Environment | National

Native Sun News: Historic buffalo jump added to NPS site

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

“The object was to stampede the herd, or a part of it, and to direct the rapidly moving animals to a given point, the Indians knowing that, once well in motion they would run into their own destruction. Sometimes a man skillful in the ways of the bison would disguise himself in one of their skins and act as leader of the drove to the extent of starting them in their mad rush. The movement grew into a stampede, and forced the leading animals before it. If the advance was toward a sharp gully, it was soon filled with carcasses over which the stream of animals passed.”

So wrote frontier documentarian Edward S. Curtis in describing centuries-old Sioux buffalo hunts.

When the hunters drove the beasts over a cliff, the location became known as a buffalo jump. From the layers of bones at the base, scientists have estimated that some 20,000 bison were killed at one such site near Beulah, Wyo., and that it was in use as late as 1800.

Now Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota will have the opportunity to educate the public on this method of hunting and its relationship to the buffalo culture that historically sustains Plains Indian tribes.

The National Park Service announced the acquisition of a thousand-year-old buffalo jump and 5,555 acres of land from the Casey family private ranch estate.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the addition of the former ranchland, buffalo jump, tipi rings and a settlers’ homestead.

“The addition of this historic ranch to the park will help ensure that people for generations to come can come to know and love this treasured landscape and have the opportunity to learn about the indigenous peoples of South Dakota,” said Salazar.

In 2005, with support from the South Dakota Congressional delegation, lawmakers voted to expand the park pending an appropriation to purchase the land. When the land was put up for auction by the Casey family, The Conservation Fund purchased the property to hold for the National Park Service until federal funding became available.

“Thanks to the outstanding bi-partisan leadership of the South Dakota Congressional delegation and the dedication of the National Park Service, we celebrate this achievement to preserve our nation’s treasured lands for generations,” said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund.

Congress appropriated the necessary funding this year from his group’s fund, which enables agencies to acquire lands that feature important historic, natural, scenic and economic benefits for public use and enjoyment. The fund receives significant revenue from the development of federally-owned offshore oil and gas rights.

In 2010, the 104,000 visitors that toured Wind Cave spent an estimated $8.7 million and supported 148 jobs.

The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting important places across America, acquired the property at auction from the Casey family last year and transferred it to the park service. This completes a process begun in 2000 when the family approached the government about selling the land to the park. Considered the place of origin by the Lakota, Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex caves, known for its outstanding display of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. It was the first cave ever designated as a national park. President Theodore Roosevelt set it aside as the country’s eighth national park in 1903.

The park is home to one of America’s most ecologically-significant bison herds, which dates back to bison relocated to the park from the Bronx Zoo and Yellowstone in the early 20th century.

The park features more than 30,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest that provides habitat for elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. For more information, call the park at (605) 745-4600.

(Talli Nauman is the Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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