The most famous white buffalo that ever lived was probably Big Medicine, born in 1933 on the National Bison Range in Western Montana.
Soon after birth he was dubbed “Big Medicine” by the local Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people of the Flathead Valley. He lived there all of his 26 years.
White buffalo are sacred to many Native American tribes and they believed he brought good news and supernatural powers. The Blackfeet tribe farther east also considered him the property of the sun as well as “good medicine.”
In 1907 Canada purchased the Pablo Buffalo Herd from the western plains of Montana. Banff received 77 of these animals, and a new paddock of 300 acres was built north of the railroad to hold the increasing herd.
Sir Donald was a handsome bull. It was said he represented well the ideal that Native hunters preferred—a bull with well-built forequarters and large head.
In 1907 the Michel Pablo herd from western Montana began arriving in Canada. At their end of the railroad, Canadians cheered the buffalo’s arrival.
They knew they had scored a coup in getting “the finest buffalo herd in America,” as William Hornaday, president of the new American Bison Society, called Michal Pablo’s half-wild herd from Montana.
When Michel Pablo sold all of his buffalo to the Canadian government, it took 6 years to get them rounded up and loaded. He expected the job to take one summer.
They were wild, and did not take kindly to being chased to the railway station in Ravalli, Montana—or getting loaded into railway cars. Especially the renegade bulls.
Pablo’s buffalo—he thought there were somewhere between 300 and 700 head—were grazing in the Bitterroot Mountain Range and the Lolo National Forest along the Flathead River.
Hornaday’s taxidermy project of six buffalo
Returning to Washington, after their great success in buffalo hunting, William Hornaday and his assistants set to work. Hornaday’s vision developed before he even left Montana. This would be a grouping of bulls, cows and calves. He took time to collect some native soil, a few plants and sagebrush. He selected six prime specimens—his masterpiece stub-horn bull, cows, calves, a young bull. After a full year they unveiled their masterpiece. There, in a huge glass case, visitors to the Smithsonian Museum viewed an enchanting scene–six buffalo in an authentic Montana setting. The Washington Star described the exhibit on March 10, 1888:
Hornaday’s Buffalo Hunt for the Smithsonian
By 1883 the vast herds of buffalo had entirely vanished. Only a small pocket survived here and there in remote areas—and even these, as soon as any hunter learned of them, did not last long. Clearly the buffalo would soon be extinct as a species. Alarmed, William Hornaday, as the Chief Taxidermist at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC—America’s greatest museum—took stock of his museum’s buffalo inventory.
Thousands on Hand for Annual Buffalo Roundup Sep 24-26
CUSTER, S.D. – Over 20,512 visitors attended the 55th Annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park on Friday morning, Sept. 25, 2020, watching as 60 horseback riders wrangled the herd of 1,400 bison into the corrals for their annual health check. “It was another perfect Buffalo Roundup weekend in Custer State Park,” said park superintendent Matt Snyder.
New Center of Excellence to Advance Bison Research, Knowledge
RAPID CITY, SD (Sept. 8, 2020) – The future of America’s national mammal continued to brighten this week as officials from South Dakota State University (SDSU), the National Bison Association and the National Buffalo Foundation formally launched the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies, to be headquartered at SDSU’s West River Research and Extension facility in Rapid City.