The Legacy of Wind Cave National Park

The Legacy of Wind Cave National Park

Below are 3 bright slices of the rich heritage of Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

First: In the video below the fine storyteller Sina Bear Eagle tells the beautiful Lakota tradition of Wind Cave as the place from which humans and bison emerged in ancient times.

Second: Briefly, what’s the history of Wind Cave National Park from the time President Theodore Roosevelt established it Jan 3, 1903, with its own genetically pure herd of bison from the New York Zoo? At 154 miles of explored passageways (so far) the 7th longest cave in the world . . .

Third: A bright new segment captivates a female student from the Latino Heritage Intern program. New generations, new enthusiasm for conservation and wildlife.

So let’s relax and enjoy these segments of the wonderful heritage of Wind Cave National Park.

The Lakota Emergence Story

Sina Bear Eagle tells her Cheyenne Creek community version of the Lakota Emergence Story that comes from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In Lakota culture, history is passed down to new generations through the spoken word. There are many different versions of the Emergence Story, varying from band to band and family to family.

This version comes from the Cheyenne Creek community on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Lakota tribe. The story was told by Wilmer Mesteth—a tribal historian and spiritual leader—to Sina Bear Eagle, who retells it in the following passage.

This story begins at a time when the plants and the animals were still being brought into existence, but there were no people or bison living on the earth. People at that time lived underground in the Tunkan Tipi—the spirit lodge—and were waiting as the earth was prepared for them to live upon it.

The Natural Opening of Wind Cave. Can you hear the “breathing earth” through the hole?

To get to the spirit lodge, one must take a passageway through what the ancestors referred to as Oniya Oshoka, where the earth “breathes inside.”

This place is known today as Wind Cave, referred to in modern Lakota as Maka Oniye or “breathing earth.” Somewhere, hidden deep inside this passageway, is a portal to the spirit lodge and the spirit world.

There were two spirits who lived on the surface of the earth: Iktomi and Anog-Ite.

Iktomi, the spider, was the trickster spirit. Before he was Iktomi, his name was Woksape—“Wisdom”—but lost his name and position when he helped the evil spirit Gnaskinyan play a trick on all the other spirits.

Anog-Ite, the double face woman, had two faces on her head. On one side, she had a lovely face, rivaling the beauty of any other woman who existed. On the other, she had a horrible face, which was twisted and gnarled. To see this face would put chills down any person’s spine.

Anog-Ite was once Ite, the human wife of the wind spirit Tate. She longed to be a spirit herself, so when the evil Gnaskinyan told her dressing up as the moon spirit, Hanwi, would grant her wish, she followed without question.

Gnaskinyan used both Ite and Woksape as pawns in his trick on the other spirits.

The Creator, Takuskanskan, decided not to punish Gnaskinyan for this trick, because evil does what’s in its nature.

Woksape and Ite were both punished because they let their pride determine their actions and allowed themselves to be guided by evil, when both should have known better.
Takuskanskan transformed the two into Iktomi and Anog-Ite, allowing Iktomi to play tricks forever and Anog Ite to be the spirit she desired to be. Both were banished to the surface of the earth.

Iktomi and Anog-Ite had only each other for company. Iktomi spent his time playing tricks on Anog-Ite, torturing her and never allowing her to live in peace, but this pastime soon bored him.

He wanted new people to play tricks on, so he set his sights on the humans. He knew he needed help for this trick; he asked Anog-Ite, promising he’d never torment her again. She agreed to these terms and began loading a leather pack.

Anog-Ite filled this pack with buckskin clothing intricately decorated with porcupine quills, different types of berries, and dried meat. She then loaded the pack onto the back of her wolf companion, Sungmanitu Tanka.

When the wolf was ready, Iktomi led him to a hole in the ground and sent the wolf inside Oniya Oshoka to find the humans. The wolf followed the passageways until it met the humans.

A lone wolf. Anog-Ite’s wolf was named Sungmanitu Tanka. Credit NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Once there, he told the people about the wonders of the Earth’s surface, and showed them the pack on his back. One man took out the buckskin clothing and felt the soft leather. His wife tried on a dress and when he looked at her he thought the dress accentuated her beauty.

Next they took out the meat, tasted it, and passed it around amongst some of the people. The meat intrigued them. They’d never hunted before, and had never tasted anything like meat. They wanted more.

The wolf told them if they followed him to the surface of the Earth, he’d show them where to find meat and all the other gifts he brought.

The leader of the humans was a man named Tokahe—“The First One”—and he refused to go with the wolf. He objected, saying the Creator had instructed them to stay underground, and that’s what he’d do.

Most of the people stayed with Tokahe, but all those who tried the meat followed the wolf to the surface.

The journey to the surface was long and perilous. When they reached the hole, the first thing the people saw was a giant blue sky above them. The surface of the earth was bright, and it was summertime, so all the plants were in bloom.

The people looked around and thought the earth’s surface was the most gorgeous place they’d ever been before.

The wolf led the people to the lodge of Anog-Ite, who was in disguise; she had her sina—“shawl”—wrapped over her head, hiding her horrible face and revealing only her beautiful face.

Anog-Ite invited the people inside, and they asked her about the clothes and the food. She promised to teach the people how to obtain those things, and soon she taught the people how to hunt and how to work and tan an animal hide.

This work was difficult, however. The people had never struggled like this in the spirit lodge. They grew tired easily and worked slowly.

Time passed, and summer turned to fall, then to winter. The people knew nothing about the Earth’s seasons and had worked so slowly that, by the time the first snow came, they didn’t have enough clothes or food for everyone.

They began to freeze and starve. They returned to the lodge of Anog-Ite to beg for help, but it was then that she revealed her true intentions.

She ripped the shawl from her head, revealing her horrible face, and with both faces—beautiful and horrible—laughed at the people.

The people recoiled in terror and ran away, so she sent her wolf after them to chase and snap at their heels. They ran back to the site of the hole from which they’d emerged, only to find that it had been covered, leaving them trapped on the surface.

Two buffalo at Wind Cave. NPS.

The people didn’t know what to do nor where to go, so they simply sat down on the ground and cried.

At this time the Creator heard them, and asked why they were there. They explained the story of the wolf and Anog-Ite, but the Creator was upset.

The Creator said, “You should not have disobeyed me; now I have to punish you.” The way the Creator did that was by transforming them—turning them from people into these great, wild beasts. This was the first bison herd.

Time passed, and the earth was finally ready for people to live upon it.
The Creator instructed Tokahe to lead the people through the passageway in the cave and onto the surface. On the way, they stopped to pray four times, stopping last at the entrance.

On the surface, the people saw the hoof prints of a bison.

The Creator instructed them to follow that bison. From the bison, they could get food, tools, clothes and shelter. The bison would lead them to water. Everything they needed to survive on the earth would come from the bison.

Buffalo along the road in Wind Cave National Park.

When they left the cave, the Creator shrunk the hole from the size of a man to the size it is now, too small for most people to enter, to serve as a reminder so the people would never forget from where they’d come.

Bison Bellows: Wind Cave National Park—Riding the Rails Back Home

Buffalo at the entrance to Wind Cave National Park, Visitor center. Photo courtesy of Greg Schroeder.

Before the mid-1800s, bison dotted the South Dakota plains.

But by the 1890s, South Dakota resembled a bleak wildlife landscape. The wild free roaming bison were gone and so were the elk, the pronghorn, other wildlife and the people that once roamed freely across the plains.
By the 1900s some efforts were underway locally to restore prairie wildlife; yet, it wasn’t until people on the east coast gathered together to create the New York Zoological Society in 1905 and its subdivision of the American Bison Society, led by William Hornaday and President Theodore Roosevelt that bison conservation actually began to have a home.

In 1913, the New York Zoological Society raised sufficient numbers of bison that they could imagine doing something that had never been done before. They proposed a new vision of conservation partnership between private and public entities, in order to donate and restore bison to Wind Cave National Park nestled in the South Dakota Black Hills landscape.

In November, 1913, 14 bison departed New York City by train for the long trip westward back home to Hot Springs, South Dakota and then by wagon to Wind Cave National Park.

This cross-country movement of bison, from private possession to public lands, represented a major milestone in wildlife conservation.

The 14 bison multiplied rapidly among the pines in the Black Hills of South Dakota in Wind Cave National Park. Photo courtesy of Greg Schroeder.

It is interesting to visualize enthusiastic crowds gathering at train stations to see the 14 bison from New York City heading home westward.

It may be that some of those communities included people who earlier rode the same rails westward in order to decimate wild bison.

The story of bison restoration at Wind Cave National Park is one of remarkable change in societal intent and perception, and one of how a small yet determined society can transform the attitude of a nation.

Although bison suffered an unnatural and traumatic population decline, the Wind Cave bison herd now serves as a foundation for future conservation.

Those 14 bison in 1913 were the beginning of over a century of bison conservation at Wind Cave National Park. They have served as a source of bison to reestablish other herds across the United States and most recently in Mexico and have brought delight and inspiration of millions of park visitors and supporters of the National Park Service.

According to the Lakota people, Wind Cave is the place from which Wakan Tanka, or the Great Mystery, sent bison to the Sioux hunting grounds through a person, known as the buffalo woman, who ascended from Wind Cave to give the Lakota people bison.

Surveying Buffalo at Wind Cave National Park
in the Latino Heritage Internship Program

by Nicole Segnini , Intern, Office of Communications

”I never thought I would learn so much about wildlife in such a short time and be interested in learning more.”

S’mores, late-night card games, embarrassing stories, trying to light up a fire, seeing bison for the first time, learning about Lakota culture, and seeing Cave Boxwork for the first time.

That’s a summary of what I did with a team of interns from the Mosaics In Science and Latino Heritage Internship Program, with some of the Environment for the Americas (EFTA) staff.

Our team: Yuyavan, Paola, Brooke, Will, Shanelle, Griselda, Sheylda and Jedi. The team was full of incredibly smart people whom I learned so much from. I never thought I would learn so much about wildlife in such a short time, and be interested in learning more.

“Our team—we learned about the park’s extensive prairie landscape and its wildlife and helped the park’s wildlife biologist count their bison.”

We went to South Dakota, land of lots of cows, and Wind Cave National Park. During the trip, we learned about the park’s extensive prairie landscape and its wildlife (especially bison and prairie dogs) and helped the park’s wildlife biologist do a count of bison.

I have always cared about animals and wildlife and their conservation. But hearing all of them talk about specific issues, encouraged me to learn more and be more proactive in learning about important wildlife conservation efforts.

At Wind Cave, we did a Natural Entrance Cave Tour and learned about its discovery, where it got its name, and its significance in Lakota culture.

We saw its incredible and unique boxwork throughout the tour. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. 

At one point the lights were turned off, so we could see how it really looks inside the cave. I may have (or may have not) been a tiny bit scared… it was pitch black. It is crazy to think that back in the day people would explore the cave with just a candle…

Our guide, Angela, who is the park’s wildlife biologist, was amazing. She talked about the park’s bison herd and conservation efforts, but she also taught us about other wildlife in the park, like pronghorns and prairie dogs!

After some sandwiches, we headed out to “hunt” bison. We did a bison count or bison survey. This means: we found the park’s herd and counted how many bison and calves were in it.

Discovering bison for the first time. “I counted about 114—from a safe distance.”

A regular count helps Wind Cave keep track of how fast the bison population is growing and can monitor the herd to make sure the animals, and their habitat, are protected and conserved for future generations.

By the end of the count, between 110 to 130 bison, including 12 calves, were observed. I counted about 114. Of course, our count was done from a safe distance. (We did NOT pet the fluffy cows!!).

This was not only a great educational opportunity for us, but it was also a great way to connect with people who share the same love for nature and conservation and to experience the outdoors as some of us had never done before.

Some of us had never even seen a bison (now I have seen quite a few!), others had never gone camping! This trip also encouraged me to learn more about conservation efforts and wildlife at our parks and to head outside to discover.

I am very thankful to Environment for the Americas for allowing me to be part of this amazing adventure!

I am so happy I met Brooke, Yuya, Will, Paola, Shanelle, Griselda and Sheylda. I think we were a great team and worked well with each other. I loved hearing from them about their work, projects, passions, backgrounds and families and sharing things in common with one another.

BONUS! Bison from Custer State Park came to visit us at our camping site!

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Why not celebrate this year’s National Buffalo Day by telling a favorite buffalo story?

Why not celebrate this year’s National Buffalo Day by telling a favorite buffalo story?

How will you celebrate National Buffalo Day this year?

Protecting buffalo calves from wolves was—and today still is in certain areas—a major concern for the entire herd. Sketch by Charles M. Russell, Nov, 1907.

National Bison Day, November 6, 2021, is an annual event. It falls on the first Saturday in November each year.  Americans are encouraged to reflect on the impact Bison have as a part of our environmental and cultural heritage.

Here’s a fun way for us to celebrate: Since we all love stories, why not honor this year’s National Buffalo Day by telling a favorite buffalo story?

Tell it several times—to your family, your buddies, a treasured friend in your long-time care home. Maybe at a meeting you happen to attend that day.

If you work with buffalo, I bet you have a personal, amazing or interesting story or two to share. Even second or third hand will be just fine.

If you’ll share them with us, we’ll reprint them here for National Buffalo Day. Please note the source and send them to us at:

I’m starting early, so you might use these or zero in on your own.

Beginning in 2012, the movement grew to name the Bison as America’s national mammal to bring together bison supporters, including Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen and educators to celebrate the significance of Bison.

It took 4 years and that finally happened on May 9, 2016, when the Bison—and by general consensus, the Buffalo—became our National Mammal with its own special National Bison Day.

The American bison is not only the country’s official mammal; It is also the state mammal of Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas. Many towns, creeks and rivers throughout North America bear the name Buffalo or Bison.

Remember that in North America, we regard the terms Buffalo and Bison as interchangeable—no apologies. So use whichever you prefer!

For reference see National Geographic guidelines, and US-based dictionaries, including Websters Collegiate Dictionary, which declare the terms interchangeable. Buffalo has a long history in North America, dating from 1625 when first recorded—even before Bison was first documented, in 1774.

Professor Dale F. Lott, University of California scientist and author of American Bison: A Natural History puts it well, I think.

“I decided to use both names. . . ” he writes,  “My Science side is drawn to Bison. Yet the side of me that grew up American is drawn to Buffalo—the name by which most Americans have long known it.

Buffalo honors its long, intense and dramatic relationship with the peoples of North America.”

Here are 3 of my all-time favorite buffalo stories. Two are gleaned from that master of Buffalo Lore and knowledge—William Hornaday of the original Smithsonian Museum. His book The Extermination of the American Bison, was published by the US Government Printing Office in 1889.

The other story came from Mike Faith, buffalo manager for Standing Rock herds for some 20 years, now Standing Rock tribal chairman.

How will you celebrate the occasion of National Bison Day, Nov 6? I’m starting early by offering you my 3 favorite buffalo stories.

Will you share some of your favorites too? If we start collecting right now maybe we can have them ready by November 6.

First: Here’s my Number 1 Favorite Buffalo Story:

Noble Fathers We Saw in Action

by Francie M. Berg | Jul 14, 2020

Large gray wolves danced around the circle of bulls in impatient expectancy, licking their chops, while the bulls faced them, snorting and pawing dirt. Painting by CM Russell, The Buffalo Book, David A. Dary.

Buffalo bulls are born with a strong sense of responsibility. The Noble Fathers, they were called in earlier times, for protecting mothers and calves from the ravages of wolves or weather.

When attacked by packs of wolves—and in blizzards and fierce storms, it was said—they form a circle or triangle facing into the wind and shield cows and calves from risks of wintery blasts and vicious wolves.

This remarkable buffalo story—one of my favorites—was told by a medical soldier on the western Plains, back in buffalo hunting days.

One day this army surgeon was out buffalo hunting. As he headed back to camp he saw what he described as “the curious action of a little knot of 6 or 8 buffalo.”

Riding closer, unseen behind the crest of a rocky butte, he noted they were all bulls, standing in a tight circle with their massive heads facing out, snorting and pawing dirt.

A dozen large gray wolves danced around them in impatient expectancy, licking their chops. Now and then a wolf dived in, nipping at buffalo heels.

After a few moments the knot broke up, still keeping its compact mass, and started off for the main herd, a half mile away.

Then to his very great astonishment, the surgeon saw what the bulls were protecting in their midst—a newborn calf trying to stand on wobbly legs.

It stumbled a few paces, then fell back down.

The bulls formed their protective circle again, shaking big heads and stout horns fiercely. The hungry wolves sat back down and licked their chops, awaiting a better chance to attack.

Again, the calf struggled to his feet, stumbled farther ahead, then fell. Each time he fell, he showed a bit more strength The bulls faced out again, fiercely tightening their circle, pawing dust and bellowing.

From his hiding place the surgeon watched this drama play out a few times. The calf struggled ahead, a bit stronger each time before it collapsed. Wolves dove in, snapping at the bulls, got tossed in the air, Furious bulls plunged, pawed dust and slashed with savage horns.

After some time—satisfied that the little calf was safe, the surgeon rode on.

Telling the story later, he said, “I have no doubt the Noble Fathers did their whole duty by their offspring and carried it safely to the herd.”

While the Army surgeon watched, the buffalo bulls protected one small newborn calf until he was strong though to catch up with the herd. Courtesy of National Park Service.

I saw those “noble fathers” in action once myself—and they did protect the buffalo calves.

We were riding horseback in the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt Park with some friends.

Our kids were teenagers then and we were about 15 riders. As we rode over a hill, we saw—spread out and grazing below us—the North Unit herd of about 60 buffalo.

They looked up, startled by the sudden appearance of so many riders, and began to run. We reined in our horses and paused to watch.

They didn’t run far. The big bulls stopped in an open area and formed a tight circle facing us, shaking their massive heads, while cows and calves took the inside, milling around

It was clearly a defensive position they all understood—and we did too—the calves well-hidden and nosed around by nervous moms in the center, while the bulls came forward—ready and eager to take us on.

Describing a similar defensive move during the 19th century, Colonel R.I. Dodge, wrote in his Plains of the Great West:

“The bulls with heads erect, tails cocked in air, nostrils expanded and eyes that seem to flash fire, walk uneasily to and fro, menacing the intruders by pawing the earth and tossing their huge heads.”

We paused and watched the amazing bulls for awhile, charmed to think that for over 100 years and several generations this herd and their ancestors had lived safely inside the Teddy Roosevelt National Park—with no large enemies to fear.

Yet this generation of noble fathers stood just as ready to fight us off and protect with their lives the young calves and their mothers, just as dozens of observers had described their responses to real dangers long ago.

No hungry wolves would have broken through their defenses that day! No wolves or grizzly bears or hunters.

Of course, we skirted far around the herd and let the buffalo bulls think they had stood off our attack.

(Copyright 2020 by Francie M. Berg. on July 14, 2020, in the blog <>, from William Hornaday’s 1889 book “The Extermination of the American Bison,” and a personal family experience.)

Mother Buffalo help each other

My 2nd most favorite story
Francie M. Berg,

Told by Mike Faith, Standing Rock’s Buffalo Manager for some 20 years, now Standing Rock Tribal Chairman.

Mike Faith told me buffalo watch out for each other for warning signs of danger or stress.

When it comes time for a cow to give birth she finds a secluded place such as a ravine with trees. She has time for herself, to be alone there when the calf is born.

There she is able to bond with her newborn, nourish and defend it, until it is strong enough to join the herd.

But she’s not quite alone. The mother has several female friends who hang around—not so close as to interfere, says Faith—but near enough to watch for predators and guard against possible interruptions.

Buffalo cows often watch out for each other, and give help when needed. National Park Service.

 “If a new mother is too nervous, gets up and moves away before she’s ready, she might not bond with her calf,” he says.

“If she gets spooked, she might abandon her newborn and not come back. The calf can die of starvation.”

Faith told me that one morning he saw three cows acting in a peculiar way.

They were grazing together on the plateau above a cutbank.

One at a time, each buffalo cow walked over to the edge of the cutbank, looked down on the flat below for awhile and then returned to her grazing.

They stayed nearby and occasionally each one went back and looked over the bank again.

As he sat in his pickup and watched, Faith couldn’t see what the cows were concerned about, but didn’t want to disturb them.

So he drove around where he could see the grassy area below the bank.

There he saw two coyotes circling a young, sleeping calf at some distance.

As he drove closer, the coyotes saw him and started to run.

They disappeared over the hill, but Faith said he had no doubt if the coyotes had come too close to the sleeping calf, the cows would have charged down the steep trail and chased them away.

The buffalo mother’s two friends were helping her keep watch and protect the sleeping calf.

(Copyright 2020, as told to Francie M. Berg by Mike Faith, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, Ft. Yates, ND.)

Great Indian Buffalo Horses

My 3rd most Favorite Buffalo Story
by Francie M. Berg, Jun 30, 2020

According to all accounts Indian buffalo hunting horses were better trained for the job than those of white hunters, reported William Hornaday. Painting by CM Russell.

Painting by CM Russell, Amon Carter museum.

According to all accounts, the Indian buffalo hunting horses were better trained for the job than those of white hunters, reported William Hornaday. He credited this to the fact that Indian hunters shooting with bow and arrows required free use of both their hands.

This was only possible when the horse took the right course of its own free will and held close to the buffalo during a charge—as guided by knee pressure alone.

“Indeed,” he wrote. “In running buffalo with only the bow and arrow, nothing but the willing cooperation of the horse could have possibly made this mode of hunting successful.

“But for the willingness and even genuine eagerness with which the buffalo horses entered into the chase, hunting on horseback would have been attended with almost insurmountable difficulties.”

Indian horses seemed to take special pleasure in running buffalo.

William Hornaday noted that the explorers, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were impressed with the passion for buffalo hunting of the Indian horses they purchased from the Shoshones in trade for their journey across the Rocky Mountains.

After they had traveled to the Pacific Ocean and back, they re-crossed the Continental Divide, and then divided their party.

Clark took the horses on the southern route through rich buffalo country along the Yellowstone River.

He delegated their 49 Indian horses to Sergeant Pryor with a couple of riders to bring downriver, while to save time he and the others went on boats that they built, mostly of cottonwood trees.

But he got a complaint from Sgt. Pryor, who sent word that he needed at least one more rider.

It was almost impossible, Pryor reported, to drive their horses along the shore with the help of only two men.

There were so many herds of buffalo grazing on the rich grasses of the Yellowstone Valley, and the Indian horses were so eager to hunt them, that they tried to roundup every herd they saw.

“In passing every gangue of buffalow, the loos horses immediately set off in pursuit of them, and surrounded the buffalo herd with almost as much skill as their riders could have done,” Clark wrote in his journal.

“All those that speed sufficient would head the buffalow and those of less speed would pursue on as fast as they could.”

Sgt. Pryor found the only practical method was to have the extra man ride ahead—and whenever he saw a herd of buffalo to chase them off before the main horse herd came close enough to pursue them.

As reported by Hornaday, the Hon. H.H. Sibley also told of the dedication of one horse that had lost its rider on a Red River Metis hunt.

An experienced buffalo horse “continued the chase as if he of himself could accomplish great things, so much do these animals become imbued with a passion of this sport!” CM Russell painting.

“One of the hunters fell from his saddle and was unable to overtake his horse, which continued the chase as if he of himself could accomplish great things, so much do these animals become imbued with a passion of this sport!”

Another hunter who left his favorite buffalo horse in camp for a day’s rest, asked his wife to tie the horse. But the horse pulled loose and galloped off to join the hunt.

“The chase ended. He came neighing to his master—who he soon singled out.”

 “He continued to keep pace with the hunters in their pursuit of the buffalo, seeming to await with impatience the fall of some of them to earth.

“The chase ended. He came neighing to his master, who he soon singled out, although the men were dispersed here and there for a distance of miles,” wrote Sibley.

(Copyright Jun 30, 2020, by Francie M. Berg from the blog <> quoting from William Hornaday’s 1889 book “The Extermination of the American Bison,” and the “Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806.”)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Wainwright’s Buffalo Legacy

Wainwright’s Buffalo Legacy

Today a magnificent, lunging buffalo bull statue greets visitors in Wainwright with a silent bellow. It was erected just off the highway on Main Street in July 1965 in memory of the great buffalo herds that once roamed Buffalo National Park. The unveiling attended by many townspeople—including a group of Buffalo Riders who rode the range in the buffalo park. Sculptor, Heiko Hespe.

Wainwright, Alberta, is a midsized town in the Canadian Great Plains with a tumultuous buffalo legacy. It lies east of the Rocky Mountains just west a few miles from the Saskatchewan border and to the northeast of Calgary.

From ancient times buffalo grazed those northern grasslands by the millions. Then they were gone—every single one—seemingly for good. Suddenly they returned and multiplied again to many thousands—for 30 years—then totally vanished again.

Today a peaceful “Bud Cotton Buffalo Paddock” stands at the entrance to Camp Wainwright in celebration of that rich buffalo heritage.

Four yearling bison, donated by the Superintendent of Elk Island National Park to commemorate that plains-bison-saving-effort at Buffalo National Park from 1909 to 1939, have grown to a stable 35 head. Also today a magnificent, lunging buffalo bull statue greets visitors with a silent bellow.

What happened during those 30 chaotic years? And who was the legendary Bud Cotton?

This is the story of those 30 years and Bud Cotton’s tribute to his Buffalo Roundup Gang and their stories.

Every school child in Wainwright knows what happened. Their fathers, grandfathers or uncles maybe rode with Bud Cotton in the great buffalo round-ups between 1909 and 1939.

Bud Cotton is a legend. He didn’t forget. In fact, he wrote down the stories. They’re well known in Wainwright.

Bud Cotton’s stories are today family tales told around campfires and in lecture halls.

Great Days—Never to be Forgotten!

“Great days!” Bud Cotton recalls. ”The Buffalo Riders will never forget!”

“Frost bites and bruised bones healed and were forgotten. But memories of hard rides and frozen sandwich lunches, out in the Park hills, a blazing fire to help drive away the frost from tingling toes and cold-seared faces. You would be roasted on one side and froze on the other.

Bringing them in to the corrals against the drift fence at Wainwright on a dead run! The buffalo bore some scars—and so did the Buffalo Roundup Riders.

“Buffalo we had corralled, branded and manhandled by the thousand bore some scars and brands. But then the riders still bear scars and sore bones as mementoes of those same good old days!”

From 1912 through 1940, E.J. (‘Bud’) Cotton was the Buffalo Park Warden at Wainwright, Alberta.

An old-fashioned buffalo handler who rode hard and worked his crew hard in the worst possible winter weather, he arranged for his men to change their lathered-up horses each noon–with fresh horses for the always-challenging afternoon ride.

Cotton hired a hard-riding Buffalo Roundup Gang—as he called them—for ‘fall’ roundup, which they tackled in stride during the coldest days of winter when buffalo hides were prime.

Long before the advent of low-stress handling practices were being advocated for buffalo, the buffalo herds were literally wild animals, and they came stampeding between the drift fences toward the open gate at a dead run.

Cotton said his corral fences looked strong enough to hold an elephant “but just stick around until we run a bunch of buffalo into them, then watch the splinters fly!”

When the second wave of buffalo arrived at Wainwright in 1909 they were welcomed with joy. The town was waiting.

Canadian officials realized their plains buffalo were fast disappearing and began their search for ways to repopulate their grasslands with buffalo before they went extinct. 

They found it south of the border in Montana in the healthy, growing buffalo herd owned by Michel Pablo and Charles Allard on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

With settlers closing in on them, the Montanans were losing their free range on Indian land by the turn of the century. Pablo, the surviving owner, decided to sell. He hoped to sell them to the US government, but his offer was scorned in Washington.

Canada offered to pay Pablo’s price for the whole herd of some 300 head at $200 each plus $45 for shipping by rail. Rounding up the buffalo and getting them to the shipping point in Ravali MT was not easy—it took Pablo and his round-up crew 6 years. By then he had twice that many to sell.

Meanwhile, 9 miles south of Wainwritght the handlers were hurrying to complete a 9-foot wire fence built around 200 square miles to hold them.

The first year, 1907, 411 buffalo made the 1,200 mile journey switching over onto five railway systems in all. The destination was to have been Wainwright, but because the fences were not finished there, they lived at Elk Island Park for a time.

Two years later the herd was moved to Wainwright except for 49 strays which could not be captured—they formed the first herd in Elk Island Park. 

Unloading buffalo from the freight train at Wainwright.

In July the Wainwright Star reported that 190 additional buffalo had arrived and approximately 150 head would be shipped later .  .  .

In total, Michael Pablo shipped 716, according to Canadian buffalo historian Valerius Geist. Canada paid $245 each, including the same for each newborn calf.

By 1910 the count was 800 buffalo, 2 moose, 4 elk and 36 deer which got fenced in too. Later 13 antelope, 11 moose and 2 more elk were added.

In 1923 the Hollywood movie “The Last Frontier” was filmed at Wainwright. The Park Riders were signed up as stunt men and extras.

Buffalo were also shipped to zoos and parks all over the world.

 Bud Cotton’s Buffalo Roundup Gang

For the first 10 years the buffalo herd at Wainwright was allowed to multiply naturally. But soon it was growing too fast even for its 200-square mile range. Every few years the whole herd doubled in size—and then doubled again!

For the first 10 years the buffalo herd at Wainwright was allowed to multiply naturally. It doubled—and then doubled again.

Only a few head were corralled now and again and shipped to England, Ireland, Germany and Italy and to various parks in the US and Canada. Still the healthy herd multiplied.

Something had to be done to curb the growth. The decision was to build a slaughter house and sell prime buffalo hides and meat.

Bud Cotton hired a hard-riding Buffalo Roundup Gang—as he called them—for ‘fall’ roundup, which they tackled in stride for 19 years during the coldest days of winter when the hides were prime.

Long before the advent of low-stress practices were advocated for handling buffalo, they were generally treated like cattle—expected to respond like cattle.

Instead buffalo responded like deer, elk and other wild animals, and they stampeded between the drift fences at the Wainwright pasture toward the gate at a dead run.

But buffalo are not cattle—they were literally wild animals.

Cotton said their corral fences looked strong enough to hold an elephant “but just stick around until we run a bunch of buffalo into them, then watch the splinters fly!”

He praised his Buffalo Riders for their toughness and endurance.

“Bert Kitchen should still show some scars,” he wrote.

“We happened to be heading fast through a narrow draw on the high lope, eight riders strung out head to tail, trying to head off a bunch of break-away buffalo.

“Bert was in the lead when his horse went down, some of our horses jumped over him and some just walked down his lanky frame. Our horses were all shod with ‘never-slip’ or Spade Caulks.

“We all sighed ‘Poor Bert,’ but by the time we had circled back to the rescue, Bert had picked himself out of the snow and was mounted again, and mumbled something about how he had busted his cigarette lighter.

Vern Treffry holding a buffalo calf.

“Vern Treffry will always remember his grand slide down Jameson Lake hill. It was sure hard on his vest buttons, but he made it down to the bottom and headed the buffalo while his saddle horse looked on from the top of the hill, one leg still jammed deep in a badger hole.”

“Hi Dunning tied onto a balky buffalo cow and hitched her hard and fast onto his saddle horn. Now a buffalo cow is not bashful. Things started to happen fast!!

“First his saddle cinch loosened and the saddle started to turn. About that time his horse just didn’t like the looks of the buffalo cow so close and hooked one hind leg over the taut rope and started to buck.

“Hi was sure in the middle of trouble with no hope of getting that hard knot from the saddle horn.

“Warren Blinn rides in close and cuts Hi’s new rope, thus leaving Hi and his horse free from the now thoroughly peeved buffalo.

“Still Hi was uncertain whether to bless Warren for saving him from a real dirty mix-up, or to cuss him for cutting his brand new Italian hemp lariat!

“Jack Johnston, he too was on our Riding Crew. He raced his buckskin pony ahead to open a gate for us, but apparently the buffalo were coming just too fast. Guess about 20 head of buffalos ran over him. Lucky though, they were ‘light shippers’ so Jack was able to keep his date down Greenshilds way that night.

“Dick McNairn rode with the roundup crew for many a winter and could tell you tales of fast running buffalo and cold miles of saddle polishing.

“Dick riding hard and close, trying to haze in a big grumpy buffalo bull on one of our roundups. Down goes his horse in a slitherin’ roll, the bull whirls and stands there looking Dick right in the eye.

“Dick was pinned down by one leg as the horse rolled, but he looked that old bull right in the eye. The bull snorted and loped away just as we were riding up to unscramble one lone rider.

“Felix Courier could tell you tales too. On one roundup his horse fell and left him on foot bout ten miles out around Sandhill Corner.

“His saddle horse came in with the bunch, so we sent out the truck to pick up what could be a busted-up rider.

“He was OK, tho a little perturbed about getting cold beans for supper at camp.

“One real bad mix-up Felix got into was when we were running a fast bunch into the corral approaches, racing close in on the drag of a packed herd of a couple hundred buffalo.

“Suddenly the bunch split around a heavy clump of willow. This left him smack in front of the obstacle.

“His horse piled up on the willows and we had to pry Felix loose. He cussed the saddle horse and the buffalos a little and complained of being a little stiff the next day, but was still chasing buffalo on the roundup.”

“We had about 12 regular riders on the roundups.

“We always looked forward to the times that the Gang rode together. Taking hard knocks, broken bones and bitter cold weather as a matter of course, our riders came back year after year, because there was something fascinating and a surging exhilaration that only the Buffalo Riders will ever know.

Bert Kitchen with his trick roping corralling the Gang instead of the Buffalo.

“Only these riders experienced the thrill of careening over an open Range for miles with 5,000 to 8,000 buffalo thundering along in flying dust of snow clouds.

“Park Regulations prohibited any visitors on our roundup drives, so We the Crew rode alone to sights and scenes that we will never forget.”

First roundup

The first roundup was in 1921—it extended into January.

Said one park rider, “Despite below zero weather, icy range conditions and deep snow and roundup—corralling and cutting out of beef from the main herd continued. It was cold, hard riding but we—the riders—always had the buffalo at the slaughterhouse and never held up the butchering crews.

“On the first buffalo roundup, the main herd had never been corralled and did not know what a gate was for. So both the buffalo and the park round-up crew had lots to learn.

“We learned fast that the buffalo could outrun and outwind our horses as we tried to run them over 20 miles, through bush, sand ridges and snow-covered badger holes.

“The herd in 1921 was a little over 4,000 head . . .  and wild!

“I have seen us riders pick up around 1,000 head in the Battle River hills and riding our horses to a frazzle towards the corrals on the dead run . . . were lucky if we were successful in getting 200 or 300 in our corrals.

“I might add that on some days we landed at the bunk house with no buffalo to show for the hard day’s ride!”

You might wonder:  Why were the Roundup Riders working so hard with buffalo in the coldest part of winter? When, unlike this, cattlemen roundup, sort and sell during the often-delightful golden days of fall.

Cotton explains the difference: “With cattle we don’t worry about how prime the hides are. Down on the big cattle ranches—roundups for beef are pretty well all finished up by the time snow hits.

“With the buffalo it’s different, as both beef and hide count, and the buffalo’s hide is not considered prime until December or later.

“This hide, when prime, makes beautiful robes and coats. That’s why you will hear of riders hitting the roundup trails in 40 below zero weather, right up to their necks in snow banks.”

A typical Buffalo Roundup day with Bud Cotton

At one point in his memoirs Bud Cotton suggests we ride along with him for a typical day on a Buffalo Roundup.

In his own western vernacular, he writes, “Throw a gallon of oats into that lop-eared saddle pony of yours, Stranger. Then we’ll lope along to the ranch for a day or so with the round-up crew.

 “Two hundred square miles of range, sandhills, muskeg and brush, 8,000 buffalo to find and run into the corrals. Come along with the gang. We’re headed out for those sand ridges you can see some 12 miles west.

“We’re headed out for those sand ridges you can see some 12 miles west.”

“Just stick close to one of the riders when we start them on the run. If your horse goes into a nose dive and leaves you afoot, just hit for the top of a butte. We’ll come back and pick you up later, for once we start buffalo running we can’t leave them till we hit the corrals.

“Where will your horse be? Why he’ll be running with us.

“There’s the buffalo! About a thousand, spread out and grazing contentedly among the sand dunes. Sure a great sight! To look at them you would never think they could run, would you?” Get ready, they can—40 miles an hour! And they can spin on a dime! Photo Wainwright Park, by Carsell.

“Getting pretty close now. Some of the riders have circled wide and are closing in around the bunch and the buffalo are getting restless at the sight of saddle horses.

“A bull here and there is pawing dirt and snorting. A tail goes up—and the Mammy buffalo start fretting over their calves.

“Then with a thunder of hoofs the whole bunch are off at a pace that makes your horse stretch himself and the wind and dust bring tears to your eyes, as with nerves atingle you try to stay with the racing herd.

“This is no range steer round-up. The pace is too fast. Fast as a wild horse round-up only worse. Buffalo will not bunch when driven, but try to break away in small bunches, every direction.

“So you go careening along over the hills in the wake of the herd. The leading buffalo are a full mile ahead, with some of the riders on either flank working like Trojans to keep them heading in the right direction.

“As you see more small bunches break away from the riders and into the sand ridges you think, ’What’s the use of trying to hang on to those crazy brutes? We won’t get them near the corrals, let alone into them.’

“Then you hold your breath and all leather that’s within reach as your horse slides down a sand bank and all but stands on his nose.

“You just get your breath back again when a howl from a racing rider off your left tells you to look out! Here she comes!

“A COMING IS SHE . . . with blood in her eye. You have got between a mammy buffalo and her winded calf.

“Right under your horse’s tail! Giddup! Gee! Bet you wish you could step on the gas. Your horse carries you safely away from the indignant old mother buffalo!

“You heave a sigh and wonder what’s next. ’Don’t get bogged in muskeg,’ howls a rider on your right as you top the sand ridge.

“Cresting the ridge and as your horse slides and leaps down into a heavily timbered valley, you catch a glimpse of drift fences and corral gates two miles away on the other side.

“The only way you know there are any buffalo is by the snorts and crashing of brush as the brutes tear through. Then ‘Ker-splash!’ and you are in the muskeg . . .

“You hear yells all around. ‘Where the devil is that crossing?’

The only way you know there are any buffalo is by the snorts and crashing of brush as they tear through. Then ‘Ker-splash!—you’re in the muskeg . . .

“Where’s the buffalo, the riders and everything, you wonder as you scrape mud out of your eyes and try to encourage your horse to get back on solid ground.

“There’s a crash and a grunt right behind you as a lone old buffalo bull comes in. He looks big so you go right across that muskeg and give him lots of room.

“Out on solid ground again the noise ahead tells you the riders have a bunch and are fighting to hold them from breaking away. Fully 500 buffaloes are running strong and fighting to get away as riders streak here and there trying to hold the milling herd and head them down the drift fence.

“The leaders are heading straight for the gate now, with all the riders spread out in the rear.
‘Well we sure got ‘em now. Maybe—if we can hold ‘em.’

“Part of the bunch go through the gate and the remainder turn and hit for the open spaces. Despite some breakneck riding, part of them get away.

“’Well we got about 400 that time anyway,’ a rider with yellow chaps remarks as he comes up alongside on a sweat-lathered horse. ‘Lots more left for another day.’

“’There’s two buffalo mired back there in the muskeg,’ a rider announces as he lopes up and joins us at the gate. ‘Let’s go back and snake ‘em out.’

“Back in the muskeg, where it has been crowded and trampled into the deep mud, a yearling wallows right up to his neck. A lariat whistles out and lands over its head as a rider circles close.

“A snub of the rope around the saddle horn, a heave as the horse puts his weight on the rope and out he comes. Easy money!

“Further over, struggles and flounders an old cow, just stuck deep enough to hold, but too far out to reach with a lariat. It’s a case of wade in and all hands on the tow line. Gradually, with her eyes a-rolling and snorting vengeance out comes the dear old dame.

“’Snub that line!’ yell the boys on foot as they pass the end of the lariat to a rider and then scatter. For just as soon as the cow hits solid footing she lets out a snort and charges her rescuers. No gratitude there!

“She has to be thrown and the rope taken off. This operation takes nerve as it is a case of slipping the rope, then beating it for your horse before the spiteful cow can get up.

“Let’s high-tail it for camp and dinner. The riders are away in a swirl of dust. Arriving at camp tired, sweaty and sore, you crawl off the horse. Your belt buckle feels up against your backbone and you are hungry enough to eat an ox.

“After dinner, with a smile of complaisance and a cigarette in your mush you wander down to the stable corrals and watch riders saddling up fresh horses for the afternoon work, which consists of putting through the corral chutes the buffalo that you helped run into that mile-square enclosure awhile ago.

“On a fresh horse you ramble up to the corrals with a couple of riders who are taking charge of the big slide gates, when the other riders run the bunch in.

“But you notice broken posts and splintered planks here and there which tells you that something besides the wind has been blowing around here.

“Yells in the distance and a drumming of hoofs tells you that the action has started. Coming into view over a fold in the rough ground half a mile away, you see the buffalo coming on the dead run, with riders darting here and there in the rear, herding, holding and turning the buffalo along drift fences.

Riders—at upper left—bring them in at a fast run, darting here and there, herding, holding and turning the buffalo. Some go in–others break back in every direction.

 “As the buffalo near the corral gates, the converging drift fences bunch them into a compact running mass, dust clouds with buffalo and riders all mixed-up. Part go into the corral. Some break back.

“The big gates slide shut with buffalo inside milling. Some charge back at the gate and, landing with a crash, threaten to go through. One hits the side head-on and is hurtled back by the impact with its neck broken.

“Just a spasmodic kick or two and there it lies, dead—rather than submit to being manhandled.

“The others quiet down into a sullen and resentful submission, jumpy and showing fight as riders appear on the corral sides.

“The sweating and heaving saddle ponies are all tied up along the corral, for their part is done. The riders have to get into the corrals with the buffalo and work them afoot. A saddle horse in that corral full of buffalo would not last a minute.

“A man, by keeping on the alert, can always climb out of the way when a buffalo takes after him—though he wants his jumping apparatus in first-class condition.

“With 100 or so in the corrals the cutting out starts. From there on into the chutes one at a time.

“If it’s a beef animal it is released into the beef enclosure where it is held until butchers are ready for it.

“The others are let right through the chutes after being checked for the annual herd census into a 16-square mile enclosure until after roundup.

“That night, back at the bunk house with the riders, a full supper under your belt and the old pipe smoking just right, the excitement of the day is still with you and you want to hear more about this ‘Buffalodom.’

“Now anybody can ride—but to hit the saddle day after day, sunshine and rain, requires more than that. We all rode for wages, yet if that was all we rode for, those old roundups would have been riderless.

“It was for the love of the game and the horses that kept us at it—when hambones were weary and knees felt like lumps of lead. It was the creak of saddle leather, a horse and the lure of the open range that got a fellow—and he stuck!

“So stranger, dawn comes early in range land. Let’s hit the blankets, for there’s still over 6,000 buffalo roaming the hills tonight that we have to corral during the next few weeks.

“Sport? Sure you’ll get lots of it—saddle blisters too—if you ride with the Buffalo Park roundup crew!”

Closing out the Wainwright Herd

In 1925, 1,625 buffalo were shipped out to Wood Buffalo Park. Then for the next four years about 2,000 head made the 700-mile rail and water trek to Great Slave Lake.

For 4 years some 2,000 buffalo travelled 700 miles each year by water and rail to a new home at Great Slave Lake. This photo shows the stockyards where buffalo were loaded onto boats for part of their trip.

The first shipments were branded with ‘Gamb Joint W’ brand. The ‘W’ brand provided identification so that northern game wardens could distinguish the Wainwright buffalo from their own herd. They branded 1,634 head before protests from the SPCA forced them to discontinue branding.

“In 1938 command was received from Ottawa that the Wainwright Buffalo Park Reserve was to be cleared of all animals—to become a National Defense Area,” recalls Cotton.

The pasture was deemed ideal for a military practice range. The buffalo had to go.

In 1945-46, the Camp was used as a prisoner of war facility where over 1,000 German Officers were interned.

“In all the 6,673 head of buffalo they shipped north still holds the record as being the largest movement of wildlife ever undertaken by rail and water.

“Others were rounded up and slaughtered. And the remaining gallant animals that couldn’t be corralled were shot as they roamed the plains.

It was wartime in Europe—time for war preparation in Canada.

“The round-up continued all winter and by spring of ’40 the Battle River Valleys became deserted range lands, void of all animals.

“In the peak years in Buffalo Park we were handling over 8,000 buffalo through the corrals. Two thousand was the record of the annual slaughter through the processing plant. Other years from 1200 to 1600 were cut out for beef and hides.

By 1940 over 40,000 Great Plains Bison were produced and shipped from Buffalo National Park all over North America, Europe and Asia.

“Sam Purshell was our sharpshooter and undoubtedly holds the world’s record with an estimated 39,000 buffalo shot. Sam’s job was a real tough and cold one. Ten to 40 below, he was out in the beef enclosure averaging 50 to 80 animals a day to keep the slaughter house crew busy.

“The buffalo riders too hold a record! Through corrals over 48,000 buffalo were checked through on 19 roundups. In addition to branding 1,634 of the 6,673 shipped north, 60 head of buffalo heifers were dehorned for a special assignment.

“For 30 years the buffalo had again trod the old trails and dug out the sand-filled wallows of their ancestors. The Battle River hills rumbled again with the thunder of mating bulls in mid-summer.

Battle River hills rumbled once again with the thunder of mating bulls in mid-summer for the Leader of the Herd. Now it’s only an illusion for Bud Cotton. Yet he longs to see a faded old buffalo wandering the valleys and sand ridges and looks for him—“Every time I travel over that ridge!” Photo 1909, JH Gano.

“Dust clouds rose from drumming hoofs . . . but now the dust clouds rise as the huge army tanks complete their maneuvers. The Department of National Defense took over on July 1, 1940.

“Allen Treffry rode with us on the roundups for many a year. Later he rode the old Buffalo Range in a jeep for DND.

“Twenty-one years had gone by since we cleared the last buffalo out of the park, but I’ll bet he still looked down in the valleys and sand ridges—hoping to see a buffalo.

“I know I do—every time I travel over that ridge!”

Excerpted from: Saga of the Wainwright Buffalo Reserve, by Bud Cotton, Buffalo Park Warden 1912-1940, from Buffalo Trails and Tales, Wainwright, Alberta, Canada, 1973.

NEXT: Celebrate National Bison Day, November 6, 2021


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2; Métis hunts in Canada

Part 2; Métis hunts in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attack by Sioux Hunters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Hunting methods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrival at Fort Edmonton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas at Ft Edmonton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a Calf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeward Bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

BSC Bison Symposium Agenda

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

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

BSC Bison Symposium Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agenda (BSC Campus)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

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

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

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

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

9:30 am           Break/Book Signing

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

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

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

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

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

3:00 pm           Break/Book Signing

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

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

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

Friday, September 17, 2021 (Day Trip)

7:15 am           Check-in, Bus Assignments

7: 45 am          Buses Depart BSC

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

11:45 am         Lunch, Shadehill Recreation Area

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

4:30 pm          Last Stand – Sitting Bull Hunt

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

7:30 pm           Depart for BSC/Bismarck

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Events scheduled for United Tribes Technical College

8:30 am           Check-in

9:00 am           Opening Prayer

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

10:00 am         Indigenous Singing & Dance Performance

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

10:30 am         Indigenous Singing & Dance Performance

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

Local Indigenous art vendors onsite from 10 am – 1 pm

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

         Call 701-224-5600, or click HERE:

Selection of Confirmed Speakers

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Adams County Prepares for BSC Bison Symposium Tour

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

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

Thank you to our confirmed Sponsors & Partners!

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

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

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

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

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

 Agenda details and registration for the event are available online at 

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


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

Gold sponsor                                              $5,000

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

Silver Sponsor                                          $2,500

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

Supporting Sponsor                                                                        $1,000

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

Community Sponsor                                                 $500

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

Name tags at Symposium will indicate sponsorship.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Broken Circle Healing on National Bison Range

Broken Circle Healing on National Bison Range

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.

Established in 1908, the National Bison Range is being restored to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Native American Tribes (CSKT) of Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation.

The National Bison Range Restoration Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec 27, 2020, one of his last official acts.

According to the Char-Koosta News, after 113 years the Flathead tribal flag now flies at the National Bison Range.

The Yamncut Drum sings an Honor Song at the raising of the Flathead flag.

“It’s a very emotional day for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and officially reestablishing our footprints on the Bison Range. It’s been a long time coming,” said Flathead Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant.

One lovely summer day my sister Anne and I visited the Bison Range near Moiese Montana, in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation. That was a year ago—before the transition from Federal Wildlife Service to the tribes.

We found a nature trail as well as three wildlife drives on the range:

  • West Loop and Prairie Drive are short year-round drives
  • Red Sleep Mountain Drive (19 miles) takes you through the heart of the reserve and is open mid-May to Mid-October

We took the shorter loops where buffalo herds grazed leisurely across the roads in front and behind us.

Cows with their calves taking a break. Credit Bill West, US Fish and Wildlife.

Then we struck out on the 19-mile, one-way route up and over Red Sleep Mountain. Once committed, there’s no turning back.

And who would want to?

Well, yes, it can be a little scary—looking way down where you just came from. Looking up and ahead where you’ve yet to go.

Switchbacks take us up Red Sleep Mountain all the way to the top and then down on the other side.

Bison Range Heals

This beautiful and amazing 18,500-acre wildlife conservation area is now managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and open to the public.

“The ceremonial raising of the flag is symbolic of the mending of a broken circle that was caused by the federal government ripping asunder the land that belonged to the Flathead Nation in 1908 to establish the National Bison Range on that 18,800 acres in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation,” wrote Bernie Asure, editor of Charkoosta News in the May 13, 2021 issue.

“Welcome to the Homeland of the Séliš, Ql̓ispé and Ksanka people where the footprints of our Ancestors are. Where their hopes and dreams still carry on through us. The buffalo are a big part of our lives, of our traditions, of our culture,” says Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola.

“As you know the buffalo almost disappeared from the face of the earth. When the buffalo disappeared, our people hurt.

“You can look at today as a beginning—a new beginning. A new start, for not only the Bison Range, but I would like to see this as the start of understanding of why it’s so important to Native Americans.”

“The buffalo are a big part of our lives, of our traditions, of our culture. As you know the buffalo almost disappeared from the face of the earth. I would like to see this as the start of understanding of why it’s so important to Native Americans,” says Incashola. Natl Park Service.

Why is understanding this so important, especially to the Séliš, Ql̓ispé and Ksanka people?

“It’s not just having it or controlling [the buffalo],” says Incashola. “it’s more of an opportunity to care. We must take care of them now as they took care of us.”

The restoration of the land that was taken against the will of the CSKT and the restored stewardship of the bison “brings a lot of healing for our people,” Fyant said. “We have a really hard working, dedicated staff that put a lot into this effort and we’re just so thankful for today.”
Fyant also thanked the present US FWS staff for their assistance during the transition period.

The 113 years of “long time coming” seemed to have been whiffed away with the same chilly breezes that snapped the flags of the US and the Flathead Tribes— for the first time ever at the soon to be former National Bison Range.

On one hand it’s still the National Bison Range as the US Fish and Wildlife Service is still in charge but on the other hand, as the Flathead flag indicates, things are changing there as a “long time coming” has arrived.

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.

Elk hang out near the water where they have always lived.

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 to 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 US Fish and Wildlife.

The CSKT are working with the US FWS in the transition phase of turning over the management reins of the NBR to the CSKT with an expected official turnover by the end of the year. The restoration of the NBR property to the Flathead Nation was part of its Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact.

The Tribes now refer to the NBR as the Bison Range, and there are discussions on renaming the NBR to a more CSKT-related name.

Scenery on Red Sleep Mountain

It’s the perfect place for a day trip complete with a rich history, breathtaking Mission Mountain views and magnificent wildlife photography opportunities.
The herds were below, near water, but here and there Anne and I saw those old lone buffalo bulls standing off by themselves on the mountain—meditating, grumbling, mulling over mistreatment by the reigning monarch, making their slow, meandering way up a draw, where they might glimpse the herd in the distance.

Spring brings red-gold buffalo calves, bird song and the first wildflowers on the buffalo range.

Summer’s the time for an early morning or evening visit when the mountain temperatures dip a bit cooler—perfect for new fawns and elk calf sightings.

Bighorn sheep rams are out and about more. And in fall bears are scavenging for wild berries amid golden autumn backdrops and bugling and sparring elk.

Winter is the time for bald-eagle and great-horned owl sightings.

President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range in 1908 to provide a permanent range for the herd of bison.

Today the range is a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests, riparian areas and ponds.

Big Horn Sheep, mountain lions, elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, bears and more than 200 species of birds call the Bison Range home.

Most memorable it is home to some 250 to 300 bison, as well as elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bears and more than 200 species of birds.

You’ll find a nature trail or two as well as the three wildlife drives in the range: the two short drives you can take the year around. And Red Sleep Mountain Drive right through the heart of the reserve, up and over the top; it’s open mid-May to Mid-October.

 As you gain altitude you see the rise of spectacular views of the towering Mission Mountains thrusting up their rugged peaks just beyond these foothill mountains.

For the next 19 miles, we followed the byway as it slowly snakes its way through draws, scattered forests, open hills as well as making its way along the top of a ridge.

The views from the byway are spectacular. At the beginning, visitors have unrestricted views of the Flathead River and the western part of the Mission Valley, along with the forested Salish Mountains.

As the drive meanders its way to the east and continues to gain elevation, the views open up, providing superb vistas of the snowy peaks of the Mission Mountains, the agricultural fields of the Mission Valley that lie 2,000 feet below, as well as more distant views of Flathead Lake and the Whitefish Range.

Lake views and soaring mountains are viewed during the drive down Red Sleep Mountain. Credit FWS.

Once the gravel road reaches the flats, the road changes character as it passes through open fields. The road also follows the Jocko River for a short distance. This section of the drive is excellent for viewing wildlife besides bison, as the Jocko River and the surrounding fertile grazing lands are home to deer, antelope and more.

Range elevation varies from 2,585 feet at headquarters to 4,885 feet at High Point on Red Sleep Mountain, the highest point on the Range.

Much of the National Bison Range was once under prehistoric Glacial Lake Missoula, which was formed by a glacial ice dam on the Clark Fork River about 13,000 to 18,000 years ago. The lake attained a maximum elevation of 4,200 feet, so the upper part of the Refuge was above water.

Old beach lines can be seen on north-facing slopes. Topsoil on the Range is generally shallow and mostly underlain with rock which is exposed in many areas, forming ledges and talus slopes.

Anyone visiting Northwest Montana (and if you’re visiting Glacier National Park, then you’re visiting NW Montana), should absolutely find the time to take this scenic and very unique byway.

 Sudden Transition

Back in December, a bipartisan bill that would transfer the lands and management of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes looked as if it might die in Congress with the end of the session.

But it didn’t. Instead, it got attached to a must-pass package of COVID-19 relief and government spending bills, and unexpectedly it passed.

After a century of work, it felt sudden, said Morigeau, a tribal member and attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and a Montana state legislator. “It happened so fast, it just really hasn’t sunk in.”

Finally, after 113 years, the 18,800 acres of grassland, woodland, and wildlife that comprise the National Bison Range, along with its resident bison herd, were returned to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Today, the transfer has general support from the community, conservation groups and politicians. But the long journey included three rounds of failed agreements between the U.S. and the tribe, numerous lawsuits, a federal investigation and a massive public education campaign to quash rumors and stereotypes.

It comes at a time of a broader conversation on the return of land stewardship to tribal nations.

Also a Native woman—Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblos—pledges to oversee public-lands management as Interior Secretary for the first time in history.

Near the summit of Red Sleet Mountain two old bulls take a break from their ramblings.

When Shane Morigeau was growing up on the Flathead Indian Reservation, he knew that the land inside the fenced National Bison Range was different from the tribal lands elsewhere on the reservation, at the base of Montana’s Mission Mountains or the shores of Flathead Lake.

He remembers being a kid in his dad’s truck, driving past while his father explained that the lands inside the fence weren’t tribal lands anymore.

Why did the Flathead tribes feel shut out of the Bison Range on their own reservation?

As tribal elders tell, it was common knowledge that the fence was as much to keep them out as it was to keep bison in. “It happened long ago,” Morigeau said, but “it still resonates across generations.”

“It’s a reconciliation,” said Chairwoman Shelly Fyant. “We are such a place-based people. To have this land back, to be in control of it, is a fresh, new hope.”

History of the Buffalo Herd

The National Bison Range began as a small herd of free-roaming bison on the Flathead Indian Reservation managed by tribal members in the 1870s, while the bison around them were hunted to near-extinction.

Bison herds in the Mission Valley date back to the late 1800’s when a Pend d’Oreille man of the Flathead Reservation returned home from the plains of eastern Montana with four bison calves. The herd quickly grew to 13 animals.

The free-roaming bison were managed by tribal members while the bison around them were hunted to near-extinction.

At that point, partners Michel Pablo and Charles Allard bought the herd.

The Pablo-Allard herd thrived in the Mission Valley’s open grasslands. It became one of the largest private bison herds at the time when bison were most threatened with extinction.

 However, when it was announced the Flathead Indian Reservation would be opened for homesteading in 1910, surviving partner Pablo began making arrangements to rid himself of his herd.

The US Government declined to purchase the bison so Pablo sold them all to Canada. 

Just after this, the American Bison Society pushed the US government to set aside land to protect and conserve the American bison.

The National Bison Range was one such area. The American public pitched in to provide funds to purchase bison to place on the new Refuge.

The American Bison Society, under the direction of William Hornaday, solicited donations throughout the country. Over $10,000 was raised, enough to purchase 34 bison from the Conrad herd. Located in Kalispell, Montana, these bison were descended from the famous Pablo/Allard herd.

To supplement this, Alicia Conrad added two of her finest animals to the effort. The Refuge also received one bison from Charles Goodnight of Texas and three from the Corbin herd in New Hampshire. These 40 animals, all donated to the Refuge and coming from private herds, form the nucleus of 250 to 300 bison roaming the Range today.   

During the allotment era in 1904 when tribal lands the U.S. declared surplus were sold, the federal government divvied up the reservation. It gave some 404,047 acres to settlers, 60,843 to the state of Montana, and 1,757 acres to the U.S. “for other purposes.”

Settlers flocked in, took up the lands, and today tribal members are a minority on their own reservation.

The U.S. retained tribal lands for the range, which was carved out of prime habitat in the middle of the reservation.

The National Bison Range is deep in the heart of the Flathead Reservation. The buffalo started as a small herd of free-roaming bison on the Flathead Indian Reservation managed by tribal members in the 1870s, while the bison around them were hunted to near-extinction. During the allotment era in 1904, when tribal lands the US deemed surplus were sold, the federal government divvied up the reservation, giving some 404,047 acres to settlers, 60,843 to the state of Montana, and 1,757 acres to the US “for other purposes.” Settlers flooded in, and today tribal members are a minority on their own reservation.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt put the range under federal management. Tribal members did not work there.

The Salish word for this special piece of land means ‘the fenced-in place.’ The physical barrier grew into a powerful metaphor about how tribal members could relate to the lands taken from them, Fyant said.

But now, the tribes aim to put their energy into bringing their philosophy onto the range, telling the public about their priorities and sharing tribal stories.

Speaking of the return of the lands and Haaland’s potential as Interior secretary, Fyant summed it up simply: “It’s about . . . time.”

Many kinds of wildlife have co-existed on the Bison Range with the buffalo for generations. The tribes aim to put their energy into bringing their philosophy onto the range, telling the public about their priorities and sharing tribal stories.

Fish and Wildlife Co-Managed

Tribal efforts to co-manage the National Bison Range with the US Fish and Wildlife began in the early 1990s, but they were met with obstacles, despite the tribe’s established conservation record. (In 1982, for example, they became the first tribe to designate a wilderness area when it created the 92,000-acre Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness.)

The tribes and the wildlife agency agreed to co-manage the range in 2004, but the arrangement crumbled after a small number of vocal federal employees and locals allied with an anti-Indigenous group, alleging mistreatment. It was a theme that continued for nearly two decades.

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

A new crop of calves greets the summer flowers. It’s a healing time for the Flathead tribes. “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 Federal Wildlife Service,” says Fyant.

Caution: Buffalo can be dangerous.

 “Nice park to enjoy the natural beauty and the sights of bison,” says local guide Steve Zamek.

“Rather than traveling counterclockwise the entire loop [that takes 2 hours] we took a left into the two-side traffic road and back. This takes about 40 min driving slowly. In my mind that’s a better way to explore the park as most bison stay close to the river. We saw elk, bison and deer. Great experience.”

Zamek recalls he was 8 years old the first time he visited the Bison Range. “Big Medicine, the only White Buffalo was there. I still have a large photo of him. Such magnificent animals.

“So glad the Range has been returned to the Flathead. They have been faithful stewards of the land and her animals forever. Innovation and guardians of Earth at great benefit to us and future generations of not only Tribal members, but everyone else as well,” says Zamek.

The Séliš, Qlispé, and Ksanka people warmly welcome you to the Bison Range, and we hope you
enjoy your visit!

Visitor Center and office: open from 7am to 8 pm.

Hours of Operation Front Gate Hours: 6am-8pm
Visitor Center Hours: 7am-8pm
Red Sleep Drive Hours: 6am-6pm; The Red Sleep Mountain Road takes visitors through the heart of the reserve. Trailers are prohibited on the road due to steep inclines, numerous sharp curves, and the road’s narrow width. This is a one-way road.

Contact Information Bison Range: (406) 644-2211
CSKT Natural Resources Department: (406) 883-2888 Visitor Information

In the spirit of Atatice 


NEXT: Part 2: Metis Buffalo Hunters in Western Canada


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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