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History of the Buffalo

After an Absence of More Than 130 Years…

…from Tribal lands on the Wind River Reservation, the first conservation Buffalo were released in 2016. Buffalo now exist on remnants of what were formerly vast territories in North America. Yellowstone is the only place in the lower 48 states to have a continuously wild Buffalo population since prehistoric times — elsewhere, they were either eliminated entirely or hybridized with cattle.
Today, we are working to preserve Yellowstone genetics and restore these conservation Buffalo back to Wind River.
Prehistoric times - 1800
Before 1800
Vast herds roam North American Plains.
historic buffalo drawing

It’s conservatively estimated that 60 million Buffalo once grazed across North America. Native Tribes relied heavily on the Buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, and the animal was foundational to spirituality and cultural belief systems.

Mass hunting by settlers and the US Army begins.
buffalo horns and skulls

Buffalo were killed off with guns by the millions — for both sport and as a warfare strategy — nearly causing their extinction.

The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
buffalo railroad

This gave hunters even easier access to the Great Plains to hunt Buffalo.

Thousands of hunters descend onto the Plains.
buffalo slain snow

These “buffalo runners" could kill up to 5,000 animals per day. Most left the Buffalo where they lay, without using their meat or coat.

The Buffalo range decreases rapidly.
buffalo range shrinking

The original range spanned from modern day Alaska to Mexico. By 1889, the Buffalo range was reduced to only a few dots on the map.

Yellowstone’s Buffalo herd is reduced to 20.
historic buffalo photos

Once roaming North America by the millions, only a few hundred Buffalo remain at the turn of the century. William Hornaday formed the American Bison Society in hopes of bringing back wild herds.

For the next 60 years, Buffalo numbers around North America were further reduced.
historic buffalo photo

This was due to belief that they, along with elk and pronghorn, would over-graze private land belonging to settlers. This continued to diminish what was once a prime food source for many Tribes.

Actors hunt Buffalo on horseback in Yellowstone.
Hunting Buffalo on Horseback in Yellowstone

During the 1924 filming of The Thundering Herd, what was probably the last "old-time" Indian Buffalo hunt took place in Wyoming. The actors all stayed in a tipi camp into the winter months, and Arapaho actors in the film included several family members from the reservation.

18 Buffalo are transported to the Henry Mountains in Utah.
Henry Mountains herd Photo by Gerald Cook, Bureau of Land Management.

The Carbon Emery Wildlife Federation, the Utah State Department of Fish and Game, and the National Park Service transferred three bulls and 15 cows from Yellowstone. Today the herd is approximately 340 adults and calves. The Ute Indian Tribe reintroduced Buffalo near Book Cliffs where today you might see the herd make their way in the desert mountains, canyons, and along the sandstone buttes of the remote wilderness.

The InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) is formed.
ITBC logo

Presently, the InterTribal Buffalo Council includes 70+ Tribes from nineteen states and has restored over 20,000 Buffalo to Tribal lands.

Seven-Point Buffalo Management Solution announced.
At Stephens Creek Capture Facility, staff send straying bison to slaughter. Popular Science 2019 article by Kate Morgan

A first-ever memorandum between a national conservation organization (NWF) and a Tribal organization (ITBC) was created to protect Yellowstone Bison and announce a management solution to address brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area (an approach endorsed by the National Academy of Science).

A quarantine facility for Buffalo is instituted.
buffalo quaratine

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and ITBC advocated for the development of a quarantine facility for Yellowstone bison with relocation of healthy bison to Native Tribes. As a result, that facility was instituted in 2005, a 5-year disease protocol was carried out, and Buffalo were restored to Tribal lands.

An agreement is reached with Wind River Shoshone.
Eastern Shoshone Tribe

A Tribal Resolution-Based Agreement with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Eastern Shoshone paves the way for a Buffalo management program in Wind River.

The Buffalo return to the Wind River Reservation.
buffalo enclosure wind river

On November 3, the release of 10 Buffalo marked a major milestone in restoring the animal to the Wind River landscape. It was the first time since the 1880s that wild Buffalo set foot on these Tribal lands.

The first wild Buffalo calf is born in Wind River.
red dog calf standing

On May 3, the first Buffalo calf was born on the Wind River Reservation in well over 130 years.

Additional Buffalo join the Shoshone Tribe’s herd.
2017 Buffalo Release

Ten additional conservation Buffalo were brought from the National Bison Range in Montana.

An agreement is reached with Northern Arapaho.
Northern Arapaho Tribe

A Tribal Resolution-Based Agreement with the NWF and Northern Arapaho lead to opportunity for more Buffalo in Wind River.

Five bulls are delivered from Fort Peck.
The Northern Arapaho welcome five bulls to Wind River.

Amid a drum circle welcome, bulls arrived in Wind River from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. These animals were purchased to bring more genetics into the Buffalo herd started in 2016, increasing their numbers to 33.

More Buffalo arrive in Wind River.
buffalo family walking

Through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, 26 more Buffalo were delivered to the Shoshone Tribe and 23 to the Arapaho Tribe in Wind River.

The Yellowstone herd continues to increase.
Herd of Bison in the Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

With adequate protection, the Yellowstone herd has steadily grown and includes nearly 5,500 animals today. A new plan (Environmental Impact Statement) is being developed to strengthen the role of Tribes, and increase the number of animals that can leave the park alive.

The Shoshone and Arapaho herds are growing.
Wind River Buffalo

In March of 2022, the City of Denver donated 10 additional animals to the Northern Arapaho Tribe from Genesee Park in Colorado. The two Tribes collectively now have over 150 Buffalo.

Reaching Our Goal

We are restoring the Wind River Reservation with conservation Buffalo, free of cattle genetics and protected under Tribal law. Our goal is to have 1,000 or more.
“The symbol of our logo is a pregnant mother, because it represents rematriation and rebirth, a vision for our land and our people healing and flourishing. The image comes from a petroglyph not far from where I grew up.”

– Jason Baldes

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