National Geographic : 1994 Nov
"YOU CAN TELL by the width of his head, the set of his horns, that he was tatanka, the big bull," says Lakota teacher Harry Charger, pick ing through skulls at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. This skull he will place at the entrance to his sweat lodge, a place of cere mony and prayer. Recalling the time when bison fed the Plains Indians, instructor Dickie Moss (above, in baseball cap) dem onstrates the use of traditional butchering tools at an elementary school on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. "Today we go to the grocery store to buy food," explains Moss. "This animal was our store." Buffalo: Back Home on the Range Cody's sweet disposition may owe something to his sweet tooth. "He'll even take cookies right out of your mouth," Robin said. "Kids just love him." T HE REAL ROLE OF BUFFALO lies somewhere between being a national symbol and being a national pet. On the Triple 7 Ranch near Hermosa, South Dakota, manager Duane Lammers moves easily on this new frontier. He earned his college degrees in agricultural economics and animal science, learned the techniques of genetic breeding, and was a successful working cattleman before starting to raise buffalo in 1988. "We started seeing the difference right away. If you turn a buffalo into a binful of grain, it won't overeat. Turn them into an alfalfa field, and they won't bloat. On Forest Service lands we monitored the state of the range, and we discovered that perennial grass plants had doubled where the buffalo had grazed. They have sharp hoofs. They break up the soil. That's improved the turf and improved its ability to hold water as well. Some springs have been regenerated. And since buffalo don't gang up around water like cattle, we've noticed an increase in nesting waterfowl as well." A savage prairie blizzard drove the message home. "The first year we raised buffalo, we also had hundreds of pregnant beef cows," he said. "The blizzard hit at the end of April when the cows were calving, and we worked 24-hour days doing obstetrics to take care of them. But the buffalo just stopped calving during the blizzard and waited until afterward to give birth. That's when we realized that this is one hell of an animal that nature created. "And that's when we sold off all our beef."