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'Buffalo Heartbeats' tells rest of the story: book authored by Francie Berg

As a follow up to her Buffalo Trails self-guided tour book, Hettinger native Francie Berg has authored “Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains.”

Published by Hettinger’s Dakota Buttes Visitors Council, the companion book tells the rest of the story of the last great buffalo hunts -- by Native Americans in traditional hunts, the bottleneck of near extinction, and the amazing comeback of buffalo today. In hardcover and large format, with 256 pages, “Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains” is available for tourists and armchair travelers all over the world.

“The story of the buffalo is both tragic and exciting in that it was on the brink of extinction and

now thrives,” said author Francie Berg. “But even more, part of the greatness of this experience is that the story of the buffalo’s rescue hasn’t been fully told or appreciated. … This book is not only meant to be read, but used as a pathway to understanding this majestic animal, and how it has impacted our state and region.”

More than 30 million buffalo once grazed the rich grasslands of the Great Plains and prairies of North America. Then, from 1880 to 1883, the wild herds made their last stand on the Great Sioux Reservation in the region between what is now Hettinger, and Lemmon, Bison and Buffalo, S.D.

“Much can be said about the importance the sacredness of the Buffalo as a relates to my people,” said Scott Davis, North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner. “The Buffalo provided virtually everything to live on and live from. It is good to see these efforts happening in a good way throughout our region and our state. The more we understand each other of the history and contemporary issues the better we become as a tribe, a state and a nation.”

“Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains” gives a broader, more in-depth account of these magnificent animals and the place where all the buffalo stories come together. It is a sweeping chronicle filled with detail on the buffalo’s origins and behavior, maternal dominance, the tenderness of ‘noble fathers’ who saved newborn calves from wolves, fights between mighty bulls, and a South Dakota buffalo herd bull’s challenge to a fiery Mexican fighting bull one Sunday in Juarez. There are hunting tales of ancient foot surrounds, buffalo jumps, dry gulch traps and the “manly” but dangerous sport of running buffalo on horseback. Reports by travelers and explorers tell of immense herds grazing across the buttes and badlands as far as the eye could see.

The pages come alive with a wealth of material on the Native Americans’ close relationship with

the buffalo, their respect for and dependence on them. The book also brings together the latest rancher advice on low-stress handling of the volatile animals.

“Buffalo Heartbeats is a splendid book. It shares my philosophy in publishing for the general

public, namely using fine illustrations as well as well-researched, authentic stories. And never, never being condescending,” said Val Geist, Canadian author, zoologist and buffalo historian from the University of Calgary. “No image is more representative, more evocative of North America than the buffalo. It rouses visions of the vast, open plains, of great bison herds and packs of light wolves, of buffalo hunts by mounted warriors with bows and arrows, of the struggles of native people, of the pathos of near extinction of the mighty beast and the justified pride in its recovery.”

Together, Berg’s two books provide a complete and personal buffalo experience. The 10 historic

and contemporary sites include live buffalo herds and deliver a deeper understanding of the magnificent, unpredictable, feisty and still wild, buffalo. Our national mammal.

Both books are illustrated in full color with photos, drawings and paintings by Charlie Russell,

George Catlin and others. For more information, contact Hettinger’s Chamber of Commerce (701-567-2531) hettingerchamber@ndsupernet.com. Printed books are available from Hettinger businesses. All formats including eBooks may be purchased at hettingernd.com/buffalotrails. See also NDTourism.com/BuffaloTrails.

About the author

Francie M. Berg is a teacher, historian and author of 17 books with ranching roots in the Old West.

Her earlier book “Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes” provides a self-guided tour of 10 historic and contemporary buffalo sites in western North Dakota and South Dakota.

Berg grew up on a Montana ranch near Miles City and moved to Hettinger in 1966 with her husband, the late Bert Berg, who worked as the area’s veterinarian.. A graduate of Montana State University, Berg is a licensed  nutritionist and has a masters degree in family and anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

Through her work with health, nutrition and wellness, she has presented seminars at national and international conferences. She has four children and nine grandchildren.

How it started

Berg’s interest in the buffalo’s story grew from a chance encounter -- she and her sister, Anne had been looking for a lost heifer when they saw something peeking out from under a sagebrush that had been partly torn loose from a sandy bank.

What they discovered was a relic of long ago -- a buffalo skull. They’d seen the photos of dead buffalo slaughtered by hide hunters. Later they learned this was where the last big northern herd of buffalo came in their flight from the big guns in 1880.

“That big old sagebrush stood along their trail. We’d ridden past it dozens of times,” she wrote.

The sisters tied  the skull behind Berg’s saddle and it rested beside a petrified rock in their Mom’s rose bush garden. Years later, they learned the rest of the story:

Berg wrote that half of the remaining buffalo herd near Miles City  had been killed by white and Indian hide hunters. The other half, about 50,000, cut across the corner of Montana into Dakota Territory. They moved on to the Great Sioux Indian Reservation. There, the last of the great northern herd made their last stand in 1883. The southern herd of millions had been killed off several years later.

“Hettinger people told of the last buffalo hunt, but nobody knew the facts,” Berg said. “So I thought it was a good story that fell into my lap. It seemed like a story that needed to be told… I found out about the rescued calves south along the Grand River and it all fell together.”

She read numerous accounts, including those by James McLaughlin, an Indian agent at Ft. Yates about “the great buffalo hunt,” the memoirs of missionary Thomas Riggs in his “Buffalo Hunt” section, and William Hornaday’s documented history of 1889 titled “The Extermination of the American Bison.” Those sources led to the 1990 book about the American buffalo’s last stand, “The Last Great Buffalo Hunts: Traditional Hunts in 1880 to 1883 by the Teton Lakota People.” The Hettinger Dakota Buttes Visitors Council later launched a series of self-guided buffalo tours and published Berg’s guide, “Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes.”

Of course, that has led to “Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains,” which tells the rest of the story.

Berg’s research sparked the interest of Hettinger Public School’s new principal -- a history major and eighth-grade teacher.

“They are not only teaching all the kids in school about our local history, but we intend to involve other schools in the area,” Berg said.  “This spring, we did a PowerPoint on the last hunt with the eighth graders and took a field trip -- it was wonderful. It’s a vision that makes me really happy because many times it’s the older people who are interested in history, but we are involving the young people. My goal is to get more people to come and take our tour and see the unspoiled places where the events actually happened.I think a lot of people will find it very refreshing.”

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