Who Saved The Bison

Canada to the United States


During the mid-1800’s people started realizing the importance of the buffalo, not only for animal cruelty reasons, but for grassland ecological and future resources.

Someone needed to speak out and step up and over the years they did, but never enough at one time to count, in those tough times.

The real extermination of the buffalo was caused by the demands of trade there can be no doubt, aided and abetted by sportsmen, Indians, and others; but the blame really lies with the government that in all these years permitted a few ignorant Congressman to block the legislature in favor of the protection of the bison, so that all the efforts of humanitarians were defeated and the bills, when passed, pigeonholed. (The Morning Post North Carolina Dec 27, 1899)

It’s hard to track Charles “Buffalo ” Jones animals, he was a trader and I am not sure how much he actually cared about them. I have read several articles where he has robbed them from their mothers, only to have them die in his ownership. Reports include a loss of an entire herd when he left them unattended. It’s hard to envision for me, as I read through his life stories, so I personally do not add him to the list of “saviors”.

1873 Samuel Walking Coyote at a Piegan camp on Montana’s Milk River where lived Sam “who had a sharp tongue, a swift temper and (a) son-in-law” who “cheated his wife’s irascible father in a horse swap,” arousing his ire. Life quickly became too hot around camp that winter for the young horse-trader because “every time the old man thought about him, he reached for something to throw; and his aim was good” Dixon Craig of the Edmonton Journal, who also did good bison research, called Sam a renegade. The young man left his parents-in-law and bride and headed north into Saskatchewan where he became an honest hunter of what remained of the southern half of the once-great bison herd. One day he was lucky enough to capture some calves. A Canadian Press story datelined Wainwright, Alberta gave the number as two bulls and two heifers. Because he missed his young wife considerably, he decided perhaps her cantankerous dad might forgive him if he brought the calves as a gift. He herded his peace offering into the U.S. where his father-in-law eagerly accepted it. Sam trailed his calves to this little farm on the Flathead Reserve whereby 1884 the four had increased to 13. Old age and difficulty financing his wards caused him to sell. (what’s to become the Pablo -Allard herd)  (Manitoba History) Details of Walking Coyote appear differently in other sources, but the gist is all the same. For more on Walking Coyote 

 Canada has done some of their own history and this is their list:  Bison Conservation: The Canadian Story  Charlie AWho saved the bison? Canada saviorslloway, James McKay, Sam Bedson, Ephrem Brisebois,  Howard Eaton, Donald Smith, Norman Luxton, Frank Oliver,  Howard Douglas and Alex Ayotte left Canadians a most enviable  conservation legacy. Let’s treasure it deeply and enhance it.

1873 In the spring, Charles Alloway and James McKay traveled west to capture buffalo calves. Taking along a domestic cow as a foster mother they joined a Métis brigade and spent the whole summer capturing three young calves near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and bringing them safely to Winnipeg. Next spring they captured three more, but one died en route home. Four years before his death in 1929, Charlie described these expeditions to a Winnipeg Tribune reporter.

Mrs. Alloway concluded: “It has been said that to Charlie Alloway should go the credit for the preservation of the buffalo in Manitoba for if it had not been for his foresight years ago, the American bison would be but a mist vision.”


1883 By mid-year nearly all the bison in the United States were gone. The Dakota Territorial Legislature enacted a law to protect bison; it was not enforced. In Oklahoma, the McCoy brothers and J.W. Summers caught a pair of bison calves, 2 of very few left on the southern plains.


1888 Samuel Bedson the settler influx and failing health forced to conclude it was no longer practical to keep his beloved bison. About six were donated to New York and London Zoos. At least 27 were given to Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) to repay a loan. Most of the remaining herd, listed as high as 98 by some researchers and low as 56 by others, eventually went to C. J. “Buffalo” Jones, manager of Garden City (Kansas) Buffalo Company. which included 10 +/- hybrids with domestic cattle. Donald Smith donated all but five of his bison to the Canadian government which installed them in Banff National Park where they flourished under Superintendent Douglas’s able care.


In 1889 William Temple Hornaday  It’s Hornaday’s work I put the most faith in, in reading his whole book and other writings, it’s obvious he was really concerned and had a deep passion for wanting to save them. He was able to organize a plan,  gathered the funds, and help, to put together refuges for our Bison. Even though he had a lot of help, I’m not sure it would have been done without him and the ranchers. 


Who saved the bison? US saviors

Herd of Mr. Charles Allard, Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana.—This herd was visited in the autumn of 1888 by Mr. G. O. Shields, of Chicago, who reports that it consists of thirty-five head of pure-blood buffaloes, of which seven are calves of 1888, six are yearlings, and six are two-year-olds. Of the adult animals, four cows and two bulls are each fourteen years old, “and the beards of the bulls almost sweep the ground as they walk.”


Herd of Hon. W. F. Cody (“Buffalo Bill”).—The celebrated “Wild West Show” has, ever since its organization, numbered amongst its leading attractions a herd of live buffaloes of all ages. At present, this herd contains eighteen head, of which fourteen were originally purchased of Mr. H. T. Groome, of Wichita, Kansas, and have made a journey to London and back. As a proof of the indomitable persistence of the bison in breeding under most unfavorable circumstances, the fact that four of the members of this herd are calves which were born in 1888 in London, at the American Exposition, is of considerable interest.

This herd is now (December 1888) being wintered on General Beale’s farm, near the city of Washington. In 1886-’87, while the Wild West Show was at Madison Square Garden, New York City, its entire herd of twenty buffaloes was carried off by pleuro-pneumonia. It is to be greatly feared that sooner or later in the course of its travels the present herd will also disappear, either through disease or accident.


Herd of Mr. Charles Goodnight, Clarendon, Texas.—Mr. Goodnight writes that he has “been breeding buffaloes in a small way for the past ten years,” but without giving any particular attention to it. At present, his herd consists of thirteen head, of which two are three-year-old bulls and four are calves. There are seven cows of all ages, one of which is a half-breed.


Herd at the Zoological Society’s Gardens, Philadelphia, Arthur E. Brown, superintendent.—This institution is the fortunate possessor of a small herd of ten buffaloes, of which four are males and six females. Two are calves of 1877. In 1886 the Gardens sold an adult bull and cow to Hon. W. F. Cody for $300.


Herd at Bismarck Grove, Kansas, owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Railroad Company.—A small herd of buffaloes has for several years past been kept at Bismarck Grove as an attraction to visitors. At present, it contains ten head, one of which is a very large bull, another in a four-year-old bull, six are cows of various ages, and two are two-year-olds. In 1885 a large bull belonging to this herd grew so vicious and dangerous that it was necessary to kill him.

The following interesting account of this herd was published in the Kansas City Times of December 8, 1888:

“Thirteen years ago Colonel Stanton purchased a buffalo bull calf for $8 and two heifers for $25. The descendants of these three buffaloes now found at Bismarck Grove, where all were born, number in all ten. There were seventeen, but the rest have died, with the exception of one, which was given away. They are kept in an enclosure containing about 30 acres immediately adjoining the park, and there may be seen at any time. The sight is one well worth a trip and the slight expense that may attach to it, especially to one who has never seen the American bison in his native state.

“The present herd includes two fine bull calves dropped last spring, two heifers, five cows, and a bull six years old and as handsome as a picture. The latter has been named Cleveland, after the colonel’s favorite Presidential candidate. The entire herd is in as fine condition as any beef cattle, though they were never fed anything but hay and are never given any shelter. In fact, they don’t take kindly to shelter, and whether a blizzard is blowing, with the mercury 20 degrees below zero, or the sun pouring down his scorching rays, with the thermometer 110 degrees above, they set their heads resolutely toward storm or sun and take their medicine as if they liked it. Hon. W. F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill,” tried to buy the whole herd two years ago to take to Europe with his Wild West Show, but they were not for sale at his own figures, and, indeed, there is no anxiety to dispose of them at any figures. The railroad company has been glad to furnish them pasturage for the sake of adding to the attractions of the park, in which there are also forty-three head of deer, including two as fine bucks as ever trotted over the national deer trail toward the salt-licks in northern Utah.

“While the bison at Bismark Grove are splendid specimens of their class, “Cleveland” is decidedly the pride of the herd, and as grand a creature as ever trod the soil of Kansas on four legs. He is just six years old and is a perfect specimen of the kings of the plains. There is royal blood in his veins, and his coat is finer than the imperial purple. It is not possible to get at him to measure his stature and weight. He must weigh fully 3,000 pounds, and it is doubtful if there is to-day living on the face of the earth a handsomer buffalo bull than he. “Cleveland’s” disposition is not so ugly as old Barney’s was, but at certain seasons he is very wild, and there is no one venturesome enough to go into the enclosure. It is then not altogether safe to even look over the high and heavy board fence at him, for he is likely to make a run for the visitor, as the numerous holes in the fence where he has knocked off the boards will testify.”


Herd of Mr. Frederick Dupree, Cheyenne Indian Agency, near Fort Bennett, Dakota.—This herd contains at present nine pure-blood buffaloes, five of which are cows and seven mixed bloods. Of the former, there are two adult bulls and four adult cows. Of the mixed blood animals, six are half-breeds and one a quarter-breed buffalo.

Mr. Dupree obtained the nucleus of his herd in 1882, at which time he captured five wild calves about 100 miles west of Fort Bennett. Of these, two died after two months of captivity and a third was killed by an Indian in 1885.

Mr. D. F. Carlin, of the Indian service, at Fort Bennett, has kindly furnished me the following information respecting this herd, under date of November 1, 1888:

“The animals composing this herd are all in fine condition and are quite tame. They keep by themselves most of the time, except the oldest bull (six years old), who seems to appreciate the company of domestic cattle more than that of his own family. Mr. Dupree has kept one half-breed bull as an experiment; he thinks it will produce a hardy class of cattle. His half-breeds are all black, with one exception, and that is a roan; but they are all built like the buffalo, and when young they grunt more like a hog than like a calf, the same as a full-blood buffalo.

“Mr. Dupree has never lost a [domestic] cow in giving birth to a half-breed calf, as was supposed by many people would be the case. There have been no sales from this herd, although the owner has a standing offer of $650 for a cow and bull. The cows are not for sale at any price.”


Herd at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Mr. W. P. Walker, superintendent.—This very interesting and handsomely-kept herd is composed of seven individuals of the following character: One bull eight years old, one bull four years old, two cows eight years old, two cows two years old in the spring of 1888, and one female calf born in the spring of 1888.


Zoological Gardens, Cincinnati, Ohio.—This collection contains four bison, an adult bull and cow, and one immature specimen.


Dr. V. T. McGillicuddy, Rapid City, Dakota, has a herd of four pure buffaloes and one half-breed. Of the former, the two adults, a bull and cow seven years old, were caught by Sioux Indians near the Black Hills for the owner in the spring of 1882. The Indians drove two milch cows to the range to nourish the calves when caught. These have produced two calves, one of which, a bull, is now three years old, and the other is a yearling heifer.


Central Park Menagerie, New York, Dr. W. A. Conklin, director.—This much-visited collection contains four bison, an adult bull and cow, a two-year-old calf, and a yearling.


Mr. John H. Starin, Glen Inland, near New York City.—There are four buffaloes at this summer resort.


The U. S. National Museum, Washington, District of Columbia.—The collection of the department of living animals at this institution contains two fine young buffaloes; a bull four years old in July 1888, and a cow three years old in May of the same year. These animals were captured in western Nebraska, when they were calves, by H. R. Jackett, of Ogallala, and kept by him on his ranch until 1885. In April 1888, Hon. Eugene G. Blackford, of New York, purchased them of Mr. Frederick D. Nowell, of North Platte, Nebraska, for $100 for the pair, and presented them to the National Museum, in the hope that they might form the nucleus of a herd to be owned and exhibited by the United States Government in or near the city of Washington. The two animals were received in Ogallala by Mr. Joseph Palmer, of the National Museum, and by him, they were brought on to Washington in May, in fine condition. Since their arrival, they have been exhibited to the public in a temporary enclosure on the Smithsonian Grounds, and have attracted much attention.


Mr. B. C. Winston, of Hamline, Minnesota, owns a pair of buffaloes, one of which, a young bull, was caught by him in western Dakota in the spring of 1886, soon after its birth. The cow was purchased at Rosseau, Dakota Territory, a year later, for $225.


Mr. I. P. Butler, of Colorado, Texas, is the owner of a young bull buffalo and a half-breed calf.


Mr. Jesse Huston, of Miles City, Montana, owns a fine five-year-old bull buffalo.


Mr. L. F. Gardner, of Bellwood, Oregon, is the owner of a large adult bull.

The Riverside Ranch Company, south of Mandan, Dakota, owns a pair of full-blood buffaloes.


In Dakota, in the hands of parties unknown, there are four full-blood buffaloes.


Mr. James R. Hitch, of Optima, Indian Territory, has a pair of young buffaloes, which he has offered for sale for $750.


Mr. Joseph A. Hudson, of Estell, Nebraska, owns a three-year-old bull buffalo, which is for sale.

In other countries there are live specimens of Bison americanus reported as follows: two at Belleview Gardens, Manchester, England; one at the Zoological Gardens, London; one at Liverpool, England (purchased of Hon. W. F. Cody in 1888); two at the Zoological Gardens, Dresden; one at the Zoological Gardens, Calcutta.


Statistics of full-blood buffaloes in captivity January 1, 1889.

Number kept for breeding purposes216
Number kept for exhibition 40
        Total pure-blood buffaloes in captivity256
Wild buffaloes under Government protection in the Yellowstone Park200
Number of mixed-breed buffalo-domestics 40


There are, without doubt, a few half-breeds in Manitoba of which I have no account. It is probable there are also a very few more captive buffaloes scattered singly here and there which will be heard of later, but the total will be a very small number, I am sure.


Number of American bison running wild and unprotected on January 1, 1889.

In the Panhandle of Texas 25
In Colorado 20
In southern Wyoming 26
In the Musselshell country, Montana 10
In western Dakota  4
        Total number in the United States 85
In Athabasca, Northwest Territory (estimated)550
        Total in all North America635


In 1890 Austin Corbin II founded a 26,000-acre preserve. Corbin Park, or the Blue Mountain Forest and Game Preserve (also known as the “Blue Mountain Forest Association” and “Corbin’s Park”) Originally, it was stocked with bison, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, mule deer, European red deer, bighorn sheep, moose, antelope, caribou, Himalayan mountain goats, pheasants and wild boar from the German Black Forest. The bison, deer, elk and boar all flourished, but the pheasants flew over the fences and the rest of the species proved unable to survive.  Corbin Park once had the largest bison herd in the country, and supplied bison and deer to refuges, parks and zoos all over the U.S.


1893 the Allard-Pablo herd on Pend d’Oreille reserve near St. Ignatius Mission had grown to 100. Meanwhile, Jones’ grandiose scheme faded when intense Texas heat and ticks killed most of his bison. He sold the remnant of 35 (one source says 26) to Allard and Pablo. After the former died in 1896, his half of the 300-head herd was divided among his heirs and many sold by them to US zoos and game farms. Despite this, the herd, now owned by Charles Allard Jr. and brother Joseph, Pablo, and Andrew Stringer, totaled 250 in 1899. By 1906 it numbered almost 800 and was the main plains bison herd in North America, the only other of note being the herd in Banff National Park.


1893 20 free wild roaming bison counted at YNP


1896 C.E.Conrad of Montana purchased the Allard herd from his widow. (1902 he had 46 head 9 more by 1905)


1897, William C. Whitney herd started with 13 head from H.K.Glidden of Wy.

Whitney herd moved to Massachusetts.  Whitney Started the Wichita Mt Wildlife  with 6hd  (through the NY Zoological Soc.)


1899/1901 James Scotty Phillips purchased Dupree’s herd, which now numbered 74 head, from Dupree’s brother-in-law, Dug Carlin.


By the early 1900’s  the number had dwindled even more so. Poachers had all but wiped out Yellowstone and they were down to 20 head.


The bison in the Northwest Territory and dropped as well down to an estimate of 250-300 head.


The President Roosevelt steps in and appoints the military to guard the YNP bison. Numbers begin to rebound with the help of Charles Goodnight in 1902 supplied 3 bulls, now 23 head were counted inside the park and 20 wild roaming(possibly). 14 head came in from the Pablo-Allard herd. The army enclosed the bison, along with some captured wild calves.

Buffalo Nation (by Valerius Geist) writes: 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. A few bulls were released into the wild. By 1907, there were: 61 bison in captivity in Yellowstone: by 1916 there were seventy-two wild bison, while the captive herd numbered 273.


1900 Whitney gave the NY Zoological Park two bulls, patriotically named Cleveland and McKinley and in that same year, two calves were born and three adult cows came to the park on a two-year loan from David J Gardiner.


The Pittsburgh Daily Post

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Jan 28, 1917


“And the Indians, the good, old-time, bloodthirsty, menacing, war-whooping Indians – well, they are either playing football at Carlisle or some similar place, or else their children, clad in top hats and frock coats, are going to pink teas. All the Pawnees, the Arapahoes, the Kiowas and those of other tribes who furnished us our original leading men and women have given way to or have become affiliated with the whites and are helping them to make the prairie blossom like the rose.”

A few men whom future generations will thank for saving the bison, including former President Roosevelt, W. T. Hornaday, David Starr Jordan, Dr. T. S. Palmer, Gifford Pinchot, Prof. F. W. Hooper and Ernest Harold Baynes, are more or less responsible for saving the animal from extinction. They formed themselves into the American Bison Society and called attention to the need to save this particularly American animal.