Mus­ter­ing a wild bunch

A spec­tac­u­lar an­nual round-up is a cru­cial part of mak­ing sure this pre­cious herd of buf­falo con­tin­ues to roam free, writes Kari Gis­la­son

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - HOME RUN -

young state with a fa­mously wild his­tory. But the buf­falo, one of the sym­bols of the Wild West and once num­ber­ing in the tens of mil­lions were, by the close of the 19th cen­tury, all but wiped out. You sense that the herd we’ll see to­mor­row, es­tab­lished in 1914, is an echo of the wild­ness of the past but also a sign of how it sur­vives in the spirit of the peo­ple – rather in the way that hos­pi­tal­ity and small-town fa­mil­iar­ity do.

At the end of the night, peo­ple call out across the room and make long good­byes. For a mo­ment, I feel like I’ve joined a large fam­ily gath­er­ing, and that the event to­mor­row is as much a catch-up as it is a round-up.

It be­gins around seven, when we join a long con­voy of SUVs that makes a wind­ing route along a pretty creek and high pon­derosa pines. It is very green, not re­ally how I imag­ine buf­falo coun­try will look.

But then quite sud­denly, a large bull, sep­a­rated from the herd, is run­ning along­side our car. We pass him. And then he stops, and steps out on to the road. The traf­fic be­hind us pulls up, but no one gets out. The cow­boys must all be up ahead.

“How will they move it?” I ask, turn­ing back to watch. But I don’t find out un­til later. In the end, it takes the High­way Pa­trol to move him on – buf­falo make poor pedes­tri­ans.

We clear the woods and come out into the more open coun­try of golden fields and low rises that bor­der the Black Hills forests. The sky is al­ready a thin, wa­ter­colour blue.

At the stock­yards, we’re awaited by a sec­ond con­voy of utes mod­i­fied with high bars to hold.

They take us over a ridge and into a val­ley where the wran­glers who’ll be bring­ing in the herd also wait – 30 core

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