Going to National Parks today, bison are lining the road. But 100 years ago, the bison population in South Dakota was dismal. "A group of people called the American Bison Society had the dream of restocking the west with bison, and so Wind Cave was chosen as a location," said Lon Sharp, the president of Friends of Wind Cave.
Back in 1913, Wind Cave National Park got 14 bison from the Bronx Zoo in New York City. In 2013, the herd in the park is between 400 to 450. "One of the great, great success stories in reclaiming a species and Wind Cave was a major part of that," said Sharp.
To remember and celebrate, Friends of Wind Cave National Park threw a party Saturday, with jewelry vendors, artwork, food and educators. "Today I'm demonstrating all the things of the buffalo," said Larry Belitz, a plains Indian consultant. "Basically the buffalo were used to make life easy long ago."
Belitz has a special talent. He hand scrapes buffalo hide and makes tipis from scratch, just like Native Americans. "Everything we do is exactly like long ago. We used the Elkhorn scraper, it's all hand done," said Belitz. "It's exactly like long ago without the romance of being made long ago."
An interest sparked out of admiration. "I enjoyed that the native people could not buy things at the store, but that they made everything themselves," said Belitz.
Belitz scrapes the hide with an Elkhorn scraper, sows tipis using the back tendons or threads of the buffalo, and his sowing needle? Porcupine quills. "People today don't associate parts of animals with what they could have been used for long ago. So I'm showing the unusual things I guess to today's people but was every day long ago practical use," said Belitz.
What a way to honor the importance of the buffalo as part of South Dakota's past and present.