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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. 

Dan O'Brien Rancher

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.”

Dan O'Brien

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 O'Brien Author

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 O'Brine in France

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.

Dan Fence

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.

Dan O'Brien Falconer

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.

Dan O'Brien Buffalo Rancher
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. 

If you have a question for Dan, please note it below. We will be doing a follow-up post answering your questions next month. 

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28 comments

  • Hi, just to say that I am eager to meet you on june 28 ; I discovered your book in a french railway station (I am french) 3 years ago and since then, I wanted to go to see you and the buffalos ; that will be done in june and I am so happy about that ! so… see you soon ! Astrid

    Astrid
  • Just finished reading “The Contract Surgeon”. Really enjoyed it: lots to think about there!
    Thank you sir, for the great stewardship of the land, your respect for the Lakota, and your great writing.

    Mark Goodman
  • Thanks for your continued contributions to sustainable agriculture and literacy….

    Ranger
  • As we travel across the country, we often see bison on the menus of places we stop. We always wonder if the bison were ranched or farmed. When we try to ask questions about the source of the meat, we are met with blank stares of people who do not discern the differences between the methods of raising the animals that produce the meat. Do you have any idea how many bison herds are raised in the manner which you advocate? Is there a list someplace to tell us who’s who in the bison meat industry? Thanks! I fell in love with your writing, your ethics, and bison after reading Buffalo for the Broken Heart. Beautiful writing!

    Dawn
  • Dan, as you deal with a wide spectrum of people and their understanding of the prairie ecosystem, what question or topic have you found that situates a person on that spectrum so that you can have a meaningful conversation with her or him at a starting point for discussion?

    Lee Myers
  • Do people think they know you after reading your books or a book?

    Prairiewind
  • Thank you not just for the healthy meat but for taking care of the ecosystem. More humans like you and your crew would make this a better planet for all of us.

    Take Care

    Richard
  • Do you know of many other ranchers who have switched from cattle to buffalo? How optimistic are you that this will happen on a much larger scale?

    Ray Kosanke
  • I love what Dan is doing with buffalos ,pictures, writing , prairie…However, as a person on a budget, i just can’t justify spending so much on meat,even though it’s leaner-better quality. I just don’t know how to get around this. Any ideas?

    Rosanne Stratigakes
  • Dan, is it possible to raise beef using your model and if so would there be a noticeable difference in taste?

    John Palmer
  • Not a question, just – thank you!

    Susan
  • Hi, I am a pilot and travel writer. We flew out there in 2003, visited Dan at the ranch, and shared a bottle of wine and our mutual love for Theodore Roosevelt’s book, “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail.” I am planning to write a story about flying to the Custer airport, renting a car, and exploring the area. Can people make arrangements to visit the ranch? If not, I certainly understand. If not, can you make some suggestions for ways for people, armed with a car and some free time in your local area, to get an understanding of how important a restored grassland is, and how important the buffalo are in that effort? Thanks.

    Crista Worthy
  • Top five ranching/ecology/outdoors books? Top five literary works?

    Chris Landers

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