In 1907, 15 buffalo boarded a train in New York City and made the journey to the brand new state of Oklahoma.
The Wichita Forest and Game Preserve, now known as the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, was to become their home. This “gift to the people, for the express purpose of helping to preserve the American bison from ultimate extinction” originated with the director of the New York Zoological society, Dr. William T. Hornaday. He offered the bison to the secretary of agriculture, who accepted it.
After sending experts to choose the best land and fencing the land, 9 cows and 6 bulls of varying ages and representing four different blood lines traveled from New York to Cache, Oklahoma, and were hauled the last 12 miles to their new home.
The Oklahoman for Nov. 19, 1907, announced the birth of a heifer calf that was named “Oklahoma” in honor of the arrival of statehood and who joined a bull calf born about two weeks before.
According to a story dated Sept. 23, 1917, “four of the original number were lost, two dying from Texas fever and two from other causes.” The herd in 1917 numbered 94, including “the largest buffalo bull in the world. He weighs 2,800 pounds and is 10 years old. His name was Black Dog.
The herd and others in Oklahoma and across the nation have thrived so that the buffalo is no longer in danger of extinction. Nat Batchelder, Oklahoma City Zoo spokesman in 1982, said, ” That has got to be one of the ironies of nature, that an animal killed off in its natural habitat had to be sent out from New York City.”
“Among the descendents of those original 15 bison are the four animals obtained by the Oklahoma City Zoo in November 1977.”
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, established in 1901, now maintains the bison herd at about 650 animals with the surplus being sold annually at public auction, according to their website http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/oklahoma/wichitamountains/
It’s popularity as a tourist destination has continued to grow, hosting more than 2 million visitors a year.