Texas State Bison Herd: An Epic Journey, from Near Extinction to Celebration

A Bison and her calf at Caprock Canyon State Park

There is perhaps no greater symbol of the American West than the American buffalo, or more correctly, bison. The largest land animal in North America, it has endured as an icon of our heritage, spirit and culture. Its very existence has been an instrumental link to our past—both good and bad—and efforts to restore these magnificent animals are also representative of an optimistic future. Once threatened to the brink of extinction, bison are doing quite well today. Thanks to private-government partnerships, herds can now be seen in many states and number in the tens of thousands.

Yet, the majestic Southern Plains Bison remains an even more unique story. Legendary rancher Charles Goodnight started the remnants of the herd on his JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1878, in attempts to save the animals that had meant so much to him. It was actually his wife that influenced the cattle and business tycoon to preserve them, before they disappeared, so that future generations might be able to see and appreciate these special creatures.

Somehow, against the odds, a herd of genetic-related Southern bison have managed to survive the decades since, and now, we all benefit from the Goodnights' vision. When the bison were initially donated to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and moved to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, it was discovered that their DNA was different, and feature genetics that are not shared by any other bison in North America. In fact, the Official Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock represents the last remaining examples of the Southern Plains variety.

The next step in managing these animals is to release them from captive pens back to their native home, free-roaming an open range of 1,000 acres at Caprock Canyons State Park—a fitting landscape of tall-grass prairie, sandstone escarpments and wide-open spaces. Releasing them will be a historic event, as it marks the first time these animals have had free range in their lifetimes, and will also provide visitors an up-close experience of seeing them roam throughout the park.

Texas State Parks with Bison:

09/07/2011 Photos by Earl Nottingham © TPWD
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The Texas State Bison herd in their new 700-acre habitat at Caprock Canyons State Park.


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