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May 26, 2020 By Bill Green

Buffalo and Dog Sequel

The southern Black Hills of South Dakota have several wonderful parks. Wind Cave is a national park and the 71,000-acre Custer State Park is immediately adjacent to it, separated only by a fence. Both have buffalo (bison) herds that roam free in their respective parks. Both herds encounter humans almost every day, and individual buffalo occasionally mingle with humans.

There is a state-owned and operated lodge in a meadow in Custer State Park that is filled with tourists every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It offers hotel accommodations, fine dining and cabins in the meadow. Tourists staying in cabins walk to the lodge for meals, often in the near presence of buffalo feeding in the meadow. The tourist season is considered over after Labor Day, but the lodge stays open for another month. In the winter, the meadow belongs to buffalo and other wildlife.

I used to drive through Custer State Park often in the off-season. Once, I drove up to and stopped beside a cow buffalo grazing in the ditch beside the road. I opened the passenger window, sat in the car and watched her for maybe five minutes. We coexisted peacefully. She wasn’t ten feet from the car, and she paid no attention to me.

My brother-in-law and I hiked an established trail through the park in 2006. The trail is 100 miles long (we took it about five miles at a time between trail heads.) On one occasion we came upon a herd of probably 50 buffalo lounging and grazing in a meadow that our trail passed through. What did we do? We walked through on the trail. They paid no attention to us, but we kept a close watch walking through. The whole walk was memorable, but the buffalo encounter is a special memory.

Tourists are known to do dangerous things to get pictures of buffalo, often without consequence. But buffalo are much like domestic cattle, except they are bigger, and they are wild. They are unpredictable. Every year there are incidents where a buffalo will gore or trample a tourist (mostly nonfatal encounters). It usually happens when a human touches the animal or aggravates it in some way. (Can you imagine someone trying to place a child on a buffalo’s back for a photo op?) Published accounts of these incidents are not good publicity for the park so you will see them on a back page of the local papers, if at all.

Park rangers do warn visitors of the dangers. There are brochures, lectures and notices in all public places in the park. No one should be unaware. But, some people….

A Buffalo and A Dog, shared on the blog in March, is the story of one such encounter involving Captain, a black lab, and me years ago in Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota.

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