Imagine yourself surrounded by a sea of grass, softly illuminated by golden-tinged afternoon sunlight. A gentle breeze brings with it the sweet vanilla scent of the ponderosa pine. In the distance, a herd of bison silently graze while a nearby meadowlark whistles a pleasant song. This is the sunlit world of Wind Cave National Park. However, it has not always been like this. By the mid-1880s most of the buffalo that had roamed the Great Plains were gone. The elk populations were reduced and scattered in the mountains and the pronghorn antelope had moved west to Wyoming and parts beyond. It seemed like the Great Plains and their abundance of life was fading into the memories of the mountain men and intrepid explorers who had roamed the west.
By 1890, according to newspaper reports, the number of North American bison (Bison bison) in the United Sates was reduced to a woeful 500 animals. There were interested parties trying to protect them and as early as 1874, bills had been introduced into Congress to protect these magnificant animals, but little protection arrived.
A few private ranchers took it upon themselves to start small herds from remnant survivors wandering the plains. Fredrick Dupree saved nine calves on his ranch near the Moreau River in South Dakota. Charles Goodnight, Walking Coyote, Scottie Phillips, and Charles (Buffalo) Jones also rounded up remnant herds. These and others protected groups are the source of most of today's bison herds. But it was not until a concerted national effort was made that the survival of the species was assured.
This began on December 8, 1905, when a group of 16 people assembled in the Lion House of the New York Zoological Society, all of them were interested in working to preserve the American bison. This organization became known as the American Bison Society; its primary goal was the preservation of the American buffalo. Among its founders were William Hornaday and Theodore Roosevelt. Wind Cave was one of several bison preserves they created and because of their efforts the future of the species was assured.
But it was not an easy task to start a bison herd. First the preserve had to be established. For Wind Cave National Park that started in 1910. The Bison Society was looking for a place in South Dakota. Because of the rich habitats within the park, Wind Cave caught their eye and by 1911 a study by Mr. J.A. Loring was done indicating the park would sustain these massive animals. Stanley (Seth) Bullock, the US Marshall supervising Wind Cave NP at the time, provided his support saying:
I do not think they could find a better location…. There is plenty of water and shelter in the Park, and horses and cattle ranging there this winter are in better shape than any that I have seen elsewhere. … the Park is an ideal location.