Delta Bison Herd

Delta Bison Herd taken October 1937. Photo Courtesy of Pioneer Museum, Waugaman Postcard Collection

We all know Delta Junction is famous for its wild buffalo herd. Here is the story of how all that happened from the pages of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 28, 1928

BUFFALO ARRIVE AND DEPART; ON WAY TO M’CARTY

Are In Good Condition Considering Long Journey in Cramped Positions—Will Be Turned Loose Tonight.

Twenty-three buffalo, the first ever brought to Alaska, reached Fairbanks last evening, almost ending the long journey from Montana. From these 23 animals, 20 of which will be released in the Delta country a short distance above McCarty, a herd rivalling and perhaps surpassing in size any on the continent is expected to spring. It is pointed out that the ranging area is practically unlimited and weather conditions are nearly similar to those found in the northwestern states and Canada, the home of the buffalo.

The train bringing the buffalo arrived ahead of scheduled time last night. Word that the animals were here, was soon passed around and there were many visitors at the depot. Likewise, there was a good-sized crowd present this morning when the buffalo were loaded onto trucks for the trip to the range.

The buffalo were shipped from Montana in crates and are said to be in fair condition considering their cramped quarters. Three were unloaded and taken to the College last night. They were released in the U. S. Biological Survey stockade, where they will be kept.

The last truck got away from town this morning about 10:30. An F. E. Co. truck driven by Frank Wright with Jack Burnett as swamper took two buffalo; Frank Young and Dick Morency drove A. R. C. trucks with one buffalo each; J. Otis O’Neil drove his own truck with one; Arthur Hering had one animal in his truck, as did Ted Lowell, George W. Dana, and Jack L’Heureux. Wayne McDonough drove a Pioneer Express truck with one buffalo; Roy Lund drove one of his trucks and George Brown the other. Charles O. Thompson drove the College truck, Ray Hoyt the Samson Hardware machine and Sam Moyer the farm machine.

Fred Johnston left early this morning with a load of gasoline donated by the Standard Oil company. The 100 gallons his truck carried will be used for refueling purposes at McCarty. Martin S. Jorgensen and Frank Dufresne drove ahead to Shaw creek hill to warn all northbound machines. A mechanic followed to repair the machines in case of breakdown.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 29, 1928

BUFFALO TAKEN TO DELTA RANGE

Will Be Kept in Corral Until Monday and Then Placed on Range—Trip Made Without Incident.

The big job of taking 20 buffalo from Fairbanks to the Delta country by truck was completed without a hitch yesterday, the last one being released in the corral at 8 p. m, There the animals will be kept until Monday in order that they may become accustomed to their new surroundings. Then they will be placed on the range which is to be their future home.

Everyone who made the trip did a lot of hard work before the day was over. The transporting was done at a minimum of cost, no charge being made for any of the trucks. Fuel costs were cut down through the donation by M. S. Jorgensen of the Standard Oil company of 100 gallons of gasoline.

Those who have already returned recount a harrowing experience undergone by E. B. Collins, who took a leading part in the work. It seems that Mr. Collins was standing in front of a crate when a bull whose activity had not been diminished by days spent in a small crate was released. The bull started for Mr. Collins, it further seems, and Mr. Collins started away from the bull.

There has been a good deal of talk going around lately to the effect that buffalo are among the fastest of animals. If this is true, say Mr. Collins’ friends, he should make a remarkable record in the racing world, for he lost only six inches in a hundred-yard dash. Fixing ….(part of page missing)….Mr. Collins made for it without any lost motions. Some observers report the bull was only four feet behind him and others argue that it was five.

However, that may be, it will be seen that Mr. Collins had a very conservative margin of safety when he reached his objective. Some might think this lead would have vanished when the tree was reached, but this was not so. Eyewitnesses testify with bated breath that apparently gravity for once exerted its pull opposite to the usual direction, for without appreciable effort, Mr. Collins fairly slid up the tree. Once it appeared as if all were lost for the climber began to slide, ever so gently but non the less surely. The horns of the bull bobbed up and down in anticipation (so it is reported) and the more timid covered their eyes. But the descent was checked, and the upward climb resumed until Mr. Collins had reached a sheltering branch.

Feeling the matter to be an entirely private one, most of the onlookers departed for town after this. Mr. Collins was then reclining on the branch and the buffalo was polishing his horns on the bark of the tree. It is hoped a later and more favorable bulletin will be received before this paper goes to press.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 30, 1928

CARD OF THANKS

In behalf of the Alaska Game Commission, I wish to express thanks and appreciation to the citizens of Fairbanks for thier public-spirited help and cooperation in getting the buffalo herd unloaded and transported to the Big Delta country. I also wish to express particular appreciation to the members of the Corral Committee, E. B. Collins, Bob Kelly, Louis Joy, Louie Grinsmore and Dr. Albery and to the men at McCarty who built the corral. To the members of the Tansportation Committee, G. E. Jennings, Martin S. Jorgensen, Fred Johnston, and Charles Fowler; and special thanks and appreciation to those truck owners and expressmen, who volunteered free of charge to haul the herd to the corral, consisting of: J. Otis O’Neill, Sourdough Express, Fred Johnston, Ted Lowell, Roy Lund, George W. Dana, Jack L’Heureax, the College and Experimental Farm, Pioneer Express, Fairbanks Exploration Company, Alaska Road Commission, and Samson Hardware company; much thanks also to Chas. O. Thompson, Professor Fuller, Bert Hanscom, Roy Maddocks, and to the News-Miner, for thier kind co-operation; also a vote of appreciation to those acting in official capacity; Dick Perkins who brought the buffalo through safely, Frank Dufresne and L. J. Palmer.

IRVING REED, Alaska Game Commissioner

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 20, 1937

BIG BAD BULL BLOCKS ROAD AHEAD OF CAR

A lone bull buffalo, a sturdy old fellow who established himself as a rugged individualist on Jarvis creek last winter, further demonstrated his fighting character by commandeering two miles of the Richardson highway to the creek.

As a car driven by A. W. Conradt, coming from Rapids roadhouse to Big Delta, got within two miles of Jarvis, it was stopped by the lone buffalo. The animal lowered his head to charge, and the car was “buffaloed.”

After Mr. Conradt had backed the auto to a safe distance, the big animal lumbered on down the road to the creek. Every time the auto would approach, he would whirl for another charge.

Meanwhile, Paul Kahlbaum, one of the passengers in the car, took photographs of the attempted charges. Other persons in the auto were Mrs. Kalbaum and son, and Gladys Salladay.

Recently the big beast stopped a bus load of passengers on the Richardson.

Ostracized by the buffalo bands, the old fellow pursues his solitary way– and frequently gets into a bad humor.

The buffalo are now in three herds, two herds being between Big Delta and Little Delta, and one on Little Gershel creek.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Nov. 29, 1937

BUFFALO RUN FREELY AND HERD GAINS

By Irving McK. Reed

Chairman Alaska Game Commission

Few people outside of the immediate vicinity of Fairbanks realize that in Alaska wild buffalo roam —not buffalo in a corral behind a fence— but real wild buffalo out in the wilderness itself. However, this is not so strange as one might think, for a short time ago in geological history, as geological history goes, say then thousand years, buffalo in uncounted millions roamed what were then the upland plains of a higher and drier Alaska. Their bones are now found in profusion in the gravels and mud banks of all of Alaska’s gold-bearing creeks. Due to climatic changes, these vast herds became extinct, and Alaska remained until ten short years ago, without what must have been at one time her most characteristic animal.

Started in 1926

The whole idea started when in 1926 a group of public-spirited Fairbanks citizens formed the Alaska Yukon Game Protective and Propagation Association. At the first meeting of the Association, it was decided to ask the Alaska Legislature to appropriate money for the introduction of deer, elk, and buffalo into the interior of Alaska, as the members believed that in the constant cycle of climatic change, the time had now come around when these animals would thrive once more.

In 1927, the Alaska Legislature, through the efforts of Representative Fred Johnston, voted an appropriation for the introduction of all three of these animals. However, due to the opposition of some officials in Washington D. C., the buffalo were the only animals that could be obtained.

From Montana

In May 1928, twenty-three head were securely crated at the National Bison Range at Boise, Montana, and under the faithful care of Dick Perkins, were landed at Fairbanks on the fourth of June. A public meeting was held and all the truck owners in town volunteered to take the crated animals out to thier chosen place of liberation on the Big Delta River, just north of the Alaska Range. E. B. Collins, with a party of intrepid volunteer helpers from the association, left the day before and constructed a releasing corral. One bull and three cows were taken to the Alska College to be held over the winter for observation and as an insurance against the entire herd being wiped out, if the animals could not survive on the range selected. These animals were subsequently released the following spring.

The remaining nineteen were hauled by trucks to the Big Delta and, after much trouble and some exciting scenes during which the nearest trees became very handy to certain photographers—they were liberated and in the corral. The backing of the huge animals out of their crates seemed to have been the greatest problem confronting the best brains of the expeditions. “Back up “ didn’t seem to be a word ever taught in the buffalo vocabulary, though they kicked back with great enthusiasm when Mr. Collins tried to drag them backwards by the tail. The problem was solved by tipping the crates up at such a steep angle that the animals slid out by themselves. (In the 1980’s Frank Young told George Lounsbury that Mayor Collins badly needed a change of wardrobe after working to extricate the buffalo by thier tails.)

Of the buffalo taken out to the College, one cow was lost by accident the first week she was there. Another cow’s hip was so badly damaged while on board ship, that she had to be shot at the corrals. The following winter another cow was lost by accident in the ice of Jarvis Creek.

Increase Phenomenal

This left twenty animals to start Alaska’s buffalo herd. However, since that first year, the increase has been phenomenal. No one really knows how many animals there actually are, but we do know by actual count that there are over one hundred. Due to the favorable climatic conditions and the abundant feed, the animals are much larger than the original stock in Montana.

Great bulls wander through the plains and rolling hills of the Big Delta country, thier long manes and beards almost sweeping the ground. Buffalo cows and calves are a common sight in spring and fall to motorists crossing the Big Delta country on the Richardson Highway. Buffalo are definitely re-established as part of the Alaska fauna. In another ten years they will be one of the most characteristic and frequently seen animals along the northern slopes of the Alaska Range.

The hopes of the people of the Association, now known as the Fairbanks Sportsmen’s association, are that we can re-establish in the same way the elk, which once lived in our country at the same time as did the buffalo and have them also resume thier place as one of our common future game animals.

The Alaskan buffalo are owned by the Territory, and under control of the Game Commission. They are protected by law for an indefinite period of years. When they become numerous enough, possibly after ten of fifteen years, permission may then be extended, as is done in some States, for hunters to kill a limited number annually. In some States lots are drawn to kill one or more per hunter per season, under special permit.

Note: As you can see the bison project was hugely successful and that they met thier goals of establishing permit hunting. We are still enjoying the fruits of thier labors today! Many of the men named in these articles were members of Igloo No. 4, Pioneers of Alaska. This wild and wooly history nugget has been proudly brought to you by the Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska, who would like to remind you that History Nuggets are also published to our website at pioneersofalaskafairbanks.org.