Invited to the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, Hettinger’s Dakota Buttes Visitors Council presented their Buffalo Trails tour to an international audience for four days September 26 through 29.
Visitors from around the world—especially from the five Scandinavian countries—Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland—received an updating of the familiar buffalo saga and an invitation to come see these authentic, largely unspoiled places in the Dakotas. Dozens of buses also arrived from Canada. The tour features 10 historic and contemporary buffalo sites.
As in the United States, their schools teach a shameful history of the final slaughter of the American bison, by white hide hunters with big guns. They ripped off the hides, sold them for bit change, and left millions of carcasses to rot across miles of prairie.
That did happen, of course, but it wasn’t the whole truth.
Instead, the Nordic visitors learned thevery last50,000 buffalo lived in relative safety along the border in western North Dakota and South Dakotalong after they were killed off elsewhere. The last wild buffalo came onto what was then the Great Sioux Reservation, forbidden to white hide hunters. There from 1880 to 1883 they were hunted in traditional ways by Native Americans. It was a saga befitting the noble beasts themselves.
The Hettinger delegation that brought this new information included Visitors Council volunteers Cindy Ham, Chair, Earleen Friez and Francie Berg, with Jasmin Forsheim, Director ofAdams County Development andtheHettinger Chamber of Commerce. Helping tell the well-documented stories were Mike Berg, Charlie Berg, Kathy Berg Walsh, and three Minot volunteers,Emilie Walker, Hannah Marquardt and Sharon Marquardt.
The details of the last great buffalo hunts and moreare in two books published by the Hettinger group. These are “Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes”($14.95) and “Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains” ($34.95), which were sold from a table flying threebuffalo balloons and well supplied with fliers, books and buffalo images. The books are illustrated in full color and written by Francie Berg, who discovered the new information on last hunts buried in dusty memoirs by Indian Agent James McLaughlin of Ft. Yates and Congregational Missionary Thomas Riggs of Pierre who went on the hunts.
Many visitors shared their own buffalo experiences. One man said he was in Yellowstone Park, standing behind a pickup, lining up a great photo, when suddenly the pickup drove away and left him standing next to a mighty bull. The bull turned a huge head toward him—and he scrambled to safety, missing his great shot.
Todd A. Hanson, teacher at Cannonball on the Standing Rock Reservation, told of his 20 years of teaching the Last Hunt stories from the first small book published in 1995 by the Visitors Council. That booklet was sent free, with an offer to send 20 more, to reservation schools in North and South Dakota. (Printed locally by Graphic Designs in Hettinger, itinitially sold for $3.50, to cover costs, and went through many printings before being replaced by the two current books.)
“Native kids really relate to these stories,” said Hanson. “You’ve given the names of their ancestors who were on that hunt. They get excited hearing those hunting stories.” Hehelped develop an annual Tatanka CultureDay at Cannonball, highlighting Lakota buffalo traditions, which includes butchering a buffalo with traditional ceremony.
A television director from Norway,producer of a documentary on the role of horses in Native American culture,exchanged emails. Shepurchased both books and now plans a similar documentary on Native buffalo culture.
The 10 tour sites in the Hettinger area include three last great hunts, including at Hiddenwood, the Slim Buttes and the final killing of 1,200 buffalo by Sitting Bull and his band on October 12-13, 1883, an authentic buffalo jump at Shadehill,a full buffalo mount at the Dakota Buttes museum in Hettinger, modern buffalo ranches, and a likely spot on the South Grand River where the Native American Dupree family rescued 5 calves, mothering them with range cows and growing a herd of 83; they gained international acclaim for helping to save the buffalo from extinction. Sites 9 and 10, somewhat northeast of the area, encourage tourists to visit the Standing Rock Tribal herds near Fort Yates and the white buffalo at Jamestown.