History, Department of


Date of this Version

October 2006


Paper presented to the 46th Annual Western History Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, October 14, 2006. Copyright 2006 David Nesheim.


By 1920, the recovery of the American Bison was assured. Due to the biology of buffalo, the question facing managers of the protected herds in South Dakota was how to manage population growth. In response to the mandate of the South Dakota State legislature for economic self-sufficiency, Custer State Park chose to develop a market in meat. In the 1930s, Wind Cave National Park distributed surplus animals to the Pine Ridge Reservation, creating another herd. With the entry of the United States into World War Two, the demand for bison meat escalated as a result of shortages in the domestic food supply. The end result was a viable and profitable mar-ket for Custer State Park and the elimination of the Pine Ridge herd. The story of the Pine Ridge herd involves the end of New Deal programs, issues of tribal sovereignty, and the entry of a war-time entrepreneur into the bison market. The animals of Wind Cave were not immediately affected by the war, although the demise of the tribal herd signaled the end of distributing the surplus to Indian tribes. Buffalo went to war, and in the process exposed the intersection of environment, economy, and culture in the mid-20th century. Although different rationales justified the creation of the herds, by 1950 market demand provided common ground for their management.

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