Thundering Herd: This Friday’s CSP Buffalo Roundup Presents Chance to Witness Scene Straight from the Old West | Black Hills Travel Blog

Thundering Herd: This Friday’s CSP Buffalo Roundup Presents Chance to Witness Scene Straight from the Old West

  • Thundering Herd: This Friday’s CSP Buffalo Roundup Presents Chance to Witness Scene Straight from the Old West
    Thundering Herd: This Friday’s CSP Buffalo Roundup Presents Chance to Witness Scene Straight from the Old West
By : 
Tom Griffith

There are places you never forget – hot lava spewing hundreds of feet in the air from a Hawaiian volcano, sunshine creating rainbows from a waterfall on Yosemite’s El Capitan, and Old Faithful erupting on a wintry day in Yellowstone National Park, sending steam ever skyward.

But for me, this Friday’s annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park offers a scene straight out of the Wild West that you’ll never witness anywhere else in the world.

As sunlight awakens the day, slowly melting the night’s dew from prairie grasses, a light breeze combs the bows of a million ponderosa pines in this 110-square mile preserve. The call of a wild turkey and the sweet sound of a far-off meadowlark note the start of a special day in this, one of the largest state parks in America. Nearby, a horse snorts as a wrangler positions his saddle, gently tugging the animal’s reins.

It’s a ritual as regular as the falling leaves.

When I first began attending the Buffalo Roundup several decades ago, a few hundred people would attend. Last year, more than 14,000 wildlife and history lovers from around the world were drawn to this uniquely South Dakota spectacle.

The television crews were there as well, representing broadcast entities scattered across the globe, from CNN and other U.S. networks to broadcasters from Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom.



They all come to this remote location in the Southern Black Hills to witness one of the last bastions of the American West, where some 1,300 head of bison that inhabit the park are rounded up in one sensational morning by riders on horseback and park staff and volunteers in pickup trucks.

The event is an important management tool for the park, allowing its entire population of buffalo to be pushed into corrals and holding pens. The animals are then systematically processed through chutes where they are examined, branded and vaccinated. Because the park has a limited carrying capacity, several hundred bison are culled and sold at public auction in November. In the past, proceeds have ranged from $83,000 to more than $1 million, all of which is dedicated to supporting park operations.

And, there’s nothing mundane or regular about this 40-year-old event. Bison – known for their capricious behavior – are as unpredictable as the weather. A bull can stand six feet tall at the shoulders, weigh as much as a ton, outrun a horse, and turn on a dime.

“You can herd a buffalo anywhere it wants to go,” veteran trail boss Bob Lantis told me a decade ago. “I think the roundup is a drift back in time, especially for the riders and obviously for the people who are watching. It’s something that’s passing, something that isn’t every day, and it’s completely different from the normal things people do for entertainment. The Buffalo Roundup is just one of those things that seep deep into your soul. It’s the Old West as it was.”

Indeed. If you stand on the crest of the hill just south of the buffalo corrals in Custer State Park this Friday morning, you’re likely to hear the rising rumble of the thundering herd and feel the earth tremble far before you ever see a buffalo. But, when that first bison comes into view, frothing at the mouth and followed by a growing hoard of stampeding bison, I guarantee you that a shiver will rise up your spine and that you’ll never forget one of the most iconic scenes ever captured in America.

For more information on directions, times and what to bring to the roundup, go online at gfp.sd.gov/buffalo-roundup.

About the Author

Tom Griffith is a fourth-generation South Dakotan who studied literature and drama at the University of London before graduating from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. An award-winning reporter, photographer and managing editor at newspapers in Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, Tom also has written or co-authored more than 70 books and his travel features have been published in more than 300 newspapers and magazines from New York to New Zealand.

Enjoy These Upcoming Events

You May Also Be interested In