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May 09, 2016


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Crawling on my stomach through the grass, concentrating only on keeping my presence unknown and not damaging my Nikon camera, I temporarily forgot about my fear of snakes. It was a misty South Dakota morning and the sun had just started to push through the washed-out prairie sky.

Buffalo Close up with Horns

Earlier, I had been out with Dan, gathering a group of renegade bison that had crossed a downed stock-dam fence. It is on these rare gatherings that I am discouraged from bringing my camera. I’d been busted a time or two before, but decided to risk it, and had tucked it safely inside my bulky jacket.

Bison Swimming

There were a few mothers with spring calves in the group of escapees, so we took extra care and swung out far behind them, hoping they would accept our subtle encouragement and turn back the way they had come. They took the hint and headed toward home.

Buffalo drinking at pond

Other than my vehicle breaking down, the event was a success, lasted a couple of hours, and I had the opportunity to sneak in a couple of shots.

Dan picked me up when he saw me on foot, and gave me an “aha” look when he saw my now exposed camera hanging around my neck. I reciprocated with a smile and a wink. We trailed behind the buffalo, and as we passed through the gate we noticed the “maternity ward,” a group of expecting and new mothers, about a quarter mile to the south. Tucked behind a plum thicket even closer, was a mother giving birth. Dan quickly turned in the opposite direction to remove any pressure she might feel. “Wait! I want to see this,” and asked him to slow enough so I could roll out. With his famous half grin he said, “What about all of the snakes, and how will you get back?” This time I threw him a winced ha-ha smirk and said, “I’ll walk.”

I reached the edge of the plum thicket just as the calf was being delivered. My breath was heavy, and my heart sounded as if it was beating out of my chest. The sun was bright and high now and hit last year’s straw colored grass with a glare that made it difficult to see.

Bison giving birth

I hadn’t been invited to this new union and felt a bit like an interloper. But, I was there, and I had an opportunity to take a photo of the prairies newest arrival. I crawled deeper into the thicket, thorns clawing at me with every wiggle.

I sensed that she sensed me, so I started talking to her very softly. The words were just a murmur, but I believed she could feel them. “It’s all right little momma. Good job. You’re so beautiful. I love you.” I watched with delight as she licked and nudged the little golden ball of fur up onto its legs.

Bison Cow with New Born Calf
My heart was still pounding and my face stung as the tears rolled over my thorn-scratched face. I needed to gather my emotions. I took a couple deep breaths, steadied my hands, blinked my eyes a few times, and propped myself on my elbows to take a couple of shots.

The new mother looked my way, so I stilled myself and buried my head into my coat. I waited, peaking out only occasionally for a glimpse. After the baby had nursed, the mother buffalo laid down for a well-deserved rest. The baby buffalo moved out in front of her and tried out it’s new legs, making small attempts at a leap and a kick before she grunted it back close to her side.

Baby Bison Calf with MotherI slowly slithered out backwards toward a low crevasse. The ground had started to puddle so I rose up onto my hands and knees. Suddenly I noticed movement in the grass and froze in a panic. “Snake,” I thought. Simultaneously, as my mind was telling my body to leap 20 feet in the air, a Great Plains Toad exposed itself from the sandy soil. I collapsed back into the earth and allowed the dampness to fill my lungs, before moving away ape-like as if I too were coming out of the earth.

A version of Jill's story was printed in the May 2016 Patagonia catalog. 


Thomas Miller

May 11, 2016

Congratz on breeding Americas newest named Nationally recognized Finest.
“The American Bison”

Elizabeth Conley

May 11, 2016

Awwwww, this story and pictures made me cry. I just turned my doctor onto your buffalo meat and he has enjoyed his first new bundle.Thank you, luv, liz

Kim Kinsley

May 11, 2016

So awesome !! The pictures are just fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing the story. I’m green with envy

Terry Chester

May 11, 2016

Awesom pictures, touched my heart. Th story was great to.

Rose Switzer

May 11, 2016


Mary Flaherty

May 11, 2016

I always love to see the pictures of animals roaming in Dakota’s and your stories
on here as I am from IOWA. We do have a few buffalo on a farm around here.

patti Lattanzia

May 11, 2016

What an honor to be given this experience,Jill. I share your tears at the joy of it. Thank, you.

Don Meyer

May 11, 2016

Thank you Jill.

This brought tears of joy to my eyes, and how wonderful that you could get the pictures and share in the birth of your newest buffalo child. I am just dying to get up there and actually walk on your land and see the buffalo too. I am retired and my IRA is running low now, but I am working at getting a business going, so here’s hoping I will be able to meet you and Dan and Jillian and her husband in person one day. I have been eating your buffalo every day for 8 years now I think, and I might start buying it direct from you soon if Natural Grocers is not going to carry the buffalo stew meat any more. I was talking to the gal at your factory about that the other day, and she was telling me that you and Dan are often at the factory too. So my best to all of you, and keep up your joyful and wonderful work. Love, Don

Michael P. Carufel

May 11, 2016

What a beautiful a touching story… I have tears in my eyes just reading the article. Your truely do live a in a vastly different enviroment than here in New England. The Bison is such a majesic animal. Your fear of the Mother’s rejection of the calf and for your own safety is heartpounding!

Judie Maxfield

May 11, 2016

Love your adventures. Appreciate you being able to record them for those of us who love nature too. God is so good!! We are very fortunate to be able to participate in all His wonders. Thank you. Judie

James Peacock

May 11, 2016

I am in awe of the pure love and beauty of nature whenever you so graciously welcome me to your ranch. Jill, these pictures are absolutely amazing! Have you considered submitting this article and pictures to National Geographic (or- closer to home, South Dakota Magazine)? I hope you are all doing well, and give my regards to my dear friend Erney! I am healing up from yet another surgery, but the good news is that I am CANCER FREE!! I look forward to stopping in one of these days, Good Lord willing and if you don’t mind! Best Regards, Jim Peacock (the rugged rock-picker of the plains)

Siggy Palmer

May 11, 2016

Thanks for risking the snakes. Your poignant story and the photos were worth it!

Holly Hopper

May 11, 2016

Thanks for sharing this!! So beautiful!

Sandy Pearsall

May 11, 2016

Thank you SO much for sharing this moment with us!

Chris Jorgensen

May 11, 2016

Having been born and raised in NE it makes my heart want to come home. At 74 my memories of the open prairie, freedoms to hunt (when you ask promission) and gentleness of the majority of the people leaves me happy I lived those days.
WHAT A GREAT ARTICLE JILL!! Thanks for the memories……


May 11, 2016

Beautiful reminder about Mother’s Day….forever.

Barbara McCarthy

May 11, 2016

Thank you Jill for sharing this incredible experience. I began buying bison and following the tales and trails of the ranch after I read Buffalo for the Broken Heart and subsequently all of Dan’s books!
I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and my first experience with bison was at the Buffalo Zoo. Even as a young girl I knew something was terribly wrong with what I was seeing. I began reading everything I could about bison. As an adult I finally saw my first free-roaming bison at the National Bison Range in MT. I cried. I visit SD yearly and have been to the Buffalo Roundup 6 times now. I would love to visit your ranch someday. All the best to you, Dan, and all at the ranch. Warm regards, Barbara

Bob Watland

May 11, 2016

Nice story and pics. Really enjoyed it. Thank you. Bob

Vernon Cross

May 11, 2016

Who knew you have such gifts for illustrating in riveting fashion your own marvelous experiences in prose.

A Jackson

May 11, 2016

WoW! What an inspiring moment to have witness, to see this firsthand must be a very precious moment. Thank you for sharing this with us all…makes me feel like I was next to you and had the special privilege to see as well.

Kathy Bray

May 11, 2016

The touching reminder of how nature and all things wild fill our souls like nothing else can. What a special moment you shared – thank you for sharing with us.


May 11, 2016

Incredulous story! Fantastic and rare photographs. What a blessing.

This has count way up there, in “among the rarest of privileged moments.”

Congratulations, Jill, and thank you, so much, for this treasure.


May 11, 2016

Heureusement il y a encore de tel moment, merci pour toutes ces émotions

Alan lazar

May 11, 2016

Great story, love them. I worked in Yellowstone last year and wanted to stop by but had to be at work in the park
Keep the stories coming

Bob Mahoney

May 11, 2016

I’ve always said spring is the best time of the year for us that cherish this new National mammal the bison I’ve been blessed to witness several new little bison come into the world and even helped a couple. tis the most glorious time of the year

Thank you Jill for sharing

Keith A. Lewis

May 11, 2016

What a beautiful story. It brought tears of joy and awe to my eyes.

Barb Stout

May 12, 2016

What a terrific gift you have, Jill. For someone who can only dream about the life you and Dan live, it’s wonderful to be able to share the lovely gift of seeing this baby and momma with your awesome pictures and words.

I have bought and read every one of Dan’s books and consider than among my favorites, to be kept and to be reread. You also have the gift of storytelling. Thank you so much for sharing this memory. Barb

Patti P

May 13, 2016

With a tear in my eye, I say we have a beautiful world, we just need to explore, take risks and the reward will come our way. Thank you Jill for sharing your inner world.

Carol Else

May 15, 2016

Incredible pictures! All I can say is that I sincerely look forward to receiving every newsletter from both you and Dan. I read every word and fall in love all over again with the prairie where I grew up and will forever love those bison.

Amanda White

May 16, 2016

Mesmerizing account of this absolutely spiritual happening. And, there really are no words to describe your photos. I am so envious——-even crawling through the thorns and all!! Such a special experience you have given to all of us——-almost like being there. Seeing my first bison in Custer SP was love at first sight for me with these amazing creatures. Picked up “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” at the State Game Lodge gift shop. We sat (in the car) amongst a herd of about 200——with the windows down, engine off just listening and soaking up all their sounds. Still gives me a smile when I remember it. Thank you, Jill.

Rollie Earley

May 17, 2016

Wonderful Article.

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