Integral to Native American cultural and spiritual heritage is the American Bison—our National Mammal. The revival and reclamation of this heritage cannot be divorced from the recovery and preservation of the buffalo. As the First Nations—especially the Plains tribes—rebuild their cultural foundations, restoring the bison is critical to those efforts. Incarnations of this spiritual endeavor are witnessed by Native organizations dedicated to bringing back the Buffalo Nation, including the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, The Tanka Fund, and The Buffalo Treaty .
The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council was not the first endeavor of the First Nations to bring back the Pte Oyate . Prior to 1991 Native American tribes had been attempting to restore the buffalo to their respective tribal lands. Their efforts, however, were singular which presented particular challenges. Many of the tribes lacked sufficient experience in raising buffalo and needed guidance. In addition, there were little or no efforts to reintroduce the traditional, cultural and ecological contributions of the bison. Out of these challenges arose the recognition a centralized, concerted response was required.
In February 1991 nineteen tribes gathered in the Black Hills of South Dakota to form a more effective means of restoring the buffalo to tribal lands. This initial meeting was hosted by the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society in which emerged the original interest group—the founders . Established during that meeting was the organization known as the Inter Tribal Buffalo Cooperative (ITBC) with the mission of:
“…restoring buffalo to Indian lands in a manner which promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration, and economic development compatible with tribal beliefs and practices.”
To advance this mission the Cooperative saw its role as:
“…to act as a facilitator in coordinating education and training programs, developing marketing strategies, coordinating the transfer of surplus buffalo from national parks to tribal lands, and providing technical assistance to its membership in developing sound management plans that will help each tribal herd become a successful and self-sufficient operation .”
In April of the following year, 1992, the ITBC became officially recognized as a tribal organization. It was incorporated in Colorado and headquartered the following summer in Rapid City, South Dakota. Though the name was changed slightly to the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, the mission statement and the role of the ITBC remained the same.
Since its establishment the ITBC has grown to include 69 federally recognized tribes from 19 different states. To date the Council has restored more than 20,000 buffalo to Tribal lands with the member tribes–who manage more than 32 million acres—restoring bison to approximately one million of those acres . The management approach has been holistic and thus, hands-off. As such, the herds are allowed to be free-ranging as much as political and geographic locations will allow .
As impressive as the numbers are, the deeper significance of the ITBC’s efforts lie in the cultural, spiritual and ecological restoration that has taken place. The return of the Buffalo Nation has allowed the First Nations to advance the recovery of their heritage and deepen the restoration of their spiritual identity.
Restoring the bison does not just happen with dedicated people. The resources needed to carry out the necessary activities, the transfer of buffalo, the acquisition and preparation of land, etc., require critical funding. The ITBC carries out its own funding activities to achieve its goals. But other organizations work on funding restoration efforts outside of the ITBC. One such organization is the Tanka Fund.
Located in Kyle, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation (Lakota), the Tanka Fund is a 501(c )(3) non-profit corporation. Its mission is to:
“… bring back buffalo to Indian Country. We offer all people a way to participate in supporting the buffalo’s return! Tanka Fund’s mission is to direct funds from people like you who are stewards of the Earth, proponents of regenerative agriculture, and defenders of social justice to Native buffalo ranchers to support and sustain ranch planning, financing, and operations .”
The mission is accomplished through Tanka Fund’s Return Campaign which raises funds through donations. These funds are then directed to Native buffalo ranchers to support and sustain ranch planning, financing and operations. Similar to the ITBC, the Tanka Fund also provides technical assistance to Native ranchers on ranch planning, implementing and sustaining best ranching practices, and enabling them to participate in the value-added bison markets.
Placing emphasis on the cultural and spiritual aspects of the restoration efforts, The Buffalo Treaty was first signed in 2014. The Treaty, which has been signed by many First Nations both in the United States and Canada, is an acknowledgement and expression of the special relationship between the Buffalo Nation and the First Nations. The signers have expressed their solidarity with the Buffalo People and a commitment to work toward the cultural and spiritual restoration of their unique union .
The restoration of the bison is not just about pulling them back from extinction or preserving genetic purity or ecological preservation. The revitalization of the First Nations is also at stake, which extends to the preservation and deepening of our country’s identity. Despite our country’s earlier genocidal history toward the Native Americans, we have to admit their history is now integral to our identity. The bison is not just an ecological keystone species, it is also a spiritual keystone to our society. The actions taken by organizations such as the ITBC, The Tanka Fund and The Buffalo Treaty, are critical to all of our identities, and, as such, they deserve our support.
The extent of the work and significance of these organizations can only be hinted at in this post. The reader is encouraged to go to the respective websites for a complete history and scope of their activities and accomplishments.
 See respective links under the Favorite Links tab for the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, The Tanka Fund, and The Buffalo Treaty.
 This is the Lakota name for Buffalo Nation or Buffalo People.
 Zontek, Ken. 2007. Buffalo Nation. University of Nebraska. 76.
Except for a lone red-tailed hawk flying high above, the high plains appear to be scrubbed of animal life. Yet, a sense of being watched cannot be helped. A scan of the surroundings does not reveal anything at first. Suddenly, a flash of brown darts across the vista and just as suddenly stops. Two big black orbs stare back. The watcher is being watched. In the distance, barely perceptible among the flora stands a pronghorn, assessing the newcomer to its territory for potential danger. Discerning none, yet it remains still, vigilant.
The pronghorn, commonly referred to as the American pronghorn antelope  or just American antelope, is not an antelope. Its scientific name is Antilocapra Americana which means American antelope goat. However, it is neither antelope nor goat. The pronghorn has no close relative, being the surviving descendent of an ancient family of herbivores extending back 20 million years . The more common, shortened name of pronghorn derives from the pronged horn which can grow to a foot long on males. Different than antlers of a deer or elk, pronghorn horns grow around a bony, skin-covered core that is not shed. The horns of pronghorn are also different than buffalo horns. For the pronghorn the outer sheath of keratin that makes up the horn is shed and regrown .
When Lewis and Clarke made their way across the Great Plains in their journey to the Pacific Ocean, pronghorn numbered in the millions much as the bison did. The range of this smallest ruminant in North America, extended from the plains of south-central Canada—Saskatchewan and Manitoba—south through a large part of the western United States and into Mexico. Great herds ranged from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean lapping the shores of central California, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean in southern California. Now, their numbers are much less, and their distribution restricted to pockets of isolated habitat within the pronghorn’s original range. The presence of highways, railways, fencing, and other human imposed barriers prevent movement of the pronghorn .
Pronghorn share the same range, foraging and watering with the bison, yet they do not compete. The bison consume mostly grasses while the pronghorn graze on forbs (broadleaf plants such as wildflowers, milkweeds, etc.) and shrubs which benefit from bison activity. Bison disturb dominant grass communities by trampling, wallowing and grazing, which result in greater production of forbs and shrubs favored by pronghorn.
Pronghorn are picky eaters. Small bodies need less food but better food. The smaller a warm-blooded animal is, the more of its body warmth is lost to the air, and to compensate, the higher its metabolism must be, requiring a higher quality of food. Grasses that have been clipped off retain the growing portion—close to the root, where most of the protein resides. This is a source of high quality sustenance . Bison do not eat grass down to the root. Rather they clip the grass off just above the ground, which leaves the younger growing portion for other grazers such as the pronghorn. Bison also provide for the pronghorn, as well as other species, during the winter. In areas of deep snow, bison grazing activity push away the snow with their massive heads, exposing forage for others .
The forbs, however, make the life of the pronghorn possible. Forbs contain more protein and less lignin  than grasses. Since forbs grow in patches among the grasses, pronghorns have a different relationship to the grasslands than the bison’s. For bison the grasses go on forever, which renders selective grazing rather moot. For the pronghorn, however, grazing is much more selective, which necessitates moving from patch to patch .
Unlike the bison pronghorn are devout territorialists due to their grazing needs. Again, it is about the grassland. For bison the grassland is more or less grassy everywhere. But for the pronghorn it’s about the patches of forbs. A bison bull needs only worry about laying claim to the cows. It does not have to worry about staking out a grazing territory. The pronghorn buck, on the other hand, needs to worry about food sources to carry on its progeny. This small associate of the bison, then, expends much effort in marking its territory by urinating and defecating in strategic spots to ward off other bucks.
Bucks guarding territory is not the only worry of pronghorn. Bucks, does and fawns keep a careful eye and a watchful curiosity on their surroundings, allowing them to detect danger early on. The most inquisitive of all the bison’s grassland associates, the pronghorn—with its large, dark eyes—has a keen, wide-ranging vision, and is able to spot predators at great distances. Movement can be seen up to 4 miles away . If an approaching predator is spotted, near-by pronghorn are signaled. In time of danger the stiff hair on the rump bristle and rise, becoming a broad patch of white. These rump displays telegraph signals across the terrain, warning other pronghorn of the impending danger . If the danger is warranted, an adult pronghorn can break into a run at speeds reaching 55 miles per hour and sustaining that speed up to a half mile, making it the fastest land animal in North American. In terms of peak speed, the only other faster animal is the cheetah of Africa, which can reach 80 miles per hour. In regard to sustained speeds, however, the pronghorn can maintain speeds greater than the cheetah over longer distances. For instance, the pronghorn is able to run several miles at over 30 miles per hour . An adult pronghorn can easily outrun any of its predators. Some scientists believe the pronghorn developed such in speed long ago to escape the American Cheetah, a fast ambush predator, which went extinct about 12,000 years ago .
A pronghorn’s predators include coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, golden eagles and wild dogs, which primarily target fawns. The pronghorn’s main defenses include its keen eyesight and its speed. The best defense for a fawn is to find cover, lie down and remain motionless while its mother or other adult pronghorn lure the predator away .
Two hundred years ago pronghorn numbered in the millions but by the 1920s they had suffered the same fate as the buffalo. Unregulated hunting, drought, and human activity had caused those numbers to plummet, resulting in less than twelve thousand pronghorn. Since the early 19th century, however, conservation measures and the elimination of hunting seasons have brought back the pronghorn. One measure particularly effective was the modification of fencing. Pronghorn are highly migratory and such constructs as fencing can present a devastating barrier. Unlike other species, pronghorn do not jump fences. Rather, they will attempt to crawl under. In the past this resulted in getting hung up in the fencing, causing injury and possibly death. Today, however, ranchers construct fencing which allows the pronghorn to go under and continue their migratory journey .
The restoration of the pronghorn, a unique species, has been a marked success in the overall efforts to preserve the Great Plains. Their comeback is proof that concerted conservation endeavors can succeed, providing inspiration for other Great Plains restoration undertakings.
 Urbigkit, Cat. 2010. Path of the Pronghorn. Boyds Mill Press. Honesdale, PA 7.
 Rickel, Bryce. 2005. Large Native Ungulates. Chapter 2 in USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-135-vol. 2. 27.
Toward the end of the 19th century the bison faced extinction by extermination. Today, even after more than a hundred years of restoration efforts, the plains bison is faced with another threat of extinction—the accelerated warming of the Great Plains.
Even before the immense public attention on climate change, there has been great scientific interest in climate processes and extinction events in the Earth’s natural history. Evaluation of fossil evidence has shown an inverse correlation between warming trends and body size and mass of large mammals. As temperatures rise, body size shrinks over large geological time scales. Along with this negative correlation a consequent, positive correlation has been established between shrinking body size and extinctions .
The warming trend, which began at the end of the last Ice Age, has been accelerating in recent decades. . Since the beginning of the 21st century the northern Great Plains’ average summer temperature increased by 0.8˚C while for the southern Great Plains the mean summer temperature rose by 0.4˚C with winters rising by 0.25˚C for both the southern and northern Great Plains . Consequently, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Working Group 1 predicts a 4˚C increase in global temperatures by 2100 over the 20th century—a period of 100 years. This rate of temperature change is much greater than for the Bolling-Allerod period —a warming period 14,700 to 12,500 years ago with a mean temperature 6˚C cooler than that for the 20th century.
The evolutionary history of bison has shown an absolute increase of 4˚C is not unprecedented. However, the time frame in which the bison has had to adapt needs to be considered. From the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (approx. 14,700 years ago) to the 20th century the earth warmed 6˚C. During the Last Glacial Maximum, bison mass was, on average, approximately 910 kg. (2006 lbs.). The greatest decline in body size of 26% occurred between 12,500 and 9250 years ago. Given a generation time between 3 and 10 years, the change in body size occurred in 325 to 1080 generations, producing an average rate of change of 0.2 to 0.7 kg per generation. If the current warming trend continues as predicted for the 21st century, bison body mass will likely decline from 665kg (current average body mass) to 357kg. It is unclear whether bison can adapt their body size to a 4˚C temperature increase within 10 generations .
Changes in body size and mass of animals have long been used to indicate large-scale environmental processes over geological time scales, and have become predictors of extinction risk in mammals . In regard to bison B. antiquus and B. occidentalis, these species did go extinct, but through phenotypic  and morphologic  adaptation to changing climatic conditions, they evolved into what is known today as the North American bison (Bison bison) which has existed throughout the Holocene epoch-the current geological epoch. The importance of body size in dictating extinction proneness is likely due to the fundamental association between size and other key life history traits such as fecundity, longevity, mating system, trophic level (step in a nutritive series, or food chain), dispersal ability and energetic requirements .
Fossil bison shrank with global warming probably because large-bodied grazers are disadvantaged both by heat dissipation and by the phenological  shifts in plant quality and abundance in warming conditions . Impacts of climate change, then, are two-fold: 1) direct effects of temperature on the animal, demanding energy to compensate for heat, and 2) indirect effects of temperature on the animal’s food supply .
Maximum body size of endotherms–an animal that is dependent on or capable of the internal generation of heat; a warm-blooded animal—depends on optimal maintenance for the efficient production of tissues. This is especially true in seasonal environments when food availability and environmental demands constrain the annual windows for growth. Optimal maintenance is dependent on thermal loads (amount of heat energy). High thermal loads increase cost of body maintenance to balance internal and external loads through thermoregulation, which reduces energy for growth.
Thermoregulation is the mechanism by which heat balance is achieved. It affects the use of energy, water and nutrients such as electrolytes and organic nitrogen which affect resting and foraging behaviors. Thermoregulatory processes usually increase energy use by increasing heart rate and blood flow. In hot weather thermoregulation increases the flow of body water because water is used for evaporative cooling (e.g., panting, perspiration). In cold weather thermoregulation generates body heat through such efforts as shivering, increased metabolic heat production, and muscular activity in an effort to conserve core body heat through control of blood flow to the periphery .
The negative climate-body size correlation, then, reinforce feedbacks that may increase extinction rates . Both excessive heat (> 40˚C) and excessive cold (< -30˚C) directly increase demands for energy, water and nutrients because thermoregulation outputs increase, whereas indirect effects of rising temperature decrease forage quantity and quality—ultimately affecting the supply of energy, water and nutrients . Smaller body size, then, is more efficient in regulating increased thermal loads due to rising temperatures.
In regard to food supply, climatic warming tends to exacerbate nutritional stress and reduce weight gain in large mammalian herbivores by reducing plant nutritional quality. Warming trends have the potential to not only reduce the nutritional quality of plant species, but also by decreasing the relative abundance of nutritionally critical plant species. For the North American plains bison this is likely to result in an increase protein stress, reducing bison growth and reproduction .
Compounding the issue of decreased nutritional quality of grasses, the warming trends have resulted in an increase of droughts in the Great Plains. The lack of water availability reduces the availability of critical plants necessary for bison growth. Consequently, droughts cause declines in the number and body size of bison .
One of the driving factors in the rising temperatures may be the increasing CO2 concentrations which reduce plant protein concentrations in grasslands . Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been causing Nitrogen to become progressively more limiting to ecosystem productivity. Nitrogen is a crucial element for many structures and metabolic processes in plants. Plants are required to manufacture the complex molecules by use of minerals from the soil that contain nitrogen such as nitrate ions. Plants too, like animals, need some important macro and micro nutrient elements including nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon to keep them healthy. The wellness of plant parts (leaves, roots, trunks, etc.) depends on the availability of essential nutrients like nitrogen to enhance the plant’s biological processes including growth, absorption, transportation, and excretion .
Science has offered information and theories concerning the effect of warming trends on the size and survival of bison. The question for us is: how do we respond? The Great Plains are predicted to warm, resulting in longer, hotter summers accompanied by more severe droughts. The anticipated warming and drying along the Great Plains will shift the distribution and protein efficacy of vegetation types by mid-and-late century, altering the supply of digestible energy and digestible nitrogen to bison, native wildlife and domestic livestock . Bison are very good at adapting to shifts in environmental processes given the rates of change in the past. But with the acceleration of warming rates, their adaptive ability comes into question.
With decreasing body mass life history traits that are dependent on body mass will also shift. Age of maturity, reproduction rates and growth rates will be reduced. Preliminary data already indicate a decrease in the life span of female bison, reducing reproductive rates .
In response, there are ways to mitigate the observed effects of the climate shifts on bison according to Dr. Jeff Martin— an integrative conservation ecologist. Prescribed burns to the land to boost available energy and protein in grasses are one example. More generally work is needed to determine how best to create landscape heterogeneity for bison to select the best available forage .
To achieve such a goal, management questions arise. For instance, bison diet remains poorly understood which limits the ability to determine the plant species most critical, and consequently prohibits a full understanding of the required management of dietary needs. Plains bison are considered strict grazers. This implies they primarily consume grasses and grass-like flowering plants—such as sedges—as opposed to browsing on forbs, shrubs or trees (woody species). Being strict grazers would suggest that climatic warming may reduce bison performance by altering the productivity and nutritional quality of different grass species. However, earlier analyses may have overemphasized the contribution of grasses and underemphasized the amount of herbaceous and woody species in their diet. Recent studies have suggested that bison utilize eudicot species to some degree. If eudicot species constitute a critical component of bison diet, then managers will need to take into account the relative abundance of these and their nutritional quality when considering mitigation strategies .
Bison have been wonderfully adaptive to environmental and climatic changes over the course of their history. Until recent times, though, they have had great expanses of time to acclimate to new conditions. The recent accelerated warming trends have placed another hurdle in their evolutionary path—a shortened time frame in which the species has to respond. It is unclear whether the species will be able to offset the induced biological stress with a shift in body mass in the allotted time. It is highly unlikely the climate shift underway can be halted or reversed. Mitigation efforts, then, need to focus on land management to provide the requisite forage. This will, however, require additional studies and the implementation of known effective practices.
Simply restoring bison numbers is not enough. To ensure the survival of this keystone species, land and vegetation management practices which will mitigate the current climate effects need to be developed.
 Isaac, Joanne L. 22-May-2008. Effects of climate change on life history: Implications for extinction risk in mammals. Endangered Species Research. Vol. 7:115-123, 2009.
 The transition of from the last Glacial Maximum (12,500 years ago) to the Holocene
 Martin, Jeff M., Jim I. Mead., & Perry S. Barboza. 10-Apr-2018. Bison body size and climate change. Wiley.
 Pertaining to the appearance of an organism resulting from the interaction of the genotype and the environment—Webster’s
 Pertaining to the form and structure of an organism considered as a whole—Webster’s
 Pertaining to the influence of climate on the recurrence of annual phenomena of animal and plant life—Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. 2001. Random House.
 Craine, J. M., Towne, E. G., Joern, A., & Hamilton, R. G. (2009). Consequences of climate variability for the performance of bison in tallgrass prairie. Global Change Biology, 15(3), 772– 779. See also
Martin, Jeff M., & Perry S. Barboza. 06-Dec-2019. Decadal heat and drought drive body size of North American bison (Bison bison) along the Great Plains. Wiley.
 Martin, Jeff M., Jim I. Mead., & Perry S. Barboza. 10-Apr-2018. Bison body size and climate change. Wiley.
 Martin, Jeff M. Perry S. Barboza. 08-Jul-2020. Thermal biology and growth of bison (Bison bison) along the Great Plains: examining four theories of endotherm body size. ESA Journals.
 Martin 2019.
 Craine, Joseph M. E. Gene Towne, Mary Miller & Noah Fierar. 16-Nov-2015. Climatic warming and the future of bison as grazers. Nature.
 Craine, J. M., Nippert, J. B., Elmore, A. J., Skibbe, A. M., Hutchinson, S. L., & Brunsell, N. A. (2012). Timing of climate variability and grassland productivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(9), 3401– 3405. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1118438109. Retrieved 19 Oct 2020. Also Martin, Jeff M., Perry S. Barboza. 06-Dec-2019.
 McKauchlan, K.K., Ferguson, C.J., I. E. Ocheltree, T. W. & Craine, J.M. 2010. Thirteen decades of foliar isotopes indicate declining nitrogen availability in central North American grasslands. New Phytol, 187, 1135-1145.
In the midst of the prairie the taller grass gives way to a small expanse of cropped grass interrupted by numerous dirt mounds. Grazing this neatly trimmed lawn, a herd of buffalo watch our approach unconcerned. However, looking closely, tiny sentinels raise up on their rear haunches to signal an alarm at our intrusion. We have just come upon a prairie dog town, the residents of which have seen their best times come and go while their worst of times are upon them. This is the tale of the two most notable tailed-dwellers of the prairie dog town—the prairie dog and the American bison.
Like the buffalo the prairie dogs blanketed the Great Plains and the surrounding prairies by the hundreds of millions—with some estimates as high as 5 billion—up into the 20th century. Human intervention, though, has decimated the prairie dogs just as it did to the American bison. The conversion of the rich soil of the prairies to the “true religion” of agriculture tore up and turned over these sculptured underground dwellings. Those who did not die from the apocalyptic loss of their habitat were hunted down and eradicated by farmers and ranchers who saw these rodents as just another destructive varmint. Prairie dog populations have also declined due to bubonic plague—an indirect human intervention—for which they have no natural immunity. Sylvatic bacterium, the cause of bubonic plague, was brought to the North American continent by rats which sailed the Atlantic along with the European immigrants. Generally, once infected, an entire colony may be lost. Another keystone species sacrificed to the god of Manifest Destiny.
Prairie dogs, a seeming weakling, weigh in at about one-and-a-half pounds. Their numbers, however, more than make up for their small mass providing a significant impact to the prairie economy. Prairie dogs live in colonies consisting of smaller family units called coteries. The uniqueness of these rodents lies in their engineering ability to build towns. Not really a town, this unique residential area is a system of burrows engineered and excavated by these furry little rodents. “Build,” then, is perhaps an incorrect term. Rather they dig, excavating burrows, constructing complex systems containing sleeping quarters, nurseries, food pantries and even a cemetery of sorts. A single colony may cover thousands of acres .
Their burrows are wonderfully constructed. The genius lies in how the openings are constructed. There are actually two openings, one at the front and one in the rear, allowing air flow. The flow of air is regulated by mounding the excavated dirt at the front entrance. The mound is usually a few inches—though can be as high as two feet–above the entrance. The wind across the top of the mound is much faster than at the ground-level of the entrance since the friction caused by the ground and the grass slow the wind. The faster wind speed at the top of the mound draws stagnant air out of the tunnels thus providing a steady flow of fresh air into the soil-level rear entrance . This lowly ground squirrel utilized the wind as a renewable source long before the thought entered our magnificent brains.
Prairie Dog tunnel-housing also serve as a safe space, providing security against most predators. Too small to withstand many predators the prairie dogs use borrows to evade the horror of being dinner. The openings, which are too small for most predators—such as foxes, coyotes and wolves—provide a convenient escape route. However, the openings do not restrict other predators such as the prairie rattle snake or ferrets. In the case of the prairie rattle snake the prairie dogs do not rely on their burrows for protection. Instead they “gang-up” on the snake. Since the snake cannot hide in the cropped grass of the prairie dog town, it is easily spotted and surrounded by the residents of the burrows, quickly turning the tables. The hunter becomes the hunted. The prairie dogs fling dirt in the snake’s face, by turning their backs on the predator and kicking up dirt with their hind legs. Others may dart to the snake’s tail, biting harshly into its tail, and then dart away to escape the answering strike .
Ferrets, on the other hand, are not so easily evaded. Since the ferret can easily enter the burrows—and often will seize occupancy—the prairie dog’s only hope is to out run the ferret. The Black-Footed Ferret is the natural enemy of prairie dogs, depending almost entirely on prairie dogs for its sustenance, constituting 90% of a ferret’s diet. With almost a 95% loss of the prairie dog’s habitat, the extermination efforts of ranchers and farmers, and introduction of bubonic plague, the prairie dog has become a threatened species, with the dependent ferret becoming an endangered species .
These underground architects are key, then, to the survival of other species, not just as prey, but as providers of affordable housing. Abandoned or otherwise unoccupied burrows become shelter for prairie rattlers, burrowing owls, toads, jack rabbits, and spiders. And, as in the case of ferrets, the burrows are simply taken over. With the decline of the prairie dogs, these species have subsequently loss habitat.
Adept engineers these squirrelly diggers are also wise landscapers. The prairie dogs transform the landscape around their colonies. The surrounding grass and other plants are kept closely cropped to the ground, both for eating and for providing a clear view of potential predators. This well-manicured yard also provides habitat for other species—for instance, birds that live in short-grass environs.
The mounds of dirt and the cropped grass are also invitations to the largest denizens of the prairie—the bison. Short grass is a bison’s dream diet. The closer the blade is to the roots the higher the percentage of protein and the lower the percentage of cellulose. By grazing the same ground every day prairie dogs keep the grass short, inviting the bison to a culinary delight. Closely cropped grass is a necessity to a prairie dog, but it is a treat for buffalo.
The bison do not just come for the grass, however. The mounds of dirt are another attraction. The excavated soil is perfect to fill their hair, which drives out insects and provides a coolant for hot days. So the little chimneys of dirt erected in prairie dog town are a venerable day-spa of wallowing for the behemoths of the plains.
The relationship between prairie dogs and bison is not one-sided, though. Bison also bring something to the table, or rather, leave something behind. This other keystone species provide re-purposed grass. That is, grass processed into fertilizer. The longer the bison hang around the more they spread their contribution, and the greener the grass becomes. Buffalo chips are gifts that keep on giving .
Finally, bison make prairie dog towns possible. Everywhere except in the western short-grass regions, prairie dogs depend on bison grazing to provide short enough grass for the prairie dogs to establish residence there. This ground squirrel will not live in tall grass since it is less nutritious and hides predators .
The ending of the tale of the town of two tails is still being written. The recognition of the prairie dog and the American bison as key to the survival of the Great Plains and the prairies has sparked concerted efforts to restore this excavating rodent and the grass-processing behemoth of these ecosystems. As prairie dog habitat recovers, a return of other species is seen. Homes become available for the burrowing owl and the prairie rattler. Meals become available for the black-footed ferret enabling a retreat from extinction. Bird populations of short-grass environs recover. Where the buffalo roam and the prairie dog digs, the Great Plains see a renaissance.
In 1898 a Scottish immigrant, James “Scotty” Philip, purchased a small herd of buffalo from D.F. “Dug” Carlin who was the estate administrator of his brother-in-law, Peter Dupree (Dupuis). Under Philip’s management the herd grew to more than eighty. Unlike other ranchers of his day, who sought to interbreed buffalo with cattle seeking financial gain from the venture, Philip did not like mixed blood bison. Consequently, his efforts were dedicated to weeding out the mixed-blood and establishing a pure-blood herd.
Scotty died in 1911, leaving the herd to his sons, Stanley and Roderick. By that time the herd had numbered around 400, but financial problems developed and the sons had to sell off 36 bison—six bulls, eighteen cows and twelve calves. They sold the buffalo to the state of South Dakota in 1914. In that same year the South Dakota legislature had designated 60,000 acres in Custer County as a state game preserve. The 36 bison from the Philips’ herd became the nucleus of the herd now found in Custer State Park today .
James “Scotty” Philip has been given much credited in the preservation efforts of bison, and rightly so. Raising a sizable pure-blood herd from a small mixed-blood one, and from which came the starter herd for one of the biggest herds in the United States, is to be lauded. The initial preservation efforts from which this herd originated, however, were expended by Peter Dupree and his parents, Frederick and Mary Ann—also known as Good Elk Woman. Further, the vision and impetus to save the bison most likely came from her.
Frederick Dupuis (Dupre, Dupree) was a French Canadian fur trader who came to Fort Pierre, Dakota territory in 1838. Eventually, he left the fur trade and became a rancher until his death in 1898. He married a Minniconjou Lakota woman named Good Elk Woman who took the name Mary Ann Dupuis. Good Elk Woman (Hehake-waste-win) was born in 1824 near Cherry Creek, Nebraska and was the daughter of One Iron Horn and Red Dressing .
Together they had nine children: Xavier, Edward, Pete, Fred Jr, Maggie, Esther, Armaine, Josephine and Marcella. Frederick and Good Elk Woman established a ranch on the north side of the Cheyenne River approximately 35 miles west of where the Cheyenne empties into the Missouri River. The ranch hosted a camp for Native American activity with at least 50 people served supper daily .
During the 60 years they shared together, the Dupuis’ witnessed the severe transformation of the Plains Indian culture, the Black Hills gold rush, and the demise of the great buffalo herds. Under the influence of Good Elk Woman, her husband and son, Peter, embarked on an expedition to save the buffalo sometime in the early 1880s. She was not just the visionary, however. Good Elk Woman was instrumental in attending to the camp and guiding the family. The details of the hunts involved are unclear, but the result was the Dupuis family had managed to capture a few calves and initiate a herd which consisted of 5 cows, 4 bulls and 7 mixed-blood catalo by 1888. The catalo did not result from any intentional effort on the part of the Dupuis’s management of the herd. Most likely, the mixed-blooded catalo resulted from the ranging of bison with cattle .
That Good Elk Woman was the visionary and impetus for an effort to save the bison from extermination should not come as a surprise. Being Lakota she would not have perceived her existence and fate as separate from that of the bison ranging across the Great Plains. The Lakota’s fight to protect their homeland was a fight to protect the Buffalo people’s homeland as well. Her people were one with the Buffalo Nation (Pte Oyate). Her authority as matriarch in the family and her prophetic role in the salvation of the buffalo was in accord with White Buffalo Calf Woman—the spiritual mediator between the Pte Oyate and the Lakotas .
Today we enjoy the Custer State Park herd—one of the largest in North America. The credit for seeding this herd has gone primarily to James Philip with perhaps ancillary credit going to Peter Dupree. Except for Zontek, sources focus on the contributions of Frederick and Peter Dupree and James Philip. Good Elk Woman is only been mentioned in passing as either Peter’s mother or as Mary Ann, wife of Frederick Dupree/Dupuis . Her contribution, though, is arguably, the most significant. The origins of what has become the Custer State Park herd emerged from the vision and inspiration of a Lakota woman—Good Elk Woman.
 Dary, David A. 1989. The Buffalo Book: The Full Saga of the American Animal. Ohio University Press. 231-232.
The largest North American mammal has only three predators: the grey wolf, the grizzly bear, and the human being. The First Nations hunted bison for perhaps a millennium until their replacement, the Europeans, arrived with their style of killing frenzy, driving the bison into near oblivion in the 1870s and ‘80s—ironic how the scrawniest predator became the greatest threat. These days killing by the human denizen is restricted to commercialization and licensed hunts. In addition, something wonderful happened in human consciousness, a great awakening. Humans had discovered ecosystems, and how those environmental realms were integral to a human’s well-being. Further, they discovered that the bison was a keystone species to at least one of those ecosystems. Will miracles ever cease! The human predator has been significantly mitigated.
Grizzlies, the polar opposite of scrawny, have been known, according to historical accounts, to kill bison. A grizzly taking down a bison may still occasionally occur in Alaska where bears are more numerous. A buffalo killed by a grizzly, however, is rare. Typically, grizzlies prey during the spring melt on thawing carcasses of bison that had died over the winter .
The wolf is another matter. It is designed in body and behavior to kill hoofed animals. Though the grey wolf is small compared to the buffalo, its numbers more than compensate for size. Wolves hunt in packs from as small as six to as large as a dozen. Essentially, wolves are opportunists, able to capture and eat meat from mice to moose. As such, they will follow buffalo herds until the right opportunity comes along. Following a buffalo herd will often provide the pack’s needs without the necessity of a kill since small mammals are often flushed out by the bison’s feet. But the wolves will watch and target the calves. So adept are packs in taking down calves that the survival of a small herd of bison can be thrown into doubt.
Calves are defenseless by themselves. A cow or bull, though, can easily injure or kill a wolf. A wolf pack may be able to kill a cow or bull in the winter when the bison is in a weakened state, however. A calf only survives a wolf attack with an alert and aggressive mother and/or help from others; though probably not another cow. A bull may be recruited in the defense by the mother leading the calf to the bull, or the calf, on its own, may run to the bull. Typically, the bull will be young, too young to breed, rather than a mature bull. The older bulls are most likely not present. They are probably off somewhere grazing, building up energy for the rut. The primary purpose of a mature bull is to produce as many off-spring as possible. Natural selection, then, has favored the inattentive father so the maximum number of calves will be born.
When the pack’s hunt is successful, the killing is a gruesome affair. Cats kill large prey by suffocation or biting through the skulls of their prey. Dogs do not have this mouth power to kill quickly. Instead, dogs, such as wolves, chew their prey to death, literally eating the prey alive. This is difficult for one wolf to do, but not a pack.
A romantic view, held among some of the supporters of the wolf reintroduction movement, was that of a caring and adorable family life. This is only a projection of human proclivities, however. Life among a wolf pack is not a canine version of the ideal nuclear family, in which mom and dad tenderly care for the young. They are not cute. The wolf-pack life is ruthless and relentlessly structured. Each member lives within a certain pecking order with an alpha male or female at the top. Attempts to reorder the pack are severely treated, even to the point of death. Cruel despotism is perhaps a more apt description, egalitarianism does not exist. Yes, wolves are family oriented, but the structure is about survival and reproduction with each member also having a specific function. The wolf family is also territorial, and will challenge any trespassers with pursuit or death.
The nature of the wolf evolved as a competitor to large predators such as the short-faced bear, the American lion, the American cheetah, the saber-toothed cat and the dire wolf, sharing the North American Plain. The grey wolf was the smallest of these, and the only one to survive the Pleistocene extinction approximately 10,000 years ago. It developed to become a prominent selection factor for diverse characteristics of large mammal fitness. Wolves are highly sensitive to symptoms of weakness in their prey. Victims tend to be debilitated by age, disease or accidental injuries which render them susceptible to the pack. Thus wolves facilitate natural selection by detecting and removing the effects of deleterious genes, and removing the most virulent strains of a pathogen from a prey population .
As the grey wolf was sharpening its hunting skills over the millennia, bison were not idle, however. Buffalo were also evolving their defensive arsenal, including cooperation, defense, escape, and synchronized birthing. The bison herd is a “selfish herd.” Individual animals cooperate with and use other animals to improve their own survival and reproduction odds, ensuring possibly the survival and reproduction of genetically related kind. Bison, then, cooperate to the benefit of all in the herd.
The primary weapons for defense are the horns and the head. Using its powerful neck muscles a bison can hook, lift and toss an opponent. This strategy works best in large herds. By itself, a bison cannot challenge several wolves all at once. For a cow and her calf, alone she is not likely to defend her calf using her head and horns, as the wolves will separate her from the calf, occupying her attention away from the calf. In the herd, however, the bison will form a tight formation with the calves either in the midst of the herd or behind it.
Escape is exactly what it implies. It is the “RUN AWAY!” strategy. Escape involves outrunning and outlasting predators. Bison have adapted physiologically and anatomically for this behavior. Even new born calves are on their feet within 10 minutes and able to run within two hours of birth. Buffalo can challenge all but the fastest horses, yet can out last them, running for many hours over dry, hard prairie ground. There is a selfish component to escaping, though. It’s not just about outrunning the predator. A buffalo only needs to outrun its neighbor. Escaping exposes the weakest individuals, those who lag due to injury, age or disease. Predation selects against the least fit, favoring the evolution and maintenance of strength, agility, endurance and disease resistance. The extreme form of escape is the stampede .
A characteristic of social ungulates such as the buffalo in facing predators is synchronous birthing, which has the dual purpose of predation evasion and optimum utilization of high quality forage for lactation. Due to the behavior of wolves there is little flexibility in the bison gestation period, which leads to a synchronous breeding period. Predators focused on bison calves must take time eating and digesting the hapless prey and spend time traveling to locate the moving herd. Additionally, the number of wolves in an area may be limited by territorial behavior. The number of calves, then, that can be killed by the pack during a short period of time is limited. Bison reproduction has adapted to take advantage of this window of opportunity. The larger the cow herd and the shorter the birthing period, the greater is the probability newborn calves will survive. A cow that breeds during the peak of the rut and calves during the peak of calving, provides the calf with a greater chance of escaping predation .
Wolves not only have the effect of culling buffalo herds through food usage. The reintroduction of the grey wolf in Yellowstone has actually enhanced the growth of buffalo herds. Since the reintroduction of wolves, elk population has declined, opening greater forage and releasing bison from interspecific competition and resulting in higher bison densities . Elk are easier prey for wolves, resulting in lower elk densities and a decreased tendency for wolves to use bison as a food source. The combination of opening more grazing opportunities, and decreasing the predation of bison has allowed for a significant growth in bison populations .
Predation, especially by wolves, has not only enabled bison population growth. Co-evolving with the bison, predation has facilitated the natural selection. Removing deleterious genes and virulent pathogens, the wolf has enhanced the bison’s strength, agility, endurance and mechanisms for preservation. Just as the bison is a keystone species to the Great Plains and the surrounding prairies and forests, so the wolf is key to the health and survival of the bison.
 Callenbach, Ernest. 1996. Bring Back the Buffalo! A Sustainable Future for America’s Great Plains. University of California Press. Berkley. 90.
 Lott, Dale A. 2002. American Bison: A Natural History. University of California Press. Berkley. 100-104.
 Bailey, James A. 2016. The Essence of Wildness: Lessons from Bison. Self-published by James A. Bailey. 24-25.
 Bailey, James A. 2013. American Plains Bison: Rewilding an Icon. Sweetgrass Books. Helena, MT. 63-66.
 Ripple, William J, and Painter, Luke. Effects of bison on willow and cottonwood in northern Yellowstone Park. 15-Jan-2012. Forest Ecology and Management. Vol. 264. 150-158
 White, P. J., and R. A. Garrott. 2005. Yellowstone’s ungulates after wolves–expectations, realizations, and predictions. Biological Conservation. 125. 141-152. See also Ripple, W. J., and R. L. Beschta. 2012. Trophic cascades in Yellowstone: The first 15 years after wolf reintroduction. Biological Conservation. 145. 205-213.
 A line from the movie Young Frankenstein, 1974.
Blakeslee, Nate. 2008. American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West. Broadway Books. New York.
For the bison herd of Yellowstone the winter of 1996-97 was deadly. Heavy snows had made it difficult to plow through to the forage underneath. Survival meant finding other grazing land, leading the buffalo to wander down from the mountains in search of grass. Going north out of the Park was a death sentence. When the bison crossed the Montana State line, they were met with gunfire. The only witness to record the atrocity was Mike Mease, videographer and environmentalist. The video was sent to a Sicangu Lakota woman who, in response, came to Yellowstone National Park to witness the atrocity inflicted upon the buffalo nation, and offer prayers. That winter, under the leadership of Mease and this Lakota elder, Buffalo Nations was formed (original name of the Buffalo Field Campaign), a nonprofit, grassroots coalition of Native and Non-Native environmentalists with the support of the Seventh Generation Fund, providing a permanent defense along the Yellowstone Montana border . That Lakota elder was Rosalie Little Thunder.
When Rosalie prayed over the bodies of the slaughtered buffalo that winter, she was part of a cloud of witnesses who had survived to attest to senseless horrors. She saw, however, the bison as survivors, as she was a survivor—“Just as I am a survivor of massacre, so too are the Yellowstone buffalo survivors of massacre .” She was a direct descendent of survivors of both the 1855 Little Thunder Massacre and the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. Her own grandfather had survived the 1855 massacre, saved by his mother covering him with her body when she had been struck by a bullet .
Born 18-Sep-1949 in Old He Dog Community on the lands of the Sicangu Lakota people (Rosebud Sioux Reservation) to William and Margaret (Good Shield) Little Thunder , Rosalie became an avid activist promoting her people, the Lakota, and her brothers and sisters of the Pte Oyate (Buffalo People/Nation). She served on several non-profit boards including the Buffalo Field Campaign, Owe Aku International , Seventh Generation Fund , and South Dakota Peace and Justice. Rosalie was also an honorary member of Honor the Earth , Indigenous Environmental Network , Wolakota Foundation , and Brave Heart Society . In addition to these, she was an active member of Kat’ela Okalakiciye—a traditional Lakota Elderly Women’s Society—and participated in the Sicangu Constitutional Convention.
As if these activities were not enough, Rosalie was an adjunct professor at Black Hills State University, American Indian Department, teaching the Lakota language and working with the Lakota Bible Translation Department.
Central to this life dedicated to the Native way, was the well-being of the Pte Oyate, which Rosalie held dear. She worked to protect the buffalo from the mid-1990s until her death in 2014. The last wild, free-roaming bison is the Yellowstone herd. To have witnessed the decimation that winter of 1996-97, must have torn her heart apart. She did not want the last of the wild buffalo to disappear, and wanted Native peoples to have more say in the buffalo’s fate—“After I am gone, I want there to be buffalo on this Earth. Maybe the buffalo will help us be here a little bit longer. Maybe they will help us survive. .” To bring attention to the killing of the Yellowstone bison and the need to protect the herd and its natural grazing grounds, Rosalie, in 1999, led a group of Lakota Sioux on a 500-mile walk from Rapid City, South Dakota to the Gardiner basin in Montana, carrying a sacred pipe. The journey was a form of prayer for the bison and a protest against the wanton destruction of the last wild herd of the majestic animal. In honor of Rosalie, and to keep her memory alive, the Buffalo Field Campaign has continued this prayer practice by instituting an annual Rosalie Little Thunder Walk .
Such heinous acts that have been inflicted on the Buffalo Nation can overwhelm and numb a person into a silent resignation. But atrocities not heard breed more atrocities. A voice must be given to these acts of cruelty and destruction to break the silence and prevent a numbed acceptance. Rosalie Little Thunder was such a voice. Even though she has passed, her spirit and voice continue speaking. Many others, including the Buffalo Field Campaign and the organizations mentioned above, carry her spirit in their hearts and echo her voice through their words and actions. By offering us an alternative reality to a culture of death, she was truly prophetic.
 Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples is dedicated to providing support to grassroots Native communities’ projects. Visit their website at http://7genfund.org/ .
 Honor the Earth’s mission is to “…create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities.” Visit their website at http://www.honorearth.org/ .
 Indigenous Environment Network “…was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues…[including] building the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.” Visit their website at https://www.ienearth.org/ .
 Wolakota Foundation “…is a grassroots non-profit organization emerging from the needs of traditional Lakota (Dakota/Nakota) people to maintain their cultural and spiritual lifeways for the sake of future generations.” Visit their website at http://www.wolakota.org/ .
 Brave Heart Society, formed by a community of grandmothers from the Yankton Reservation of South Dakota, works for the revival of a traditional cultural society for women. Visit their website at https://www.braveheartsociety.org/ .
In May of 1886 Miles City, Montana was visited by a small expedition from the Smithsonian. Led by the chief taxidermist of the Institution, William T. Hornaday, the group was in search of the last remaining buffalo. The impetus for the venture arose out of alarm over the condition of the current buffalo specimens at the museum. The museum had a very poor assortment, consisting of one mounted specimen, a couple of mounted heads, two skeletons and assorted fragmentary skulls. After Hornaday brought this sad state to the attention of Spencer F. Baird, secretary of the museum, an expedition was quickly arranged . The venture marked the beginning of the transition from taxidermist to restorer for Hornaday.
William Temple Hornaday, born in Avon, Indiana in December of 1854, was educated at Oskaloosa College, Iowa State Agricultural College (today known as Iowa State University). He married Josephine Chamberlain in 1879 remaining married for 58 years until his death in 1937. Together they had a daughter, Helen .
After graduating in 1873, Hornaday was hired by Ward’s Natural Science Establishment of Rochester, New York where he worked as a taxidermist. He was only in Ward’s employ for a brief time when he headed off to India and Ceylon in 1877-78 and then moved on to Malaya and Borneo, collecting specimens. This journey inspired his first publication, Two Years in the Jungle (1885) . In 1882 he was appointed as chief taxidermist of the United States National Museum, the Smithsonian, a position he held until he resigned in 1890. During that time, Two Years in the Jungle and The Last Buffalo Hunt (1886) were published .
In his position as chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian, he became aware of the decimation of the buffalo, which led him to inventory the Smithsonian’s collection, and to conduct a census of the remaining bison to estimate the number of these majestic beasts still alive. The results were alarming, prompting Hornaday to quickly notify Dr. G. Brown Goode, Hornaday’s immediate superior. These actions promptly led to the expedition to the Musselshell River region of Montana—a region still occupied at that time by the Crow, Paiute, and Blackfoot—to collect bison specimens for the Smithsonian’s exhibit. The irony in the decision was the Faustian bargain often faced by science—a few specimens would have to be sacrificed to preserve some vestige of a vanishing species for the sake of future generations .
The initial expedition in May of ‘86 was a failure. When the expedition team arrived in Miles City, they were told their chances were next to nothing in finding any buffalo. Besides the best time for buffalo hides was in November and December. Though he expected to see evidence of the decimation of the herds, he was stunned by what he actually observed—no live buffalo, only skeletons as far as the eye could see. He would have to return three months later to collect the specimens he needed . When he returned in September, Hornaday fortunately had run into rancher Henry Phillips who reported that buffalo were still roaming around his ranch. This time the expedition was successful. Hornaday returned to Washington, D.C. with 24 hides, 16 skeletons and 51 skulls .
The impact of near-extermination was not lost on Hornaday, however. He resolved to not only preserve the bison in museum exhibits, but also as a living herd in captivity. His goal was to educate Americans and perhaps atone, in some way, for the atrocity that had been committed. With this in mind Hornaday launched a plan with the Smithsonian’s Department of Living Animals to establish a breeding program to save the buffalo. The Smithsonian acquired 6 buffalo, and from that the plan was executed.
Hornaday’s efforts did not rest there. He went on to advocate for a National Zoological Park for the conservation and study of wild animals sacred to the national heritage. In 1889 this became a reality with Hornaday appointed as the Park’s head. He soon left that position to become the founder and director of the Bronx Zoo. It was during this time Hornaday’s work Extermination of the American Bison was published—considered to be the first important book of the conservation movement . During his tenure at the Bronx Zoo, Hornaday published almost two dozen books and hundreds of articles advocating for the conservation of wildlife, stirring up public support which moved Congress and aided his efforts. In addition, he lobbied tirelessly for protective legislation, national parks, wildlife refuges, and international treaties to conserve and protect wildlife .
Hornaday was not alone putting forth ideas for preserving the buffalo. Ernest Harold Baynes, a naturalist, presented the notion of an organization dedicated to the preservation of the bison to Hornaday. Hornaday embraced the idea and along with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt cofounded the American Bison Society in 1905. Just prior to the formation of the Society, Hornaday offered, on behalf of the New York Zoological Park, to give a small number of buffalo to the federal government if the government agreed to start a herd on the National Wichita Forest Reserve in Oklahoma. Then once the American Bison Society was established, work was initiated to create another reserve. The Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana was proposed. Within two years Congress had purchased the necessary land and by 1909 the National Bison Range had been established, being populated with bison purchased by the American Bison Society with a few donated by Mrs. Alicia Conrad of Kalispell, Montana and rancher Charles Goodnight of Texas.
The establishment of the herds on the National Wichita Forest Reserve and the National Bison Range marked the beginning of serious efforts by the federal government to preserve the American Bison. The Society, though, continued working to establish other reserves. In 1913 the Society helped create a herd on the Fort Niobrara Reservation in Nebraska, and a few months later, a herd on the Wind Cave National Game Reserve in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The last herd the Society helped establish was near Ashville, North Carolina in the Appalachians, but this herd did not prosper and eventually died out. The Society continued to be active into 1930s primarily involved in educational efforts, and unfortunately, it, too, quietly died out by 1940. But the original mission set out by Hornaday, Roosevelt, Baynes and others was achieved .
Always a lover of wildlife and dedicated to conservation, William T. Hornaday was a critical player in the preservation of the American Bison. His singular vision of establishing herds on reserves was instrumental in averting the near-extinction of the majestic creature that once blanketed the Great Plains and the Prairies. A proven crusader for wildlife, Dr. William T. Hornaday died in 1937 at the age of 82 in Stamford, Connecticut.
 Dary, David. 1989. The Buffalo Book: The Full Saga of the American Animal. [Swallow Press/Ohio University Press]. 198.
 Betchel, Stefan. Mr. Hornaday’s War: How a Victorian Zookeeper Waged a Lonely Crusade for Wildlife That Changed the World. 2012. Beacon Press. 3-10.
Many people have been involved in the restoration and preservation of the bison over the last two hundred years. Some are well known, such as George Catlin (painter of Native Americans), John Audubon (ornithologist and naturalist), William Hornaday (Dir. of the New York Zoological Park) and Charles Goodnight (of Lonesome Dove fame). But there are many lesser known and obscure persons who were instrumental in saving the bison from extinction such as the Duprees, a Lakota family, Ernest Baynes (American Bison Society), Rosalie Little Thunder (co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign) and Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones. Of course many are involved through organizations such as the American Prairie Reserve, the Buffalo Field Campaign, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Inter-Tribal Bison Council (representing 62 tribes). The intent is to bring many of these to light in the blog, not necessarily in any particular order or as a series. These people and organizations deserve to be honored for their wisdom and contributions in preserving what has become a symbol of our nation—the American Bison.
The life of Charles Jesse Jones, more popularly known in his time as “Buffalo” Jones, is memorialized in Zane Grey’s work, The Last of the Plainsmen. Grey, early on in his writing career (1907), befriended Jones. Grey, an avid outdoors man, had occasionally attended meetings of the Campfire Club in New York. One of the club members, with whom Grey became friends, was Alvah James, a well-known South American explorer. James invited Grey to attend a talk being given by Charles Jesse Jones. Jones was experimenting with cross-breeding buffalo with cattle, but needed capital for his venture. The lecture tour was an effort to raise the much needed funds. The particular session attended by Grey, however, was a disaster for “Buffalo” Jones. The audience thought his stories too fantastic and accused him of lying. Grey, however, was a believer, and James introduced them. Later, Grey met with Jones and out of that conversation grew an idea. Grey proposed to visit Jones in Arizona, stay awhile and gather information to write a book on Jones’ life in which Grey portrays the conversion of Jones from hunter to preservationist .
Jones was one of the infamous buffalo hunters of the 1870s and 80s. Necessity to earn a living compelled Jones into buffalo hunting, providing a livelihood for him and meat to the wagon caravans crossing the plains. Even at that time Jones saw the extinction of the bison coming, and vowed to do what he could to save the species. For 10 years he labored, pursuing and taming buffalo, earning him the epithet “Preserver of the American Bison” . Grey would go on to mention “Buffalo” Jones in a later work, The Thundering Herd.
Born on the prairies of Illinois, Tazewell County, January 31, 1844, Charles was one of 12 children. His life was a rather prodigious one, including owning a nursery, farming, hunting, and even co-founding a town (Garden City, Kansas). Early on he developed not only an interest in wild animals, but an ability to capture and tame them. He possessed a love for animated nature and the power for subduing animals .
He attended Wesleyan University for two years, but contracted typhoid fever which affected his eyesight, which adversely affected his studies. He decided to go to the “Far West” to seek his fortune. First settling in Troy, Kansas he started a nursery for hedge plants and fruit trees. But in 1867 his nursery was wiped out by locusts. However, being one not to give up, he tried again the following year, only to be once more destroyed by locusts. So, he turned his attention to farming, purchasing a small farm. But his one true passion was hunting and capturing wild animals.
In 1869 he married Martha Walton who would always object to his leaving home for his expeditions. In the fall of 1871 he left home on horseback to seek more than just game. He sought cheaper land, acquiring 160 acres in 1872 in Osborne County, Kansas, south of the Solomon River [Jones, Chapter II].
During his time as a buffalo-hunter, he killed both for the meat to supply the flow of settlers crossing the prairies, and at times, simply for the hides. But in 1872, realizing the eventual demise of the animal, he pledged to himself he would implement a buffalo rescuing project. Jones had done his share toward exterminating the buffalo, and though it was partly out of his own necessity, he still convicted himself of contributing to the bison’s demise. Even as he destroyed them, however, he grew to know them and regret their fate. As the bison faded from the range, it became clear to Jones they would soon be gone forever. Being filled with remorse, and seeing Congress would not act to implement any game law preserving the wild bison, he vowed to rescue them .
Not until the 1880’s did “Buffalo” Jones put his vow into effect. In the March of 1886 the Kansas plains experienced an unprecedented blizzard. Jones saw thousands of carcasses of domestic cattle. Yet, found no carcasses of buffalo except for those that had been hunted. Witnessing this, he observed,
As I drove over the prairies from Kansas into Texas, I saw thousands upon thousands of the carcasses of domestic cattle which had ‘drifted’ before the chilling, freezing ‘norther.’ Every one of them had died with its tail to blizzard, never having stopped except at its last breath, then fell dead in its tracks. When I reached the habitat of the buffalo, not one of their carcasses was visible, except those which had been slain by hunters. Every animal I came across was as nimble…as a fox. 
Causing him to ponder over the contrast between cattle and buffalo, the experience led him to formulate the shape his rescue project would take. Why not domesticate the buffalo which can endure a blizzard, defying storms which would destroy cattle? Further, he thought to “…infuse this hardy blood into our native cattle, and have a perfect animal, one that will defy all these elements?” .
Using his ability to capture wild animals, he planned several expeditions in the 1880s to capture buffalo calves for breeding. The term he coined for the resultant cross breed was Cattalo. He also managed to capture adult bison as well. But difficulties were encountered. Once captured and hobbled, many of the adults would die within 24 hours, as if they would rather be dead than captured. Jones, though, did manage to create a small herd of 57 bison, rescuing at least a few from the impending doom. In addition to his herd, Jones’ enabled others to start their own herds by either allowing adventurers to join him on his expeditions or leading expeditions for them, extending his preservation efforts beyond himself.
Jones did not possess the knowledge we have today of domestication, genetics, and ecology. He only knew of the doom coming upon the bison, and out of the obligation of remorse, sought to preserve them. He correctly pointed out the bison were suited to the land while cattle were not. But instead of replacing cattle he originally thought to blend the two new species into a new animal with the best qualities of both. In the beginning of his buffalo-rescuing project, then, he attempted to preserve bison for the purpose of interbreeding which proved to be a dead-end since cattalo could not breed. Additionally, unbeknown to him, his domestication efforts doom the wild bison genome. But to his credit he saved at least some bison from the slaughter of hunters who gave no mind to hunting down every last buffalo. This was no small feat.
William T. Hornaday, Superintendent of the Taxidermical Department of the Smithsonian Institution, in 1887, was commissioned by the US Government to capture alive buffalo calves for the purpose of perpetuating the species in the National Park at Washington D.C. After making a trip to Montana and failing to capture any buffalo, Hornaday had this to say in a report to Congress regarding “Buffalo” Jones:
Mr. Jones’s original herd of fifty-seven buffaloes constitutes a living testimonial of his enterprise, courage, endurance and skill in the chase. The majority of the individuals comprising the herds he himself ran down, lassoed and tied with his own hands. It was the greatest feat ever accomplished .
For that majestic animal which had thundered across the plains, and Jones’ efforts to preserve that wonderful beast, Zane Grey rightly memorialized “Buffalo” Jones, “Preserver of the American Bison,” in The Last of the Plainsmen and the bison in The Thundering Herd.
 Gruber, Frank. 1969. Zane Grey: A Biography. Walter J. Black. Roslyn, New York.
 Grey, Zane. Prefatory Note. 1936. The Last of the Plainsmen. Walter J. Black. Roslyn, New York.
Outside of the weather the economy seems to be one of the most discussed topics. Newscasters and commentators endlessly report and discuss the economic news of the day, which we carry into our thoughts and conversations. We fret about jobs. We sweat out “the markets.” We cheer positive economic news. We groan over the negative. We wonder about the security of Social Security. We shake our fists at the national debt—a number most of us cannot fathom. Sitting at our kitchen tables, we pay bills and ponder budgets. But what lies at the heart of this conversation, which seemingly touches every aspect of our lives?
Discussions of the economy center around the production and consumption of resources, the wealth of the country, and the consequent effect on our lives. Such focus renders us too distant from the core question: what is the heart of the economy? What is the central concern? The word “economy” originally came from the Greek, meaning household management. The concern was how to care for the household, which begs a subsequent question: Who constitutes the household? Though few would realize it, an unlikely member of all our households is the American Bison.
Defining who is a member of our household, and how we care for them are burning questions demanding answers. So, what is our household? Our families and friends have intrinsic value, their worth simply abiding in their persons, since we attach sentimentality to them as persons. Going beyond the limits of family and friends, however, others tend to take on a more utilitarian value. Their worth assessed more on how they fulfill our needs. If people or things are not seen as a member of the family, or in our circle of friends, or do not carry any sentimental value, we tend to see them, if we see them at all, in utilitarian terms. And if we do not perceive them as fulfilling any particular need, we tend to push them out of our consciousness, not even acknowledging they exist or have any particular value. A member of a household, though, always holds value, both intrinsic and utilitarian, since even as a member of a household, we do fulfill some need for the other members. The recent awakening to our inter-relatedness and interconnection to the environment has answered the “who.” Animate and inanimate existence upon the earth is interdependent. All of us humans, along with the flora and the fauna, the air and the water, the soil and the rocks, constitute the household. The notion of the isolated, rugged individual separated from the environment cannot be logically sustained. Even an isolated human being needs clean air and water, plant and/or animal matter, and a hospitable environment to survive.
Until the late 1800s, the economy of the Great Plains and surrounding prairies was based to a large extent upon the American Bison. The Native Americans of the region could not imagine their lives without the bison. The buffalo were everything to them. Pte (Lakota for buffalo) provided food, shelter, weapons, and even toys. The Pte Oyate (Lakota—buffalo people or nation) were, and still are, a spiritual connection to the creator, providing spiritually, materially, and culturally for the well-being of the plains’ inhabitants. The bison were key to all life. “If the buffalo live, everything else will live” . The bison were central to the household of the Plains Indians. And our recent understanding of the Great Plains ecology bears this out. We have learned what the Native Americans already knew—the bison have ecological value, being a keystone species to the Great Plains .
In today’s world, the bison are still a part of our household, both in intrinsic and utilitarian terms. Examples of the former include the scientific value of studying bison, the emotional impact of viewing them, and their significance to environmental sustainability. While for the latter, examples include national park attendance and the commercial value of bison meat production.
The ecological value, though, has been diminished in favor of promoting beef and certain grains. Cattle ranching and current farming practice monetizes the Great Plains and the Prairies, converting the land into one condition that maximizes meat and grain production . Cattle and grain do not provide all the ecological values that the bison, which evolved with the Great Plains and the prairies, can fulfill .
The current awareness of the interconnectedness of the flora and fauna within the Great Plains ecology has also proven the scientific value in studying the wild bison. These studies have provided crucial information regarding predator-prey relationships, mechanisms of disease resistance, social relations of wild bison, etc. . Insights gleaned from these studies aid our understanding of our place in the ecological scheme, and how we ought to act to protect the environment of our home, ensuring our own survival. One element for the proper maintenance of our home requires an extended range of wild bison not to just increase our understanding, but to guide our preservation efforts .
We also associate an emotional value with the bison. Millions of people come to Yellowstone each year to take in the scenery but, additionally set their hopes on seeing wild animals; especially the buffalo and the wolves. In a 2016 study of visitors to Yellowstone 83% responded that wildlife viewing was their most important reason for visiting the Park . Perhaps not everyone can verbalize the emotional impact of observing wild bison. Still, we all do sense something stirring inside of us and feel some sort of connection to nature. The herds of bison inspire, instilling awe. A feeling that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves finds a home within us. Somehow we sense that if the buffalo were not here, we would be less than who we are.
Attaching a monetary value to the emotional value of bison is difficult. So for those of us who want to think in utilitarian terms, and deal in cold, hard facts, here are the numbers worth considering. First, in regard to recreational value, 4.5 million people visited Yellowstone National Park in 2016, spending $524.3 million, supporting 8,156 jobs. The cumulative benefits of these recreational and emotional visitations amounted to $680.3 million , significantly contributing to the local economy.
An even more utilitarian consideration is the commercial value of bison meat production. One thousand pounds of buffalo will produce approximately 300 lbs. of low-fat meat, which is healthier than beef. Sale of bison meat averages $350 million per year with demand outstripping production capabilities, and providing consumers with a nutritional source comparable in protein to beef or chicken but higher in essential nutrients . In these terms bison have greater worth to the household than cattle.
The debates over climate change, renewable energy, national debt, healthcare, and so on are really about one debate: Household management. The underlying issue revolves around who we consider as valued members of the household. The ecosystem of the Great Plains and surrounding prairies occupy approximately one-third of the United States. Prudence tells us if we are truly concerned about our well-being, then that ecosystem and its members, particularly the bison as a keystone species, are crucial to our household. Whether we view the bison as having intrinsic value or utilitarian value, it cannot be denied Pte Oyate is a worthy member to be included in our household management. The bison nation is, as sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, contributing materially and spiritually to our well-being.
 Oglala Lakota Women and Buffalo. Featuring Charlotte Black Elk, Monica Terkildsen, Doris Respects Nothing and Katela Herekasapa. Miho Aida, Producer & Director. Retrieved from YouTube.com 11 Dec. 2019.
 See 26 April 2019 Post, “Dung Cakes and Feces Pie, Yum!” Bisonwitness.com.
 Fuhelendorf, S.D., B. W. Allred and R.G. Hamilton. 2010. Bison as Keystone Herbivores on the Great Plains: Can cattle serve as proxy for evolutionary grazing patterns? American Bison Society Working Paper 4:40pp.
 See 26 April 2019 Post, “Dung Cakes and Feces Pie, Yum!” and 26 May 2019 Post, “Bison Air Support.” Bisonwitness.com.
 Bailey, James A. 2013. 101. American Plains Bison: Rewilding An Icon. Sweetgrass Books. Helena, MT.
 See 21 November 2019 Post, “Not Out of the Woods, Yet—Genetic Extinction (Part 3). Bisonwitness.com