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Regeneration

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.

Bison

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.

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.

Bison drinking at pondDan 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.

Just Born Bison Calf

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 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.

Buffalo Cow & Calf
I 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. 

The Regeneration Continues! Meet some of 2021 new arrivals and their dear, sweet mums!

Bison Cow & Calf 
Bison Cows with Baby Buffalo

 Buffalo Calf

Bison Calf & Cow

Buffalo with calves

Bison Cow w Calves 

 

 

 

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51 comments

  • George – We allow 35 acres per animal for grazing. We have many different species of native grasses and some domestic, which we are converting back to native pasture… but, it is a lengthy process. There is a lot of information on our website – start with our home page and click through on the learn more buttons. Feel free to contact when you are through this area. Best of luck to you.

    jill
  • Have been doing Lakota ceremony since1978 and Sundance since 1997 and it has been a dream of mine to raise a small heard of bison and elk. How many acres per animal are needed and what are the different grasses that where natural to their diet. I come to the Pine ridge rez every year for ceremony and would love to meet and chat and if not to much to ask have you sign my copy of BUFFALO for the BROKEN HEART.

    George R. Vaporean
  • Thanks so much for repeating the 2016 post—so well written—and providing new photos. It never, ever gets old.

    Linda Clark
  • So glad to see the babies, we call them P’te cikala. I was part of the group that visited your ranch and store last year and enjoyed your hospitality and respect for Tatanka. Here at Fort Peck we have two herds but I seldom get to see pics of the babies so I enjoyed your story and images. Thank you, Pidamaya…

    Lois Red Elk
  • As an avid animal lover I am in awe of your experiences with this majestic creatures – their pure beauty shines so clearly thorough the lens of your camera and your very talented ability to capture them in their life adventures. Thank you for being who you are and bringing joy to lives of the likes of us that love animals and can appreciate what you and Dan do for the animal kingdom and mankind . You brought a smile to my face with your recount of the rustle in the weeds as I to am afraid of snakes and understood that moments of decision….fly, run or pray!….

    Patti Cole
  • Thank You! Jill and Dan for this poignant reminder of the circle of Life. It is an Awe inspiring moment to witness first hand the birth of these Wild and beautiful indigenous creatures. To be “grounded” such as Jill was in capturing this moment on our shared planet is truly amazing. How long has it been since any one of us have personally breathed deeply of the myriad smells of Mother Earth? Felt Mother Earth move beneath us…. An overload of our sensory capacities!!! An ethereal moment. Thank you!

    Bruce Tuxhorn
  • Each year we make the trek across the state normally toward the end of March to see the new arrivals, the cinnamon babies, in Custer State Park. We take several days to view the baby bison and never get tired @ watching them. They are often so spunky either jumping or spurting @ a dead run while @ the same time remaining close to Mom. If they stray a little to far for her liking she will call them back in short order. The love between them and Mom is so cute and that’s one of the reasons we never get tired of making the trip…

    Jon Peterson
  • Thanks Jill. I love your writing. The pictures aren’t bad either. :-) Happy Mother’s Day!

    Alan Anderson
  • Yes ….. an awesome about the bison are the true American icon. A great “Mother’s Day” story.

    Greg Adams
  • Loved the Mother’s Day story and pictures Jill. Thanks for sharing your ranch and your love and passion with those of us who enjoy your healthy meat.

    Cindy R
  • simply beautiful!

    JoAnn
  • Thank you and I also will read: A version of Jill’s story was printed in the May 2016 Patagonia catalog.

    pat
  • Please give me a poem.
    About how buffalo “roam”
    And my skies won’t be cloudy today!

    Thanks for your awesome article and pictures.

    ,🤸😀🤸

    Bruce Green
  • You put joy in my heart ! Thanks and nice mother- day to you Jill
    Send from Switzerland

    Immer
  • You made my day! Fun to partake of wine and frivolities with you. Happy Mother’s Day!

    Deborah Mitchell

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