Monday, May 30, 2016

THE UNFORGETTABLE, TRUSTY STEEDS OF WESTERN HEROES

By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky

Anyone who knows me, knows that I LOVE horses. Growing up near Saratoga Race Track in Upstate New York, it would be impossible for me not to love horses. So, not surprisingly, I have also always loved reading about them in books, and watching them on film.

Without question, there have been some very memorable horses over the years.

Where would The Lone Ranger be without Silver? Who can think of Roy Rogers without Trigger? Or, Buttercup when Dale Evans rode into view?

These beautiful, smart, trusty steeds of our favorite heroes (and heroines) were just as famous and beloved as the actor who portrayed their owner(s). In fact, many of them received their own fan mail. Not to mention the parade of toys and other merchandise made in their image.

Very often when watching old westerns, I find myself studying the horses used for each character. I notice the relationship between the actor and the horse. In particular, when a television series has a lengthy run, you cannot help but witness the friendship and trust that develops over time.

As a writer, I also think it is important to focus on the relationship between the horse and rider, and to establish a close, trusting bond that will resonate with the reader.

My post last month about actor Dan Blocker and Bonanza, caused me to think about the beautiful horses on that series, and other shows as well. Did the actor have any say about what horse they wanted to use? Did the studios have their own stables? If the actor was a proficient rider, did they own the horse they used? If not, what happened to the horse after filming ended?

So, today I want to share with you some of the information I have learned.

First of all, the horses used on Bonanza, as well as most western movies and television shows were rentals.

Beginning in 1912 with Pathe Films westerns, Fat Jones Stables was the ‘go to’ source for horses, cattle, western gear, and most of the wagons and carriages a production needed.

Located in North Hollywood, the thriving business was owned and operated by Clarence Young ‘Fat’ Jones [pictured left].

It is important to note that Jones believed it key to partner the right horse with the right actor, especially if that actor was a novice rider. Actors had to feel comfortable with the animal, and vice versa.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

In 1959, actor Lorne Greene accompanied the producer of Bonanza to Fat Jones Stables to select the horse Ben Cartwright would ride. One horse caught his eye, understandably so. Standing 15.1 hands high, weighing 1,100 pounds, Dunny Waggoner was cast as Buck. Not only was the shortened name easier to say and remember on camera, but it paid homage to his color. A true buckskin horse, his body was tan but his legs, mane and tail were black.

Hard-boned, hard-footed, Buck possessed great stamina and could run fast over short distances. Greene was not an experienced rider when Bonanza began, and liked the fact Buck had such a calm disposition. Since the Ponderosa was a sprawling, working ranch owned by the Cartwright family, Buck was also very agile and trained to perform the necessary tasks that were required of a ranch horse, even on a television show.

At the time Greene first met and secured Buck to be Ben Cartwright’s horse, the animal was 12 years old. By the time the series ended in 1972, Fat Jones Stables had closed and sold off their stock. Greene had come to love the horse so much he worried what would happen to his then 25-year old friend. Much like what one would expect of Ben Cartwright, Greene purchased Buck and then donated him to the Fran Joswick Therapeutic Riding Center for physically and/or mentally challenged children. Needless to say, the children loved their gentle, therapeutic riding horse. As for Buck, he died in 1992 at the age of 45.

A BIG MAN NEEDS A BIG HORSE

When Texas born and bred Dan Blocker went to the Fat Jones Stables, he knew exactly what he needed—a big, strong horse. How fitting that just like his character’s name, Hoss, the horse Blocker chose had a hefty name. Chub stood 15.3 hands high and weighed 1,250 pounds.

Half-quarter-horse, half thoroughbred, Chub was a handsome dark brown, almost black horse with three white socks and a memorable white streak on his sweet face. Dan Blocker reportedly loved the steady, gentle Chub. Indeed, the horse was so reliable and of such good temperament, that although Blocker died before the series ended, Chub remained with Bonanza for the remainder of the series.

BEST FRIENDS

Perhaps the most memorable horse on the Ponderosa for many fans of Bonanza is the Paint horse of Little Joe. Named Cochise, he weighed 1,150 pounds and stood 15.3 hands high. Michael Landon personally selected Cochise as his mount. Landon rode him for the first six (6) years of the Bonanza series.

Tragically, in 1964, Cochise was attacked when an monstrous intruder “broke into the Fat Jones Stables” one night and ruthlessly stabbed Cochise, as well as several other horses. Although some of the horses were saved, Cochise had to be euthanized.

Understandably, Landon was angry and distraught. He offered a reward to find the killer of Cochise, but the villain was never found.

A stunt double was provided by the stables for Landon to use as a replacement. In total, after the original Cochise died, Landon would ride a total of 12 Paint stunt horses until the series ended. As Little Joe Cartwright, he also rode horses on the series that were different from the Paint horse.

I am reminded of one episode in particular where Ben Cartwright surprises Joe with a beautiful black stallion on his birthday. The episode titled ‘Stallion’ is so touching in its portrayal of Joe’s love for this beautiful animal, and how devastated he is when the stallion dies. I could not help but wonder (as I watched in tears) if... in that scene...Michael Landon was remembering the death of his original Cochise.

In every episode I saw with Little Joe and the original Cochise, they were buddies and clearly had such a close relationship that it was written into the script. More than any other character on Bonanza, Joe had conversations (albeit one-sided) with Cochise, who always seemed to be listening attentively. That horse loved him, and clearly he loved Cochise. There is a sweet tribute video to their relationship on YouTube that captures some special moments between them. Here is the link if you are interested: https://youtu.be/-Rzi2xrksZ8

NOT THE RIGHT STUFF

I don’t know many fans of Bonanza who particularly liked Adam Cartwright (portrayed by Pernell Roberts). He just had this ‘attitude’. As such, I found it quite interesting that Roberts had problems finding a horse that wanted to work with him.

At the Fat Jones Stables, Roberts chose a horse named Candy. However, during filming of the show’s pilot, the horse misbehaved so badly it had to be replaced immediately. The next horse, Beauty, proved uncooperative as well.

Considering Fat Jones Stables had been in business since 1912 providing just the right horse with the right rider, it seems odd to me that both horses did not work out with Roberts. Horses are intuitive and intelligent, and as rental riding horses used in the film industry they should not have been difficult on set. Mind you, producers were still trying to film the pilot for the series and needed a horse for Adam.

A third lookalike horse named Sport was brought to the set. Fortunately, third time was a charm, or so it seemed.

In 1962, while filming an episode titled ‘The Dowry’, Blocker was riding behind Roberts on a descending path when Sport stumbled in some mud and fell. Following closely, Blocker’s horse, Chub, started to fall as well. Both actors rightly jumped off the horses. The horses were fine, but both actors were taken to the hospital. Roberts fell onto his back, but was not seriously injured. Unfortunately, Blocker broke his collarbone. The remaining episodes of Season 3 show Hoss in a sling.

A month later, however, Sport started misbehaving and tossing his head so badly he was also replaced. A lookalike horse was then cast for the duration of Pernell’s tenure with Bonanza.

Unlike Pernell Roberts’ difficult experience with horses on Bonanza, many actors developed great, long-lasting friendships with the horses they used on film.

It is interesting to note how often you will see an actor using what looks like the same horse he used in another film. One of my favorite examples is Pie, the sorrel horse actor James Stewart rode in 22 films. [Pictured: James Stewart with Pie]

“The horse was amazing,” Stewart said of Pie. “I got to know him like a friend. I never was able to buy him because he was owned by a little girl by the name of Stevie Myers, who is the daughter of an old wrangler who used to wrangle horses for Tom Mix and W. S. Hart. He retired and he gave this horse to her.”

Thank you for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed this post, and are having a wonderful weekend.

The next time you read or watch your favorite western (or any film where horses are used), pay attention to the trusty steeds. Never underestimate their importance to the story, their rider, or their influence on the audience. They are very important supporting characters, often integral to the plot, and a much loved friend. ~ AKB

For more information about Ashley Kath-Bilsky and her writing, please visit her website at: www.ashleykathbilsky.com .

Saturday, May 28, 2016

THE KEEPERS OF CAMELOT AND GIVEAWAY! by CHERYL PIERSON


Who likes the stories of King Arthur and his knights? I do! I have been fascinated with the entire legend of Camelot since I was a child. The Sword In the Stone, the Disney cartoon movie, was a favorite when I was young.

As I got older, I couldn’t get enough of the movie musical, Camelot, with Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, and Richard Harris in the starring roles. I valiantly tried to struggle through T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King” but finally had to admit, it was too heavy for a twelve-year-old. As an adult, I enjoyed it, along with Mary Stewart’s series of the Arthurian legend as told from Merlin’s POV—a “must read” set if you’re a Camelot fan.

So, the story I wrote for the “Six Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas” anthology is one that is dear to my heart in many ways. Even the title, “The Keepers of Camelot”, was not something I had to think about for long.

This story was a finalist for the 2013 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards in the Short Fiction Category. It also received a specific mention in Publishers Weekly when the anthology came out. Here’s a bit about the story itself.

Legend says that Arthur will rise once more when the world needs him the most. But in my story, something goes awry, and Arthur has returned in many times, many places, throughout the centuries since his final battle.

The story opens with Arthur on a stagecoach in the American west—Indian Territory—of the 1880’s. But in this life, he comes across two people he’d never thought to see again—Lancelot and Guinevere. Why are they here—and how will it all end…this time?

The stage is attacked by Apaches minutes before the driver gets the passengers to the safety of the next stage station. Though they’re safe for the time being, a nerve-wracking Christmas Eve is in store as the Apaches wait for them outside.

Arthur has a plan. He’s seen the fearless leader of the Apache—the man they call “Sky Eyes”, a man he knew as Lancelot du Lac a hundred lifetimes ago.

Will Lance’s prowess as a warrior combine with his legendary arrogance to seal the fate of the people inside the station—including Guinevere, the woman he gave up everything for in the past?

One young boy in the group unknowingly holds the key to Lance’s decision. But will the glorious legend of Camelot be remembered?

I'm giving away one free digital copy of THE KEEPERS OF CAMELOT to a commenter today, so be sure to leave your contact information with your comment! If you just can't wait to see if you won, here's the Amazon buy link:



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Thursday, May 26, 2016

RIDING A STAGECOACH IN THE OLD WEST


In the Eastern United States, riding a coach meant travel from one stage stop to the next, stopping at a tavern or inn for a meal and perhaps spending the night. In the West and Southwest, there were not enough established towns to support this kind of travel. Western travelers had to be made of grit and determination!

In 1858, John Butterfield undertook an overland stage line connecting St. Louis and San Francisco by way of El Paso, Texas. The route also ran through Tucson and Los Angeles, both of which were only villages of a few hundred residents. A federal contract paid the stage company $600,000 a year to carry U. S. mail across the continent. That sum helped subsidize way stations at regular intervals. The company spent nearly a year getting everything into place to support semi-weekly stagecoach service.

When Butterfield’s Overland Mail Line opened for business on 16 September 1858, the journey between St. Louis and San Francisco required three weeks of hard traveling—if the weather was good. Coaches moved all day and all night except for brief intervals at way stations. The fare did not include the cost of meals, which cost an average of a dollar each three times a day. Passengers had to sleep aboard the coach. These mail lines were guaranteed to be rugged but they got the mail through.


The Butterfield Overland Mail transferred passengers and mail to light, durable vehicles for travel over rough roads. 
From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 
October 23, 1858.

At this time, most coaches set on springs which provided a bumpy, jostling ride. If passengers were fortunate, the route included riding in a Concord stagecoach. The first Concord stagecoach was built in 1827 in Concord, New Hampshire. Abbot Downing Company employed leather strap braces under their stagecoaches which gave a swinging motion instead of the jolting up and down motion of spring suspension. They were known to be built so solidly they didn’t break, they just wore out.

Over 700 Concord stagecoaches were built by the original Abbot Downing Company before it disbanded in 1847. However, the company was still building coaches, wagons, and carriages according to their business card of 1898. The coach was noted for its ability to keep passengers dry while floating across streams and rivers. The swaying motion caused some passengers to become “seasick”.

Wells Fargo Coach in a museum display

In his 1861 book ROUGHING IT, Mark Twain described the Concord stage’s ride as like “a cradle on wheels”.

Not all stagecoaches were of one of these types. Celerity or "mud" wagons were much lighter and cheaper to build. They had no springs so they offered a much rougher ride. They were primarily used on lines where passenger and express traffic was too light to justify the expense of Concord coaches. Instead of having a heavy wooden top, the celerity had a light frame structure with thick duck or canvas covering, greatly reducing the vehicle’s weight. Wheels were set further apart and were protected by wide steel rims that helped keep the coach from tipping over or the wheels from sinking in soft sands.

A Concord-made Celerity Wagon exhibited at Seeley
Stable in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This
vehicle still has its original finish.
While not as comfortable for daytime travelers, they were designed for passenger travel at night. Remember, the Overland Mail coaches didn't stop at night. Waterman L. Ormsby, special correspondent to the New York Herald described the sleeping accommodations.

As for sleeping, most of the wagons are arranged so that the backs of the seats let down and form the length of the vehicle. When the stage is full, passengers must take turns sleeping. Perhaps the jolting will be found disagreeable at first, but a few nights without sleeping will obviate that difficulty, and soon the jolting will be as little of a disturbance as the rocking of a cradle to a sucking babe. For my part, I found no difficulty sleeping over the roughest roads, and I have no doubt that anyone else will learn quite as quickly. A bounce of the wagon, which makes one’s head strike the top, bottom, or sides, will be equally disregarded, and ‘nature’s sweet restorer’ found as welcome on the hard bottom of the wagon as in the downy beds of the St. Nicholas. White pants and kid gloves had better be discarded by most passengers.”

The Overland Mail stage departs from Atchison, Kansas. Published in Harper's Weekly on 
January 27. 1866.
Unlike the classic Concord stagecoaches, which could be mired in bad weather, mud wagons could travel over trails and roads during inclement weather. The only protection provided for passengers against bad weather and dusty roads were the canvas side curtains which could be rolled down and fastened.

By the way, the word “stage” meant the place where the horses or mules were changed—staged along the route. These were spaced every 12 to 20 miles, depending on the terrain, and were usually operated by a single man living in a small cottage who kept a change of horses in a barn and/or corral. The stage stopped only long enough for passengers to stretch their legs while the horses or mules were changed.

Buffalo soldiers protecting the stage
near San Angelo, Texas
Every 50 miles were the “home” stages, which were usually a couple or family who served meals and could provide overnight lodging—though sometimes passengers slept on a dirt floor. These stations also might include a blacksmith and stables. Drivers might be switched there.

Some coaches had two seats facing one another. The larger Concord squeezed in a center, forward-facing third seat, which made passengers very crowded and uncomfortable. Often the third seat had no back, which must have made retaining balance awkward as the coach swayed along. Often passengers had to interlock knees due to the crowded interior. Imagine you were a lady in the 1800s who’d been raised to observe propriety and you found yourself (while wearing a tightly laced corset) on a long coach ride having to lace legs with a unappealing male stranger. Ugh! Come to think of it, that wouldn’t be comfortable now.

Here are a set of rules posted by Wells Fargo in 1888:

1.      Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
2.      If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the Gentle Sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted but spit WITH the wind, not against it. (I’d think this would be a given, wouldn’t you?)
3.      Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
4.      Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort during cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
5.      Don’t snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger’s shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
6.      Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
7.      In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians, and hungry coyotes.
8.      Forbidden topics of discussion are stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
9.      Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It’s a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient. (I love this one)

To these, the Omaha Herald in 1877 added cautions to:

Never ride in cold weather with tight boots nor close-fitting gloves.
When the driver asks you to get out and walk, do so without grumbling. He will not request it unless absolutely necessary.
Don’t linger too long at the pewter wash basin at the station. Don’t grease your hair before starting out or dust will stick there in sufficient quantities to make a respectable ‘tater patch. Tie a silk handkerchief around your neck to keep out dust and prevent sunburns. A little glycerin is good in case of chapped hands.
Don’t discuss politics or religion nor point out places on the road where horrible murders have been committed.
In very cold weather, abstain entirely from liquor while on the road. A man will freeze twice as quick while under its influence.
Don’t imagine for a minute you are going on a picnic: expect annoyance, discomfort, and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven.

The heroine in my latest release, CASSANDRA, Bride Brigade book 3, traveled in a Concord coach from Fort Worth to (fictional) Tarnation, Texas. In fact, all the young women in this series traveled on the same coach. The first was JOSEPHINE, followed by ANGELINE. After Cassandra will be OPHELIA, RACHEL, LORRAINE, and PRUDENCE. All but Angeline, who joined them in St. Louis, traveled from Virginia with Lydia Jane Harrison and her friend Sophie Gaston. Wealthy young widow Lydia went to Virginia to recruit the young ladies to Tarnation so that there would be potential brides for the men of the town to meet and marry. Lydia was tired of being the only young woman in town, plus there were no young children. Bachelors were moving away, and she didn’t want that to continue. 

The first of this series, JOSEPHINE, is now only 99 cents. The buy link is here for Amazon, although it’s available on iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. 

CASSANDRA is only at Amazon here.


Caroline Clemmons is an award winning and bestselling author of historical and contemporary western romance. She and her husband live in cowboy country in North Central Texas where they are owned by a menagerie of rescued pets.
Find her on her blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest, and her books at her Amazon Author Page
Subscribe to her newsletter here to receive a FREE novella of HAPPY IS THE BRIDE. 


Sources:
Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas online


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Author Collaboration and a Sale by Paty Jager

 Lauri Robinson has a busy schedule this month and she asked me to re-post this from another blog.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / pzAxe
Several years ago Lauri Robinson sent me an email asking if I'd like to write a book with her. She had an idea of a story that would be half one sister's point of view and half the other sister's. It sounded like a fun project, and we started connecting for live chats and sending emails back and forth giving the sisters a back story and discovering what each one of us would write about for our half of the book.
Here's a bit of our discussion via an online chat:


paty: I would think I get the Oregon sister.
lauri: I'm game for that. I'll take the Colorado gal. What ages do you think would work best. I was thinking old enough to really remember each other, but young enough that they couldn't be on their own. Hence the other families taking them in.
paty: Yeah, I'm thinking 10 and 12 or 11/13 but not much older or the oldest one could have actually been taken as a bride.
lauri: Right, and the gold rush in Co. was from 59-63. Loads of wagon trains flowed in during 61-62. So if we have the girls start looking for each other when they turn 16-18 it would put the stories in the late 70's. Gosh is my math right there?
lauri: Nope early 1870's.
paty: I was thinking maybe have a town somewhere in between where they end up as the place their family was heading and that could be where they meet at the end.
lauri: Oh! I like that--Montana?
lauri: Or when did Las Vegas come about?
paty: That would be out of the way. If you mean Las Vegas NV.
paty: There were gold rushes in Idaho and Montana in the 60's.
lauri: Either one sounds good.
paty: I'll have to look at maps and some history and get back to you on possibilities.
lauri: History on family...they were headed to Montana/Idaho..Why?
lauri: I'll check some history too.
paty: Either to start a business or after gold or ministry.
paty: They could have been headed to the Spaulding Mission in ID.
lauri: Ministry...Preacher's daughters always make good heroines. LOL
paty: Especially if the families they end up with are not as christian as it first seemed.
lauri: Oh, yes!
paty: I've got the info on the Spaulding mission tucked away here somewhere form an earlier book.

I have several pages of our conversations as we worked out all the logistics of the book. Here is a bit more just so you can see how writer's minds work and how we come up with books.



paty: So the adoptive father of Lorabeth would gamble away her locket without her permission and then the winner of the locket would end up in Oregon and Maggie would recognize it.
lauri: Oh, I know, mom's locket with the picture of the two of them in it. Maggie gives it to Lora Beth so she'll always be with her.
paty: I like that!
lauri: Yes, LoraBeth's family isn't very nice. Sad. Good thing they die so she can travel to Montana, or is it Idaho? I don't think I wrote that down. LOL
paty: LOL if we have Maggie backtracking with the gambler to get to Lorabeth and maybe Lorabeth getting someone to help her find the gambler to get the locket back. they would end up somewhere in between???
lauri: Yes, or following each others tracks across the states. Maggie goes to Co, but LoraBeth has already left for Oregon. The each turn around and end up in Lapwai Idaho.
paty: That would be too long of story- the backtracking.
lauri: True...I have to remember the length. But like the locket. LOL.
paty: Yes, I like that too. Just trying to figure out how they get together and keep the story sounding in sequence.
lauri: How about if the man helping LoraBeth is also looking for the gambler. Give him a reason for assisting her.
paty: That would be good. A debt to settle something like that. And what if Maggie become ill half way back to Co., That would stall their progress and when she is recuperating, the next story can take off and the ending is when Lorabeth finds her.
lauri: Yes, I like that. So, I will need to know your gambler's name. And figure out the debt...o
paty: Sheesh! Now you want to know my gambler too... LOL Hmmm, Okay, he looks like Deirks Bentley and his name is....
lauri: Deirks Bentley? You're going to make me go online and find a picture?? Sheesh! Back at you!
paty: LOL he's a country singer and man... he's good looking!!! It will be worth the search!
lauri: OH! GEEZ! Now I know who you mean. I was thinking of some actor named Deirks, or was that Dirk, about the McGiver time...
paty: Ty Bancroft is the gambler.
lauri: Anyway...Time of year...when do they meet so I can back track from there. Oh, I love the name Ty!...writing...
paty: It would need to be spring early summer to get them through mountains in decent weather- though I need to check on the RR in the early 1870's and the steam ships up the Columbia.
lauri: Early summer would work. I think mine are traveling by horse (trains didn't run north of Denver yet)
paty: It would all depend on where I have her ending up in Oregon. I'll have to do some research to get a trip planned out.
lauri: I think my hero is Sampson McDonald. Sounds like a wimp, might even look like one to some, but knows the mountains like the back of his hand. I'll have to search a map to find their way from Denver to Lapwai.
paty: We don't have to have them end up in Lapwai if we are using the locket to bring them together.
paty: I'll find a spot halfway in between.

I won't give you any more of the conversation because 1) it gives things away and 2) as always as we wrote the stories they strayed a bit from our conversations. 

We are both proud of this book and for a limited time have put the book on sale for $.99 so more readers
can enjoy and root for Loralei and Maggie as they journey to find one another.

Blurb For a Sister's Love


Lorelei and Maggie Holmes make a desperate vow to reunite after an Indian raid on their wagon train leaves them orphans. 

Lorelei’s adoptive father gambles away her birth mother’s locket and her only connection to her lost sister. Believing she needs the locket and to find Maggie, she sets out after the gambler and ends up in the company of a citified lawyer searching for the same man.

While cleaning a hotel room, Maggie discovers her mother’s locket in the possession of a gambler. Fear for her sister increases Maggie's determination.  Never one to give up, she dogs the gambler until he agrees to help her find her sister.

Two sisters, two adventures, will they find one another or will the men helping them be their destinies?

Buy Links: 



Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.



Sunday, May 22, 2016

The American Bison - Our National Mammal

By: Peggy L. Henderson

"There is perhaps no other animal that roams in this, or in the wilds of any other country,more fierce and forbidden that a buffalo ... neither the polar bear nor the bengal tiger, surpass that animal in ferocity." Alexander Ross, Fur Trapper 1825

Just last month, the bison has officially been named the National Mammal

Bison have roamed the area known as Yellowstone as long as they roamed the Great Plains in the millions. It was a common belief that the Yellowstone bison were escapees and survivors of the mass slaughter that occurred in the 1800’s on the plains. Actually, the historic Yellowstone bison were a subspecies of that group, and lived there for thousands of years. 
Fur trapper Osborne Russell, has mentioned the large numbers of bison in an area of Idaho, about 30 miles from the present park. Members of the earlier park expeditions commented that "buffalo skulls are strewn by thousands" in the Yellowstone valley about 40 miles north of the park. From these and other accounts of wild bison within what is today the park, and in adjacent areas, dating from 1860 through 1902, it is clear that a great number of bison inhabited the Yellowstone Plateau at all seasons, and long before the killing of the northern herd of Great Plains bison in the early 1880s.
Rifleman shooting bison ca 1880 NPS photo 
After Yellowstone was established as our first national park in 1872, there was no regulation in place for the killing of animals, and poachers freely killed bison. By 1902, less than thirty bison remained.
In 1886, the army took control of Yellowstone, and one of their main objectives was to regulate the killing and decimating of the natural features and wildlife. While the soldiers worked to stop illegal hunting, they were pretty much powerless to do anything other than escort the offenders outside of park boundaries, confiscate their kills, and tell them not to come back. 
One brazen poacher, Ed Howell, came back time and again, and boasted of his exploits. Luckily, this backfired on him when the public finally heard about his poaching activities, and in 1894, the Lacey Act was passed by Congress, making poaching illegal and punishable.
In 1906, the Lamar Buffalo Ranch was established within Yellowstone to preserve the last free-roaming herd in the US. The bison that were brought to the ranch to mix with the last of the native mountain herd were plains bison, and as a result, today’s Yellowstone bison are a hybrid of the two. Still, they are the last genetically pure bison herd in the wild, as most other herds now have some cattle genes in them.
Lamar Buffalo Ranch 1930  NPS photo
By the 1950’s the herd grew to over 600 animals, and ranching was stopped. The bison were set free to once again roam the park. Today, there are two distinct herds in the park – the Lamar herd, and the Mary Mountain herd. Their numbers fluctuate in any given year, but is usually somewhere around 3000 head. 
Seeing bison in their natural habitat is one of the great joys when visiting Yellowstone. What many people need to remember, is that these animals are wild and dangerous.
 Unfortunately, many ignore the warnings, and year after year, injuries and even deaths occur from encounters with bison. 
People have been known to set their children on the backs of bison for a photo op, “bison selfies” have become quite popular in recent years, and this year it has escalated to petting the bison for that perfect picture as well as one well-meaning tourist putting a newborn bison calf in his car because he thought the animal was cold. This particular incident has caused quite an uproar, and I won’t go into the particulars in this post.


bison calves
The best place to see these magnificent animals is in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. “Bison jams” are a common occurrence, since bison cross and even travel on the park road. 



present day bison jam

Some fun facts about bison:

Bison are the largest mammals in North America

Bison are often called buffalo. What’s the difference? The scientific name for our North American bison is Bison bison. The buffalo is a species in Africa. The word buffalo comes from the French word beouf (beef)

Yellowstone is the only place in America where bison have continuously lived since prehistoric times

Baby bison are called “red dogs” because of their red/orange coat color

Bison may look like lumbering beasts, but they can run at speeds up to 35mph

You can judge a bison’s mood by it’s tail – if it’s raised straight up, you’d better look out! He’s gonna charge. If it’s just swishing back and forth, he’s calm and happy.



Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”

Award-Winning Author of:
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series
Wilderness Brides Historical Romance Series