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Wainwright Great Plains Bison
Why are there Bison at CFB/ASU Wainwright?
By the 1870s the great plains bison was, to all intent and purposes, extinct. In 1873, Walking Coyote, a Pend d’Oreille Indian, captured four bison calves (two bulls and two cows), and these formed the humble core of what was to become the famous Wainwright herd. Walking Coyote took these calves to St. Ignatius Mission on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.
By 1884 they numbered thirteen and were sold to two ranchers, Michel Pablo and Charles Allard. They also purchased 23 bison from Buffalo Jones of Omaha, Nebraska along with others. In fact these gentleman had spent 20 years rounding up and buying as many plains bison as they could. When Allard passed away in 1896, the herd was around 300. By 1907 the herd was over 800.
After trying several buyers, one being the United States Congress, Pablo approached and reached a deal with the Canadian Government for 700 head. The Deed of sale was signed in February 1907. At the time the Canadian Government had spent an unprecedented amount for wildlife conservation. The Canadian Cabinet and Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier in particular, played a strong role in obtaining this last herd of wild plains bison for Canada.
Since the park fence at Wainwright had not been completed in time, the first shipment was sent the newly created Elk Island National Park in 1908 for a temporary stay. By June 1909 the fence was completed and the great plains bison were shipped to Wainwright. There were between 45-49 great plains bison who evaded capture in the round up at Elk Island National Park. These great plains bison formed the herd which still roams the park today. All subsequent shipments of the herd from Montana were shipped directly to Wainwright. In 1910, the Town of Wainwright chose the buffalo for its town crest. In 1965 the town erected a buffalo statue in memory of the great buffalo herds that roamed Buffalo National Park.
The herd thrived in this new home. Between 1909 and 1939 over 40000 great plains bison were born. In 1922 annual round ups began to control the population. Some of the buffalo even became movie stars. In 1923 the Hollywood movie “The Last Frontier” was filmed in Wainwright. A few of the park riders were used as extras as well. Although overgrazing, TB and other cattle-borne diseases eventually infected the herd in the late 20's and 30's and lead to the park closure, the Wainwright great plains bison herd played a major role in preventing the extinction of the great plains bison. Animals from Wainwright were shipped throughout North America, Europe and Asia to found virtually every herd of great plains bison in existence today. The roundups continued until 1939 when the herd was removed. In 1940, the local Mayor, Dr. Middlemass, convinced the Department of National Defence to take over the park property as a training area.
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Province of Alberta in 1980, a small herd of great plains bison were returned to Wainwright. It was a small memorial herd of four young great plains bison (two bulls and two cows – note the historical connection with Walking Coyote) adjacent to the main gate. The buffalo paddock was named for the man who spent more than 30 years looking after the original herd, Bud Cotton. Today, the herd is managed by the Base Fund.
In 1913, a young cowboy was hired, with the help of some others, to get a count of the bison herd. His name was E. J. “Bud” Cotton, and he became the warden of the park a few years later. Bud was born in Sherbrook, Quebec and came west at the age of 16. He was part of several large cattle drives and round ups. After being hired by the park he had lots of lively experience with the great plains bison herd. He guided newsmen, cowboys and movie stars on tours. He started a writing career. He authored many books, including memoirs, Buffalo Bud. He remained warden of the park until his retirement in 1947. Bud and many of the original riders were present at the dedication of the Bud Cotton Buffalo Paddock in 1980.
What is the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
The term BUFFALO refers to the entire group of wild oxen. Like bear and fish, it is a general term. BISON refers to the actual species of Great Plains Bison raised here in Wainwright. Wood Bison (Buffalo) are a different species.
CFB/ASU Wainwright Mascot “Bud the Buffalo”
A popular attraction at all the local events is the CFB/ASU Wainwright mascot Bud the Buffalo. If you’ve read the history of the Bison in Wainwright, you will know from where Bud gets his name.
Wainwright Bison Descendants Return to Montana
Descendants of the original Great Plains bison herd that once roamed what is now CFB/ASU Wainwright will soon be returning to their ancestral home in Montana. In a recent press release, Parks Canada stated that 70 bison, 35 male and 35 female will be transferred to Montana to boost the herd in the American Prairie Reserve on the Great Plains north of the Missouri River, after their mandatory 2 month quarantine. The 70 bison were part of the herd housed at Elk Island National Park. The bison are all considered pure bred Great Plains bison, free from cattle genes. The current Elk Island herd contains the remnants of the bison herd that stayed there for a short time before making their way to Buffalo National Park in Wainwright. When Buffalo National Park closed in 1939, some of the remaining Great Plains bison were sent back to Elk Island Park.
In 2010, Elk Island National Park provided 93 plains bison to the herd at American Prairie Reserve. The 2012 transfer will increase American Prairie Foundation's herd to approximately 210 animals. American Prairie Foundation seeks to restore bison to their original habitat on American Prairie Reserve lands, providing visitors a chance to witness the majestic species that captivated explorers and played a central role in the culture and spirituality of Aboriginal people.
"Bison are integral to achieving our vision of a vast prairie reserve that is a fully-functional ecosystem," said Sean Gerrity, American Prairie Foundation President. "Parks Canada's legacy of bison conservation means that our goal is not only achievable, but it is also being realized right now."
Elk Island National Park has played a key role in the conservation of both the plains bison and the wood bison since 1907, one year after Elk Island was established and six years before it was formally established as a national park. Elk Island housed one of the first shipments of Great Plains bison received from the original herd purchased in 1907 from Montana because the fences at the newly created Buffalo National Park in Wainwright were not finished. When the bison were rounded up for the trip to their new homes, approximately 45-49 bison evaded the round up, forming the foundation of the current herd. Elk Island National Park has sucessfully relocated 778 plains bison to conservation programs in Canada and recently the United States. This is in addition to the animals from the Wainwright herd that were shipped throughout North America, Europe and Asia to found virtually every herd of Great Plains bison in existence today.
For more information on Elk Island National Park, please visit www.parkscanada.gc.ca.
Information on American Prairie Foundation Reserve is available at www.americanprairie.org.