National Buffalo Museum – The Story of the American Bison

Jamestown, North Dakota.

A year ago in October, I published a couple of stories about a frontier village in Jamestown and a 60-ton statue that is the world’s largest buffalo sculpture. In recent weeks the frontier village came into some political controversy and the artifacts and buildings were almost given away to a similar pioneer museum in Perham, Minnesota. Fortunately for local fans of the village, the buildings and artifacts will remain in Jamestown as the City Council voted 3-2 to accept ownership of the village and its contents. The controversy started when the Frontier Village Association, owner of the artifacts, was in talks with the city to renew the land lease upon which the village is located. That dispute nearly closed down the attraction which would be a great loss to the community. If you are interested in getting a glimpse of the village as I saw it in the summer of 2018, you can find it here.

One attraction I did not see on that visit was the National Buffalo Museum. The 6,000 sq ft (557 sq m) facility contains exhibits on the story of the bison, its near extinction, and its restoration and designation as the United States national mammal. We were short on time the day we visited the village and the museum happened to be closed when we had to leave. It’s time we rectified that situation.

First, some points on semantics. Technically what is known in the United States as a buffalo is specifically the American Bison.  Because they are similar to the Asian and African buffaloes, explorers as early as the 17th century incorrectly referred to the bison as buffalo. In the interest of consistency, I’ll be incorrect and use the term buffalo for the remainder of this post. On the day we visited, we saw none of the 25 head or so of live buffalo that live in the prairie “back yard” of the museum. This photo showing a few of the herd was captured on the day we visited the Frontier Village. The herd and the 60-ton giant buffalo are a big tourist draw to people traveling I-94 as they transit through Jamestown.

Since 1996, a major attraction in the buffalo herd was White Cloud, a rare albino buffalo who died of old age in 2016, a typical lifespan for an American Buffalo. Her full body mount is on display in the museum. Before her passing, though, White Cloud’s rare genes were passed on to Dakota Miracle, a white bull. A brown buffalo also gave birth to another albino named Dakota Legend. In a news item published online in the Jamestown Sun on June 28, 2019, the National Buffalo Museum announced the passing of Dakota Miracle here. Probably due to a genetic trait of poor vision among albino buffalo, Dakota Miracle stumbled over the edge of a cliff and succumbed to injuries received in the fall. He was 13 years old.

In October 2018, I got a glimpse of one of the two white buffaloes through my telephoto lens. I don’t know whether this one is Dakota Miracle or Dakota Legend. The latter buffalo still roams with the herd so it is still possible to catch a glimpse of a legendary white buffalo.

Other examples of taxidermy feature animals native to North America including this specimen, an Alaskan Brown Bear. The museum is small, and won’t take long to visit (unless you really get into the wildlife and historical artifacts such as the antique rifles and other gear shown in the image below.)

The museum located a short distance off I-94. Take Exit 258 at Jamestown, ND. The facility is open year-round with longer hours between Memorial Day and Labor Day. As of this writing, admission is a low $8 USD for adults with discounts for seniors, military personnel, and children. You can find directions, current hours, and other details of the museum here. The museum opened in 1993 and in addition to artifacts of the American Buffalo, visitors will find art works, and many items of Native American culture as they relate to the buffalo. The story of the near extinction and eventual resurgence is told in a small theater. It’s worth the few minutes it takes to review how easy it could have been to not have these magnificent animals around to view in real life. If you enjoy buffalo meat, you can even purchase some buffalo steaks or other products to take home and enjoy.

John Steiner

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