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January 19: Bighorn Sheep in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was established in 1947. It’s home to a variety of remarkable critters, and officials have long sought to restore the area’s historic wildlife, including species present when future President Theodore Roosevelt ranched and hunted there in the 1880s.

In 1951, 75 antelope from Yellowstone National Park were delivered in two trucks to the south unit of the park. The park also had plans to bring in black-footed ferrets to hold prairie dogs in check. Black-footed ferrets are now an endangered species.

In 1954, the park brought in 50 sage grouse from Montana. In 1956, 29 bison were brought to the south unit from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. That herd grew to 145 bison by 1962, when 10 bulls and 10 cows were moved to the park’s North Unit near Watford City.

In 1956, North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department reintroduced bighorn sheep to the Badlands. Eighteen California bighorn sheep captured in the Fraser River country of British Columbia were released into a 200-acre enclosure west of Grassy Butte. On this date in 1959, Bismarck Tribune readers learned of five rams transplanted from the Grassy Butte herd into the national park’s Big Plateau area in the South Unit. The rams were blindfolded until their release, to ease their handling. The bighorns were taken by truck over the frozen Little Missouri River to the release site. The bighorns were a big deal. North Dakota’s last confirmed bighorn had been killed fifty years before in 1905 on Magpie Creek.

In 1960, nine more bighorns were transplanted from the Grassy Butte herd into the national park’s South Unit. The original herd of bighorns grew from 18 in 1956 to about 100 in 1968. In 1962, two rams were turned loose in the national park’s North Unit, where you can still see bighorns — some of about 450 scattered throughout the Badlands today.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:

  • Steele County Press. 1951, June 7. Page 7: Bighorn sheep to be added to Roosevelt Park
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, November 12. Page 11: Bighorn sheep for the Badlands
  • The Hope Pioneer. 1956, November 15. Page 4: N.D. gets bighorn sheep from British Columbia
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1959, January 19. Page 6: TR Park gets 5 bighorns
  • The Hope Pioneer. 1959, January 29. Page 1: 1st bighorns released from holding pen
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1960, February 27. Page 14: Bighorn sheep doing well in state test
  • The Hope Pioneer. 1960, March 24. Page 1: Bighorn sheep transplanted
  • The Hope Pioneer. 1960, December 15. Page 4: Bighorn population exceeds three dozen
  • The Hope Pioneer. 1961, September 7. Page 1: Bighorn sheep increased
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1962, January 18. Page 1: Game men finish chilly bighorn project
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1962, February 22. Page 4: Bighorn sheep transplant successful
  • The Hope Pioneer. 1962, November 1. Page 4: Know your North Dakota
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1968, December 27. Page 13: Saga of bighorn sheep is relived in state Badlands
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1997, October 9. Page 11: Roundup thins North Unit herd of buffalo
  • Associated Press. 2022, April 2. Bighorn sheep numbers continue to grow in North Dakota: apnews.com/article/business-travel-health-national-parks-lifestyle-20afd39342f7e94edb7450da7be98c15
  • Nicholson, B. 2022, October 4. Interest in North Dakota bighorn licenses remains at record level; 5 licenses allocated. The Bismarck Tribune. Retrieved from: bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/interest-in-north-dakota-bighorn-licenses-remains-at-record-level-5-licenses-allocated/article_0c1ee5b6-38e9-11ed-af0a-3f981a8d1757.html
  • Wilson, R. Bighorn Success Story: North Dakota Game and Fish Department, North Dakota Outdoors: gf.nd.gov/magazine/2021/oct/bighorn-success-story
  • Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park: nps.gov/thro/learn/nature/bison-buffalo.htm

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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