Niobrara Reserve

1906 The National Bison Society donated 6 bison to the Fort Niobrara Game Preserve.

The order prohibiting hunting or trapping of game on the Fort Niobrara Military Reservation, Nebraska, 1908.

American Bison Society- (In Nebraska, the effort to secure the Gilbert Game Park in Saline County, for a State game preserve, also failed, but the introduction of the bill and the endeavor to secure its passage show that the people are keenly alive to game conservation, and the importance of establishing refuges.)

On January 11, 1912, the Niobrara Bird Reservation was created by Executive Order. This reservation comprises some 10,000 or 12,000 acres of land on the Niobrara River, near Valentine, including some grazing land, and only needs a fence to make it an ideal reservation for buffalo and other big game of the Great Plains.

The committee calls attention to the importance of having some small herds of buffalo established under municipal auspices in certain sections of the country where it is impracticable at present to locate State herds. It is believed that this can be accomplished through local enterprise with little or no cost to the Society beyond the effort necessary to arouse chambers of commerce or other local organizations to undertake the necessary action. The present distribution of buffalo shows that a block of eleven States in the Southeast, comprising all those south of the Potomac and the Ohio, and east of the Mississippi rivers, including Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and also Louisiana, are without a single live buffalo in either city or private park. There is no place in these eleven States, containing more than 20,000,000 people, where their citizens have an opportunity of seeing a living specimen of the American buffalo, except on the occasional visits of a circus. There is no place where the school children of about 25 per cent of the total population of the United States can see one of the most characteristic and important of the big game animals of America. The same is true of the Northwest, in Minnesota and North Dakota, and of the far West, in Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. Such conditions should not long continue. Some provision should be made for establishing at least a few buffalo near important centers of population, for example, in the parks of such cities as Atlanta, Louisville, New Orleans, Memphis, Minneapolis and Portland, where large numbers of people could have an opportunity of becoming familiar with the grandest of American mammals.


THE presentation by Mr. J.W. Gilbert of Friend, Neb., of his Small herd of buffalo to the Federal Government, and their removal last winter to this reservation, is a matter of interest to the members of the American Bison Society, in that these animals be come the nucleus herd for what is destined to be one of the best bison ranges in the west. The existence and progress of this herd has been recorded with regularity in the Annual Reports. Mention has also been made of efforts to have the State of Nebraska take over the animals and establish a State herd, but this effort failed. As Mr. Gilbert has greatly desired to place the care of them in appreciative hands, a friend of his, Mr. Geo. L. Carter of Lincoln, made the suggestion that he present the herd to the Government. This overture was made to the United States Department of Agriculture,  and last year I was sent to Mr. Gilbert’s place to look into the matter and report. It was a condition of the proposed gift that the animals would not be removed from the State of Nebraska. We were also expected to transfer them before the winter season would bring added care and attention to Mr. Gilbert. Correspondence was had with the officials of the Federal Department, and the gift accepted.

While the existence and ownership of this herd has been noted with regularity in your Reports, it is to be regretted that members of your Society have not had the opportunity to personally meet Mr. Gilbert and become acquainted with him. He is one of those grand good men it becomes a pleasure to know, and the buffalo have had no better friend. A pioneer to Nebraska in 1867, he settled on Turkey Creek, a location thirty eight miles southwest of Lincoln, and his selections of land have proven profitable to him in his years of retirement. His “game pasture” has comprised eighty acres along the course of this creek, and a grove of large walnut trees have afforded ample shade. The buffalo have increased slowly: and on account of the presence of a herd of elk and deer in the same pasture it has been necessary for him to occasionally dispose of a few animals in order to keep the herd down to the proper size for the pasture.

Our Government had but one available location in Nebraska to which these animals could be taken, and this was the Niobrara Reservation, a part of the old military reserve of the same name, which was abandoned about six years ago. It is in Cherry County about half way up the State, east and west, and within six miles of the South Dakota line. Valentine is the nearest town, four miles distant from Headquarters.

The original military reserve comprised 37,000 acres, and its possibilities as a bison range would have enthused your most dormant member. It was decreed that such portions which could be classed as “agricultural” should be opened to settlement, and our department secured but a minor portion. Executive orders setting aside certain areas as the “Niobrara Reservation for the Protection of Native Birds” were made under dates of January 11 and November 14, 1912, and the approximate area of the completed reserve is now 14,000 acres. It was fortunate that the bird protective sentiment was sufficiently strong to bring to the department the control of a tract of land of this character. For the joke is, that upon inspection of our “Bird Reservation” we found a property of such merit as to justify any extensive plan and outlay for the maintenance of a herd of buffalo, with the addition of elk, deer and antelope if desired.Niobrara Bison Range

The Niobrara River runs east and west across the tract, about one-third of the area lying north of the stream. This northern portion includes many sheltering bluffs, gulches, and warm winter slopes. Three small streams originating in perpetual springs and flowing down canyons to the Niobrara afford ample water. There is considerable timber with oak and ash thickets, and the whole is strongly sodded on a deep, rich soil.

Niobrara Reserve is not so far east as to lack the charm found in the western air and climate, a charm that should be accessary to a bison range. At the same time the rainfall is more than the average for a western locality, and an extra heavy growth of grass results. We have the good old “buffalo grass” in abundance, and our small herd have taken to it’ as to a long lost friend.

South of the river the land is sandy, and although not adapted to farming, the protecting sod is heavy and the grass grows to hay-like abundance. This portion might not be adapted for buffalo in large numbers; but, as it would have to be fenced separately, it will provide
an exclusive antelope pasture of much merit.

But the buffalo need no better retreat than in the territory north of the river, where they could roam about the numerous canyons and find ample natural shelter from the most severe storms. When appropriation through Congress is secured to enable the officials to fence this reserve property, the Government will then have a fourth bison range in a typical location, of equal merit and value to the others. While the
Montana Range is all that can be desired, it is so remote that there are not many persons in the east who will be able to visit it. Niobrara will be more readily accessible; and the support of your members for any legislation pending to fence this reserve will no doubt be hearty.

The presentation of “the Gilbert herd,” however, came upon us before we had such an appropriation to fence. The citizens of Valentine helped us out in this emergency, for, rather than lose the herd to their vicinity, a fund of $470 was subscribed. The Chicago and Northwestern Railway Co. donated $100, and through the efforts of Dr. T. S. Palmer of the Biological Survey, $1,500 was pledged by the National Association of Audubon Societies, making a total fund of $2,070 for immediate use in constructing a fence about a small area, so that the herd could be moved for the relief of Mr. Gilbert. Therefore the pasture as it now stands has an area of about two hundred acres, and it has been planned with a view to its use as a permanent exhibition pasture for a selected number of game animals. The large pasture will join on the east side,
and the buffalo or other game animals can be shifted from one enclosure to the other.

Niobrara Bison CrateIt was not difficult work transferring the buffalo from the Gilbert farm near Friend to Valentine and the reservation. What complicated the task was the fact that we had to handle three classes of animals of diverse natures and requiring different methods of capture and treatment. The gift comprised seventeen elk, several deer and the six buffalo. It became necessary to divide the shipment and make two trips. A fourteen
mile haul by wagon to the railroad was necessary at Friend, with a four-mile haul at this end. The buffalo were in the crates about 44 hours, and I turned them into the pasture on January 21 without loss or accident.

The bluffs across the river and the rolling table lands beyond make a perfect background for our little buffalo group of 5 cows and heifers, one young bull and one little calf a month old. I know that the animals are happy in their new home. They have shed the restraint of an eighty acre pasture from their sides together with last winter ’s coat of long hair, and almost daily enjoy the excitement of a genuine stampede. It
is to be regretted that we do not have a hundred or more to dot and typify the landscape.
Niobrara Reservation,
May 25, 1913.


1913: Six bison introduced to Niobrara reserve, Nebraska

Lead Daily Call
Lead, South Dakota, Dec 12, 1914 

Extracts From the Annual Report of the Biology Survey to Agriculture Department.

Niobrara Game Reservation. Conditions on the Niobrara Reservation Nebraska have been exceptionally favorable, and all the animals are in good condition. The reservation continues to be an attraction to citizens of the State, as is evidenced by a large number of visitors. The 37 animals now on the reservation include 10 buffalo, 23 elk, and 4 deer. Since their arrival there has been an increase of 2 buffalo, 7 elk and 1 deer. The only loss so far reported was that of a young elk, which died during the winter. The additional deer was purchased from the parks department of Council Bluffs Iowa.



Niobrara Bison Range Cow 1914
Photo by F.M. Dille


Valentine., Nebraska,
April 15, 1915.
To the American Bison Society:

Members of the Society will recall that a small herd of bison owned by Mr. J. W. Gilbert of Friend, Nebraska, were presented to the Government two years ago and placed upon a Reserve, near the town of Valentine, in Nebraska. The original herd was six in number; there has been an increase of three, and two bulls were brought down from the Yellowstone Park in the summer of 1913. This makes a total of eleven head.

The increase of this herd must necessarily be slow, and until additions can be made to both the number of animals and the size of the pasture in which they are kept, reports of much interest to the Society cannot be submitted.

What the bison at Niobrara lack in numbers they make up in vigor, and it is no exaggeration to state that, as representatives of the type, they are not excelled by any. This spring, they were in perfect condition and flesh, and the appearance of their winter coat was well worth a visit to the Reserve to see. The print submitted gives an idea of the prominence of the black stripe, running from head, over to back with the contrasting shades of coloration on balance of animal. Looking at these buffalo, it was easy to covet their hides, and to realize the value and beauty of a well prepared buffalo robe.

The condition of this small herd and the ease with which they have adapted themselves to their new surroundings are indications of the value of this Reserve. It is but a matter of time before it will take its proper place as one of the best bison ranges under Federal control.
Inspector Biological Survey.

Niobrara Bison Herd 1915
Photo by F.M. Dille




U.S. Bison Population as of January 1st 1916MalesFemalesYoungGrand Total 
Valentine—Niobrara Reservation55111 



The Montana Standard
Butte, Montana Jan 6, 1919

 Niobrara reservation, Neb. 14 head


The Powder River Country Examiner
Broadus, Montana Feb 11, 1921

28 head at Niobrara, Neb.


June 29, 1922- 3 calves born


In 1958 it was reported that four bulls were sent to Wichita Mountains from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska.