Where the Bison Roam…or Stand

Back in 1892 it was reported there was still a herd of bison roaming Colorado, thought to be the largest herd running wild outside Yellowstone National Park. Known as the Lost Park buffalo herd, they roamed the Lost Park national reservation in Park County.[1] Unfortunately for them, despite the designation of a national reservation, there were no provisions made for protecting game in the reservation. This group was known to the local ranchers who would hold counts of the bison sporadically. The count was set at 25 mature animals as noted in an article in the New York Times on October 3, 1892. Regrettably, poachers were known to hunt the herd and with few game wardens, chances of catching these men were slim. Should a hunter be caught by the state game warden, the fine was $300 per head in 1898. However, despite the threat of poachers (who are thought to have killed 13 bison in 1892), the bison had their own protectors in the form of Lost Park residents who were proud of their herd. An article in the Fort Collins Courier on August 6, 1902 warned potential poachers they did so at the risk of angering the residents of the area and becoming an example of what happened to bison killers.

In August of 1901, Game Warden Harris arrested three men in Buena Vista for the killing of four bison from Lost Park; a cow, a bull, a two-year-old bull, and a six-month-old calf. The hides and bones were found in the basement of Charles Bartlett’s home and he, along with his brother Frank and J.E. Webb, were arrested in connection with the bison. Frank was warned in advance and made it nine miles out of the city before being apprehended. Both Charles Bartlett and Webb were taxidermists and had been attempting to sell the bison but the editor of Outdoor Life reported the men when the advertisement was placed in the magazine. The men were tried in Leadville in October 1901 but the case was dismissed because the statute under which they were being charged had been repealed. Despite the dismissal, the bison hides were not returned to the Bartlett’s possession. Some reports say these were the last four wild bison killed in Colorado but reports of sightings of the herd in Lost Park continued through the early 1900s.  

The four bison were locked in the vault of the county jail and languished there for many years until they were put up for auction by Lake County according to the Herald Democrat on March 20, 1910. The highest bidder was Peter Mulock of Leadville, who had the bison mounted by J.C. Miles of Denver. In 1928, after hearing of the plan to build a municipal museum, Mulock contacted Dall DeWeese and asked if the museum desired the bison. He agreed to sell them for the price of $1,200 with four cash payments of $300 according to the Cañon City Daily Record on May 26, 1928. A fund was started for donations to the purchase of the bison, which raised a considerable amount. On May 31, 1928, the bison arrived to their new home at the museum.

Robert Wesley Amick painted the background of the bison display and aspen poles, bunch grass, pine and cedar boughs and other materials were collected along Cottonwood Creek, 25 miles northwest of Cañon City to give a natural appearance. The bison sat majestically in their display for many years but as with everything, time eventually took its toll. In 2009, the bison were the grateful recipients of repair work by Jerry Vinnola with funds raised by the Friends of the Museum that made them look new again. Today, the bison continue to look upon their domain from their enclosure in the Amick Gallery within the museum.

In 2016, the bison was named the national mammal of the United States. Happy National Bison Day!    

Photograph of four stuffed bison mounted on wooden platforms with casters on the sidewalk in front of J.C. Miles, Taxidermist at 1742 Broadway, Denver, Colorado, 1910. Object ID: 2015.009.475; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

A gray-scale photographic print of a group standing at the rail looking at the bison exhibit at the Cañon City Municipal Museum with the Amick mural in the background. The man pointing at the bison may be Prof. Kessler, stamped on the back of the photo is “Photo by Charles Wagner Cañon City Daily Record”, ca. 1960. Object ID: 2014.009.027; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.  

[1] These bison were classified as Bison bison haningtoni, an extinct subspecies.

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