Friday, March 4, 2011

Where the Buffalo Roam

For as long as I've been blogging, I've been threatening to write about my first love, buffalo. They stand among my earliest memories, powerful and strong.

I first became enamored when my family drove to Itasca State Park one childhood summer. At that time, there was a pen with two buffalo just inside the park. It was our first stop. In my mind's eye, I have an  image of myself, about four years old, walking around it, trying to get as close as I could. I remember wanting to look in their eyes.

In the photo above, I'm on the left - yellow ducks on a blue sweater - on that long-ago summer day at Itasca. I did not like having my picture taken any more than the wild turkeys in my yard do. Next to me is my sister, Jane, and our friend, Leigh, looking like the original Cabbage Patch Kid.

Eventually we would move on to swim the day away, followed by a picnic of hot dogs roasted on a stick over an open fire - a real stick - and s'mores. For the uninitiated, s'mores consist of a couple squares of good, old-fashioned Hershey's chocolate and a roasted marshmallow, also roasted on a real stick, between two graham crackers. They always left us wanting s'more.

Later, we walked on rocks in shallow water across the headwaters of the Mississippi, hung around a tepee with a real Indian in full regalia, warbonnet and all, looking rather stately despite being surrounded by the trinkets for sale there:  garishly painted drums, rubber tomahawks, little dolls in dark braids with "buckskin" dresses. It was the late 1950's and life seemed simpler. Looking back through somewhat more enlightened eyes, I see something else now.

My older sister, Christy, on that same Itasca day.

During this time, my father would spend the workweek away from home while Mom held down the fort on our little farm. He was a carpenter by trade and found work in the newly forming suburbs of Minneapolis. It wasn't easy. We wanted him at home; he wanted us to get above the poverty line. When he showed up on Friday evenings, we would beg him to give us what I then called 'buff-ee-o' rides. I couldn't say buffalo. I was four years old and enunciation wasn't my strong suit. He would get on his hands and knees and run around the living room with one of us on his back, Jane or me, while the other whined for another turn. Well, I whined, Jane might have quietly waited.

Several years later, when my parents built Deer Valley, we had a large pen with a pair of buffalo inside. It consisted of a few acres, but still not a lot of roaming space. It was a moral dilemma for me, wanting them to have oceans of prairie grass on which to roam, and having them there with us, our very own buffalo. Whenever I saw them near the fence line, I would stop and visit with them. Have you ever looked into a buffalo's eye?  It's a pretty remarkable thing. It feels as though you can see through time itself, as though all of time, all of our earthly history is still there, inside that dark orb, the planet Earth itself, rolling through dark and infinite space.

One of my favorite places to spend time is the Black Hills of South Dakota. Outside of Rushmore, in Custer State Park, you can still see small herds roaming among the hills. If the timing is right, they might be near the road, perhaps even crossing it. Seeing them dot the landscape still stirs some deep emotions, ancestral memories perhaps: across great expanses of this country, the sound of several thousand hooves, running, pounding out the rhythm of time.

Again, scanned photos from my 35mm.


  1. No, I never did look in a buffalo's eyes but I looked at plenty of buffalo. Buffalo everywhere in Montana. I like to look at the pictures of your youth. They are so precious. You are lucky your Mum kept them for you. Remember the song Buffalo Gals..... won't you come out tonight? You and Sis and friend were already there.
    Love and Peace.

  2. Great pictures! Love them. I had many, many of those little dolls, with the buckskin dress and braids. I wonder what happened to them??? So your father played with you??? Wasn't texting his friends??? I remember those days too... I remember seeing my first buffalo. I remember the eyes. They seem to see someplace far away, deep with memory. I love the way you put it, "see through time itself". Cool post!

  3. Wonderful memories of times gone. Childhood times and ancient times when the earth was wild and natural and ours we believed for the taming and subdueing. I love it that there are still remnants of those magnificent herds. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I think it would really be something to look into a buffalo's eyes, and am now adding this to the bucket list! Enjoyed your photos. xo

  5. Wow! This is a wonderful post about a long ago girl who grew up to be YOU. I love that you were a fan of buffalos way back then. I have never looked into their eyes, but I suspect that it's true that time itself must be visible there. Thanks for a wonderful and well written story.

  6. I liked your buffalo story, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park are my favorite places. I lived in Rapid City and went there dozens of times and just liked to sit and watch them.

    They've always intrigued me as well, they are little scaredy cats like cattle, but they are something that only a fool would mess with.

  7. I can imagine looking into that buffalo-eye, because you describe it so well. What an exciting childhood you had, Teresa.
    I have now got some tunes and words in my head to-night "The black hills of Dakota" - and "Home on the Range (oh, give me a home where the buffalos roam....) and so on. I had them on records (and I don't remember who was the singer ?). But I remember the texts! I'm singing now..........hehem...
    Thank you for telling us this wonderful story - actually history in the fifties in America.

  8. Manzanita, Are the buffalo you see free range, actually in the wild, or ranch buffalo, as in Ted Turner and his many thousand acres? :) Thanks for the comments. I'm glad Mom saved those pix, too.

    Lynn, Did you know "Home on the Range" is the Kansas state song? The dolls, where did those symbols of our youth go? :)

    Joan, Yes, some fine memories. It's fun to remember once in awhile.

    Karen, It sounds like a fine thing to add to the List. Thank You.

    DJan, I like the realization that little girl is me, still inside of me, letting her story be told. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    Farmer Dan! Good to hear from you! I trust your bees wintered over safe and sound. Yes, Wind Cave is another magical place. The Sioux believe the buffalo came from Wind Cave. Ain't that cool?

    Grethe, The song was sung and recorded by a few: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Marty Robbins, et al. It's a great classic. The Fifties in America was a good time to be a kid. Well, for this kid. :) Thanks for your comments.

  9. I have worked on plant transects in Custer and we studied to make sure they were being rotated enough and not harming vegetation. One day we all were sitting on the ground and a bull walked over across from us at a creek.He jumped almost 8 ft just to get across and stood right next to my group. We wondered to stay or go. Earlier we had a snake encounter so it was a rough day. They aren't as passive as many think, but i agree truly beautiful creatures.I have a lot of great photos of them.

  10. We saw many at Yellowstone in December, protected well from the snow by their thick pelts.

    We'll be in Custer State Park and the Black Hills in May. I'll make a note to find one and look him in the eye. I'll tell you what happens then.

  11. Steve, Beautiful creatures and I think very intelligent. I suppose he was making a statement by affirming his presence.

    Linda, I look forward to your report. :)

  12. Where the buffalo roam, I feel powerfully akin to them and to that phrase because of my Cherokee roots and because to me they symbolize an almost lost civilization in America. In the back of my mind I sorely wish they still did roam instead of cattle, even if not freely. I've seen them roaming in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma and on Catalina Island. As docile as they may seem one shouldn't get close enouogh to look them in the eye unless you have a tree or an extremely strong fence between you and them to take refuge behind, even semi domesticated or in enclosures they are not tame and are unpredictable, thank goodness they've never lost their wildness.

  13. Great post, you mentioned scanned photos and I've just dug out all my 40 years of photos, would you mind sharing what type of scanner you're using? I'm currently deeply engrossed in a project of how to catalog and what to do with all my photos.

  14. Hi Linda, It's just a cheapie you can buy pretty much anywhere - HP Deskjet F2480 is the model. It's the typical scanner, copier, printer.

    Have fun with that project!

  15. Buffalo are amazing creatures aren't they? There's lots of them between here and the Alberta boarder ~ not wild of course!
    xo Catherine

  16. Catherine, I think raising buffalo as an alternative to beef cattle has grown in popularity over the years, as Manzanita noted in Montana. Every time I see a ranchers herd even, I still slow down to get a better look. They are awesome.

  17. Yes.The Earth Can Be Generous With It's Secrets If We Let It.
    I have never seen a Buffalo. One Day, I Will Rectify That ,I Hope.........
    Teresa.You mention Sylvia Plath in your comment to me.
    She is buried a few miles from where I live in West Yorkshire!Here are a few photos I took.
    In the 2 landscape shots you can see the graveyard (through the mist!) The photos were taken from my Living Room window!
    Here is some wiki info on Heptonstall, the village where it is situated
    Have A Fine Weekend!

  18. Tony, You have a nice view! I love the misty photos with the dew still on the line. The churchyards that are in disarray are very appealing to me. I'm a bit of a graveyard fan. So much history and emotion there. The area and the town have some interesting history, too. Thanks for giving me those links. I hope you will have a fine weekend as well.

  19. I can appreciate the close feelings you capture here of the buffalo. My wife and I too saw them last fall on our travels and they conjured up those Romantic historical allusions.

  20. Hi Paul, Yes, they are hard to resist for me. Those early impressions have really stayed with me.

  21. It's good that there is still prairie enough to support herds of buffalo.

    Yes, a somewhat timeless creature, that would be the absolute symbol of the west if it were not nearly extirpated by buffalo hunters who killed millions of buffalo, countless left behind to rot in the hot sun. Dead for no good reason other than for the ego of fearful men of european descent.

    I share with you an affinity for buffalo. There was once even a subspecies called the woodland buffalo, long gone and extinct now.

    Wonderful post that gives insight into who you are and where you came from. Thank you.

  22. Bill, I have a hard time thinking of all the carnage that the buffalo endured at the hands of those men. One of the things I appreciate deeply about Native America buffalo hunters was that they wasted nothing. They saw the buffalo as sacrificing themselves for their needs: food, warmth, the essentials.

    I had not heard of the woodland buffalo, now extinct. I will do some reading on that. Interesting.

    Thank you, Very much, for your comments, Bill.

  23. Very fine post. I'll probably give you a Sagebrush Award for this one. Buffalo. Such insight and affection for this animal. You had buffalo! I can see you walking around trying to look them in the eye. You have more to write on them, I can tell. Jack of Sage to Meadow.

  24. Jack, I believe I do. My affection for them runs deep. Thank you for your comments. Much Appreciated.

  25. Beautiful, Teresa, and beautiful Teresa.

  26. You talk Minnesotan! Thanks.
    I hope you had a nice birthday.