THERMOPOLIS, Wyo. — For generations, while no buffalo roamed the Wind River Indian Reservation, they remained almost within sight.
Thermopolis borders the reservation on the northeast; bison were released at Hot Springs Reserve Park on March 20, 1916.
One bull and 13 cows arrived from Horne's Zoological Arena of Kansas City. "They are absolutely purebred and have been kept up to a high standard by careful breeding and selection," a story in the Thermopolis Record stated.
A second bull apparently originated in Yellowstone.
Kevin Skates, superintendent of what is now Hot Springs State Park, said it doesn't appear that the park's bison and cattle have mixed, and in records dating back to the 1970s, there's no evidence of brucellosis.
Hot Springs bison as possible seed for an Arapaho herd has an appealing circularity, in addition to obvious logistical advantages.
In the 1880s, Fredrick Dupree, a South Dakota rancher, sheltered five buffalo calves when the whole race neared extinction. A former trader, he had previously made money from buffalo hides.
Skates is Dupree's great-great grandson.
In 1896, the U.S. government purchased the land on which Hot Springs State Park sits from the Wind River tribes. The Eastern Shoshones and Northern Arapahos sold the largest mineral hot spring in the world for $60,000; as part of the agreement, the Arapahos received a share so their agent could buy cattle.
Thus, it might be a fitting twist for the descendant of a man who helped save the last buffalo, now to provide buffalo for the Northern Arapaho, from land sold by the tribes at a historic low point.
Even so, since Hot Springs has only 18 buffalo, providing calves would amount to a modest gesture. But numbers aren't everything; maybe some young bull would turn out to be a Flower facsimile.
Despite the name, Flower was anything but delicate. Born in 1992, he measured seven feet to the top of his hump and weighed 3,000 pounds. Parks elsewhere brag about the "enormity" of bulls tipping the scales at 1,000 pounds or even less.
Flower's uncommon mass wore down his frame. By age 17, his joints were swollen badly. The day for saying good-bye came last November.
Flower was too big for a chute; the only option was to shoot him. No one on staff would do it, so they waited in a bar for a veterinarian and taxidermist to finish the job.
"When the gunshots went off, that's when we all started crying," Skates recalls.
In a precursor for a final tribute, the taxidermist removed Flower's hide. One day it is intended to cover a stuffed memorial for one of the mightiest members of the Buffalo Nation.