Good Elk Woman

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 [1].

                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 [2].

Good Elk Woman with husband Frederick Dupuis and son Xavier(from Native Heritage Project-

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 [3].

                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 [4]. 

                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 [5]. 

Good Elk Woman (from Native Heritage)

                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 [6].  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.

End Notes:

[1] Dary, David A. 1989. The Buffalo Book: The Full Saga of the American Animal. Ohio University Press. 231-232.

[2] Geni My Heritage Company. Elk Woman. Retrieved 19-Jul-2020.

[3] Zontek, Ken. 2007. Buffalo Nation: American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison. University of Nebraska Press. 48-49.   See also Looking Back Woman—Suzanne Dupree Blog. . Retrieved 19-Jul-2020.

[4] Zontek. 50.

[5] For an account of the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman see Walker, James R. 1991. Lakota Belief and Ritual. University of Nebraska Press. 109-112.

[6] Zontek has perhaps honored her most [Zontek. 50-51].