The Arrival of the Bison

Historic sepia-toned photograph of wagons and people unloading in Hot Springs.
Unloading in Hot Springs.

The Zoological Society not only furnished 10 buffalo, but increased the number to 14 - seven males and seven females. On Monday, November 24, 1913, the 14 individually crated animals were placed in two new steel express cars and shipped on the 25th by rail to Hot Springs at an express charge of $850. The Society reported:

A great deal of interest was taken in the shipment at all stopping points... The explanatory labels attracted attention... crowds gathered quickly and asked many questions or climbed up to get a look at our strange charges.

Historic sepia-toned photograph of two wagons with bison traveling to the park.
Two wagons with bison traveling to the park.

The herd arrived Friday, November 28th at 9:30 AM in excellent condition. The total cost to get them to the park was $1,150 and the total time was 63 hours for the trip of two thousand miles.

The Bison Society reported:

By noon the unloading (from the train) was completed and the crates securely lashed or chained to wagons provided by citizens of Hot Springs. It was 7:00 PM when the caravan reached the park. The first animal took its release very calmly and disappeared into the darkness. However, the unloading by the uncertain light of our lanterns and bonfire proved to be a more or less difficult task. Greatly to the surprise and disappointment of some of our spectators, we had a good deal of trouble in getting some of the bison out of their crates.

Fred Dille, of the U.S. Biological Surevey, in charge of establishing the herd explained it this way:

To suggest to a buffalo that he must back out of the crate by poking him in the head, will work with an elk but not a bison. Your actions are but a challenge to him and he does not propose to give ground.

The final result according to the Bison Society's report was:

In several cases the operation was more like removing the crate from the animal than the animal from the crate. At last our task was over, and it was with something of a feeling or relief that we realized that our trip had been brought to a successful conclusion.

Protection Assured

By the end of 1913 the Secretary of Agriculture, D. F. Houston, reported to the American Bison Society:

…the Government now has about 315 buffalo, distributed in six herds, the fifth and sixth having been established this year on the Niobrara Reservation, Neb. And the Wind Cave Park, S. Dak. In this connection it is interesting to recall that the nucleus of the first herd, the one now in the National Zoological Park, was acquired twenty-five years ago through the late Eugene Blackford, and consisted of a pair of buffalo captured near Ogallala, Neb. Soon after, four others were presented by Dr. V.T. McGillicuddy, a pubic spirited citizen of Rapid City, S. Dak. It happens that after the lapse of a quarter of a century the buffalo in each of the States from which the original herd was secured. The future of the species now seems assured.

Last updated: December 29, 2017

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