River Ranch Diary – August 2023
Lately my thoughts have run toward the origin story of the buffalo as told by the Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains of North America. In that story, when both the two-legged and the four-legged beings emerged from their cave into the light, they pledged, one to the other, to care and provide for one another forever. And thus, they prospered until the invasion of and movement across their land of the Anglo-Europeans began.
It’s the old story of incursion and displacement, acquisition and conflict, in the center of which roamed the massive herds of buffalo revered by the Indigenous peoples of the plains and soon to be nearly exterminated by the demands of “manifest destiny.” To the Anglo-European mindset, after the Civil War and with the advent of the Homestead Act, the buffalo and the Indigenous people whose way of life was inextricably tied to them had to make way for an imported form of agriculture. As homesteads were established, great herds of cattle were brought in to graze on lands from which the buffalo had been unceremoniously removed. The mindset of this westward movement, of manifest destiny, simply trampled the longstanding agreement between the buffalo and the Indigenous tribes.
Of course, the Indigenous people became incensed and combative. For who would not fight against such an invasion, when homes and livelihood had been rudely destroyed, when lands had been forcefully acquired by the invaders and subjected to the will and law of the victors? In the aftermath we now struggle, lurch after pitiful lurch, to right things into some acceptable form of conciliation—a hard, if not impossible, task. The remnants of the tribes survive; the remnants of the great herds survive. Both strive to overcome the devastation of the past. Both find themselves, not always successfully, living lifestyles they did not choose for themselves.
In today's world the most difficult task is for the majority population to allow the people, the animals, and the land to regenerate an ecosystem that replicates, as closely as possible, what was. Enter Scotty Philip, the Triple U Ranch, the Ted Turner ranches, Ray Hillenbrand and the 777 Bison Ranch, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the Cheyenne River Buffalo Ranch and Wild Idea Buffalo Company, and many other like-minded individuals and organizations who create, as much as possible, large-landscape grazing; who maintain intact buffalo herds; who ranch for restoring the prairie, and who are driven to regenerate the damaged ecosystems of the American Great Plains. In many cases the difficulty of accomplishing this end stems from economics. Tax breaks related to "best use" of land encourage ranchers and farmers to remain in production models that benefit from their imported, traditional, agricultural systems. The wildlife/buffalo rancher must be willing to forego, for instance, shining for their neighbors in a new pickup truck every two or three years in favor of expanding herds and grazing opportunities.
The end result, however, is a genuine contribution to a healthy environment, clean air, clean water, and nutritious food.
– Gervase Hittle