The Buffalo War
The Buffalo Timeline

presented by ITVS


A herd of buffalo

About 100,000 years ago Bison evolves in the eastern woodlands and Great Plains of what is today considered the United States.

20,000 - 12,000 years ago According to the most popular theory, Asian nomads cross the Bering Strait to arrive in North America.

Lakota family
Little Wound, wife and son studio portrait, 1899 (Denver Public Library, Western History Collection)

General George A. Custer
General George A. Custer

1765 Lakota Sioux settle around the Black Hills of South Dakota, pushed west out of Minnesota and Wisconsin by European settlers and Iroquois tribes. The Lakota quickly adapt to the Plains, developing a culture with the bison at the center.

1830s Westward-moving European settlers begin to kill bison.

1872 Yellowstone National Park is created.

1874 Gold is discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, bringing a new wave of white settlers to the Lakota homelands.

June 25, 1876 Lakota defeat U.S. troops under the command of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little of Bighorn in Montana.

1890 The last Lakota holdouts are subjugated by Army troops; Native Americans are forced to live on reservations.

1902 Twenty-three bison are discovered alive in Yellowstone National Park.

1910 Brucellosis disease is first found in domestic cattle in Illinois.

national park service badge
1916 The National Park Service is created.

1917 Brucellosis is first found in Yellowstone bison.

1934 The U.S. Department of Agriculture embarks on its campaign to eliminate brucellosis from the United States.

Winter 1984-85 State and federal representatives eliminate 88 bison outside the borders of Yellowstone National Park.

1985 The state of Montana is deemed brucellosis-free.

1985-1996 State and federal officials and licensed hunters kill 1,899 bison outside of Yellowstone in a state-sanctioned hunt.

1995 Montana Department of Livestock requested to serve as lead agency for Montana for bison/brucellosis disease management.

testing for brucellosis
Testing for brucellosis

Slaughtered buffalo
Slaughtered buffalo
1996 Federal and state agencies implement the Interim Bison Management Plan, which assumes that every bison testing positive for brucellosis carries the disease and is eliminated if it leaves park boundaries.

Winter of 1996-97 More than one third (1,049) of the Yellowstone herd of bison are killed.

Spring 1997 Buffalo Nations is formed (later known as the Buffalo Field Campaign) and starts actions, which include protests, civil disobedience, blocking state and federal officials and disseminating information.

Lakota walk
February 1999 Native tribal members walk 507 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park to raise awareness of the bison situation.

December 20, 2000 The Interagency Bison Management Plan is drafted and agreed upon by Montana Department of Livestock, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S.D.A. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The Plan includes three steps for management and three zones for both the North and West boundaries. It calls for hazing bison back into Yellowstone National Park as a first priority. When hazing is no longer effective, capture and testing is mandated. Bison that test negative are released on public land; those testing positive are sent to a slaughter facility, with heads, meat and hides donated to a tribal organization or other charity. Under the final step of the Plan, untested bison will be allowed to move freely into parts of Montana.

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