Meet Our Founding Father
Dan O’Brien is an owner of the Cheyenne River Buffalo Ranch and the founding father of Wild Idea Buffalo Company.
As a kid growing up in Findlay, Ohio, Dan could be found playing sports or playing outdoors, investigating nature. On a family vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota when he was twelve, he looked out the car window towards the prairie and said, “This is where I’m going to live someday.”
After earning a BA at Michigan Tech, he found his way to the University of South Dakota to study writing under Fredrick Manfred. He received his MFA and made the prairie his home.
Dan has been described by the New York Times as one of the most powerful literary voices on the Plains, and “a writer with a keen and poetic eye.” His novels include, The Spirit of the Hills, In the Center of the Nation, Brendan Prairie, The Contract Surgeon, The Indian Agent and Stolen Horses. Dan’s memoirs on falconry, The Rites of Autumn and Equinox, are intimate and revealing explorations of his life-long search for wildness on the Great Plains. Dan’s non-fiction book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart explores the history of his ranch and the conversion from beef to buffalo. It was chosen for “One Book South Dakota” in 2009. Dan’s latest non-fiction books include, Wild Idea – Buffalo & Family in a Difficult Land (a sequel to Buffalo for the Broken Heart) and Great Plains Bison.
Dan is a two-time winner of the National Endowment for the Arts’ individual artist’s grant, a two-time winner of the Western Heritage Award, and a 2001 recipient of the Bush Creative Arts Fellowship.
In addition to writing, Dan is a wildlife biologist and has been a rancher for more than forty years. He is also a falconer (his golf), and was a player in the restoration of peregrine falcons in the Rocky Mountains in the 1970's and 80's.
He made the conversion from beef cattle to bison on his ranch when he realized the largest native herbivore, the keystone species of the Great Plains, was missing. The bison would be the main tool in helping preserve and restore the prairie.
What he hadn’t planned on was the buffalo leading him to starting a meat company. He has stated many times, “I never thought in a million years that I would be a meat purveyor.” The connection of healthy food equaling healthy land or healthy land equaling healthy food was made, making his initial "wild idea" even more prevalent.
In addition to writing, Dan divides his time between Wild Idea, working on the ranch, writing, teaching ecology and writing, and public speaking. For fun, you can still find him playing outside or enjoying his grand-kids.