July is Bison Month in the United States. The American Bison is the official mammal of the United States, serving along with the Bald Eagle as a national symbol. The bison is also the heaviest free-ranging animal in the U.S., some weighing in at over a ton and standing over six feet tall. They can reach top speeds of forty miles per hour. When they perceive humans, such as bumbling tourists, as a threat, the animals can prove dangerous.
Bison have lived since pre-historic times on the land that is now Yellowstone National Park. Before 1800, as many as 100 million bison roamed the Great Plains. Then the animals were hunted nearly to extinction. A strong conservation effort has resulted in herds totalling approximately 30,000 roaming the West today.
Bison are not buffalo, although the two are sometimes confused. Bison have a large hump at the shoulder, while buffalo do not. The bison’s head is larger than the buffalo’s. A buffalo’s horns curve down and then up, while a bison’s horns are more up-curving, typically shorter, and sharp.
One of the most sacred animals in Native American culture is the rare white bison. Naturalists estimate that only one in ten million bison is born white. Lakota legend tells of a White Bison Calf Woman who appeared at a time of danger and saved the people. She promised she would return, at a time when her people needed her as an encouragement or a warning. A white buffalo calf was in fact born in May, 2023, at Bear River State Park in Southwest Wyoming.
The birth is seen as fulfillment of White Bison Calf Woman’s prophecy. Looking Horse, a current spiritual leader of the Lakota, says the rare white calf has been born at a time of sweeping change in which all people must unite to protect the Earth, or else face global disaster. May all people heed this warning.