Return to the Buffalo

By Rachel Holt

The American Buffalo.

 

An icon of the United States, symbol of the Great Plains, North America’s largest land mammal, and a rallying point of conservation. This animal is significant in more ways than one.

Its story on these plains is root deep, but its relationship with Native people grows deeper.

Generations of Native people have depended upon buffalo for their livelihoods. Buffalo provided not only food, shelter, and safety, but a way of life for indigenous tribes. Their symbiotic relationship would create unbreakable bonds, and yet, their shared tragedies would only strengthen this connection.

During European settlement in the 1800s, buffalo were killed by the millions, dropping their numbers from roughly 60 million to a mere 600 in North America. Not only were buffalo massacred, but Native people, too, were killed and taken from their land, forced to live on reservations.

Stripped away from buffalo.

Stripped away from their culture.

And yet, slowly through conservation efforts, buffalo have made a triumphant return to the plains. Not to their historic numbers – but stable in population.

Through this project, I’ve had the pleasure to meet with two Native buffalo ranchers, Bamm Brewer and Ron Brownotter. This story started with one goal in mind: to discuss the return of buffalo to Native communities.

After meeting with Bamm, however, he said something that made me rethink the entire thing. He said, “It’s not about bringing the buffalo back to our people, but bringing our people back to the buffalo.”

While buffalo have already made their conquering return after near extinction, Native people must embark on their own journey to return to the buffalo.

 

Buffalo are important to me.

One of my earliest memories, maybe even my first, is of buffalo. My family went on a trip to Custer State Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota back in 2004. I was three years old at the time. My family was driving through the park and we got stopped by a herd of buffalo that were blocking the road. There were hundreds of them just milling around, seemingly unaffected by the bustle of cars trying to get from point A to point B.

These great huge mammals towering around the car were mind-blowing to me. I remember being so astonished and kept shouting over and over again “Buffaloooo!” My family still mocks me and my insistent “buffaloooo” shouts.

ABOVE: Video of three-year-old Rachel yelling “buffalooo!” in 2004 at Custer State Park, South Dakota. Video from Rachel Holt

That sheer amount of joy has never left me. My three-year-old excitement still comes out at the sight of buffalo.

As I’ve gotten older and ventured into a career of conservation storytelling, I’ve continued to think about this animal, what it meant to me, and what it meant to the plains and the people that call the plains home.

There are a lot of people who care about buffalo. Many people’s identities and cultures revolve around buffalo and their presence on this land. It’s important to share their story because even though we are different in many ways, our shared reverence for the buffalo connects us.

I’m honored to be able to share just a part of this story, for it expands way beyond me, Bamm and Ron, and into a whole nation of Native peoples’ untold stories.

 

ABOVE: Buffalo at Crane Trust near Alda, Nebraska. Photo by Rachel Holt

Buffalo or Bison?

 

sBefore we launch into our story, a quick distinction needs to be made in the terminology between buffalo and bison.

Buffalo and bison are scientifically two different species but are both under the family of Bovidae. Buffalo are typically found in Africa and Asia while bison are found in North America and Europe. There are two species of bison, one being the European Bison, native to Europe, and the American Bison, which is native to North America. The American Bison, or more specifically, the Plains Bison, is the bison most commonly seen in the U.S.

The term buffalo, however, is a very cultural name and Native people typically call the American Bison “buffalo.” So, for my intents and purposes, I will use the term buffalo because of its cultural significance and historical tie to the plains and Native communities.

Bamm Brewer

 

ABOVE: Bamm Brewer opening the gate to bring in a hay bale for his buffalo. Photo by Rachel Holt

Bamm Brewer is a Lakota buffalo rancher whose ranch resides on the Pine Ridge reservation in southwest South Dakota. His ranch is called Charging Buffalo Ranch and Meat House and is operated by himself and his family with the help of local community members. His ranch is roughly 1,000 acres of beautiful rolling hills and home to the 50 head of buffalo he manages. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Bamm on several occasions, each one he greeted me graciously.

Charging Buffalo Ranch has been in operation for about 18 years. Before Bamm owned buffalo, he was a horse trainer and competed in rodeos. He got his start when an elder and manager of the tribal buffalo herd at Pine Ridge came to Bamm and told him,

“For every Indian cattle rancher, there should have been an Indian buffalo rancher, because we are the people of the buffalo, not people of the cattle.”

The elder posed the idea of sharecropping with Bamm, meaning he gets a share of the tribe’s herd, pastures them, then at the end of the year he gives back 40% of the calves to the tribe.

“I sat on the idea of that for a year and then I thought, what the heck am I waiting for? The director said they’d give me buffalo. And so I went through the process of getting a loan and fencing off our land. It was hard work doing all that stuff, but in the end, it was all worth it. It was so beautiful to see buffalo on our own land here,” Bamm said.

For Bamm, being a buffalo rancher isn’t a job.

It’s a calling.

Bamm owns a poster that says “Seek not the warriors of the past, seek what they sought.” It was important to Bamm to seek what Crazy Horse sought and return his people to the buffalo.

Crazy Horse was the Lakota leader of the Oglala tribe in the late 1800’s. He was known for his resistance against the U.S. federal government and the intrusion of white American settlers on Native territory, and his efforts to preserve the traditional way of life for the Lakota people. His most famous and victorious battles were fought in the Black Hills War from 1876 to 1877, and the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

“We’ve come a long way away from our culture. If we don’t do something, then everything Crazy Horse fought for and our other ancestors who fought for this way of life… they did all that for nothing,” Bamm said.

ABOVE: Bamm’s ranch, taken from the pasture facing his house and corral. Photo by Rachel Holt

Bamm felt it was his duty to own buffalo so he could feed his community and return his people not only to their culture but to their health. He said the body of the buffalo is medicine, and Bamm’s vision was to return that medicine to his people.

“Bison are more healthy and that was what our people had – they were really healthy. So, when there was no more buffalo, we had what I would personally call a new world diet. It changed our health. Nowadays there is cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s a whole new world diet. So, what we’re trying to do is just be a part of bringing back the buffalo because my family has kind of seen a window into it, just a small vision, but enough of a vision. We’ve had enough of it to know that we got to try and help the people to see what we saw,” Bamm said.

Bamm told me his children have grown up on buffalo their whole lives. He recalls a time they attended a funeral where beef taniga, the stomach of a cow often made as a stew, was being served. Bamm said his son made a disgusted face as he ate his stew.

Bamm asked, “What’s wrong?” His son replied, “Tastes weird,” and Bamm said, “That’s beef son”

“That right there was the landmark that showed me I got my kids onto buffalo. He did not like beef. So you see? That’s what we’re trying to teach the people now”

ABOVE: Buffalo chewing hay on Bamm’s ranch. Photo by Rachel Holt

Not only is buffalo beneficial to the physical health of Native people, but their economic health as well.

According to Tanka Fund, an organization aimed to return buffalo to Native families, it is estimated that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American reservations in 2007 was over 2.1 billion dollars, yet only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers. However, because buffalo meat is a rapidly expanding market, Native ranchers and communities have the opportunity to economically benefit from owning private buffalo herds.

Trudy Ecoffey, Tanka Fund’s executive director, said a lot of their clients will use the buffalo provided to them in various ways. Some will profit by using buffalo herds for meat production and distribution, like Bamm, and others might use it for tourism or hunting.

Ecoffey said the goal of many Native ranchers is to keep the money local and in Native communities by growing and selling locally processed buffalo meat, rather than shipping it far and wide or selling off calves to large feedlots.

By bringing buffalo onto the reservation, Bamm and his family have been able to economically profit from their meat production and distribution. Additionally, by having a meat house on his property, Bamm said it mended the circle of the buffalo’s life.

ABOVE: Charging Buffalo meat house. Photo by Rachel Holt

“So for a long time, doing all this stuff, I didn’t have a meat house. We would just harvest them and cut them up in the garage down here. Doing all that repetitiously, I had a vision of realization. The buffalo way of life here is coming back, but the circle is broken. There’s a circle that happens with a buffalo here. He’s born, he lives his life, and at the very end, he’s harvested and is then taken to an off-reservation meat house. That right there was where the circle was broken. So, I wanted to fix that. When we built the meat house, that circle was now fixed. So now his whole life is here with our people. He’s born, he’s a baby, he’s a calf, he grows and grows, and when it’s time to go to the cooker’s campfire, he stays with us. The new meat house processes it, then he goes back to the hunter, and from there, back to the earth. The circle has now been mended with the meat house on our property.” Bamm said.

Bamm showed me a feature of the meat house they implemented when it was built. Imprinted on the sidewalk, just outside the building where buffalo are brought in, lies small hoof prints leading their way out to the pasture. Bamm said when a buffalo is hooked up there, their spirit goes on and is reborn as a new baby. Those hoof prints signify its new journey.

ABOVE: Buffalo hoof prints imprinted on the sidewalk outside the meathouse. Photo by Rachel Holt

I had the opportunity and honor on one of my visits to witness a buffalo harvest.

Historically, buffalo harvests were sacred to Native people. The killing of a buffalo was done with respect and honor. Everything was done in prayer and gratitude, thanking the buffalo for sustaining and feeding the tribe.

Bamm keeps this tradition alive.

Bamm said that since he’s owned buffalo, there have been no elders to tell him how to ceremoniously harvest them. At the end of the day, Bamm said it came down to instinct. It was in his blood.

“What’s really important is that we honor them and thank them because they are considered sacred animals to our people. So we do it in the most respectful way we can. We offer a prayer of thank you. We thank their spirit and we pray with them,” Bamm said.

Before the harvest of the buffalo, we all partook in a sage cleanse to purge ourselves of any evil spirit before participating in the sacred process. 

ABOVE: Bamm burning sage to cleanse ourselves before partaking in the buffalo harvest. Photo by Rachel Holt

ABOVE: Helpers partaking in the sage cleanse before the buffalo harvest. Photo by Rachel Holt

Afterward, a bull was selected and culled. As the bull drew his final breaths, Bamm said a word of prayer and thanks.

“When they breathe their last breath, there’s a real special part that happens. There is a doorway that’s going to open and his spirit is going to go through the doorway to the world on the other side. And before he goes through that doorway, he will look back and will look right into your heart and see what kind of person you are. We always tell the hunter to say a prayer of thank you, and let the buffalo know that nothing’s going to be wasted and we are grateful– we come in a good way as your brother and we thank you for your sacrifice. And when you do that, the buffalo will welcome you as a brother before he goes to the spirit world, and he will carry a message to your relatives in the spirit world. So, we ask him to say hello to our relatives that died and gone on. And then we ask him to follow us in our trail through life and protect us as a brother.”

ABOVE: Bamm saying a word of prayer and thanks over the culled bull. Photo by Rachel Holt

After prayers were said, the bull was hooked up, transported onto a truck, and then driven uphill to their meat house. Once in the meat house, they began the process of skinning the hide from the bull and processing the meat.

Historically, Native buffalo hunting was extremely sustainable. The tribes only hunted what they needed, and made sure to make use of the entire animal. Hides were used for coats during the winter and were tanned for teepees. Horns and bones were modeled into utensils or weapons, and the rough side of the buffalo tongue was used as hair brushes. Stomachs were used as water bladders while all edible parts of meat on the body were used as food. Not a bit was wasted.

While Bamm specializes in meat processing, he tries to emulate the use of the entire buffalo. He uses the bones and horns to create art, whether it be small charms or knives. He told me he wants to start making better use of the hide but says it can be a difficult process.

The meat, however, is not wasted. Every bit of the buffalo is used, including its stomach– a delicacy among Native people called taniga, better known as tripe.

Bamm only harvests about six buffalo a year, to be sold to either members of his community or people outside of the reservation. His customers will purchase a quarter of the buffalo, rather than buying a single steak or burger patty.

Above: The hide is skinned from the buffalo and set to rest in a metal bin with the buffalo head until further use. Photos by Rachel Holt

I have never hunted. In fact, the buffalo on Bamm’s ranch was the first time I had seen an animal killed and harvested in real life.

I have many friends who have hunted and harvested animals on numerous occasions. Hell, if you weren’t spending your weekends waiting hours in the cold with bated breath for a buck to walk by, you weren’t spending a proper November in Nebraska. In a way, it seemed these friends and many others became desensitized to the process of hunting. Which, I might add, is not a bad thing, just a different perspective.

I feel fortunate to have witnessed this harvest and end of life for the first time in a very spiritual way. It felt right, somehow, to be christened to the experience with a buffalo, the animal I admire most.

What a lesson to be learned from Bamm. Be thankful for not only the food that is provided to you but also for the animal whose life was given up to sustain you.

Bamm said something that struck me, He said,

“The blood spilled on the prairie today is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.”

Bamm’s words about the meat house mending the circle of the buffalo echoed in my mind.

I understood most viscerally in that moment as I watched the buffalo’s blood seep into the dirt, that it was a good thing. Its blood is forever embedded into its home. The circle forever mended. Even entrails leftover from the buffalo were scattered outside the meathouse and served as food to the magpies and other creatures that lived on the plains.

The buffalo died not in vain, but in sacrifice to feed the community that shared its home.

 

ABOVE: Blood from the buffalo harvest, spilled onto the prairie. Photo by Rachel Holt.

I told Bamm before I left his place, I wanted to buy some buffalo meat from him. In my head, I assumed I would be receiving some year-old buffalo meat that had developed freezer burn. He told me that because he had just done his first buffalo harvest of the year, he had no pre-cut buffalo meat available.

But with an air of casualty, as if he were offering me a lollipop, he said,

“Oh I’ll just have one of my workers slice off the tenderloin of the buffalo we just harvested.”

And low and behold, a mere five minutes later, I was being handed a vacuum-sealed buffalo tenderloin, hands already full of the elk and deer meat he had given me. What’s more is he offered it to me all for free. After much insisting on my end, however, we settled on a price.

There is something weirdly touching about someone giving you food. It’s a way of showing kindness and love. To ensure that someone’s belly is full is more powerful than you may think.

Not only had Bamm successfully fed his community, but he had fed me.

ABOVE: Buffalo fur caught on a barbed fire fence on Bamm’s ranch. Photo by Rachel Holt

Ecological Benefits of Buffalo

 

ABOVE: Two buffalo calves, also known as “red dogs,” stare through the barbed wire fence at Crane Trust. Photo by Rachel Holt

Not only are buffalo culturally significant to Native people – they are also extremely beneficial to the native grasslands they roam.

Buffalo help in the return of healthy lands by promoting regenerative agriculture, which is essentially an approach to farming that focuses on promoting biodiversity, creating healthy soil, and reducing the harmful impacts of agriculture on the environment. Buffalo help achieve these goals in numerous ways.

Ecoffey, executive director of Tanka Fund, said overall, buffalo do a better job at utilizing forage than cattle, particularly forage that is less desirable to cattle. Additionally, she said that in a changing climate, buffalo tend to be more resilient than cattle to issues such as drought and storms.

“They’re Native to this land, right? They’re more in sync with the grasses, the birds, the smaller animals, and the ecology of it,” Ecoffey said.

According to Josh Wiese, range manager at the Crane Trust near Grand Island, NE, buffalo are beneficial to grassland ecosystems in various ways.

Wiese said buffalo wallow, which is the behavior of rolling around in the dirt and creating a bowl-like depression of bare soil. Buffalo will wallow in attempt to shed loose fur, relieve an itch, or stop insects from biting. Due to the distrubence in soil, they found that the number of native species increased inside and on the edges of these wallows more than anywhere else on the property.

“That kind of tells me that there’s probably native species waiting in the soil for a disturbance like that, and it just so happens that bison do it so frequently and at such a volume that native species were able to take hold in the wallow area. So it’s kind of a neat result,” Wiese said.

Apart from promoting plant diversity, wallows can fill up with water during months of frequented rainfall creating wetland habitats as well as drinking reservoirs for wildlife.

Additionally, buffalo contribute to seed distribution by carrying seeds caught in their thick wool. When buffalo wallow, they may shed these seeds, planting them within the soil.

ABOVE: A buffalo on Ron Brownotter’s ranch wallowing. Photo by Rachel Holt

Wiese also said the buffalo have different grazing tendencies than cattle and create a more mosaic effect on an individual piece of pasture. Buffalo tend to move from pasture to pasture rather than linger on one particular spot. As a result, this creates a patchwork of different levels of grass heights and allows forbes to take over and grow, creating biodiversity on the land.

Adding to that, ecosystem ecologist and UNL professor, Dave Wedin, said that as selective grazers, bison on the land can create heterogeneity, which is the quality or state of being diverse in character or content.

Additionally, Wedin said that buffalo could work alongside fire on the land as an ideal combination for healthy grasslands.

Historically, Native people would set fire to their lands to clear underbrush, restore native grasses, and provide pasture for roaming buffalo. Prescribed burning is still practiced to this day to restore grasslands and dispose of invasive species such as eastern red cedars.

You add buffalo to the equation and you’ve got a lush healthy grassland booming with native species. 

Ron Brownotter

 

ABOVE: Ron Brownotter driving through his buffalo herd. Photo by Rachel Holt

Ron Brownotter, like Bamm, is a Lakota buffalo rancher. His ranch is called Brownotter Buffalo Ranch and is located in Bullhead, South Dakota on Standing Rock reservation. He owns 20,000 acres of land and manages 600 head of buffalo with his family.

I drove my 2008 Honda Accord nine hours up north through South Dakota to meet with Ron. That car was running on fumes when I arrived. Google Maps took me down some iffy roads and I became skeptical as the app navigated me left into a cornfield.

I eventually “arrived” at my destination, rather it dropped me off on the side of a road next to a gate that said “No Trespassing.”

I texted Ron and asked if I was at the right location. Turns out I was, just the wrong entrance. Ron, however, kindly offered to come get me in his truck.

I’m thankful I took up his offer because as soon as we began our way onto his land, I quickly discovered my Honda Accord would have made it about an eighth of a mile before it exploded.

We drove down steep hills, across little rivers, on the side of hills, bumpy trails, and more. Eventually, we came out on top of this great hill that overlooked one side of his land.

My first thought upon seeing it was, “I don’t think I’d mind being a buffalo if I could call this place home.” In one glance I witnessed the Grand River running along the bluffs, ravines cutting through the hills, and valleys spread out before me. It was truly picturesque.

ABOVE: A part of Ron’s property overlooking the Grand River. Photo by Rachel Holt

Ron told me his grandmother was the first to own the land when she bought an allotment of 320 acres in 1917 as part of the General Allotment Act– an act that allowed non-Native people to obtain parcels of land on reservations. Many Native families were forced to sell their land allotments but Ron’s grandmother held on. She never sold out.

Allotment marker created in 1917. Photo by Rachel Holt

Ron’s father eventually inherited the land from his mother and built a house on it, the same house where Ron grew up. When Ron got older, he bought the property from his father and today, it serves as a home for Ron and his family. Through the years, Ron slowly expanded the ranch through purchases and leases of neighboring land.

According to the National Bison Association, it is believed that Ron runs the largest buffalo ranch solely owned by a Native American in the United States. Claiming this title, however, was no easy feat.

Long before he owned Buffalo, Ron was a cattle rancher.

While working toward an undergraduate degree in agronomy at Cal Poly in Pomona, California, Ron and his wife, Carol owned cattle. During one particularly harsh winter in Bullhead, snow stacked up so high on the plains his herd could not graze and starved to death. Ron lost 50 of 120 cattle.

Carol remembers a sort of epiphany she had after they lost their cattle. A winter that might have looked different with a more resilient animal.

“We’re driving one day and then all of a sudden, I just say out of the blue, ‘we should go into buffalo,'” Carol said.

Ron recalled an assignment at Cal Poly for an agricultural entrepreneurism course where he had written out a business plan for owning a buffalo ranch.

He agreed. “I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.”

ABOVE: Ron and his wife Carol share their memories of the buffalo ranch. Photo by Rachel Holt

Ron tried to apply for an FSA loan for buffalo but was denied. (Eventually, Ron would become a plaintiff in Keepsagle versus USDA, a lawsuit that sued USDA for denying Native American farmers and ranchers the same opportunities as white farmers and ranchers to obtain loan services. However, that would not take place til a few years later.)

After being denied a loan, Ron and Carol finally decided to bite the bullet and buy six buffalo yearlings while buffalo prices were low.

Ron fenced up a small portion of land and they became buffalo ranchers.

“Seeing buffalo being unloaded at our place was really nice,” Carol said.

Years later, Ron gave a presentation to the Sitting Bull College Board on how to raise money through buffalo herds. One board member, Tom Aman, took an interest in Ron’s presentation and told him that he invests in Native American businesses and that money was not an issue.

Their partnership became the catalyst that would launch the ranch, leaving Ron’s financial concerns of buying buffalo and land a problem of the past. Ron’s ranch grew from 2,000 acres to 20,000 acres and he continued to expand his herd by attending every buffalo auction that year, outbidding many in attendance.

The only problem that remained was fencing. Ron now had the land and buffalo, but not enough resources to fence up the surrounding area.

Ron told me that while debating whether or not to fence up his land, he was having a conversation with God asking for guidance. As he was getting out of his truck, he looked down at his feet and saw an eagle feather. Ron’s Lakota name was Eagle Wing. For that reason, he said he’s always had a special connection with eagles.

“This was the sign. My communication with God was just to give me direction. There was no lightning bolt, it was the eagle feather,” Ron said. He decided then and there that he would do whatever it took to fence up his land for buffalo.

Left: Leucisctic buffalo, a buffalo who lacks pigment, on Ron’s ranch. Photo by Rachel Holt

Middle: A portion of Ron’s buffalo herd grazing in the mid-afternoon. Photo by Rachel Holt

Right: A buffalo and her calf stare while I snap their photo. Photo by Rachel Holt

Not only had Ron succeeded in bringing buffalo onto his ranch, he had succeeded in helping his community bring buffalo back to Standing Rock.

Standing Rock reservation is divided into eight districts and Ron and Carol live in the Rock Creek district. in the ’90s, Ron proposed an idea to the Rock Creek community to switch from cattle to buffalo. The community, however, was hesitant.

“The community, not all of them, were against going from cattle to buffalo because they were scared. It was a beast and they were just uncomfortable. They didn’t want them close to the town, and they didn’t want to eat the meat. They were colonized people, that was their mindset,” Carol said.

“But now we got to decolonize them,” Ron laughed in response.

Eventually, Rock Creek decided to bring buffalo back to the reservation and obtained a herd with help from Ron and funding from the Tanka Fund. Ron and Carol said the community hopes to grow and expand their herd, aiding in the resurgence of buffalo to Standing Rock.

“What I’m doing to decolonize is bringing the buffalo back. That was the main part of why our people were nomadic. They followed the herds. They got to live in their teepees and they were free. Today, we can’t do that, but we can raise the buffalo. Being able to provide that meat source to people is good, I like that feeling. I know of families that are going to get that meat and they’re going to share it with their extended family and friends,” Ron said.

Additionally, Ron told me Standing Rock was currently building a $28 million meat processing facility with help from a $15 million USDA grant. This processing facility would be available to anyone in the reservation who wished to have their livestock processed, cattle or buffalo. After being built, the facility would hire roughly 80 – 100 Native workers and be able to process 100 – 200 animals per day.

Ron himself is currently in the process of obtaining a personal mobile slaughter trailer through a USDA grant that would allow him to process his buffalo meat during in-field harvests, rather than shipping it off to a processing facility.

“We like the idea of birth to plate. To say we got it from here, we raised it here, processed the meat here, and put our labels on the meat. It’s grass-fed, field-harvested, raised on a reservation, and raised by Natives. Nobody else can really say that,” Ron said.

A majority of Ron’s profits come from buffalo hunts on his property and auctioning off his calves each year.

Ron says he harvests only about one bull every other year for his family. He said just one bull alone can provide roughly 2,000 pounds of meat to last the year.

ABOVE: A buffalo sniffs the air on Ron’s pasture. Photo by Rachel Holt

Ron drove me further through his ranch, taking me to his herd.

We parked the car right outside of the herd so I could take photos. Ron peered at his buffalo through binoculars and said, “a calf was just born.”

I had just looked through my camera’s 500mm lens when I watched the calf slip out from his mother and fall to the ground. I had indeed just watched a buffalo calf being born.

I watched in astonishment as within minutes, the newborn was standing on its wobbly little legs, already looking for milk from its mother.

Like the bison harvest, it felt special that the first birth of an animal I’ve ever witnessed was a buffalo.

I recalled my journey with these animals. I saw a buffalo brought into the world, and I saw a buffalo taken from it. Even though it was not the same buffalo, I felt as if I had witnessed its life cycle– a life cycle stretched from reservation to reservation.

 

ABOVE: A newborn buffalo calf drinks milk from its mother. Photo by Rachel Holt

Before I left Ron’s place, we went back to their house where Carol had vowed to make me a buffalo burger after I told her I had never eaten buffalo. I gladly accepted.

I am now hooked on buffalo.

Ron and Carol said one of their favorite things about being a buffalo rancher is the relationships created: community members who help out on their ranch, returning hunters who come back year after year, and family and friends who play important roles in their operation. More important to Ron and Carol, however, is being able to feed those people.

“I enjoy just feeding everyone that comes in to help, knowing they’re full and satisfied and everyone has a good relief knowing everything went well and they did the best they could. They’re all volunteers. They are all very thankful for just being here and experiencing that,” Carol said.

Just like Bamm, Ron and Carol showed me the same kindness of offering food, and I left the Brownotter Buffalo Ranch with a full heart and an even fuller belly.

ABOVE: The sign outside of Ron’s house welcoming you to Brownotter buffalo ranch. Photo by Rachel Holt

Parting Words

 

I’m very thankful to have met Bamm and Ron. Even if our stories together end here, I’m thankful that they even began. I’ve taken away some lifelong experiences, lessons, good food, and most importantly, some unlikely friendships. If it weren’t for our shared love of buffalo, I would not have these things to cherish.

Sometimes it hits me that the small moments in my life turned out to be really big moments. I think God had a plan for me when he placed that buffalo herd in front of my family’s minivan all those years ago. He knew the spark it would ignite, the fire that would eventually grow to bring me here, and the flame that would shine light into not only my own story but the story of Bamm and Ron.

There is power in the things we love.

There is power in beauty.

The things that attract us have the power to connect a whole nation of people and intertwine our stories.

ABOVE: A buffalo at Bamm’s ranch staring at me while the sun goes down. Photo by Rachel Holt

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