Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison

Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison

About the Film

Tens of millions of bison once roamed North America. For 10,000 years, Native Americans on the Great Plains had a sacred relationship with the animal, relying on it for food, clothing, and shelter. But with the arrival of European Americans and their Manifest Destiny, ready to conquer the West and all of its resources, bison became nearly extinct, and Plains culture was forever changed. MORE

Facing the Storm documents the history of human relations with the largest land mammal on the continent. In the 19th century, commercial hunting for prized buffalo robes and hides evolved into a deliberate program of bison eradication.

The program was so successful that by the end of the century, Plains tribes had been forced onto reservations and there were fewer than 1,000 bison left in North America. Cattle ranching, urban sprawl, and sport hunting have further squeezed the beast from the land it once dominated.

The story of bison survival also parallels the cultural survival of Native American tribes. A traditional Kiowa tale tells of a woman named Old Lady Horse, who saw the last herd of buffalo disappear into the earth, at a place that is still called Hiding Mountain in Oklahoma. According to the story, one day, the bison will once again rise from the earth and repopulate the Great Plains.

Most of the remaining bison in North America — around a half million — are now ranched for their meat and hides. A few thousand exist in semi-captivity, most notably in Yellowstone National Park. But the future of the species remains uncertain. Each year, thousands of bison are slaughtered for sport, more than in any other time since the 19th century.

Can bison survive and thrive in the 21st century? Many cattle ranchers view the animals as a disease threat for their domestic herds, competition for grazing, and an overall nuisance. Yet modern wildlife conservationists see the bison as the great hope of the Great Plains, hoping to restore wild herds on Native lands — an undertaking that requires a new understanding of how economy, ecology, and culture can work together to form a way of life.

This rich history of human sustenance, exploitation, conservation, and spiritual relations with an icon of wild America shows us that the bison is not only a symbol of a lost world, but may also show us the path to a more sustainable future.

The Filmmaker

Doug Hawes-Davis

Doug Hawes-Davis co-founded High Plains Films in 1992 with Drury Gunn Carr. Since then, the “do it all yourself” filmmakers have collaborated on more than 20 documentaries. Their documentary feature Libby, Montana (2007) was broadcast nationally on the acclaimed PBS series P.O.V. and was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2008. Other High Plains Films include Brave New West (2008), Varmints (1998), Killing Coyote (2000), This Is Nowhere (2002), and The Naturalist (2001). Their work is intended to provide insight into the relationship between human society and the natural world. LESS

Film Credits

Directed and Produced by
Doug Hawes-Davis

Edited by
Greg Snider

Produced by
Rita Pastore

Production Manager for MontanaPBS
Daniel P. Dauterive

Camera and Sound
Drury Gunn Carr
Ken Furrow
Doug Hawes-Davis

Super 8 Animation
Andy Smetanka

Additional Editors
Drury Gunn Carr
Doug Hawes-Davis

On-Line Editor
Doug Hawes-Davis

Original Score
Mike Grigoni
Ned Mudd
Ivan Rosenberg

Additional Music
Burke Jam
Ben Treschel

Archival Image Research
Doug Hawes-Davis
Jeff Krulik
Rita E. Pastore

Additional Directing
Drury Gunn Carr

Interview Transcriptions
Karen Weitzel

Tim Maffia

Final Audio Mix
David Howe

Super 8 to HD Transfers

Additional Footage
Buffalo Field Campaign
Court TV
Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Kansas State University
Montana Film Office
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks
National Archives
National Park Service
Nebraska ETV Network
Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation
Prelinger Archive
Smithsonian Institution
South Dakota Public Television
Stuart Perkin
Wyoming Department of Fish & Game

Archival Still Images
American Bison Society
Bureau of Land Management
Danny Walker
Denver Public Library
Detroit Public Library
Kansas Historical Society
Larry Loendorf
Museo de Altamira
Southern Methodist University
U.S. Library of Congress

Production Assistants
Justin Bensley
Valerie Krex

Special Thanks
Bad Animals
Carol Boyce
Sean Chandler
April Christoferson
Jim Coefield
Custer State Park
Sage Dubois
Durham Ranch
Darren Kipp
Ackerman McQueen
Modern Digital
Ann Morand
Summer Nelson
North Shore Productions
Lynne Spriggs O'Connor
Mike Steinberg
Bob Stephenson
Elliott West
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wind Cave National Park

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

Funding for this program was provided by
Donna Balkan Litowitz
High Stakes Foundation
Humanities Montana
Cinnabar Foundation

Facing the Storm is a co-production of
Big Sky Film Institute, Inc. a/b/n High Plains Films, Inc.
and the Independent Television Service (ITVS),
produced in association with KUFM-TV/MontanaPBS,
with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This program was produced by Big Sky Film Institute, Inc.
a/b/n High Plains Films, Inc. which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2011, Big Sky Film Institute, Inc.
a/b/n High Plains Films, Inc. All rights reserved.

Is it possible for a species to fully return from near-extinction?


Is it possible for a species to fully return from near-extinction?