Thursday, August 6, 2009
Custer State Park, in South Dakota's Black Hills, is home to a managed wild buffalo herd of approximately 1,500 head. Rounding a bend just off the Wildlife Loop, we saw this bull grazing.
Once these creatures roamed the plains by the hundreds of thousands. From 1800-1900, commercial hunting took its toll until the herds were nearly gone. Fortunately, a few men had foresight to save and raise some calves from the wild herds. Their descendents live in Custer State Park today.
Also known as American bison, these animals can run 35 mph and can jump 6 feet in the air from a dead stop. Their strong legs and massive skulls are weapons against predators.
Our vehicle was so close we could hear the bull rip the grass from the ground and chew it. I could have reached out and touched him, but I knew better!
Vachel Lindsay's poem, "The Flower-Fed Buffaloes," came to mind:
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prarie flowers lie low:
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us long ago,
They gore no more, they bellow no more
They trundle around the hills no more: --
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low,
Lindsay was known as a "singing poet." He performed his poems, chanting, percussing, emoting, inflecting, and infecting his listeners with sound. Hear the regret in his voice as he gives tribute to this mammoth of the plains by clicking on the poem's title here.
At Custer State Park, the buffalo are still flower-fed and bellowing. I think Lindsay would be pleased.