, who donated 13 of them to Banff National Park. They were joined by 3 Texas bison donated from Goodnight’s herd, brought to Banff in 1887.

Geist reports that in the 5 years between June 1, 1907 and June 6, 1912, Pablo delivered to Canadian authorities 716 bison. Of these, 631 went to Buffalo National Park and the remaining 85 to Elk Island National Park.

All were multiplying greatly, he says. Beginning on June 25, 1925 some 6,673 Plains Bison—4,826 yearlings, 1,515 two-year-olds, and 332 three-year olds—were shipped to Wood Buffalo National Park from Buffalo National Park. (Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison, by Valerius Geist, published by Voyageur Press, Stillwater MN.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

USDA Bison Meat Purchases Top $20 million In Past Four Years

USDA Bison Meat Purchases Top $20 million In Past Four Years

Native American children really enjoy the taste of Bison and the connection it gives them to their cultural heritage. There are many health benefits associated with eating bison meat,” says Dianne Amiotte-Seidel, project director/marketing coordinator for the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

USDA’s annual purchase of ground bison meat for utilization in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations has topped $20 million, according to information provided to the National Bison Association this week by the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) now offers traditional foods including bison, blue cornmeal, wild rice, wild salmon and catfish.

A purchasing summary this week documents that the agency has purchased 2.5 million lbs. of ground bison for a total of $21.4 million from fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2020.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations provides USDA Foods to income-eligible households living on Indian reservations and to Native American households residing in designated areas near reservations or in Oklahoma. USDA distributes both food and administrative funds to participating Indian Tribal Organizations and state agencies to operate FDPIR.

By introducing buffalo meat at 13 tribal schools, one company has been able to show students the health benefits while further connecting them with their cultural heritage.

A growing number of tribal communities are reconnecting children with their rich history and culture by establishing farm-to-school programs. In doing so, tribes are integrating traditional foods—like bison—into child nutrition programs.

Rich in flavor, low in fat and high in protein, buffalo meat is a good substitute for beef. It has significantly more iron with higher levels of vitamins and minerals and twice as much beta carotene as strictly grain-fed meats.

“There are many health benefits associated with eating bison meat,” says Dianne Amiotte-Seidel, project director/marketing coordinator for the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), who has spent nearly her entire professional career working to bring buffalo meat into tribal schools. “Plus, the taste is delicious and it’s a very versatile protein.”

Last year, ITBC, based in Rapid City, S.D., received a three-year Administration for Native Americans Grant to decrease the risk of diabetes by the incorporation of buffalo meat into children’s diets. ITBC also received a one-year USDA Farm to School Grant to assist schools on Indian reservations in South Dakota with the goal of procuring buffalo meat and fresh produce for their school lunch program, developing school gardens and developing educational curriculum.

“Once we had the grants, we began conducting onsite visits with 33 schools and the nine corresponding tribes to determine their ability to incorporate locally raised buffalo meat into school lunch programs,” says Amiotte-Seidel. “The assessments included the tribe’s and school’s infrastructure (cold storage, corrals, etc.), available buffalo, staff training levels and local support.”

Ultimately, 13 schools were able to participate in the program, and the results have been nearly all positive. But there have been a number of challenges—from supply to slaughter to prep methods to education—for ITBC to overcome.

“Many reservations are located in rural and remote areas with existing food systems challenged by a lack of infrastructure,” says Amoitte-Seidel. “But we’ve worked hard to sort these problems out and improve the chain to make access more feasible.”

After working closely with the USDA, Amoitte-Seidel was able to get approval for state-run slaughter houses to process the buffalo from local tribes for use in the schools.

“In many cases, there is no access to USDA plants near these reservations,” she explains. “Lower Brule (S.D.) Sioux Tribe had been transporting their bison four hours away to Sturgis to have it processed, then it had to be transported back. It was inefficient and complicated. Being able to use a state-run slaughter house closer to the reservation will make access easier for the schools currently participating and for others who would like to start.”

Another challenge Amoitte-Seidel has successfully overcome has been training the school nutrition professionals in the cafeterias about how to prepare the meat and talk with the students about its significance.

“Because buffalo meat is lower in fat, it cooks differently than traditional beef,” she says. “But we have held trainings for cooks, managers and superintendents where they come together, learn recipes and ways to prepare it properly and network with one another to share ideas and recipes.”

Education has been a key piece of the puzzle. It starts with arming the schools’ foodservice professional with knowledge about the tribe’s buffalo heritage, which they can relate to students and other staff. Then, once they’re comfortable cooking it, they incorporate it into menus where it best fits.

And at Flandreau (S.D.) Indian Schools, students were given the option of a beef patty or a bison patty. Many who were familiar with bison opted for that. Staff also experimented with the placement of meat on the hot line, but what they discovered was the more students learned about the health benefits and the history behind their tribe and buffalo meat, they were more likely to try it.

“St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation downplayed their use of bison to students in order to have a seamless transition,” says Amoitte-Seidel. “The cooks simply substituted buffalo meat for beef in spaghetti, chili, sloppy Joes and soup. When they explained to students that they were using the bison, the students were surprised and excited. Many commented on how buffalo is a rich part of their culture and that they couldn’t even taste the difference between buffalo and beef. They love the dishes are excited to continue trying new and different ones.”

Enemy Swim Day School (Waubay, S.D.), which serves Native American students in the Glacial Lakes region of northeast South Dakota, actually saw a reduction in food waste when it began incorporating buffalo meat into menus and it now serves the meat weekly.

And students at The Circle of Nation Boarding School (Wahpeton, N.D.) have enjoy the buffalo meat so much, they’ve requested it be on the menu more than once a week.

“The buffalo program has been a success on so many fronts,” says Amoitte-Seidel. “Students are really enjoying the taste of the bison and the connection it gives them to their cultural heritage.”

Newsletter, Joanna DeChellis, Feb 21, 2017

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison Meat: Delicious and Nutritious

Bison Meat: Delicious and Nutritious

Back in 1880, Native people ate buffalo meat with great relish, seasoned or not, whether cooked over a campfire or on a grill. Just as we do today. Photo Nebraska Bison.

“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.

The Lakota also had brought 500 dogs as back-up if needed—but mostly to fatten up for later.

Then, on the day before Christmas, they made their first local buffalo hunt in 15 years.

The men returned to camp loaded with an abundance of meat and robes. The women helped unload and cared for the meat and hides.

The Lakota on that last hunt in the Slim Buttes were so pleased with Buffalo meat, that they still took delight in it—even after 8 or more weeks of eating only buffalo meat—after all other food, coffee and tobacco was gone. Photo NBA.

Fires crackled, pots boiled. People ate the tasty buffalo meat with great relish. All were smiling and happy.

In fact they were so happy with the hunt and the meat that they stayed in the Slim Buttes hunting area in tepees and tents for 3 months—even though they had packed only enough provisions for 3 weeks and soon ran out of all other food.

From then on they had only fresh buffalo meat to eat—no vegetables, no tobacco, no coffee or tea, except what they made with rose hips.

But still they stayed—even through the coldest blizzards and deepest snow they had ever known—until they had all the buffalo meat and hides they could carry home again.

“Eat the meat of the buffalo. It’s healing. It keeps our people strong. It fills the soul as well as the body,” say Native Elders today.

Health-conscious people across the US and Canada have discovered the benefits of Bison meat today. They call it nutritious, hearty, sweet and rich, tasty and tender and nearly fat-free.

Speaking for myself, some of the best meat I ever tasted was at the 3-Day National Bison Association Summer Convention held in North Dakota in 2019.

We ate buffalo meat every day. Tender and tasty! Perfectly seasoned!

Much of the meat was donated by local producers as I remember—so they probably made sure it came from the best bison cuts, from bison of just the right age. No tough old bulls.

The Great American Buffalo Cookbook

Front Cover of the Great American Buffalo Cookbook, available from NBA for only $3. Photo NBA.

The National Bison Association compiled and published a 22-page gem called “The Great American Buffalo Cookbook” in 2002. It’s organized for all cooks, those just getting started with cooking Bison as well as seasoned cooks.

Includes lots of good cooking tips, clearly explained. Everything you need for cooking delicious Buffalo Meals—and all for only $3.00.

You can order The Great American Buffalo Cookbook here: National Bison Assoc, 8690 Wolff Court, #200; Westminster CO 80031, or by visiting the website www.bisoncentral.com (Note: even more recipes are available on the NBA website.)

Back cover of the Great American Buffalo Cookbook. A gem of a book published by the National Bison Association in 2002. Photo courtesy of NBA.

This cookbook is only 22 pages, but includes lots of good cooking tips, clearly explained.

(Note: Except for front and back covers, shown above, the colored food photos that illustrate this article are not included in the NBA Cookbook.)

Grilling Buffalo Steaks

Lots of “Hints” and “Tips” are included. The NBA Cookbook starts right out with the basics of grilling a Buffalo Steak.

Cooking hint–Sear both sides of steak on hot grill to keep the juices in the steak, then turn heat down and finish cooking to desired doneness. Photo NBA.

Grilling Buffalo Steaks

Cooking time is important in order not to overcook your steaks. Total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the steaks.

1 inch thick      Rare: 6-8 minutes                   Medium: 10-12 minutes

1 ½ inch thick  Rare: 10-12 min                      Medium: 14-18 min

2 inch thick      Rare: 14-20 min                      Medium: 20-25 min

Steaks recommended for grilling/barbecuing include Rib Eye, T-bones, New York Strip, Flat Iron, Flank and Sirloin.

Less tender cuts of buffalo steaks are not recommended for grilling unless they have been marinated.

Steaks thinner than ¾ inches thick are not recommended for barbecuing or broiling. (Note: Well-done buffalo steaks are not recommended. Due to the leanness of the meat, buffalo has a tendency to become dry when overcooked.)

Buffalo meat, always delicious from the grill, whether steak or sausages. Cooking buffalo to well-done is not recommended, however, due to the leanness of the meat. Photo Buffalo Hills Bison.

Broiled Buffalo Steak

Rub your favorite cut of steak with a combination of a little garlic salt, cooking oil, ground black pepper and lemon juice. The lemon makes it tangy, with a zippy flavor.

Rosemary Marinated Steak

1 sirloin buffalo steak

1 Tbs. dried rosemary

½ cup red wine

¼ cup olive oil

Hints

  • For good cooking, preheat broiler or grill at least 5 min. before you broil or grill a steak.
  • Use long handled tongs to turn steaks on the grill. A fork will pierce the meat and allow the flavorful juices to escape.
  • Sear both sides of your steak on hot grill to keep the juices in the steak, then turn heat down and finish cooking to desired doneness.
  • When cutting thin slices of meat, have the whole piece slightly frozen. It will slice easier.

Kabobs made with cubes of Bison steak. Some veggies may be pre-cooked. Photo Quill Creek Farms.

The cookbook is divided into 4 sections, with 6 to 10 recipes in each:

1. Steak and recipes using meat chunks, cubes or slices. Includes Buffalo Fajitas, Pita Pockets, Kabobs, Stew and Stir-Fry.

2. Buffalo Roast and Leftovers, includes Bar-B-que Buffalo, Crock Pot, Buffritos, Sandwich Filling.

3. Ground Buffalo and Buff A Loaf, Buff-N-Biscuit, Chicken-Fried Steak, Meatballs, Lasagna, Cheeseburger Pie, Buffalo Quiche and Chili.

4. Miscellaneous (Buffalo salami, tongue, heart, more).

Further it is noted that Buffalo may be used with any of your favorite beef recipes if you remember these basic tips.

Buffalo Cooking Tips

Buffalo meat is similar to beef and is cooked in much the same way. The taste is often indistinguishable from beef, although buffalo tends to have a fuller, richer (and sweeter) flavor. It is not “gamy’ or wild tasting. Buffalo is low in fat and cholesterol, and is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Fresh cut buffalo meat tends to be darker red and richer in color than many of the other red meats.

Filet Mignon are prime cuts of the best Bison meat. NBA

Less tender cuts and odds and ends can be easily turned into delicious sausages in casings with the right equipment. Photo Quill Creek Farm.

The lack of fat ensures that buffalo meat will cook faster. Fat acts as an insulator—heat must first penetrate this insulation before the cooking process begins. Marbling (fat within the muscle) aids in slowing down the cooking process. Since buffalo meat lacks marbling, the meat has a tendency to cook more rapidly. Caution must be taken to ensure that you do not overcook buffalo.

  • When oven broiling buffalo, move your broiler rack away from the heat about a notch lower from where you normally broil your beef steaks. Check your steaks a few minutes sooner than you normally would.
  • If you normally cook your roast beef at 325 F, turn your temperature down to around 275 F for buffalo. Plan on the roast being done in about the same amount of time as with a comparable sized beef roast. To ensure the temperature you prefer, we recommend using a meat thermometer indicating the internal temperature.
  • Ground buffalo or Buffalo burger is also leaner (most ranging about 88-92% lean). It will also cook faster so precautions must be taken not to dry out the meat. There is very little (if any) shrinkage with buffalo burger—what you put in the pan raw will be close to the same amount after you cook it. Pre-formed patties tend to dry out faster when grilling. (Hint: the thicker the patty, the juicier the burger.) Although ground buffalo is leaner, there is no need to add fat to keep it from sticking to the pan or falling apart.

All meat, no matter the leanness has enough fat available to cook with it properly. The great thing about ground buffalo is you don’t need to drain off any grease from the pan!

Award Winning Bison Recipes from NBA

A deluxe burger with added tomato slice, onion and lettuce with maybe cheese and bacon enhances the plain burger, which can be a bit dry. Be careful not to overcook. NBA

Additional Bison recipes are available at www.bisoncentral.com

Here are some award winners selected by NBA and on their website.

This is an especially good one. For the dedicated chef, I think.

Irish Creek Ranch Best Slider, Winning “Best Bison Slider” Recipe from the NBA’s 2017 Winter Conference.

First Place Bison Burger Slider Recipe, by Karissa Dorey

Irish Creek Ranch Favorite Sliders.

Vermilion, Alberta Bison burgers are something that even the most unlearned, uncultured taste buds can enjoy. (For those of you who believe bison taste “gamey!”)

It is a sure staple on our ranch. Everyone loves it.

My husband every time repeatedly exclaims whilst sinking his teeth into this juicy burger, “This is amazing. People would pay a lot of money for this!”

Hands down this is the BEST burger ever. And maybe even the best BISON burger!

All this being said it is possible to totally screw up a bison burger.

So follow the instructions—especially the burger patty frying part and cover that frying pan!

Irish Creek Ranch Favorite Sliders

Makes: 8 -1/4 lb slider patties

Burger Patties:

2 lbs Ground Bison, thawed
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Worcestershire Sauce
3 Tablespoons Canola Oil

Whiskey Caramelized Onions:
2 Sweet onions
3 Tablespoons Olive oil
8 Brown mushrooms
2 Tablespoons Whiskey

8 slices of Gruyere cheese
8 slices of bacon
8 sourdough slider buns
4 handfuls of arugula

Truffle Aioli Sauce:

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lemon, juice
1 cup mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Truffle oil
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

Instructions:

First prepare onions 1 hour in advance:

Cut onions thinly. Place in frying pan over med-high heat, cover and cook onions and oil till

translucent. Take lid off and cook on low for 1 1/2  hour—be sure there is a single layer of onions on bottom of pan. Periodically stir to prevent burning. In the last 15 mins add mushrooms. Let cook. Then in the last 5 mins add whiskey.

Truffle Aioli Sauce:

Stir together all ingredients. Set aside

Bacon:

Cook bacon in advance for about 30 mins in the oven at 375 F. (Cook in a pan with sides lined with parchment paper.)

Burger patties:

Form 8 equal patties. Do not over handle. Sprinkle seasoning and Worcestershire sauce over each burger. Brush canola oil over each burger. Over high heat, heat remaining oil in a large frying pan. Once oil is hot (500 F) place burgers oil side and seasoning side down. Cover pan and cook for 4 mins. Flip and cook for additional 3 mins or until burger patties reach 140 F.

Let sit for 5 to 10 min before serving. Place caramelized onions/mushrooms and then bacon and then cheese over each burger. Cover and cook for additional 1-2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Place on a freshly toasted bun smeared with Truffle Aioli sauce and arugula or lettuce. Stack from bottom to top: bottom bun, aioli sauce, lettuce, burger, onion/mushroom, cheese, bacon, aioli, top bun. Serve with fresh oven baked sweet potato fries and/or salad.
Karissa Dorey, Irish Creek Bison.

Other winners:

Canadian Prairie Bison Chili, Winner of “Best Bison Chili” Recipe from the NBA’s 2018 Winter Conference.

Colorful Bison Chili, Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch, Runner Up for “Best Bison Chili” Recipe from the NBA’s 2018 Winter Conference.

Sweet and Smoky Island Slider, Runner Up Slider Recipe from the “Best Bison Slider Recipe” Contest

Southwest Bison Pho, by Benjamin Lee Bison2020 NBA Winter Conference Recipe Winner.

Truly Saskatchewan Bison Stew, Winner 2019 NBA Winter Conference Best Bison Stew.

Bison Blue Cheeseburger

Bison Blue Cheeseburger is tasty with Blue Cheese. NBA.

_____________________________________________

Serves 6

Kathy Cary, Lilly’s, Louisville, Kentucky

Food Photography Jason McConathy

Recipe styling: Cook Street School of Fine Cooking—Denver, Co

______________________________________________________

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 lbs. ground bison
1 Tbs. good quality Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. roasted & chopped shallots & garlic
1 tsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Splash extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
Good quality blue cheese or Roquefort
2 red onions sliced
Balsamic vinegar
2 bulbs fennel sliced

______________________________________________________

DIRECTIONS

Combine first 6 ingredients and form 6 patties, adding approximately 1 teaspoon of blue cheese into the center of each patty. Grill to order.

________________________________________________________

GARNISH
2 sliced red onions drizzled with extra virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar.
Grill until tender.
2 bulbs of fennel, sliced & sautéed until tender.
Toss the onions & fennel together and place on bison burger
Serve with rosemary roasted potatoes and homemade coleslaw.
__________________________________________________________

Bison: High in Protien, Low Fat, Low Cholesterol

Research from Dr. Marty Marchello of our own North Dakota State University is included in the NBA Cookbook—so you can see how Bison compares nutritionally with beef and other meats. His USDA research was done at NDSU in 1996, updated in 2007 and 2013.

Below are Dr. Marchello’s nutritional comparisons for fat, protein, calories, cholesterol, iron and vitamin B-12 of 100 grams of cooked meat (a 3.5 oz serving) from Bison, Beef (both choice and select), Pork, Chicken and Sockeye Salmon.

Dr. Marty Marchello’s nutrition chart compares the fat, protein, calories, cholesterol, iron and vitamin B-12 of 100 grams of cooked Bison meat (a 3.5 oz serving) to that of choice and select Beef, Pork, Chicken and Sockeye Salmon. NDSU.

At the August 2002 meeting of the Missouri Bison Association, Professor Barbara Lohse (Knouse), PHD, RD, LD, a Dietitian from Kansas State University spoke about the nutritional value of Bison meat.

Dr. Lohse, now Associate Professor and Principal Investigator at Pennsylvania State University, said there are many important advantages to bison meat in addition to the well-known “High in Protein, Low in Fat and Low in Cholesterol.”

This is especially important during this time when more people are pursuing healthier nutritional lifestyles, she said.

Dr. Lohse highlighted the following advantages of Bison nutrition:

    • B6 and B12 (Bison is a HIGH source of these vitamins)
      • Vitamin B12 is only available from animal sources
      • Vitamin B12 has been shown to keep the elderly mentally alert
      • Vitamin B6 is needed for protein metabolism
    • Sodium (Bison is a LOW source of Sodium)
      • High sodium intake is associated with hypertension
    • Potassium (Bison is a HIGH source of Potassium)
      • Key to lowering Blood Pressure
      • Most foods high in potassium are also high in calories
      • Bison contains 1/3 more potassium than chicken
    • Iron (Bison is a HIGH source of available Iron)
      • Necessary for hemoglobin formation and prevention of anemia.
      • Bison is 3 times higher in Iron than pork or chicken.
    • Selenium (Bison is a HIGH source of Selenium)
      • An antioxidant shown to help prevent cancer.
      • Bison has 4 times higher amount of Selenium than the USDA recommends as an antioxidant
    • Conjugated Linoleic Acid (Bison is a high source of CLA)
      • Antioxidant that has been shown to help prevent cancer
    • Calories (Bison is a LOW source of calories) 1/2 the calories of pork and chicken

Ranch to Table: The buffalo meat market

Many customers prefer to buy Bison meat from local producers directly or at Farmer’s Markets, enabling them to know just where their meat comes from. Photo Quill Creek Farms.

“Now buffalo can be found in many grocery stores, health food stores, meat markets and mail order companies. Make buffalo a regular item on your family’s dinner table and enjoy the great taste and healthful benefits of buffalo,” says the NBA website.

Also available on the NBA website is a list of producers who sell and ship Bison meat.

Beware of Water Buffalo Masking as American Bison

In her presentation Dr. Lohse emphasized the big differences between meat from American Bison (Bison) and Water Buffalo originating in Asia or Africa—recently being sold in the United States. Packages are often designed to resemble homegrown Bison.

In NUTRITION CHARTS she notes that American Bison meat is labeled “Bison,” not “Buffalo.” If you purchase meat labelled “Buffalo” it is probably imported water buffalo.

The NBA Cookbook, published earlier, doesn’t mention this. It can be a bit confusing because the Cookbook calls for “Buffalo” in its recipes. (Just remember Dr Lohse’s tip above when purchasing meat. Otherwise, we accept the terms as interchangeable.)

Don’t make the mistake of buying Buffalo meat unless it’s labelled “Bison.”

Note that buffalo today are butchered young—at 2-3 years of age—while they are tender and tasty. In addition buyers often have the choice whether to buy grass-fed or grain finished bison meat—which is a bit higher in fat, preferred by some. Many other health-conscious customers prefer and enjoy grass-fed bison meat.

It’s not like old days when the big old bulls were easiest to shoot, running on the outside of a stampeding herd to protect the more tender and tasty young bulls and cows running farther inside.

Native American hunters knew this and found a way to get past the old bulls, to the more tender and well-flavored young bulls and cows. In our histories they often told of how they’d shoot several bulls running on the outside of the herd to get past them and reach the more tender—and tasty—young bulls and cows being protected there.

Only if a hunter wanted a special trophy head, or huge tough hides for covering the tepee did he settle for older bulls. Likely, tenderness was less of a concern when their meat was dried for making jerky or pemmican.

Native Americans Love and revere the taste

Today, with their own tribal herds—no question, the opportunity to again eat buffalo meat is cherished by Native Americans.

They love and revere the taste of real Bison meat.

Tribes with buffalo herds use much of their own buffalo meat within the community.

Butchering and caring for the meat is regarded as an integral part of the circle of life, and as an important skill to teach children.

Today Indian tribes with their own herds use much of their buffalo meat within the community for special events and as an honored part of the healthy foods in diabetes programs. Because buffalo meat is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein, highly absorbable iron and zinc, it is considered a healthy food. When grass fed it is even lower in fat and more nutrient-dense. Photo InterTribal Buffalo Council.

 

 “We take our children to the kill,” explains LaDonna Allard, Tribal Historian for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“The process is carried out with due ceremony, with prayer and thanksgiving, she says. “We thank the buffalo.”

A high-powered rifle takes down the animal, so it is killed instantly to alleviate suffering.

The carcass is then skinned and cut up in traditional ways, with all parts used in ceremonies—horns, skulls, bones and hides.

“Every part has meaning. We use them all,” Allard explains.

The Fort Peck tribes in Northeastern Montana have built their own butchering facility, out near the corrals, for tribal members who want to purchase and slaughter their own buffalo from the business herd of about 200 head.

Robert Magnan, Fort Peck Fish and Game Director, says he buys a buffalo himself each year and shares it with relatives, as do around three dozen other tribal members.

One of the easiest and most tasty ways to prepare Bison Burgers is on the grill. Photo by Nebraska Bison

 

“We have all the equipment—saws, grinder—and they bring their own wrap. We teach them how to cut up the different parts—roast, steaks. Grind the tougher cuts and scraps for hamburger. [We teach] how to cook them.”

But first, says Magnan, echoing what others explain, “We talk to the buffalo. Tell them we need meat to feed our families. Thank them for their willingness to take care of us.”

For meat used in the tribes’ federally subsidized programs the Ft Peck tribes haul live animals to the nearby small town of Scobey, where they are processed in a USDA meat inspected plant.

A buffalo carries less meat than a steer, he says, about 800 pounds on the carcass.

The Fort Peck tribes offer buffalo hunts, as many as 40 or 50 a year from their business herd.

In 2014 hunters paid the tribe $850 for a two-year-old bull, $1,200 for a dry cow, $1,500 for an ordinary bull, and up to $10,000 for a big bull with well-formed horns.

Many are return hunters who come from foreign countries—Korea and Germany—and Texas and other states throughout the US.

Magnan’s staff instructs hunters to wait until they can shoot an animal off by itself—one of the five or six in a pasture with blue ear tags, designated for paid hunting. They are told not to fire into the herd.

Magnan insists the selected buffalo needs to be put down quickly without suffering. He goes with the hunter and carries a rifle to finish the job himself if the paying hunter only wounds it.

In many tribes, anyone putting on a community feed can request buffalo meat.

Buffalo is served at graduations, namings and community celebrations, and has become an honored part of the healthy foods in diabetes programs.

Because buffalo meat is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein, highly absorbable iron and zinc, and is considered delicious and exceptionally healthy, it is welcomed as a healthy food. When grass fed, it is even more nutrient-dense.

Diabetes is a serious concern in many Indian tribes.

Tribal leaders attribute their higher diabetes risk to genetics and reservation living, which often leads to a sedentary lifestyle and diet high in sugar and fat.

Today’s lifestyles are quite unlike the traditionally active lifestyles and lean, high protein diets of 100 years ago. 

“Buffalo meat, grass fed meat—this is something people with diabetes can eat that is good for them,” Alvah Quinn explains in talks at schools.

Buffalo meat is considered a healthy meat for people with diabetes. Photo North Fork Bison.

 

 “We can offer 100 percent pure buffalo meat to our tribal members for nothing or almost nothing. With all the diabetes in Indian Country, eating right is important.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2—ITBC, 30 years—Yellowstone Bison Dilemma

Part 2—ITBC, 30 years—Yellowstone Bison Dilemma

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.

The target population in Yellowstone Park is 3,000 buffalo, no more. But with new calves growing up in the herd it can quickly balloon up to 5,000 or more.

Because of the risks of spreading brucellosis to cattle herds, Montana law says that no bison can leave Yellowstone Park alive.

According to Montana Game and Fish, half the bison and elk in the Park test positive for brucellosis.

Hence, the surplus gets butchered, except for a few tribes allowed to come hunt at the borders in honor of ancient treaties that promised hunting rights.

One of the original founders of ITBC, Magnan has advocated to halt the slaughter of Yellowstone buffalo since 1992.

Two years later, in 1994, ITBC presented their first quarantine proposal to Yellowstone National Park, offering land and resources to support the development of quarantine facilities.

Over the years, Magnan often received bison meat for his tribe from this surplus.

 

 

Still, it rankled—even though the Park was 400 miles away, on a diagonal across Montana from his Sioux and Assiniboine Indian Reservation at Fort Peck.

Traveling the Big Pasture

But this was a gorgeous July morning in northeastern Montana. Problems created by winter overpopulation of Yellowstone Park buffalo seem far away.
Sweet breezes waft across the flat between the higher bluffs and the badlands below as Robbie Magnan heads his pickup farther north into the large quarantine pasture.

I was privileged to ride along over the green hills that summer morning in 2014.

Below us to the south we could see bits of the silver ribbon that was the mighty Missouri River—flowing east as it does through most of Montana.

We were looking for the 39 buffalo from Yellowstone Park that recently came to live in this generous pasture—about 20 square miles (equal to a rugged chunk of land four miles by five)—13,000 acres.

They have lots of space to roam and might be anywhere—up on the grassy plateau or down one of many gravel and juniper draws.

Magnan says this herd of buffalo often walk 8 or 10 miles a day while grazing.

They keep moving, so he never knows where to find them.

“I promised I’d look at them every day and that’s what I do.”

He chuckles and you know there’s nothing he enjoys more than bouncing over the grassy flats, up and over the dam and out on a high point of land each morning to scan the badland draws below for the little Yellowstone Park herd.

It was one step in an ambitious experimental program, and Robbie Magnan is an important link in the quarantine process.

He checks levels in a new water tank and the new, higher and stronger quarantine fence being built within the quarantine pasture for later Yellowstone Park arrivals.

It’s a well-fortified 320-acre pasture within a pasture—for extra security.

As we bounced over the terrain—sometimes on a dirt road or trail, sometimes straight across the prairie, up and down—Robbie tells me the amazing story of this small priceless buffalo herd and the quarantine research that brought it here.

The scientific research, still ongoing, studies whether Yellowstone Park buffalo that test negative for brucellosis as calves can continue to live disease-free.

The goal is to grow this very special herd and then, if still disease free, establish them in a wider area, where they can live and multiply on tribal lands outside the Park.

Magnan is pleased with his new six-wire buffalo-tight wildlife exterior fences—a smooth wire on top and bottom for deer to jump over and antelope to crawl under, with four taut barbed wires in between.

“As long as they have grass like this, water and the minerals they need—and we test the soils for that— they’ll stay in,” he says.

If not, they’ll go looking for what’s missing.

“We call them wide-ranging, not free-ranging like in Yellowstone. It’s not realistic to think buffalo will ever be free-ranging without fencing. They will always be in a fence.”

This lovely summer morning Magnan drives over two hours searching for the Yellowstone herd.

“Just one more place to look!”

We bounce over the next hill, down a grassy draw—and sure enough, there they are.

Magnificent, extra-large, extra-dark beauties, 39 young adults.

All these animals are the same age, since they were placed in quarantine as calves in Yellowstone Park, lived there several years before coming to Ft. Peck. Annually they have tested negative for brucellosis.

Although these buffalo are not family, because they were selected for diverse genetics, they have formed a tight family group.

They now have 12 calves and bunch together as they graze.

Curious and friendly, several walk over to surround the pickup, to sniff at us and grunt their greetings for a few minutes. A magical interchange.

Looking for treats, I thought. But they didn’t get any and moved on.

Best of all, there’s a new baby calf, born this morning.

The older calves are turning dark, the crests of their heads nearly black between little nubs of black horns, as it’s already mid-summer.

But this newborn baby is pure red-gold. He shines bright as a shiny new penny in the morning sun.

Magnan has hopes of increasing this cultural herd enough to achieve a natural diversity with a self-sustaining genetic base.

He has worked with the Fort Peck Fish and Wildlife for 20 years, 17 of them with their tribal buffalo herds.

“From the beginning of time, the buffalo have taken care of Native Americans. Now they need our help,” he explains.

In the distance, in another pasture, we glimpse a hundred or so of the Ft. Peck tribes’ other buffalo herd filing down a long hill to water.

Magnan calls the Yellowstone Park buffalo our cultural herd and the others—over there—our business herd.

 

He waves toward the buffalo surrounding us. These buffalo know him well. They also know his pickup.

“To us these are extremely valuable, like registered cattle. They’ll never be sold. We’ll use them only for cultural purposes.”

As we watched the Yellowstone herd, they spread out a bit, grazing, while several calves take the opportunity to nurse.

Then, still grazing, the herd comes together in a small, compact band and moves on up the green draw around a rocky point out of sight.

“The money we generate from our business herd is to take care of our cultural herd. This is a way we could feed our people if the social programs were stopped.”

One problem that concerns Robbie Magnan: none of these buffalo grew up in a multi-generational herd—since they were separated from their mothers and quarantined together as calves.

He wonders: How will they learn the wisdom of the herd? How will they understand the complexities of normal buffalo relationships?

However, so far the quarantine is working. No brucellosis outbreaks with these maturing young buffalo.

And Magnan and his staff have shown themselves capable. None have escaped.

Then it came time to relocate an additional 145 buffalo.

These were held five years in quarantine on Ted Turner’s Green Ranch near Bozeman—and before that in Yellowstone Park quarantine at Stephens Creek in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park—where they’d been captured and held in quarantine.

Montana authorities declared it too soon to divide them among the various entities, as planned. So instead they trucked them to Fort Peck’s quarantine pastures.

Robbie Mangan’s buffalo crew took over managing both Yellowstone herds.

“I enjoy them,” he says. “After 16 years they are still teaching me.”

The local press was on hand when the new herd arrived from Yellowstone Park at the Ft. Peck pasture. It was already dark.

As trucks rolled across the bridge leading to the release site near Poplar, a group of Assiniboine people stood waiting, singing a welcome.

An unforgettable moment for those on the bridge.

“We sang for them—a buffalo song,” said Larry Wetsit, vice president of community services at Fort Peck Community College.

“It’s a special day. Our people have been waiting and praying about this.”

During early reservation days hundreds of tribal members had starved, including his own ancestors, Wetsit said.

“It was all about having no buffalo. That was the low part in our history, the lowest we could go. This is a road to recovery.”

Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, one of the agencies involved in the Interagency Bison Management Plan for dealing with Yellowstone Park brucellosis problems, was there for the release.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do for wildlife. It’s the right thing to do for the tribes. And ultimately the right thing to do for the landscape,” he said.

“What this means to me is the return of prosperity to our people,” said Wetsit.

An Assiniboine, Wetsit has been the medicine lodge keeper for over 20 years, a ceremony he learned as a young man.

“It’s a celebration of our life with the buffalo.

“What we’ve always been told, always prayed about, is that the buffalo represents prosperity. When times were good it was because our Creator gave us more buffalo.”

Iris Grey Bull, a Sioux member—the Fort Peck reservation is home to both Assiniboine and Sioux tribes—spoke about their close ties to the buffalo.

“The waters of our reservation form the shapes of buffalo,” she said. “One male is to the east and four females to the west.

‘Now they’re bringing back the buffalo. This is a historic moment for us. We’re rebuilding our lives. We’re healing from historical trauma.”

“I watched the bison come out of the trailers,” Schweiger recalled. “I was watching the faces of tribal elders and the women and children watching these big animals charge out of the trailers.

Homecoming on Tribal Lands

“I was so moved to see the reaction—a powerful thing to witness. After the animals were released the drummers sang a blessing. The snow was blowing,” said Schweiger.

“It was cold. It was dark. But there was a lot of warmth.”

On August 22, 2013, the remaining 34 buffalo of the same pure Yellowstone Park strain as those at Fort Peck were released on nearby Fort Belknap Reservation.

Montana’s governor Brian Schweitzer called the event a historic opportunity to bring genetically pure buffalo to this special place on the planet.

“These are the bison that will be breeding stock to re-populate the entire western United States, in every place that people desire to have them,” he said.

Gathered to welcome them with a pipe ceremony were 150 people.

“It’s a great day for Indians and Indian country,” announced Mark Azure, who heads the Fort Belknap tribe’s buffalo program.

The last two big bulls flipped up their tails and ran from the trailer to join the herd.

Mike Fox, Belknap’s tribal councilman, said the tribe’s goal is to manage the special buffalo herd and use it as seed stock for other places wanting to reintroduce the Yellowstone strain.

“It’s a homecoming for them,” Fox said. “They took care of us and now it’s time for us to take care of them.”

Robbie Magnan waited, his most prized herd was not allowed to travel to other tribes, as was planned.

Film: Return of the Native: 25 Year ITBC History

A wonderful film was made on the history of ITBC. I know our readers will enjoy it when you have time to check it out. Narrated by Mark Azure of the Fort Belknap tribe in Montana.

In this documentary you’ll learn more about the groundbreaking work that Tribal leaders have done to restore buffalo to Indian Country. It’s split into 3 parts—close to an hour long.

Also you may want to watch the related short video: ITBC’s “Returning the Buffalo.”

 

Just click on this website:

https://itbcbuffalonation.org/return-of-the-native-the-25-year-history-of-the-intertribal-buffalo-council/
Or you can watch the various parts of the film on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeZ4lrb4-hs

But on a rather sad note, the film ends with Robbie Magnan standing a lonely vigil by his empty quarantine pasture—320 acres. Enclosed by walls of 8-foot high woven-wire fences and inside that is a 2-wire electric fence strung within the perimeter.

Well barricaded against escape, but empty and silent.

After 2014 no buffalo came from Yellowstone to his quarantine pasture for years.

Progress was stalled while cattlemen protested the quarantine system in Montana courts. They remained concerned about losing their brucellosis-free status again—which would prevent them from selling their cattle.

Introducing the Indian Buffalo Management Act

Meanwhile new legislation called The Indian Buffalo Management Act was introduced in 2019 by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) to assure regular funding for the buffalo restorations programs in Indian country.

It was unanimously approved and passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee but did not make it to a vote in the 116th Congress.

According to his office, Congressman Young would likely need to reintroduce the bill in the 117th Congress. He pledged to continue working with tribal leaders, state and local partners, and other advocates to ensure that herds of these majestic creatures can be restored to their historical sizes.

“For hundreds of years, the American buffalo was central to the culture, spiritual wellbeing, and livelihoods of our nation’s Indigenous peoples,” said Congressman Young.

“The tragic decimation of these iconic animals remains one of the darkest chapters in America’s history, and we must be doing all that we can to reverse the damage done not only to the American buffalo, but to the way of life of Native peoples across our country.

“I am proud to be joined by Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Congressman Tom Cole, in addition to Alaska Native and American Indian organizations and countless tribes, as we introduce this critical legislation to protect a resource vital to Native cultural, spiritual, and subsistence traditions.

“I would like to thank the InterTribal Buffalo Council, in particular, for their advocacy and hard work on the development of this legislation. This bill is an important step to restoring once-vibrant buffalo herds, and I will keep working with friends on both sides of the aisle to see this legislation across the finish line.”

“The Pueblo of Taos greatly appreciates Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s support of reintroduction of Buffalo to Indian lands through her co-sponsorship of the Indian Buffalo Management Act,” said Pueblo of Taos leadership.

“This Act will allow the Pueblos of New Mexico to enhance existing herds, start new herds, reintroduce buffalo into Native population diets and generate critical tribal revenue through marketing.”

“When it becomes law, the Indian Buffalo Management Act will strengthen the federal-tribal partnership in growing buffalo herds across the country and in the process restore this majestic animal to a central place in the lives of Indian people,” said John L. Berrey, the Chairman of the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

40 Bulls shipped to 16 Tribal herds

 

Then in August 2020 transfers were announced for 40 young Fort Peck buffalo bulls declared brucellosis-free by the state of Montana and the US Department of Agriculture.

At last, they were cleared for travel and slated for donation to 16 buffalo tribal herds in nine states.

Fifteen bulls were sent out to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Modoc, Quapaw, Cherokee and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

A few days later more bison were hauled to the Blackfeet, Kalispell Tribe, Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Forest County Potawatomi and Oneida.

Logistics for two more tribes were still being worked out.

Arnell Abold, an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, is the InterTribal Buffalo Council’s Executive Director. She says this moment is a celebration for tribes, the National Park Service and the state of Montana.

“This is huge for us, and we’re eternally grateful and humbled by this moment, and we look forward to putting more animals back on the landscape and returning them to their homeland,” Abold said.

Megan Davenport is a wildlife biologist with InterTribal Buffalo Council.

“Tribes have been advocating for the last 30 years, particularly with this Yellowstone issue, that there’s a better alternative to slaughter,” Davenport said.

These animals marked the second transfer of bison from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation’s quarantine facility to other tribes, she said. The first was five bison sent to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

On Dec 12, 2020, Ervin Carlson, of the Blackfeet tribe in western Montana, writing for ITBC as board president, reported on how it all this came about.

“It’s been 27 years since ITBC submitted the first proposals to quarantine and transfer Yellowstone buffalo as an alternative to their slaughter,” he said.

“It’s been only four months since this has been actualized, with the first tribe-to-tribe transfer of 40 brucellosis-free Yellowstone bulls sent from Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes’ quarantine facility to 15 native nations through ITBC.

“While this is a massive victory and testament to 30 years of inter-tribal efforts to protect the Yellowstone buffalo, it has not been achieved without significant challenge.

He explains that in 1992 tribes were denied a seat at the table in the process of drafting the environmental impact statement for considering management alternatives for Yellowstone buffalo.

“Despite denied participation, ITBC persisted, introducing proposals and resources to develop a quarantine program.”

In 1997 ITBC submitted their first proposals to build quarantine facilities on tribal lands.

“This achieved overwhelming support from public citizens, nonprofits and federal agencies, though roadblocks persisted.

“ITBC finally won a seat at the Interagency Bison Management Plan in 2009 to protect and preserve the Yellowstone buffalo.”

“Due to the dedication of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, and the 30 years of arduous activism by ITBC, the tribes completed construction of their quarantine facility in 2014.

“This facility was built to accommodate all phases of quarantine and can handle approximately 600 buffalo on 280 acres surrounded by double fences.

“With the assistance of ITBC, the tribes continue to improve this facility by expanding the number of pastures through cross fencing, increasing the capacity for additional groups of buffalo.

“The construction of this facility was initiated upon the request of the National Park Service.

“The Fort Peck quarantine facility is still not used to its full potential because a Montana law and federal regulations are misapplied to the tribes.

“The capacity of the facilities in and near the Park are not adequate to allow new groups to enter the quarantine program each year resulting in a larger number of buffalo being slaughtered. These facilities cannot accommodate as many buffalo as Fort Peck.

“No animals will enter the quarantine program this winter.

“Each winter, buffalo migrate outside the boundaries of Yellowstone, and either face capture and shipment-to-slaughter (442 animals last winter) or hunting by tribes utilizing treaty-secured rights (284 animals last winter).

“Because there is limited capacity in the facilities in and near the Park and a refusal to use the Fort Peck facilities to their full potential, more buffalo will be slaughtered this winter.

“ITBC’s solution of quarantine and translocation, the alternative nearly 30 years in-the-making, helps offset the number of buffalo killed for migrating outside of the Park’s invisible fences.

“The buffalo that consecutively test negative for brucellosis for years within the program are transferred to tribal lands to preserve their unique genetics and restore Tribal spiritual and cultural relationships.

“They are the descendants of the buffalo our Native ancestors lived with for centuries, and are honored and revered by the many nations with whom they find a home.”

Ervin Carlson, ITBC’s President for the past 17 years stated, “ITBC appreciates the efforts of the state of Montana in supporting quarantine operations and is deeply grateful to the US Department of Agriculture, Yellowstone National Park and to the Fort Peck Tribes for their dedicated partnership in accomplishing this mission.

“Finally, this moment would not be possible without our Member Tribes’ years of participation, support, and tireless work to ensure that buffalo and Native people are reunited to restore their land, culture, and ancient relationship across North America.”

Testing and Quarantine Continue

Before shipping the Yellowstone Park buffalo out to other tribes the Fort Peck tribes did a final quarantine testing.

It was an unforgettable bright August morning in the northeast corner of Montana.

Robbie Magnan, Game and Fish director for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, rose before dawn to round up and ease the 40 buffalo bulls into closer corrals near the loading chute.

“There’s always been a lot of hoops that we’ve had to jump through, and it’s something that we’ve just worked diligently for a lot of years to get this far for this happening today,” said Carlson.

“So today is real gratifying, just to be able to get some animals out of [the park] and to tribes alive.”

“We have a drum group out here. They’ll sing the prayer songs to send the buffalo safely to their new homes, that they travel safe and receive blessings and say goodbye for us, and we’ll send them on their way,” Jonny BearCub Stiffarm says.

You’ll notice here at this gathering that there’s some real little children. Buffalo will always have been a part of their lives,” BearCub Stiffarm says.

“And so for a lot of us older generation, to be able to see that circle become complete has really been meaningful.”

If you’re experiencing quarantine fatigue, these bulls can relate, their handlers say.

“These guys have been in there for years,” Magnan says. “Most of their life they’ve been in some type of quarantine.”

They endured two years of quarantine at Yellowstone National Park, where they started their lives, before being transferred to Fort Peck for final years of isolation and disease testing.

“But today is a good day, because they’ll go to a home where they’ll never have to be tested again,” Magnan says. “And they have the rest of their life to enjoy being a buffalo.”

Their new homes are as far from here as Kansas, Wisconsin and Alaska. It was to be the largest ever inter-tribal transfer of buffalo.

A semitrailer backs up to the chute to start the first ones on their journey.

It takes two hours and lots of commotion for a group of tribal Game and Fish employees, plus a handful of community volunteers, to coax the 2,000-pound bulls through the chute and onto the trailers.

The Cherokee continue to work with the Council, which awards surplus bison from national parks each year to its member tribes, and hopes to obtain another 25 or 30 cows.

The two young bulls, each between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds, were trucked over 1,000 miles to Delaware County, Oklahoma this week.

Both animals managed the stress of the trip well, said Cherokee Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. They were at first held separately from the others in the herd to be slowly introduced into the population.

The two bulls will put on hundreds more pounds each to reach their massive 2,000-pound adult size, and in the meantime they will find their place in the hierarchy among other bulls and eventually reproduce naturally among the herd, he said.

As descendants of the buffalo that once roamed free more than 100 years ago, the new genetics bring a lineage to the herd welcomed in more ways than one, he said.

“Yellowstone buffalo are significant to tribes because they descend from the buffalo that our ancient ancestors actually lived among, and this is just one more way we can keep our culture and heritage and history alive.”

“This partnership with the InterTribal Buffalo Council continues to benefit the Cherokee Nation by allowing the tribe to grow a healthy bison population over the last five years,” Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr said in a press statement.

“Historically, bison provided an essential food source for tribes. Every part of the bison was used for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. These newly acquired bison will help revive some ancient cultural traditions, as well as provide expanded economic opportunities for future generations of Cherokees.”

Although bison are associated more with the Great Plains tribes, wood bison once roamed the Cherokee lands and all along the Atlantic Coast. Prior to European colonization, the animals played a critical role for the Cherokee people as a vital food source.

Until 2014, the Cherokee had not raised bison for 40 years. After spending two or three years working with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the tribe’s herd now has about 180 bison.

Robbie Magnan says all this hard work is worth it to restore an animal that was once the center of life for many tribes across the Great Plains and Mountain West.

Along with other long-time workers in ITBC he believes contemplating a herd of buffalo can bring Native tribal members a sense of peace, love and strength in dealing with life’s problems.

The ITBC and the Fort Peck Tribes say this is the first of many large inter-tribal buffalo transfers out of the quarantine program.

This winter, they plan to transfer 30 to 40 animals, an entire family group, to one lucky tribe that can prove it has the resources to care for them.

Come spring, the ITBC is expecting a new shipment of buffalo from Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck Reservation.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Buffalo and the Field Mouse

The Buffalo and the Field Mouse

 

 

Once upon a time, when the Field Mouse was out gathering wild beans for the winter, his neighbor, the Buffalo, came down to graze in the meadow.

The little Mouse did not like this. He knew that the buffalo would mow down all the long grass with his prickly tongue, and there would be no place in which to hide.

He decided to offer battle like a man.

“Ho, Friend Buffalo, I challenge you to a fight!” he yelled in a small, squeaky voice.

The Buffalo paid no attention, thinking it a joke.

The Mouse angrily repeated his challenge.

The buffalo went on quietly grazing while the little Mouse laughed with contemp.

The Buffalo at last looked at him and said, “You had better keep still, little one, or I shall come over there and step on you, and there will be nothing left!”

“Ha! You can’t do that! “replied the Mouse.

“If you speak to me again, I will come and put an end to you!” said the Buffalo, getting angry.

“I dare you! “said the Mouse.

The buffalo ran at him, trampling the grass and tearing up the earth with his front hoofs.

He looked for the Mouse, but he could not see him anywhere.

Just then he felt a scratching inside his right ear.

He shook his head as hard as he could and twitched his ears back and forth.

Bellowing madly, he ran as fast as he could in circles, then stood trembling.

The Mouse jumped out of his ear, and said, “Do you agree now that I am master?”

“No! “bellowed the Buffalo, and again he ran toward the Mouse, to trample him under his feet.

The little fellow was nowhere to be seen, but in a minute the Buffalo felt him in the other ear. Once more he raged in pain, and ran over the prairie, leaping high in the air.

At last he fell on a rock and lay dead.

The Mouse came out of his ear, and stood proudly upon his dead body.

“Ho, Ho!” he boasted. “I have killed the greatest of all beasts. This will show everyone that I am master of the meadow!”

He jumped on the carcass and called loudly for a knife to cut up the buffalo.

In another part of the meadow, Red Fox was hunting mice for his breakfast.

He was very hungry and suddenly saw the little mouse. He jumped upon him with all four feet, but the little Mouse got away.

All at once the Fox thought he heard a distant call: “Bring a knife! Bring a knife!”

Red Fox started in the direction of the sound. At the first knoll he stopped and listened.

Just then he heard the call plainly, but in a very tiny, thin voice, “Bring a knife!”

Red Fox ran toward the voice as fast as he could.

He came upon the huge body of the Buffalo lying on the grass. The little Mouse still stood upon the body.

“I want you to cut up this Buffalo for me and I will give you some of the meat,” ordered the Mouse.

“Thank you, my friend, I shall be glad to help you,” replied the Fox, politely.

So the Fox butchered the Buffalo, while the Mouse sat upon a mound nearby, giving orders.

“You must cut the meat into small pieces,” he said to the Fox.

When the Fox had finished his work, the Mouse gave him a tiny piece of liver. He swallowed it quickly and smacked his lips.

“Please, may I have another piece?” he asked quite humbly.

“No, I gave you a very large piece! How greedy you are!” exclaimed the Mouse.

“You may have some of the blood clots,” he sneered.

So the poor Fox took the blood clots and even licked off the grass. He was really very hungry.

“Please may I take home a piece of the meat?” he begged. “I have six little children at home, and there is nothing for them to eat.”

“You can take the four feet of the Buffalo. That ought to be enough for all of you!”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” said the Fox.

“But, Mouse, I have a wife also and we are having bad luck hunting. We are almost starved. Can’t you spare me a little more?”

“Not a bite,” scolded the Mouse, “I have already overpaid you for the little work you have done.” However, you can take the horns, though!”

Suddenly the Fox jumped on the Mouse, who gave one faint squeak and disappeared.

Remember, if you are proud and selfish you may lose everything in the end.

The little Field Mouse thought he could be Master of the Meadow.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

More Bison Join Island Herd

More Bison Join Island Herd

Bison have roamed Catalina Island off the coast of California since 1924. They have valuable Yellowstone Park genetics, but now with two new pregnant females have added more diversity. Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

Bison have played a significant role in the cultural heritage of Catalina Island for nearly 100 years and will be roaming there freely far into the future.

Catalina Island Conservancy worked with the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation herd to bring two pregnant female bison to Catalina Island.

The new additions arrived in early December and will supplement the genetic diversity of the current bison herd on Catalina Island with the valuable genetics of heritage bison.

The herd—managed by Colorado State University, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Larimer County—was established with nine adult females and one male calf in November 2015.

It has now grown to over 100 bison, which has made it possible to share bison with tribal and conservation herds across the country.

The bison have valuable genetics from the Yellowstone National Park herd and, thanks to science implemented at CSU by Assistant Professor Jennifer Barfield and her team, the animals are also disease-free.

“We are proud to continue our mission of collaborating with conservationists through this new partnership with Catalina Island Conservancy,” said Barfield, a reproductive physiologist.

“We look forward to watching our animals find a new home with the herd on Catalina Island, where they can contribute to the growth of a truly unique and iconic herd.”

Bison have freely roamed Catalina Island since 1924.

Fourteen bison were brought to the island for the filming of an adaptation of a Zane Grey novel, believed to be “The Vanishing American.”

There are currently approximately 100 bison on Catalina Island, off the coast of California.

The new animals will integrate into Catalina Island’s free-ranging bison herd and are expected to give birth in the spring.

“With goals of maintaining the health of the land and providing public benefit, Catalina Island Conservancy maintains its three-part mission of conservation, education and recreation.

“The bison population is a key example of this delicate balance,” said Tony Budrovich, Conservancy president and CEO .

“The unique opportunity to see American bison on Catalina Island brings wildlife lovers from around the world to learn about a species they might otherwise not have a chance to see roam.

“While here, they also learn about Catalina’s endemic species, special Mediterranean climate and importance of conservation.”

With its location close to urban areas, Catalina provides a gateway to nature for a diverse population to experience and learn about wildlife and nature just steps away from home.

The best way to view bison is through a Conservancy Eco Tour.

Bison are wild animals. People should stay at least 125 feet away from bison at all times. Info Courtesy of Catalina Island Company

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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