CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. (KTIV) - For hundreds of years, bison have roamed the plains of North America.
In the 18-hundreds, man almost drove them to the point of extinction. The buffalo that roam in Custer State Park are direct descendants of the select few that were saved.
This is the 44th year for the Buffalo Roundup.
It's an event that South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds looks forward to every year. Governor Mike Rounds, (R) South Dakota says, "You hear em and you feel em, before you ever see em. And when the buffalo start coming up over the top of that hill. That is absolutely one of the special moments of the entire year."
It takes lot of work to pull off an event like this.
It's like a scene out of a western movie. Cowboys on horseback... poised and ready to ride. They're part of a group of 60 that have been picked to take part in making history. Phil Randall and his horse Barley will carry the flag.
Phil Randall, Custer, SD says, "We'll be right up along all that hoopla up there. It's a big deal. It's a privilege. I feel very honored for it."
Once in place, and with the help of park service pickups... they make their move. Bison, that normally roam free in the park are pushed across the prairie. Kristie VerMulm says, "The first part of our job is done. The cowboys and the cowgirls, along with the pickup trucks, have herded the buffalo into a specific area. Now, the next part of the herd will meet up. And that's when things get a little interesting."
When they finally all come together, it's like a sea of thundering hooves and horns.
A dust cloud hangs over the herd. Surrounded on all sides the goal is to not only keep the bison together, but to push them toward the corrals. Chad Kremer, Bison Herd Manager says, "I've learned in the time I've been here what to watch for, where the holes are at, and what to anticipate."
Chad Kremer manages the herd. Chad Kremer, Bison Herd Manager says, "They ball up and they start rolling out the sides at the gates and that's when it can get what they say, "pretty western"
So far, this roundup has gone as planned.
This event is a huge crowd pleaser. The number of people perched on the hillside has swelled to more than 11-thousand. That includes three generations from one Siouxland family. Kathy Ludvigson, Paullina, Iowa says, "at first we heard different people say they come out to the buffalo roundup. So we thought we'd try it 11 years ago and we liked it so we come out every year. " Marchele Polenske, Bancroft, Nebraska says, "The scenery, the people, the buffalo. My kids and I are just fascinated by the buffalo. " Madison Polenske, Bancroft, Nebraska says, "Seeing them run down the hill and watching the horses. That's the favorite part about it." Chad Kremer says, "Do you hear the crowd? I have. One minute they're cheering for us bringing them in and the next minute, a buffalo or two breaks away, they're cheering for them getting a way so from our side its fun to watch and listen too.
Now that the herd is in, they'll be counted, sorted and vaccinated. About 500 will be auctioned off to keep the herd at about a thousand for the park.
Another roundup is in the books. But for all who come... the lure of a beast this large is the driving force that keeps them coming back.