My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
The Riddle of the Lone Buffalo

This short piece was written in 1995 and published in the July-August 1995 issue of The Montana Journal. It took a year to figure out how a lone buffalo had escaped the confines of the Buffalo Range at Ravalli.


I was about seven years old in 1915. With a horse and buggy, my Aunt Stella Mackie and we four small kids were on our way from the homestead on LaValle Creek to my grandfather's place at Evaro. At the mouth of O'Keefe Canyon, we came upon the riddle of a lone buffalo cow and her calf. Where had she come from? The buffalo were now all held in captivity at the buffalo park near Ravalli. The cow stood over her wobbly-legged baby and faced us, her head swinging low and menacingly. The mare snorted and tried to turn back, but my aunt reined her in and circled to give the animals a wide berth. A year later, we had moved to the Evaro Canyon where we kids went barefoot and played in O'Keefe Creek all summer long.

One day a typical old-time cowboy, booted and spurred, with gauntlet gloves, a high rimmed beaver hat and woolly angora chaps, rode up. "Get back, get inside," he commanded. "The buffalo are a-comin'." We didn't "get inside," but we sat on the doorstep with the door open behind us, so we could dive in if one made a move in our direction. The herd of about a dozen wild buffalo went past. Guarded and herded by almost as many riders, they were on their way to the Missoula Stampede. They were driven from the buffalo park for the Fourth of July celebration that we now know as the rodeo.

So there was the answer to the riddle. They had dropped the one cow out of the bunch to have her baby. She had water and grass, and no one with a degree of common sense would dispute that menacing stance while she protected that baby until those cowboys took her back into the bunch on their way home to the reservation after the Wild West show at the Missoula Stampede.