The American buffalo at one time roamed the grasslands of North America in numbers
estimated to reach some 60 million animals. They ranged the continent from Canada to
Mexico and from the Rockies east to Pennsylvania. The American buffalo is believed to
be the most important wild animal in the development of North America.
Nebraska lies in the heart of America's Great Plains region where the American buffalo
once roamed in massive herds often stretching from horizon to horizon. Historical
accounts tell of the hunting and the elimination of the buffalo from the Nebraska
landscape during the Westward movement and settling of the Nebraska prairies.
For early American Indian tribes they provided food, shelter, clothing, tools and other
supplies. They also helped sustain Western explorers. Hunting for meat, hides and
"sport," along with an effort to force Indian tribes onto reservations by eliminating the
buffalo as a food source annihilated the great herds. It has been estimated that fewer than
1000 buffalo remained by the late 1800's.
The American buffalo has proven to be a hearty survivor and has once again returned to
the plains and grasslands of North America. In the early 1900's several ranchers, farmers
and buffalo enthusiasts began raising bison as a means of preserving a piece of the past.
Over time these and other ranchers found a renewed interest in buffalo their ability to
survive the extremes of climate, especially the harsh winters of the Northern Plains
without special assistance.
One of the oldest existing buffalo ranches returned buffalo to the Sandhills of Nebraska in
the late 1930's. Since that time their herd has grown to number to over 600 animals and
they have been joined by an estimated 150 other producers large and small across the
Today this interest is growing rapidly and many new producers have started raising bison
across the U.S., making bison one of the fastest growing industries in agriculture. Current
estimates place today's population at over 300,000 buffalo on ranches, farms, federal and
state lands and preserves.