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June 27: The North American Bison Discovery Center

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Millions of bison once called the Great Plains home. They were an essential element of the ecosystem. They were also essential to Native Americans and frontiersmen for who depended on them for food, shelter, and clothing. The bison became an icon of the west even as railroads began to cross the plains and an influx of hunters nearly wiped them out. The vast herds dwindled, and they faced extinction.

In 1959, Jamestown businessman Harold Newman commissioned a giant buffalo statue to stand on a hill overlooking the city. At twenty-six feet tall and forty-six feet long, the statue is visible from I-94. It originally stood alone, but the city expanded the site by adding Frontier Village, an attraction that portrays a town of the 1800s.

In 1991, a group of Jamestown area citizens founded the North Dakota Buffalo Foundation with a dream of creating a buffalo museum. The idea was to establish a location that would educate the public about the important role the animals played. The logical location was under the gaze of Jamestown’s giant buffalo. In addition to building a museum to display artifacts and artwork, the Foundation also brought in a small herd of buffalo from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The National Buffalo Museum opened its doors on this date in 1993. The decision was made to use the term “buffalo” instead of “bison” because “buffalo” is the more common term in American culture. The museum notes that the coin featuring a bison is known as the “buffalo nickel” and William F. Cody was known as “Buffalo Bill,” not “Bison Bill.”

But the museum continues to evolve. In 2024, the National Buffalo Museum unveiled a new name: North American Bison Discovery Center. According to the museum, “This change reflects the museum’s commitment to showcasing the significance and majesty of the bison, while fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of this iconic species in North America.” The Center educates visitors not only about the history of the bison and their place in western ecology, but also about the rehabilitation efforts and the future of these magnificent animals.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


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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