South Dakota Park 1914
Buffalo have had a place in Custer State Park since the first herd of 36 animals were brought to the park in 1914. Thriving in their native habitat, the herd quickly outgrew the amount of forage available on the park’s pastures and rangelands. Park managers faced the prospect of losing both the rangeland and the buffalo, but they knew that by occasionally gathering together almost all of the buffalo and culling a select few from the herd, the forage would be conserved and the buffalo and other grazing animals in the park would likely have enough to eat year after year.
Watch a film from 1938 about the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.
The roundup continued through the 1940s and 1950s, but not annually. As a result, by the late 1950s, the herd was once again too big for the amount of available forage. For that reason, and because new regulations required herd managers to test the buffalo for brucellosis and other diseases, the roundup was made an annual event beginning in 1965. It’s now held every September.
The goals of the roundup have remained essentially the same over the years but in the modern era – since 1965 – the buffalo are sold at auction. The modern roundup has also become a major Black Hills tourist attraction, annually drawing ten thousand people or more.
Park staff and wildlife management professionals manage and lead the roundup but volunteer riders still play an important role in the event, just as they did in the 1930s. This video from 1991 shows volunteer and guest riders – including then-governor George S. Mickelson.