History, Department of


Date of this Version

December 2004


A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in History, Northern Arizona University, December 2004.
Copyright 2004 David Nesheim.


By 1890, the number of North American bison (Bison bison) in the United Sates was reduced to about 500 animals. At that time, a few private ranchers started small herds from remnant survivors of the hide trade. Fredrick Dupree saved nine calves on his ranch near the Moreau River in South Dakota.

Between 1901 and 1913, three fenced preserves were created in the state. James Philip, a Pierre rancher, purchased the Dupree herd in 1901. The state of South Dakota created Custer State Game Preserve in 1913. The Federal government, in concert with the American Bison Society, created the Wind Cave National Game Preserve in that same year. The future propagation of the species was thereby assured.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the herds grew began to grow beyond the capacity of their perspective enclosures. After James Philip’s death, his heirs dismantled the herd through a series of sales and hunts. Custer State Park (renamed in 1919) briefly attempted live sales of the surplus animals, but by the mid 1920s was slaughtering animals for their meat. Wind Cave National Park (renamed in 1935) distributed its excess to public zoos and parks and private individuals. After the demand for live buffalo decreased in the 1930s, Wind Cave began to give surplus animals to Indians, first as meat and later creating a new herd on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The shortages of WWII led to increased demand for buffalo meat beginning in 1942. Custer State Park (CSP) expanded its slaughtering operations. The Pine Ridge herd was terminated in 1945 and most of the animals were sold to a Michigan entrepreneur. The remaining head were added to CSP. After the war, as a result of efforts to control brucellosis, the surplus from Wind Cave was driven into CSP where they were slaughtered for meat.

The preservation of the buffalo is considered a conservation success story. Much of that success is attributable to the prodigious rates of reproduction of the animals. The history of the first South Dakota herds suggests it is one thing to create a reserve, and quite another to manage it.

Included in

History Commons