A beautiful herd of longhorn cattle made their way across a bluebonnet covered meadow.
Walking down a trail from an oak thicket, one particularly massive bull stopped and glared at us so I felt obliged to jump out of the truck and shoot photos.
We were at YO Ranch Headquarters near Mountain Home in Kerr County and had just completed granting a “Wild Wish” for a little boy named Amos who got to encounter a giraffe and many other exotic animals at the legendary ranch.
"Wild Wishes" is a program that grants exotic animal encounters to kids who have a terminal illness or have lost a parent or sibling.
Amos and two other wish kids who accompanied us followed me and another chaperone out to photograph the massive bull when we noticed something in the bushes. Hiding under the shade of a live oak was a massive bison. The longhorns were cool but this was awesome!
This thing was easily in the 2,000 pound range and gave us a real thrill as buffalos were the topic of conversation riding down the road. “Wild Wishes” grants exotic animal encounters for children who have lost a parent or sibling or who have a terminal illness and to think that the Lord granted us this chance to see such an amazing animal together was humbling to say the least.
Then it got better.
From behind another tree stood up something big and white. At first it looked like a bull but when it turned around chills ran up and down my spine. This was no bull. It was a white buffalo.
The Great White Buffalo!
As I snapped photos, the majestic bison looked us square in the eye and then retreated into the oaks as we stood blown away.
All three of the kids knew about the legend of the white buffalo and its importance to Native American culture and so did I of course. And I could not help but sing a chorus of my friend Ted Nugent’s “The Great White Buffalo”.
We had no idea such a creature existed on the huge ranch and would not have seen it if we had not decided to pull over and photograph the longhorns.
I have no question the Lord had His hand on this encounter and so did the kids who were excited beyond measure. They had seen something that until then only seemed like a legend.
I have had many incredible wildlife encounters and this one ranks right up there with seeing great whites in the Pacific. This was a lifelong dream come true and I got to share it with three very special kids and a friend who is as big a buffalo fan as I am.
Part of my love of bison comes from knowing their tragic history and the great conservation efforts that saved them.
According to the Texas Bison Association, Bison were hunted in various ways. Before the Indians rode horseback, they would encircle the herd with tribe members on foot. By getting the animals to mill within the ring they formed, Indians were able to fire large volleys of arrows into the herd until they downed an adequate number of animals.”
“In the 16th Century, when horses were acquired by the Plains Indians, bison hunting became easier. The Indians used other methods to harvest the mighty buffalo: stampeding herds over a cliff, driving the animals into a large natural trap, or into bogs or blind canyons. The most famous hunting technique was the "horse surround." Several hundred riders would form semicircles on two sides of the herd, then move in until they created a circle around its entirety. As pressure was applied by the oncoming riders, the bison would begin to get confused, start milling and eventually stampeded into a frenzied milling mass. At this point, riders would move in and begin the slaughter with showers of arrows or plunging lances.”
Then came wholesale slaughter of bison by European settlers that was as much to wipe out the Plains tribes that relied on them as it was to sell bison parts. What was once a herd of millions was reduced to less than 1,000 by the late 1800s.
According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, legendary rancher Charles Goodnight started the remnants of the herd on his JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1878, in attempts to save the animals that had meant so much to him.
“It was actually his wife that influenced the cattle and business tycoon to preserve them, before they disappeared, so that future generations might be able to see and appreciate these special creatures.”
“Somehow, against the odds, a herd of genetic-related Southern bison have managed to survive the decades since, and now, we all benefit from the Goodnights' vision. When the bison were initially donated to TPWD and moved to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, it was discovered that their DNA was different, and feature genetics that are not shared by any other bison in North America. In fact, the Official Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock represents the last remaining examples of the Southern Plains variety.”
Now YO Ranch Headquarters and other ranches proudly raise bison and they are flourishing right here in the Lone Star State on private land and at Caprock Canyons State Park. Without ranchers and hunters, there would likely be no bison today.
As we walked back to the trucks, the moms, grandmas and dads were excited for the kids (and this big kid) who just encountered something special.. They got to see all of this go down but one thing they did not see were its eyes.
We started into the eyes of the white buffalo.
None of us may ever be the same.
We locked eyes with a legend.
Chester Moore, Jr.
(Originally published in July 2016 Texas Fish & Game)