Wild Buffalo Wild Bison

The first public park, Yellowstone, was established by an act of March 1, 1872 (17 Stat. 32).

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, before the surrounding area became the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Boundary changes, made twice, added small areas to the original rectangle and altered the east boundary in 1929 to conform for most of its length to the drainage divide formed by the Absaroka Mountains. Most of the land adjacent to the boundary is administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

Nathaniel Pitt Langford : First superintendent of the Yellowstone Park.  Langford was appointed as the first superintendent of the park. He soon got the nickname National Park Langford because of his initials N.P. There was no money available to offer him a salary for this new position, so he had to make his living elsewhere. This left Langford with little time to run the park, and he entered it only twice during his five years as superintendent.(1872-1877)

Philetus Walter Norris: Second superintendent. 1877, Norris became the second superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, a position he held until 1882. It was only in June 1878, however, that Congress finally approved a salary of $10,000 a year for the park’s superintendent, as well as minimal funds “to protect, preserve, and improve the Park.” Norris hired Harry Yount to control poaching and vandalism in the park, leading Yount to be considered the first National Park ranger.



The Pittsburgh Commercial
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Mar 12 1872

The Great National Park and Sanitarium

Until within the last two years the charm of mystery has surrounded the Yellowstone river. Like the Nile, it’s sources were long unknown, and the nomadic tribes of Indians upon its borders were left in undisputed possession of its secrets until the surveys for the railroad through Dakota and Montana, followed by scientific exploration, brought to light the features of this peculiar region. The illustrated reports of the “Wonders of the Yellowstone” in the magazines has attracted great attention recently. And the natural spectacles of geysers of boiling water, hundreds in number, dotting a beautiful as well as picturesque landscape far grander than the Springs of Iceland, has engaged the attention of the national government. As a consequence an area forty by forty-five miles has been set apart at the sources of the Yellowstone in Montana for a grand national park and sanitarium. Next as a result of the explorations we hear that the Valley of the River, just below the springs, where turns east and runs for several hundred miles parallel to the Missouri River, though considerably to the South of it, will likely be the route of the Northern Pacific Railroad. This Valley is described as a fertile belt with bottoms from four to ten miles wide, now covered with the most luxuriant growth of “bunch grass,” where thousands of buffalo, deer and antelope range, and where the Crow and Sioux Indians keep thousands of horses the year round on the natural pasture. The low hills insight are frequently found covered with a fine growth of timber, though occasionally the grazing ranges break through and extend for miles over the rolling country.

Evidences of mineral coal have been seen at various points, and doubtless the miner will find the same evidences of gold, silver, copper and iron, that have marked the prospects in all the other valleys of Montana. Heretofore the hostility of the powerful Indian tribes has prevented the development of the resources of this country. The Indians are stronger in number there than elsewhere in an equal area, because, doubtless, of the natural advantages the place affords for the means of supplying a comfortable existence without any labor. The immense herds of buffalo at all times furnish a cheap market to draw upon, and the Sioux will be loth to part with any of their territory. But there are thousands of settlers arriving in the country -nearly a thousand a day in fact – and the east is becoming so much crowded but it is necessary that some new field should be opened for the surplus. The Sioux tribes, with a population of not over twenty-five thousand, must not hope much longer to monopolize so great a territory as Eastern Montana in Dakota – a region as large as all the Middle and New England States combined.

While in Montana last summer the writer was surprised to find how fertile the soil was in the extent it had been developed by a small number of miners and agriculturalist, but the reports we heard from many who accompanied the parties along the Yellowstone United in describing the resources of its Valley for grazing and agricultural purposes as superior to those already settled near Helena and the other mining towns. The Northern Pacific Railroad will doubtless land and impetus to settlement in this virgin territory that will mark a wonderful page in the history of our national progress.



Juniata Sentinel and Republican
Mifflintown, Pennsylvania Dec 11 1878

For a distance of some 30 or 40 miles from the crooked, elevated canon pass near the foot of the second canon of the Yellowstone to its gate of the mountains the lovely trail pass to Fort Ellis, the main Yellowstone and the west fork of the Gallatin run northerly, nearly parallel, and but a few miles apart. But between them towers into the snow-capped peaks 9,000 and 10,000 feet high, one of the blackest, roughest, most repellent and most impassable basaltic mountain ranges upon the continent. While its western side towns from the lovely Gallatin valley of the Bozeman and Fort Ellis like battlements amid the clouds, it’s eastern descends basaltic terraces to the enchanting Bottler Park along the Yellowstone. These terraces, With countless recent earthquake fissure rents, usually somewhat parallel with the main range and each other, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet deep, and no wider, with towering, rugged, often impassable walls of black, red, violets, and other sombre hued pudding stone, basalt, and lava, mingled with a scattering the dwarf pine and cedar, fringed the grassy slopes. These again, cross-furrowed by the narrow, tortuous, yawning canon , outlets of the huge hot springs, your crystal lakes and grassy cedar-fringed cliff, sheltered parks high amid eternal snows, unite to form a region of matchless, enchanting beauty and repellent horror. That countless bleaching horns and bones, and if you domesticated specimens roaming peacefully with our domestic cattle, alone attest the recent occupancy of the valley by the curly bison or mountain buffalo. But the sharp-eyed, fleet-footed antelope in the black tail along the terraced grassy slopes; the fierce wolverine and mountain lion in the dense thickets, ferocious grizzly in the rugged canon passes, speckled trout and tufted waterfowl of the lovely lakes, the stately antlered elk stocking proudly through cedar groves and secluded grassy glens, and the majestic big horn grazing leisurely from, or dashing fearlessly along the rocky battlements high amid snow and cloud, still seem as of yore, game in scenery combined, forming not for the timid pilgrim, but for the bold, experienced, cliff climbing mountaineer an earthly hunters paradise in the fabled Eden of the departed Indian warrior beyond the distant mountains. This has ever been the chosen hunting ground of Frederick Bottler, the “mighty hunter of the mountains,” (immortalized by professor Haydens scene of him amid his five huge antlered elk laying as they fell before his deathly rifle and the famous photograph of “The Successful Hunter,” ) and here for the past eight years we have together closed are mountain sport for the season and with uniform success. We this year, on the morning of October 9, with our saddle and pack horses past where the Scottish Earl Dun Raven killed his largest big horn and Texas Jack from a branch treetop thankfully saw his wounded grizzly demolish his Winchester instead of himself, to one of our chosen haunts seldom visited by white men, and never by Indians, deep and worn amid surrounding crags and snow. At 2 o’clock P.M. we picketed our horses (still saddled for use) in a small grassy glade and recommenced out hunt, which a Parson Murray, of Adirondack fame, would have enjoyed a month and chronicled a lifetime, both with us, soon finished.

At this ruting season of the year the huge antlered elk, when heated in the chase, cool themselves, buffalo like, in wallow beds, only more wet and muddy. While guided by the loud, peculiar, wooing elf whistle, we were cautiously approaching on of these haunts in a thicket of Pinon pines, Frederick, who was in advance, discovered an approaching grizzly, and at a distance of fifty yards gave him a mortal shot through the neck and breast, but as he charged I instantly stopped him with a bullet crashing through the brain. Three other grizzly, until then unseen, reared snorting in the thicket, but while withholding our fire for deadly aim in their expected charge, as usual when attacked, they strangely slid from sight in retreat. In trailing them, I when some distance from Frederick, brought down a very large and fine cow elf, with one bullet through the breast, two through the lungs,  and with the fourth broke her neck, a;; sent as fast as possible from a Winchester rifle. Before reaching my game, Frederick, who had meantime killed an antelope and a sheep, and becoming alarmed at my rapid firing, came up breathless to join in an expected bear fight, and only throating our game we hastened over a low ridge where Frederick had seen a herd of elk.

Scores if not hundreds of them, were laying, grazing, or gamboling, singly or in groups, for down the opposite terrace, fully a thousand feet below us, and a half mile away; a charming scene for a painter, but practically too far away for us, and without molesting them we steered for a band heard whistling nearer camp.  Having an abundance of meat, we now went for horns, and cautiously approaching, with but one ring of both rifles, brought down the largest horned bull within range, and then dashed , rifle in hand, into the herd for the loftiest antlers near the other side. There seemed about 100 of them, mainly 3 or 1 year old bulls, and as these animals do not visit the Park, probably few in any of them had ever seen a human being, for at the report of our rifles, the most of them looked hastily to the surrounding cliffs, searching for the echoes: other ran off, while some of the group around the one we had shot gazed in silent wonder at his reeling fall, spouting gore, and dying struggles. Others snorted in affright, and two, perhaps rivals for some favorite cow, charged boldly in for a free fight with a fallen foe and each other, too much occupied with their sport to notice us, until somewhat diverging from Frederick I ran up to certainly less than 50 feet when they observed me, and one of them ran off. The other, a noble 4 year old, standing nearly astride neck, and lofty antlers, seemed to momentarily expand in fierceness, to magnificent proportions, and preparations for a fearful charge, and when he with fairly bristling hair gave the fearful battle snort, his acrid hot hissing saliva nearly reached me. I have often and again heard their wooing, whistle – snorting battle challenge, and clashing horns, but never before when I was so near – most unmistakably the party challenge – utterly exposed, with no possibility of retreat, and only a bare one of a fortunate shot to drop him before transfixed by a score of antler points. During over 40 years of frontier experience, I have thankfully sought the lee side of a friendly bluff, boulder, or breakwork from a shower of hailstones or bullets, a hidden coula from a wounded bull, or a dashing herd of buffalo, a torked tree from a wounded black tailed buck, and a low branched one, easy to cliimb, from a powder burned grizzly, but never before realized how terribly formidable the usually timid, but fleet, proud, lofty antlered Rocky Mountains elk could become when scenting blood, thoroughly aroused, and proudly facing the unknown biped man – belted, armed and plumed, stocking erect into his battle rain. For a moment I would have rather faced a family of snorting grizzlies, but unwisely, for, with my answering shout of mingled challenge and affright, the God – stamped fear of his degenerate image – upon nearly all animals – reached him, but all too late, for high in his first leap of retreat a rifle rang out, and his proud form and lofty antlers crashed headlong in death beside his fellow. As Fred had also brought down another, we desisted, not for want of game, but inclination for wanton slaughter. With horse and lasso we, without skinning, soon dragged our game just passed our spare horses in a little sheltered glade, to our blazing campfire beneath the sheltering branches of an ancient cedar.


The Marion Commonwealth
Marion Alabama Nov 23, 1882 
English Depredations in the Yellowstone Park.

The magnificent Yellowstone Park is in danger of being rapidly destroyed mid its natural beauties defaced by wantonness and vandalism unless the Government steps in to protect it. It is said that the first thing the English-man does after registering at the Brevoort house is to start for the Yellowstone Park and needlessly shoot down scores of its large game deer, buffalo, bears, antelope, and mountain sheep. Nor are foreigners always the chief sinners in this respect. Many of the most famous Yellowstone geysers have already been ruined by people who amuse themselves by hurling immense trunks of pine trees into them in order to see the water force them high in the air. In many cases, those logs have stuck in the water apertures and have completely stopped the spouting. In Wyoming, the people are taking steps to put a stop to such vandalism and the wholesale slaughter of buffaloes and other game by English tourists.



The Salt Lake Herald
Salt Lake City, Utah 27 Dec 1882
Yellowstone Park Lease

Washington 25 The gentleman, representing Rufus Hatch, and who propose to lease Yellowstone Park is in Hatch’s interest. The lease would have been signed by the secretary of the interior if the Vest resolution had been delayed three hours. The incorporators include prominent men in different parts of the country among them Rufus Hatch, Jno B Lyon of Chicago, Ashtel Green of New York, Roscoe Conkling end Richard Merrick. The objection to the lease comes largely from General Sheridan whose troopers in that region did more damage last summer man had ever been done before. Through negligence of their campfire, they burned over 20,000 acres of timber. The soldiers besides cut down trees and used them for battering rams to break off pieces of geyser crystals. A proposition will soon be made to Congress to pass a bill authorizing the secretary of the interior to execute the proposed lease and make of Yellowstone Park a reservation similar to the Hot Springs reservation in Arkansas which shall be governed by a commission. It has not been ascertained that Vest has withdrawn his opposition. The secretary of the interior has sent to Congress an answer to the resolution setting forth the proposed lease.

Chicago, 26. There is little or nothing in that telegram from Washington about me and the Yellowstone Park said, John B Lyon, yesterday. Mr Hatch came through the other day and told me a company was to be formed to lease and improve the place. He also asked me to become a stockholder and told me how much money I would have to put in. I told him in an indefinite way that it was all right and I would go in but I really know nothing at all about the enterprise. I suppose at least $1,000,000 will be spent on it, though I do not know whether they will or not. As to the prospects for securing a lease, I know nothing. I would be glad to give you some information on this subject if I had any, but I have not.


1883-4 (Fighting on going with Gov of Mt, Rufus Hatch, Sec. Cole, Sen. Logan and Vest, Gen. Sheridan and Sec. of the Int.)

Helena Weekly Herald
Helena, Montana Feb 7, 1884
Yellowstone Park.

Washington, February 1.—The Senate Committee on Territories have finished work upon the Yellowstone Park bill and reported with the amendments. The bill, as amended, enlarges the park thirty miles on the east side and ten miles on the south and cuts off two miles on the north and west sides. The bill contains stringent prohibitory provisions relative to killing game or taking fish within the park. The secretary of the Interior is authorized to lease small portions of ground in the park not exceeding ten acres for each tract on which may be erected hotels,  for a period not exceeding ten years, but such leases shall not include any of the geysers or other objects of curiosity or interest, or exclude the public from free and convenient approach thereto, or include any ground within one-quarter of a mile of any geysers or the Yellowstone Falls, nor shall there be leased more than one tract not exceeding ten acres to any one person, association or corporation.



The Observer
London, Greater London, England  Oct 10, 1886


Their numbers are estimated, every little herd is known, and it is not believed that there are 500 in existence. Only recently an agent of the National Museum, after searching for several weeks, obtained only three specimens. The end must therefore be near. The Canadian Government is protecting buffaloes, so far as the preservation of a few in an enclosure can accomplish this, and in the Yellowstone National Park the little herd there is forbidden to be molested. Yet outside the limits of this reservation, the slaughterers lie in wait and knowing the price that a hide or a stuffed head commands, use every effort to drive the Government animals outside the sanctuary which has been decreed them. (read more)


The Palmyra Spectator
Palmyra, Missouri Dec 3 1886

Wholesale Butchery


Except a few scattered bands of antelope on the plains north of the Missouri river, and the small number of black and white tail deer in the timber along the river bottoms, what little of the large game we have left in the northwest is congregated in the Yellowstone Park. Of course, there are more or less elk, mountain sheep, and deer in the mountains (Bog Horn and Rocky ranges), but they are a mere handful of what the country could boast of ten years ago. The laws of the national park forbid hunting of game within its confines, and it does indeed appear as if our big-game were cognizant of the fact, for nearly all the remaining species seen to have sought refuge there.—[Fort Keogh Cor. Cleveland Leader. (read more)



To The


I have every reason to believe that the protection of the wild animals in the Park has been perfect. I have no reason to believe that a single animal has been destroyed. The protection of the past few years has resulted in a great increase in all of the game animals. First in importance, on account of its almost extinction, comes the buffalo. As soon as the fires of the Park would allow me to leave the traveled routes I started out in an attempt to make something of an enumeration but was not on their range two days before I became convinced that it was impossible. The animal, driven for safety, as he has been, to the mountain forests, seems to have entirely changed in his habits. In the summer season, they are broken up into small bands and scattered over a wide area of timber covered mountains. This I believe to be the result of the accidents of their lives. Probably when they first took to the forest they lost sight of each other, and in years adopted the habit of breaking up into families. In the winter the deep snows drive them to the open country for food. They are then found in large herds. This habit of dispersion and assembly seems to be very like the antelope.

As reported last year the herds of buffalo and elk do not seem to have enough calves. I am more than ever convinced that the bear and puma do a great deal of mischief and ought to be reduced in numbers. While they may be something of a curiosity to visitors to the Park, I hardly think them an agreeable surprise. Very few who come here “ have lost any bear.”

Visitors are sometimes a little incredulous as to the great number of large game animals in the Park and complain that they have seen nothing.

It is the habit of all animals which shed their antlers to seek the high points during the fly season, and while hundreds of elk and deer may be seen between the canon and the lake in the first week of June, there

are more at the end of the month. Very little expense would attend the in closing of a band of elk at some point in Swan Lake Basin and of buffalo in Hayden Valley. I am sure they can be caught without any great trouble and inclosed so that all may at least see a sample.

The Park was visited last summer by Governor Francis E. Warren, of Wyoming, who manifested so lively an interest in the preservation of the game that after his departure I ventured to address him the following letter:


CAMP SHERIDAN, Wyo., November 25, 1889.

DEAR SIR: We have, as you know, what is probably the last of the buffalo or bison left in the country. While in the Park they are comparatively safe from destruction, but, unfortunately, at certain seasons of the year, they sometimes drift down into Wyoming and become prey to the taxidermist hunter, who kills for the head. The legislature of Montana at its last session enacted a law which will probably protect those which drift into Montana, as some occasionally do.

If you think well of it will you be good enough to ask your legislature for a similar bill? I believe the penalty should, however, be not less than $500 or six months imprisonment, and when a fine can be collected one-half should go to the agent of the territory or the informer.

Unless everything possible is done this last remnant of our greatest American game will certainly be obliterated.

I have addressed a letter upon this subject to the secretary of Idaho. If both Territories will take action the Park will be as well protected by laws of the States and Territories surrounding it as by the authorities stationed within.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

F.A. Boutelle,

Captain First Cavalry, Acting Superintendent.



Governor Warren took prompt action on my recommendation and the legislature of Wyoming at its last session enacted a law which, if enforced, as I believe it will be, will protect all buffalo straying off the reservation in that direction.

A similar communication was addressed to the secretary of Idaho and a reply was received saying that the governor would lay the matter before the legislature, but I have not learned that any action was taken.

Men who captured poacher Howell, posed with eight of the confiscated bison heads. In uniform are Dr. Charles M Gandy, Lt John T Nance, Capt George Lawson Scott and Lt Forsythe Hand written on the image “Poachers Waiting to be Shot”
1894-Men who captured poacher Howell, posed with eight of the confiscated bison heads. In uniform are Dr. Charles M Gandy, Lt John T Nance, Capt George Lawson Scott and Lt Forsythe Hand written on the image “Poachers Waiting to be Shot” 

YNP 1894

Bison wintering in Hayden Valley prior to 1894.

Photo probably by John Folsom, early Canyon winter-keeper.


In 1898 the Annual Yellowstone Report by acting superintendent: James B. Erwin

“Buffalo- There are probably 50 of these animals yet in the park. They are not increasing, due to,  I believe to too much inbreeding. This is about the only wild herd in the United States, and steps should be taken to prevent the extermination of this herd from the evils of inbreeding by the purchase of a few good bulls. Full and ample protection is given these animals, and I believe that with new stock introduced into the herd, an increase would follow. “


Crimes Against Nature – Mode of Poaching and Production (extract)

While Howell’s arrest rid Yellowstone of “a notorious poacher” and helped establish a stricter enforcement policy, it did not, as Captain Anderson had initially hoped, signal the end of poaching in the preserve. Game continued to be killed in the park, not only by solitary poachers like Howell but also by organized groups of lawbreakers. The most daring and dangerous of these bands was the “merciless and persistent lot of head and skin hunters” that headquartered itself in Henry’s Lake, a small Idaho village of ninety-eight people located not far from the park’s western boundary. As one army officer put it, “[At Henry’s Lake there] lives a gang of hardy mountain pirates who make a scanty living by hunting, trapping, and fishing. … Natural poachers, they are banded together and work in concert, completely dominating the sparsely settled section, adjoining the Park, in which they live. Such skilled robbers are they and so minute their knowledge of the country that it is almost impossible to convict them.” Attempting to build on the momentum Howell’s arrest provided, Anderson soon initiated a renewed campaign against “the worst and most daring and desperate gang of poachers who ever defied the park laws and the vigilance of the authorities.”

One frequent target of the Henry’s Lake poachers was elk. After killing an elk in the park, the poachers would butcher the animal, taking only the best cut of meat (the “saddle”) back to the village with them. Once at Henry’s Lake, the poachers would box the meat or cover it in burlap and then ship it via stagecoach to nearby mining camps such as Virginia City disguised as “beef or domesticated elk.” (The McMinns’ neighbor, Dick Rock, owned a number of domesticated elk, providing a convenient cover for the steady shipments of elk meat from the village.) Another of the poachers’ favorite targets was buffalo. The risks involved in killing a buffalo in the park were such that poachers seldom took the time to butcher the animals for their meat but would smuggle the heads and hides out, as these could be sold for several hundred dollars on the trophy market. In addition, during the spring some of the residents of Henry’s Lake would try to capture buffalo calves, which they would then corral in remote locales outside the park. Once the buffalo were full grown, the poachers would arrange for the sale of the animals’ heads to one of the not overly scrupulous taxidermists with whom they did business.

The near by residents would slip letters or notes to the park authorities, letting them know what was going on. They pleaded their names be kept secret even after any arrest, for fear of their live, homes, stock, etc., being burned down or ran off. 

“What is the game warden doing?” queried one such letter.

“Is he going to let a few men kill all the elk in the Park[?] they come across the line to fead and they are killing them bye the four horse load and shiping them.”

Dick Rock of Henry’s Lake Idaho has in his possession three young Buffalo calves supposed to have been caught in the Park,” read another note, signed “A citizen.”

Stated another missive, “If you make an investigation and search about the hunters and fisherman’s cabbins about Henry Lake you will find where some of your Bison has gone to from the Y. N. Park. Believe me a true Citizen.”[


Forest & Stream Articles about Poacher Ed Howell of Yellowstone :

A great short article on the detailed accounts of poaching by Rick Lamplugh “The Poaching and Saving of Yellowstone Wildlife



Book: Interagency Bison Management Plan for State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park…, Volume 1 pg 282

In 1901, 25 bison were counted in the native Yellowstone herd. Due to subsequent protection from poaching, the number of wild bison steadily increased. At the close of the 1901 session, congress appropriated $15,000 dollars to establish a new herd of bison in Yellowstone National Park. In 1902, 18 cows were received from the Allard herd in Montana and 3 bulls from the Goodnight herd in Texas. These new bison were first held in enclosures at Mammoth and then moved to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in 1907. For a short period the herd was fenced in and managed like domestic stock. Beginning in 1910 the captive herd was allowed to graze on the open range in summer, while during winter they were fed hay produced near the Buffalo Ranch (Skinner and Alcorn 1942-1951).

During this time, the wild native herd primarily used the Mirror Plateau and upper Lamar River area in summer and primarily wintered in the Pelican Valley. As early as 1903, calves from the native herd were introduced into the captive herd. (Skinner and Alcorn 1942-1951,). Between 1915 and 1920, intermingling between the introduced and wild herds increased, and after the early 1920s, little or no effort was made to keep the two populations separate.


Department of Interior –Annual Report
Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1902

57th Congress 2d Session Document No. 5

Pg 461  BUFFALO.

Near the close of the last session of Congress I was called upon to submit an estimate of funds required to build a suitable inclosure and to purchase from 30 to 60 buffalo, with a view to starting a new herd of these animals in the park. The estimate submitted for this purpose amounted to $30,000. The appropriation which was made by Congress amounted to $15,000.

Mr. C. J. Jones (better known as ” Buffalo Jones”) arrived here on July 16, 1902, and in compliance with instructions from the honorable Secretary of the Interior reported to me for duty in the park as game warden. Shortly after his arrival here we proceeded on a trip through the park with a view to determining the best place on which to construct a corral or inclosure for the buffalo, and after carefully examining and considering all of the available places in the park we finally agreed upon the place which was originally suggested by myself to the honorable Secretary of the Interior as the most suitable point on which to locate the corral or inclosure.

It is situated about 1 mile from the Mammoth Hot Springs, and will afford considerable shelter and feed for the buffalo in the way of timber and grass during the winter. A fine stream of clear, cold water runs through it, and it is easy of access from this point at all times during the summer and winter. As soon as the location of the corral had been determined upon, steps were at once taken to proceed with the construction of the necessary wire fence. Proposals for the construction of the fence were solicited, but all bids received were so high that it was determined to purchase the material and set up the fence by day labor. Pending the construction of the fence, correspondence was had with all of the owners of pure-bred buffalo in the United States with a view to ascertaining at what price per head they could be secured and delivered in sound condition in the corral to be constructed.

The necessary Page woven-wire fencing was purchased, and the fence is now completed and ready to receive any buffalo that may be purchased. A contract has been entered into for the delivery in the corral of 15 cows from the Allard herd, located on the Flathead Agency in Montana, and three bulls from the Goodnight herd in Texas.

In addition to the large corral that has been constructed near the Mammoth Hot Springs, a small corral has been constructed on Pelican Creek, with a view to capturing therein the few remaining buffalo in

the park. During the past winter we succeeded in locating 22 of the, animals on the head of Pelican Creek, and there are probably a few more that we were unable to find. This herd is exceedingly wild, and

will probably never increase in size, and may possibly die out completely. It is thought that we can catch up some of the young animals of this herd during the ensuing winter, and bring them in to this point

and turn them out in the inclosure with the other buffalo that are to be purchased.

It is my opinion that if we succeed in raising a new herd of buffalo under fence they will become very tame, and when the herd is sufficiently increased in numbers we can gradually turn them loose in the

park and they will become so accustomed to seeing people about them that when turned loose they will not be frightened out of the country or driven into the high mountains by the appearance of the summer tourist.

It is considered desirable to introduce new blood in the new herd to be started in the park, and it is with this view that part of this herd purchased from the animals located on the Flathead Agency and part from the Goodnight herd in Texas.

This mixture of blood will further be increased by the capture of a few animals from the wild herd that we now have in the park. It is our intention to feed and handle the new herd of buffalo in the same manner that domestic cattle are handled in this country, and before turning them loose to brand them ” U. S.” in such a way that they can always be identified as United States property.

Since writing the above 14 buffalo cows have been received in fine condition and safely located in the inclosure built to receive them. Before turning them loose they were branded ” U. S.” on the horn, in small letters, and on the left hip in large letters, such as are used in branding Government horses.

These cows came from the Allard herd and were delivered under contract with Mr. Howard Eaton, of Medora, N. Dak.

Mr. C. J. Jones has gone to Texas for the purpose of selecting three buffalo bulls from the Goodnight herd, and they will probably be delivered in the park sometime before the end of October

New Buffalo Herd

The New Buffalo Herd.  1904

The increase in this herd during the past season has been very encouraging. And now consist of 39 animals and they are all in fine condition. The following table shows the yearly increase in the herd since its establishment, and also gives the number of males and females. The bull which is noted as having died, is the one which was turned out with the wild heard on Pelican Creek. He wandered away from the herd and died on the lake near the Thumb station. The cow which died broke her leg by stepping into a badger hole while running in the pasture. Every effort was made to save her, but it was impossible to do so.

1904 YNP Census



Expenditures, Buffalo Corrals, Chutes, Fencing of Pastures, etc., 1907-13 (parts 1-2)

In the book “Buffalo Nation” by Valerius Geist, it states that the U.S. Army responded to the call from Roosevelt to help with the decline of buffalo on YN, by purchasing 14 cows from Pablo -Allard herd and 3 bulls from Charles Goodnight herd. “The army placed the bison into an enclosure along with some calves caught from the wild Yellowstone herd. This led to a “buffalo ranch” in the park that was run along military lines, with hay grown on irrigated meadows and some bulls being castrated and branded like cattle.”



The Bison of Yellowstone National Park
NPS Scientific Monograph No. 1

The Present Population


As stated previously, the Yellowstone bison of the present derive from two subspecies: plains bison from Montana (Pablo-Allard herd) and Texas (Goodnight herd), introduced in 1902, and a remnant of the original wild population of mountain bison. Skinner and Alcorn (1942-51) summarize the introduction, numbers, and subsequent management practices pertaining to the introduced herd at the Buffalo Ranch in Lamar. Population numbers are from that source and other official reports. Skinner also provides a resumé of official information concerning the wild bison, but does not attempt to evaluate the question of their survival. Information scattered in the diaries, reports, and correspondence of park personnel (Yellowstone National Park Archives) provides the basis for the following.

Before 1915, introduced bison of plains stock could not have escaped to form a wild group. The introduced herd was in a small fenced pasture at Mammoth from 1902 until moved to the Buffalo Ranch at Lamar in 1907. From 1907 until at least 1915, these animals were closely day-herded, and apparently put in a fenced pasture at night. Although one plains bull from the fenced herd was turned out in 1903, and one or two stray bulls were mentioned later in scout reports, these apparently never joined the wild bison. Twenty bulls from the Buffalo Ranch were driven 14 miles up the Lamar River in 1914; these all returned.

Members of two other small groups of semi-domestic bison, those of the Yellowstone Lake Boat Co. and some from Henry’s Lake west of the park, never mixed with the wild herd (Appendix III).

In spite of very low numbers and a pessimistic outlook, the original wild herd did persist, and gradually increased once protection from poaching was assured. The critical survival period extended from 1902 until about 1920; thereafter, groups of bison which did not frequent the Buffalo Ranch were more common. These probably contained escapees from the introduced herd as well as native animals. Table 2, from sources listed in Appendix III, shows dates, locations, and numbers for the wild herd from 1903-15. Later official estimates of wild herd numbers are not used, since there was some possibility of wild and introduced animals intermingling after 1915. The table shows clearly the presence of a remnant wild herd in Pelican Valley in winter, and on the Mirror Plateau in summer, as well as a few individuals elsewhere. There was a steady increase, indicated both by calves and by total bison seen. The known population more than doubled between 1903 and 1912. An actual count was difficult, as Nowlin (1912) of the Biological Survey found: “I have never seen buffaloes on the range so wary and difficult to locate as the wild ones in the Yellowstone Park.”

Official population estimates of the time did not allow for more animals than were actually seen; they were undoubtedly conservative. By 1912, as Nowlin’s classification of 35 animals shows, the survival of calves (8) and yearlings (7) was encouraging, and the potential for increase (13 females) was apparent. By 1915, the population may have been nearing 100. Known mortality is shown only in 1904. While winter loss probably occurred during other years, the death of many animals would surely have been observed and reported by Army patrols or scouts.

Buffalo Jones and Army Scout Holt

Buffalo Jones and Army Scout Holt with a captured bison calf on a sled.

Photo from Yellowstone National Park files.

Present composition

An estimate of the contribution of the two subspecies to the present population gene pool is, at best, rough but is preferable to having none. Table 3 shows the sex and adult-calf composition of the fenced herd from 1902 through 1915. The addition to this herd of four calves captured by Army scouts (Fig. 13) from the wild herd for the purpose of adding a second bloodline is also shown. From these numbers, Table 4 was compiled to show the age classes according to sex. The bulls 4 years and older were assumed to have done the breeding in this fenced situation, although younger bulls may have been physically capable. Females were assumed to breed as 2-year-olds and to calve at 3. From these assumptions and the tables, the wild strain in the fenced group was estimated at a maximum of 10% by 1910. Further dilution of the wild strain in the fenced herd was assumed until perhaps 1917.

TABLE 3. Composition of fenced herd, 1902-15

yrlg & other
yrlg & over
TotalMale calvesFemale calvesTotal calvesHerd totalShow herdb

190231821   21 
1903218202 + 2 wild3727 
19046202666 + 1 wild1339 
190930a42a72a13 + 1 wild9239614
191156a56a112a  2914115
19147782159a20153519416 + 20

bShow herd is included in herd total.


The Bison in the Yellowstone Park.—In his annual report for 1907 as Superintendent of the Yellowstone
National Park, General S. B. M. Young reports as follows on the Bison, captive and wild:

“The 29 Buffalo in the fenced pasture near Mammoth produced only 5 calves. One old cow in this herd died in June. The calves are hardy. This herd, with the exception of the two original old bulls, was safely conducted to the Lamar Valley on October 12 and 13, where there is superior grazing, and where they will be herded during the day time in fair weather and secured in the 600-acre pasture field during the night time and in foul weather. The grazing in the Mammoth pasture has not been excellent, and it has been necessary to feed hay to this herd all summer. The 28 Buffalo taken to the Lamar Valley in May last have not been fed hay and are in better condition than the Mammoth herd. The Lamar herd produced no calves. The united herd numbers 59 (25 males and 34 females), not including the 2 old bulls which
have been advertised for sale.

”Of the original wild Buffalo in the park signs of 6 are reported on the Madison Plateau, southwest corner of the park; 4 were reported seen in Hayden Valley, their old habitat, in August, and signs of 15 are reported on Mirror Plateau and Specimen Ridge, 10 miles south of Soda Butte. Total number estimated to be 25.”
New York, January 31, 1908. W. T. H.


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn, New York Mar 5 1904

Game Warden of the Yellowstone Tells of his Lifetime With Wild Animals

 Colonel. C. J. Jones, better known as “Buffalo Jones.” The game Warden of the Yellowstone National Park, and an author, hunter, scout and explore, delivered and interesting lecture last evening before the Men’s Club of the Church of the Pilgrims. Remsen and Henry streets. His subject was “A Lifetime With Wild Animals,” and he told of some actual experiences and thrilling adventures during his career. Colonel Jones is known as the preserver of the buffalo, and few persons are more familiar with the haunts and characteristics of North America’s wild animals. Colonel Jones includes in his topic on wild animals a reference to the American bison or buffalo, which he has been so successful in domesticating, that he drives 18 in harness and shows lantern slides of an actual photograph. Mr. Jones is known as the originator of a new race of animals known as the catalo, of which he showed several views. The idea of infusing the blood of some of the Hardy buffaloes into the American cattle struck him one day, and after many disappointments he finally accomplished the purpose and name the cross catalo, cat, from cattle, and also from buffalo. His trip into the arctic regions in search of the musk ox was in interestingly described.

The study of animal life and lore is so simple, said Colonel Jones, that one can almost understand what some of the animals are saying. Animals have instincts and they require little or no teaching from their mother, but the mountain lioness teaches her cubs to step in the exact tracks made by the dogs and by her, so that when the hunter comes across several tracks in each direction he is almost sure to be confused, unless he knows something about the characteristics and instincts of the mountain lion. He showed a magnificent picture of an American rattlesnake, the most dangerous pest in the rugged West. He said he and his partner had discovered that the buffalo has fourteen ribs on each side, where as all other animals of the same family have twenty-six.

“They are the most nimble animals I have ever seen, as far as their hind legs are concerned,” said Colonel Jones, “and I never saw a mule who could fan the air faster than the American bison “ when Colonel Jones went into North Canada in search of the musk ox, he said the Indian natives objected to having any of these rare specimens taken from their territory, as it was their believe that all other animals would follow. “They believe the musk ox is God of all animals,” declared the lecturer.

“I often wished I could go off on an old-fashioned wolf hunt in Russia or Siberia, as you all hear about, but, gentlemen, I don’t want any more of it. They came so close to me that I had to take my ax to them.” The speaker then took his listeners into Yellowstone Park and its wonders by exhibiting some rare views which Colonel Jones, as the government game warden, could alone secure. He said travel in the park was growing so enormously that the hotels are doubling their capacity. Then he showed views of a terrace, of natural water and sediment formation, that had with years assumed the shape of a pulpit. It was called Pulpit Terrace. Some fine views of the Yellowstone geysers admitting steam and water from the earth which such force that the roar could be heard for five miles, were shown. Yellowstone Lake, 8000 feet above New York city, was shown by the stereopticon. Colonel Jones secured a fine photograph of the den of a mountain lion under some timber which had been covered by willow sprays . In front of this animal retreat were the carcasses of nineteen elk which had been devoured by the lion.

“They lie in wait for an elk to come along,” he said, “and then spring upon the gentle creature until she drops. Then the lion digs out the liver of the elk. They are the greatest destroyers of game and can seldom, if ever, be seen in the day time in the park. The coyote is another of the worthless indestructible animals of the park who kill the elk and mountain sheep in great numbers. They have a howl which will greatly aid the hunter in capturing them if he can imitate the noise which they make and make them think that another coyote is near . Of course no hunting is permitted in the park, although it is necessary to shoot the coyotes and mountain lions occasionally. They have all sorts of bears in the park but, as a rule, they are quite tame. When a bear gets bad he drives the cook out of the kitchen and helps himself.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but we spank those bears when they do that. I get a block and fall and attach it to the heavy bough of a tree, leaving a loop on the ground, and when the Bears steps into the slip news we hoist him up head downward, get a good switch or stick and spank him severely. We crack him over the nose and then over the hind legs and actually make him think we are going to beat him to death. Then when he is lowered we have no fear. The last one I spanked, when turned loose, made a record mile down the side of Mount Washington and we never had any more trouble.”

Colonel Jones told briefly about the president’s trip to Yellowstone about a year ago. He found President. Roosevelt on the side of a hill, about sunrise.

“Ha, ha, “ said he, “I’ve got you now and I am going to shoot you,” said the warden.

“Wait a second.” said Mr. Roosevelt, as he threw back his coat, showing a large hunting knife. Then Warden Jones press the button and took a fine snapshot of President Roosevelt, which he exhibited last night. It would take a week for Colonel Jones to relate the many amusing anecdotes in his career. The views alone required much time to exhibit. He has been a feature of the Sportsman’s show in Madison Square Gardens which closes to-night.


Sometime between 1915 and 1920, intermingling of the introduced and wild animals began. At first this was probably gradual. Park records do not show the specific year, but after 1915 the close herding practices in use with the introduced herd were abandoned, and the animals were kept on open range all summer. Close account was kept of most of them for several more years, but there were some escapees. After 1921, with construction of a log drift fence across the Lamar Valley above Soda Butte Creek, deliberate efforts were made to keep the introduced herd on the higher summer ranges, where intermingling with the wild bison must have quickly increased.

Yellowstone National Park Herd cir. 1903

Roosevelt & Carrie -King of the herd and the de-horned cow cir. 1907

Roosevelt "king of the herd" & Carrie (dehorned cow)


Forest and Stream
April 13,1912

Where the Credit Belongs

Seattle, Wash. March 26 – Editor Forest and Stream: In the Sunday Evening Post, of March 25, there is an article. “The Last Stand of the Buffalo,” by Walter Noble Burns, that has an item wherein he says C. J. “Buffalo” Jones purchased the buffalo and transported them the Yellowstone National Park at his own expense. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a long story connected with this purchase, but I will not tire you with it, except to say that Colonel John Pitcher should have all the credit for the establishment of this buffalo herd in the park. The cows came from the Allard band and the bulls from the Goodnight herd. The Government paid for them. C. J. Jones was sent there with his brother to care for them at a salary of 1,800 per year, and that was all the interest he had in the buffalo in the Yellowstone National Park.

Every thing is of record at the superintendent’s office at Fort Yellowstone. The establishment of the buffalo herd is not the only thing that Col. John Pitcher should have credit for in connection with the park. There should be credit given where it is due, and surely Mr. Burns ought not to give it where it is not due. T.E. Hofer



The Independent Record
Helena, Montana Jan 9 1923


Livingston, Jan. 8. – Two items of expressage, weighing a ton each, arrived from Gardiner yesterday afternoon, en route to Cleveland, Ohio.

Carefully crated, with three bales of hay for refreshment along the route, two nig buffalo from Yellowstone park, were traveling toward their new home, the Brookside zoological gardens at Cleveland.

The animals were docile enough they could not be otherwise, in such close quarters. But it was no small task to move them from one train to another. Half dozen men with muscles stretched and straining, moved the heavy crates from the car to the trucks, which had been raised so that they were level with the car floor.

“It might have been worse,“ one perspiring man declared, when at last the crates were re-loaded on the eat bound train. “Two years ago they sent a couple of fellows down from the park, and the crates were so high they wouldn’t go into the car, and we had a lovely job, you bet. “

The act of January 24, 1923, recognized the authority of the secretary of the interior to “sell or otherwise dispose of the surplus buffalo of the Yellowstone National Park herd.”

Star Tribune 
Minneapolis, Minnesota Mar 21, 1923


The Project Gutenberg EBook of “Down the Yellowstone,” by Lewis R. Freeman

Written April 1922 Skiing Through Yellowstone

It was but a few summers ago that old “Tuskegee” left the herd, charged a coach full of tourists, goring one of the horses so badly that it had to be shot. The big vehicle was nearly overturned by the plunging horses, while its occupants—a party of New England school-teachers—were driven into frenzies of terror. Neither the bullets from a nickel-plated revolver in the hands of one of the schoolmarms, nor the long stinging whip of the driver, nor even his equally long and stinging oaths, affected “Tuskegee” in the least. He continued butting about among the frightened horses as though the wrecking of a six-in-hand coach was a regular part of his daily routine. At last, however, the sustained hysteria of the females seemed to get upon the old fellow’s nerves. Wheeling about, he turned the stub of his tail to the swooning tourists and galloped, bellowing, over the hill.

An order was at once issued that “Tuskegee” should be shot on sight, and for a month a special detail from the Fort scoured the hills and valleys in search of the renegade. But all to no purpose. The old warrior, as though understanding that he was persona non grata with the authorities, retreated into the impenetrable fastnesses of the mountain spurs above Thorofare Plateau, and nothing was seen or heard of him for many months.

For two years there was an interregnum in buffalodom, during which the big herd gradually dropped to pieces and wandered about in leaderless fragments. Then, one day, a big bull elk was found, crushed and torn, trampled into the mud of Violet Springs, and the scouts told each other that the King had returned. A few days later a soldier of the game patrol, on a run through Hayden Valley, saw the reunited herd debouch from a canyon, with old “Tuskegee” puffing proudly in the lead. His tail was stubbier than ever, the grizzled red hair was more patchy on the rump and more matted on the neck, and a new set of scars was criss-crossed and etched into the old ones upon his flanks. The old fighting spirit still flamed, however, and the trooper owed his life to the fact that the snow was deep, the crust firm, the slope down and his ski well waxed. But a new superintendent was in charge, and his satisfaction at seeing the scattered herd once more united was so great that he stayed the order of execution. Since that time, strangely enough, “Tuskegee” has appeared to show his appreciation of this official clemency by behaving in a most exemplary manner.

I was endeavoring to get a picture of the main herd before it broke up, when Hope espied old “Stub Tail” in the rear of a bunch of young cows who were heading away for the hills. Shouting for me to join him, he gave chase. We gained on them easily in the heavy snow of the valley, and almost overtook them where they floundered, belly-deep, on their erratic course. Then they struck the wind-swept slopes of the lower hills, where the agile cows drew away from us rapidly and scampered out of sight. But not so old “Tuskegee.” Whether it was rheumatism in his stiff old joints that made him stop, or simple weariness, or, as is most likely, the unconquerable pride that would not permit him to turn his back upon an enemy, I shall not attempt to say. In any case, he wheeled and faced us, head low, hoofs pawing the moss, and snorting in angry defiance.

As he stood with his rugged form towering against the white background of the snowy hillside, two jets of steam rushing from his nostrils, his jaws flecked with bloody foam, his one eye gleaming green as the starboard light of a steamer, and his bellows of rage so deep that they seemed to come from beneath the earth, old “Tuskegee” might have been the vindictive incarnation of the spirit of all the geysers and hell holes in the Yellowstone bent on an errand of wrath and destruction.

Right then and there I forgot what I came for, forgot the picture I had intended to take, forgot everything but that snorting colossus in front of me and the fact that the hillside sloped invitingly in the opposite direction. Wherefore I tried to swing around, and in swinging turned too short, crossed my ski, and fell in a heap with my face in the snow.

They say that an ostrich will snuggle its head contentedly into the sand and let a band of Arabs with drawn scimitars charge right into its tail feathers. This may be quite true. Perhaps the climate of the Sahara has something to do with it. But it won’t work with a man, a bull buffalo and a snowdrift, particularly if the man is strapped to two ten-foot-six strips of hickory and the bull buffalo has a bad reputation.

The faith, folly, foolishness, or whatever it is of the ostrich would have saved me a lot of unpleasant apprehensions. Every moment of the time I struggled to unsocket my head from under the nose of one of my ski I was sure I was going to be gored the next. And I am certain I was down all of five minutes, notwithstanding Hope’s assertion that he had me straightened out and on my feet inside of ten seconds.

“Steady, young feller,” I heard him saying as I rubbed the snow from my eyes; “don’t lose your head like that again.” (I wonder if he meant that literally.) “Old ‘Tusky’ won’t hurt a fly nowadays. He’s just posing for his picture. Gimme that camera. Hold up there; tain’t nothing to be scared of!

That last was shouted at me as I gave a push with my pole and began to slide off down the hill out of the danger zone. Swinging round to a reluctant standstill, I meekly unslung my camera as Hope came down for it. Then, all set for a start, I watched him as he zigzagged back up the hill toward the buffalo. “Tusky” was blowing like a young Vesuvius, but the nervy fellow, not a whit daunted, edged up to within twenty feet of the steaming monster, waited calmly for the sun to come out from behind a cloud, and snapped the camera. Then we coasted back to the valley—I well in the lead,—leaving the resolute old monster in full possession of the field.Tuskegee Bison Bull YNP


Inventory Records of the National Park Service

“Recreation Survey of Buffalo,” 1925

715-03 “Memorandum Report on the Proposed Buffalo Show Corral,” by George F. Baggley, 1930

715-03 “Bang’s Disease in the Yellowstone National Park Buffalo Herd,” by Francis D. LaNoue, 1933

H.R. 8773, Dispose of buffalo, 1937-38


Touring the Wild Life Trail-July 1930
(extract) by Irving Brant

But now, seeing a big bull bison lying down at a little distance, I decided to stalk him. He was a park animal, and ought to be safe; also he was asleep. I had just sense enough to keep on the leeward side, and to refrain from throwing a stone to make him raise his head. It was a shame to take a photograph which merely looked like a big rock, but there was something uncompromising about the fellow’s appearance, fifty feet away. The car was a quarter of a mile distant, and I had never made the high school track team. I snapped the shutter and left.

“What do you think?” I asked a park ranger that evening. “Would it have been safe to wake him up?”

“Well,” he said, “If I had my choice I’d walk up to any grizzly bear in the United States rather than monkey with a bull bison, especially one that has left the herd and come down the mountains in the summer. The bison isn’t afraid of anything. He knows that nothing can hurt him, and what he does depends on how he’s feeling. If he charged a bison soon gets tired, but while he’s going he can outrun a horse.”

When he added that four horses were gored to death by bison in one winter, I decided that any future excursions should be with the car door open and a short, clear line of retreat.

The idea that animals in national parks are tame, or nearly so, is based on the habits of those that come around camp-bear, deer and, at some seasons, elk. A “tame” bear, in truth, is more dangerous than a wild one, for nobody can get within several hundred feet of the latter, while one that is used to being fed from the hand will go straight after food and will injure anybody who tries to keep It away from him. No bear, whether used to man or not, will molest a car with people in or near it, but go away leaving food in a closed car and see what your automobile looks like if bruin comes along while you are gone.

The bison of Yellowstone Park are no more domesticated than their progenitor on the primeval plains. Yellowstone antelope, ranging remote from tourist centers, are far shyer than those on Wyoming ranches, which were slaughtered by the thousand in the six-day festival of blood last September. But tame or wild, they do not fear the automobile, and do not fear man as long as he remains inside.




Vol. XIV January-February, 1937 Nos. 1-2

Junior Naturalist Frank Oberhansley

Aside from the fact that buffaloes (Bison bison bison) were at least moderately numerous in the region embraced by Yellowstone when this became our first national park in 1872, we know little of the early history of those animals in this region. This is not strange when we remember that there were still millions of buffaloes roaming at large in their native haunts. The supply as yet seemed inexhaustible. The early explorers and visitors were attracted here by the expressions of nature in the hot springs, geysers, and other natural wonders. It was natural that only their impressions and interpretation of the unique were written. Upon verification by the Geological Survey that such geologic phenomena really existed here, this area was set aside as a national park in order that it might be preserved in its natural state by the government for the “benefit and enjoyment” of all the people, forever. The thought of making Yellowstone a game preserve was incidental to the main issue.

From the time of discovery until 1886 hunting was deemed essential to the success of any expedition to this remote area. Market hunters were well established in the northern section of the park as early as 1873. The first superintendent, N. P. Langford, recommended that hunting be restricted to the needs of residents of the park and its visitors, but for want of any salary he was prevented from residing here and seriously checking these activities during his five year term.

In the pioneering venture of creating a national park, Congress overlooked the item of providing money for administration and protection; consequently for a period of five years no government funds were available and hunters had things pretty much their own way in Yellowstone. When money was first appropriated in 1877, the beginning of the end was in sight for the buffalo. At this time Superintendent Norris stated that thousands of hides had been taken out and that it was the practice of the hunters to poison the carcasses which were left as bait for wolf and wolverine. He predicted correctly that within the decade buffaloes would become extinct or exceedingly rare outside of this government area. It was estimated that there were three or four hundred head of the “curly, nearly black bison” (1) left in the park. They were described by Norris as being “smaller, of lighter color and with horns smaller and less spreading than those of the bison that formerly inhabited Colorado.” (1). Figgins described the mountain buffalo (Bison bison haningtoni) as being much lighter in color, “notably in the head, neck, and forelimbs” (2) than the plains buffalo (Bison bison bison). Grinnell stated that the “Mountain Buffalo” (3) was abundant in Yellowstone Park in 1875 and called attention to the terrible destruction of these animals for their hides alone. These mountain buffalo were considered to be more fleet and intelligent than the plains animals. Their hides were also more valuable as they were darker, finer, and more curly.

In 1880 Mr. Norris estimated 600 buffaloes for the park, 300 of which were only summer residents and having their winter range to the west in Idaho. The other animals ranged in the eastern and northeastern section of the park. During the year a game keeper was employed to assist Mr. Norris in protecting the buffalo and other animals. By Superintendent’s Order the buffalo was protected in 1879. Montana also provided a protection law that year.

From 1882 to 1885 we can learn nothing of the status of the buffalo in Yellowstone. Reports of slaughter moved Congress to replace civilian employees with Cavalry troops of the army, the commanding officers acting as superintendents for a period of 30 years when the National Park Service of today was created. Protective work was ineffectual as no suitable court or laws were provided for offenders. The work of the soldiers was augmented by civilian scouts acting in the nature of game wardens.

In 1886 all hunting in Yellowstone was prohibited by law but no court was provided to try cases, the only punishment being arrest and expulsion from the park and confiscation of outfit. This proved to be an excellent gamble for poachers with cheap outfits when a good head was worth $400.

Captain Harris estimated 100 buffalo in 1837. The following year he dispatched a patrol on snowshoes to the winter range with the idea of finding out how many buffaloes were left. This patrol encountered only three head. A later patrol in March succeeded in finding signs of about 100 animals that had wintered in the vicinity of Mary Mountain. During the following spring several buffaloes were seen along the Firehole River whose range was thought to extend across the Madison Plateau to the southwest corner. Thee total estimate was then raised to 200 head.

Captain Boutelle became superintendent in 1890. He observed a scarcity of calves and thought cougars and lions were preying upon them. Sensing the perilous plight of the buffalo, appeals were sent to the governors of the states of Wyoming and Idaho for protection of animals that might drift from the park into these states. Wyoming enacted a good protection law the same year but Idaho ignored the request and continued to harbor the most notorious set of poachers known, in the vicinity of Henrys Lake near the western border of the park.

From 1891 to 1897 Captain George S. Anderson served as military superintendent. He noted the activities of the merciless freebooters of Henrys Lake and learned of several heads being marketed in surrounding towns at from four to five hundred dollars. Several arrests were made in this vicinity, but no convictions were secured. During the winter of 1894 a notorious poacher from Cooke, Montana was arrested in Hayden Valley with six hides in possession. Scout Burgess and Sergeant Troike apprehended him in the act of stalking a small band of buffaloes. His final conviction was the first under the new protection law of 1894. A court was established that year in the park with John W. Meldrum as first United States Commissioner to try cases and assess penalties.

From 1891 to 1894 Captain Anderson estimated there were 400 buffalo left in the park when suddenly the estimate dropped to 200. Seventy five were counted on the west side and reports of many more in 1891. Evidently, the Idaho poachers were quite successful, for in the year 1896 it was estimated there were only 25 or 30 head left in the entire park, and doubts were expressed that they could be saved. Attempts were made to capture a few of them by providing hay in a corral in Hayden Valley but with no success. Hay was cut and stacked in Pelican Valley in hopes the buffalo would find it. Winter snows covered it so deeply, however, that even the scouts could not locate it. Special money was made available by the War Department in a final effort to save the buffalo from complete extermination. Experienced hunters and other mountain men were employed to assist the scouts and soldiers but their efforts were of no avail as the damage was nearly complete. Only the carcasses were left as evidence of the fact that buffalo had inhabited the southwestern and western sections of the park. Poachers had reduced the herd to an estimated 22 head by 1902.

With buffalo so near to extinction, it was decided to import an entirely new herd, and gradually release some of these animals, thus introducing new blood into the wild herd. Accordingly, 18 cows were secured from the Pablo-Allard herd in Montana and delivered by Howard Eaton. At the same time, 3 bulls were secured from the Goodnight herd in Texas by C. J. (Buffalo) Jones who was employed as game warden in charge of buffalo. These animals were kept in a large enclosed pasture one mile south of Mammoth until 1907 at which time the herd had grown in number to 61 head. Three calves were captured from the wild herd and raised by domestic cows. The pasture proved insufficient to meet the needs of the ever-increasing herd so a new site was selected on the present location of the Buffalo Ranch in Lamar Valley at the mouth of Rose Creek. Here a portion of the valley bottom was fenced off to protect the wild grasses which were harvested in the fall for winter feed. The north slopes of the valley including about 600 acres were fenced for summer pasture land. Comfortable living quarters were provided for the buffalo keeper at the present site.

As early as 1908 it was felt that there were too many bulls in the herd. They were constantly fighting and endangering the lives of the calves. In order to relieve the condition, fourteen bulls were separated from the herd and driven to Mammoth as the first show herd. Late in the fall they were returned to the main herd. The practice of maintaining a show herd at Mammoth continued until 1935 when a more suitable location on Antelope Creek was selected. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have thus been benefited; as buffalo could rarely be seen by them on the inaccessible summer range.

The Lamar herd had grown until in 1910 it numbered 121 head, 61 males and 60 females. The original summer pasture proved inadequate so the herd was turned out each morning to graze. At first they were herded carefully and driven into the enclosure every two hours in order to accustom them to being handled. Later they were herded during the daytime and returned to the pasture at night. This practice of day herding was continued until 1915 when it was thought to be unnecessary. Since that time, the herd has gradually reverted to a wild state until today the Yellowstone buffalo are perhaps fully as wild as the plains buffalo of old.

In December 1911, just after the buffaloes were taken from the range where they had been day herded during the summer, 22 of the younger animals (15% of the herd) died. Blackleg was at first suspected and fear of losing the entire herd prompted quick action. The disease was found to be Hemorrhagic septicemia, a blood disease for which the entire herd was vaccinated in June of that year. There was a recurrence of the disease in 1919 when 26 of the buffaloes died in spite of previous vaccinations in 1917 and 1918. A third attack of the disease threatened the herd of 578 in 1922. Fifty two of the animals died before serum could be secured from the Bureau of Animal Industry. The new serum of 1922 proved to be 100% effective in immunizing buffalo against the disease and from that time until the present a fresh supply has been available at the Buffalo Ranch ready for instant use.

In the meantime, the original wild animals were not molested by poachers. They ranged widely over the park country east of Yellowstone Lake and River, so wild that they were seldom seen even by the scouts or later by the rangers, except when special patrols were made. Seventy two head were counted in 1916 and 67 in 1917. Since that time there has been a gradual overlapping of the ranges of the two herds until at the present time they have thoroughly intermingled. There is still a tendency for the animals to winter in distinct herds. The main herd at the Buffalo Ranch is fed hay during the hardest part of the winter. Another group varying in number to as many as 300 animals, winters in the valleys east of Yellowstone Lake without artificial feed. During the past two two small herds, numbering 36 and 35 were separated from the main herd and turned loose in Hayden Valley and the Lower Geyser Basin, respectively, in order to reduce the main herd and at the same time establish the buffalo on his former range. These animals seem to be doing well in their new locations. Twenty eight were counted in Hayden Valley in September while thirty were seen in January in the Lower Geyser Basin.

The early problem of surplus bulls in the herd was partially met by establishing a show herd at Mammoth, through live shipments, to public parks and zoos and to private estates for exhibition purposes. As early as 1904, attempts were made to rejuvenate the wild herd with new blood by liberating one of the new bulls in Pelican Valley. This venue was a failure as the bull was found dead near Thumb station the following spring. Subsequent attempts were made to reduce the number of bulls by driving them from the Buffalo Ranch anticipating that they would join the wild herd, but fortunately for the wild herd they always returned to the Ranch. Finally, permission to slaughter and sell the meat of surplus buffaloes was granted by Congress to park officials so in the event that live shipments do not balance the herd against feed and available range, there is always a way provided for a sound management program. It has been established that facilities in Yellowstone are adequate for approximately 1000 buffaloes and for the best interests of the park as a whole this figure has been adhered to rather closely during the past few years. In 1918, 66% (44 head) of the male calves of 1917 and 1918 were castrated during the vaccination of the herd for Hemorrhagic septicemia. These steers and others following were slaughtered at the Buffalo Ranch, the meat in later years having been donated to relief organizations and Indian agencies in the states bordering the park. Total live shipments to zoos and reservations from the park number 1351 to date.

From the small herd of eighteen cows and three bulls established in Yellowstone in 1902 plus the remnant of the original herd which was assimilated in later years, the present herds total approximately 1000 head, while a total of 2182 surplus animals have been disposed of. Many fine herds have been establish throughout the country from the Yellowstone surplus.

Under the sound management program of late years, the future of the buffalo in the park has never been brighter.

References for the above article:

1. Superintendents’ Annual Reports

2. Figgins, J. A., Bison of the Western Area of the Mississippi Basin, Vol. XII, p. 30.

3. Grinnell, George Bird and Ludlow, Captain – A Reconnaissance from Carroll, Montana to Yellowstone National Park in 1875.



Disposition of Quarantine Facility Study Bison Oct 2014

QFSBisonDisposition draftEA (public-pdf)