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?