Bison exhibit: A visual, interactive attraction
An 1878 book encased in acrylic shows a portrait illustration of an American Bison, another case features bison products such as jerky and socks, and bison toys and furs give children and adult guests a chance to touch and explore. Those are only a few of the many pieces in the exhibit, Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild., open through July 29.
Working together, dedicated board members and staff succeeded in opening the exhibit three days ahead of the official May 24 date.
“It is our largest exhibit to have here at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center,” said Executive Director Stacy Cramer Moore. “It comes from the Kaufmann Museum in Kansas and the National Buffalo Foundation.”
Did You Know?
The American bison has been here for at least 500,000 years. The largest, Bison latifrons, an Ice Age giant, stood more than 8 feet tall, with horns that spanned more than 7 feet.
Exhibit Bison dominates the large multipurpose room and spills out into many areas of the museum. It really becomes an attraction on its own merit. Additionally, the classroom off the main lobby has bison-related items curated from the Heritage Center’s collection for guests to explore. Art in the Garis Gallery of the American West and on loan from Oklahoma artists can be found throughout the gallery and the museum.
“This is such a wonderful exhibit, with so many elements. It really portrays just how important bison were to the indigenous people of our area,” Moore said. And while many Oklahoma residents know where to see bison in person, they may not realize its important role from early history to modern day herd management.
Developed in 2009 as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities program, “NEH on the Road” the exhibit was based on a C.M. Russell Museum’s permanent exhibition.
For centuries, bison was a source of food, shelter, clothing, and tools. Indigenous people resourced every part of a bison leaving nothing to waste. They didn’t need to rely on government assistance. Unfortunately, Euroamericans and Europeans saw the animal as an unlimited natural resource and harvested them without such regard.
Imagine, in 1909, the bison was worth around $4,000 a head. By the late 1800s, the bison population was reduced from tens of millions to only a few hundred.
It wasn’t just because of hunting and over sourcing.
Many natural factors also contributed to the demise of the American Bison. Elements of the exhibit reveal those pioneers who were concerned with the extinction of the American Bison, and it offers shocking numbers of the decline, through the use of interactive displays.
Today, that pioneering spirit that William Hornaday and others had, continues as bison ranchers and groups like the National Buffalo Foundation work together, with a successful repopulation in states like Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Herd management goes beyond just breeding. It involves making sure the bison have natural grazing ranges, with Blue grama, buffalograss, and sources of water.
The stream was six feet wide and about six inches deep, with swiftly running water.
A buffalo herd came to the creek above our camp and drank it dry. For four hours, the creek bed was dry until the great herd passed on.”
– Bison Hunter Jeff Durfey, 1911, recalling earlier days.
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