It is estimated that there were sixty million buffalo in all of North America before Europeans came to this continent. The original range of the buffalo was from Northern Canada and Alaska down to Mexico and Florida and over to the Atlantic Ocean. It has been estimated that there were originally up to five million buffalo east of the Mississippi River.
The great slaughter of buffalo intensified in the years from 1865 to 1883. In 1895, the total known buffalo left in the world was less than 1000. In 1905, the American Bison Society was founded to help save the buffalo from extinction. Today, the National Bison Association has over 2,000 members who are mostly persons who are raising buffalo in public or private herds. You can contact the National Bison Association for more information.
The American buffalo has long been a symbol of America. In 1913 the U.S. Treasury coined the buffalo nickel. The man who designed the coin, James Earle Fraser, said that in his search to fulfill his objective to produce a coin which was truly American he “found no motif within the bounties of the United States so distinctive as the American Buffalo.” 1
Many people helped save the buffalo from extinction including some ranchers who captured wild buffalo calves and started some private buffalo herds. They included men such as Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher, who captured some wild buffalo calves in 1866.
A Native American, Walking Coyote, raised six buffalo orphan calves who wandered into his camp in 1873 while he was buffalo hunting on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. In 1884, Walking Coyote sold his herd of 13 buffalo to two ranchers, Charles A. Allard, and Michael Pablo. About half of the eventual 300 buffalo in the Allard/Pablo herd were sold in 1906 to the Canadian government and transported to Canada. Fifteen of the other animals were eventually sold to the United States Government for placement in Yellowstone National Park. 2
In 1881 a rancher named, Pete DuPree, captured five buffalo calves in the Dakotas and took them home to his ranch. In 1901, another South Dakota Rancher, Scotty Phillips, bought the DuPree herd of about 83 head. In 1914 36 buffalo from the Scotty Phillips herd were sold to the State of South Dakota. Those 36 buffalo became the nucleus for a buffalo herd of over 1,000 today in Custer State Park, South Dakota. 3
Every year Custer State Park holds an auction to sell its excess buffalo. Dale and Ginger Sprik have a buffalo bull on their farm from the Custer State Park Herd. There is a direct link between the five wild buffalo calves Pete DuPree captured in 1881 and the buffalo raised on Sprik Farms.
Today, there are approximately 300,000 buffalo in both public and private herds in North America.
The terms “buffalo” and “bison” can be used interchangeably to refer to the same animal. The popular term used to describe the American bison has been “buffalo” since as early as 1710. It may be that English colonists anglicized the French terms for describing the American bison, boeuf - “ox” or bufflo or buffelo. The term “buffalo” first appeared in print in 1754.4
1 Dary, David A., The Buffalo Book; The Full Saga Of The American Animal (1974) p. 279
2 Ibid, pp 231, 232
3 Ibid, pp 231-232
4 Ibid, pp 10