Before the mid-1800s, bison dotted the South Dakota plains. But by the late 1800s, South Dakota resembled a bleak wildlife landscape. The wild free roaming bison were gone and so were the elk, the pronghorn, other wildlife, and the people that once roamed freely across the plains. By the beginning of the 20th century, some efforts were underway locally to restore prairie wildlife; yet, it wasn't until people on the east coast gathered together to create the New York Zoological Society in 1905 and its subdivision of the American Bison Society, that bison conservation actually began to have a home.
In 1913, the New York Zoological Society had raised sufficient numbers of bison that they could imagine doing something that had never been done before. They proposed a new vision of conservation partnership between private and public entities, in order to donate and restore bison to Wind Cave National Park nestled in the South Dakota Black Hills landscape. In November, 1913, 14 bison departed New York City by train for the long trip westward back home to Hot Springs, South Dakota and then by wagon to Wind Cave National Park. This cross-country movement of bison, from private possession to public lands, represented a major milestone in wildlife conservation.