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
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