Towards the end of each summer we travel to South Dakota to take part in the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and show our Buffalo leather goods. Our friend Chad Kremer has the position of being Custer State Park herdsman and overseer of thousands of buffalo. We’re always excited to visit with him, his wife Suzie, and their kids. Chad is a “near” Worthington, MN native and we’re as proud as punch that he has this awesome responsibility.
Herd Manager – Chad Kremer
Chad fits the role to a tee, mustache, boots, chaps, hat, horse, is what most people see, as he gallops off up the southern hill with nothing but prairie surrounding him, perfect as a western movie script. Cameras from around the word click and shutter as he rounds up the largest herd of native American Bison to the corrals. The Buffalo are branded, culled, inoculated and separated during this amazing annual event.
There’s a great deal more than meets the eye. Chad tends this herd throughout the year and for a couple of days each fall the public shows up in the thousands upon thousands from many corners of the earth. From our small vantage point as “vendors” at the Buffalo Round Up Festival, we meet people from throughout the United States, Finland, Norway, Germany, Italy, Philippines, Bali and certainly a few more… we didn’t have the time to ask.
Custer Buffalo Roundup Begins
Cameras and film crews from points unknown….show up to film this spectacle. In the far distance the hillside appears to be turning brown… and then you realize that the color altering is being done by a vast herd a Buffalo. The Custer Buffalo Roundup has begun. The public has been awaiting this spectacle (they awoke at 4:30 a.m.) and have arrived on site about 6:30 a.m. They cordon off the roadways, ensuring the safety of the public.
The Buffalo move ever closer to the corrals, awaiting the “ranching” aspect of this event. The movement of this herd is to facilitate the identifying, culling, inoculating, branding and separating of the animals. The camera’s roll as the herd starts to move with some pace….
You see the dust rising, you feel the dirt and grit, you didn’t realize that this was part of the event. Dignitaries, Bison, tourists, spectators all jockey for position, then, as they approach the corrals, you feel it. At first you thought you might be getting weak knees, but then you realize that you can feel the weight of these massive animals as the ground tremors and shakes.
Some of the Bison break away heading straight for us. Chad and a full set of galloping cowboys, whips a crackin, steer the Buffalo, herding them back into the fold, saving us from having an event like Pampaloma, Spain.
The Eastern Bluebirds that we’ve been watching in the distance (with our binoculars) have moved closer. They are as abundant as then have ever been…..they hang close to the Bison. Opportunists that they are, the bluebirds await the chance to catch the grasshoppers and insects that the bison stir up, as they move ever closer to the corrals. The insectivores and herbivores have a symbiotic relationship that most of the public fail to see, all eyes are on the Bison.
The corrals at the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup consist of a large palisade of heavy duty fencing, posts the size of mature pine trees and the extra heavy duty squeeze chutes that are required to slow down this huge monarch of the prairie.
It’s a curious blend of yes… “tourism” … the spectator sport, but more importantly, it is a real working ranch with free range Bison. It is sponsored by the Great State of South Dakota. Custer State Park enjoys the good fortune of having one of the largest herds of Bison in the nation, if not world. If you think Custer is just another state park, you’re dead wrong! It’s the largest state park in the lower 48 and well worth your visit.
The larger and older bulls are diverted through another gate because they are to big to fit in the “squeeze chutes”. They pass under a bridge that is made for spectators. You can feel the breeze as the largest bulls go galloping past, inches below your feet. These older bison go back to a distant field for future consideration. The calves get branded, inoculated and ear tagged, then regain their composure and dandily gallop off.
Throughout this process, heavy gates are swinging open and close by park volunteers & the weight of great big animals. Its a dangerous job and the many people that serve Custer State Park deserve profound recognition for their efforts and perseverance.
I see Chad and his associates working the Bison, the spectators, the media, the public… its an effort & tribute to the Great State of South Dakota and this Nation.
As Aldo Leopold (father of the conservation movement) once said; “The prerequisite to all intelligent tinkering……is first, you must maintain all the pieces”
Surely that includes…Custer State Park!
Thanks for an Event of Uncommon Merit!
Buffalo Billfold Company