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When the National Bison Legacy Act (NBLA) designating a national mammal went into effect in 2016, it really hit close to home here in Cody Yellowstone. 

It is practically impossible to spend any time in our region without hearing about the bison, although many people mistakenly call the bison – scientific name Bison bison – a buffalo. Most often, it is in reference to Buffalo Bill Cody, our town’s founder. There is the Buffalo Bill Dam, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Buffalo Bill State Park, and more. 

A bison walking over a dusty patch in Cody Yellowstone
(Photo: @gregsrobbin)

What’s in a Name?

The buffalo misnomer occurred as a result of the species bearing a resemblance to a European buffalo – scientific name Bison bonasus. We have also heard people say our bison were mistaken for African or Asian buffalo, but we’ll go with European since the people who perpetuated this mistake were predominantly from Europe. 

The historical significance of this majestic animal in the American West is fascinating. Native Americans relied upon this animal for food, clothing, housing, and other uses. Herds were prevalent from western New York all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Buffalo, New York, was named because the animal was commonly found in the area.

As the conflicts between American Indians and white settlers proliferated, killing bison became a way to control the native population. Hunting the animal was also a popular sport, although shooting the animal from the platform of a railroad car and leaving the carcass to rot as many people did, would not sit well with any hunter we know. 

Our town’s founder was called “Buffalo Bill” because of his prowess in hunting the animals to feed railroad workers in the 1800s.

Unfortunately, we humans killed so many that by the early part of the 20th century, there were almost no bison left. 

Protecting the Bison

Fortunately, although we came way too close, we did not hunt the bison to extinction. A true conservation success occurred in our backyard — also known as Yellowstone National Park – in the early 1900s when the herd was reduced to some two to three dozen animals. 

Buffalo Bill Cody eventually became a high-profile advocate for the preservation and recovery of bison, by supporting preservation and recovery efforts and supporting big-game hunting laws and limited hunting seasons. 

The Arrival of the Red Dogs

A baby bison running and a adult bison chases him
(Photo: @taylorthomasalbright)

Today, as springtime approaches, visitors to the region are preparing to see the bison herds with the newborns – nicknamed “Red Dogs” – often stealing the show as bison calves are typically the first of the young ones to make their debut. Reddish-colored, fuzzy-furred bison calves are quick studies, and they can keep up with their mothers as soon as two hours after birth. It takes a village to protect a bison calf, and all adult bison surround young calves when predators such as wolves and bears are nearby. 

Baby Season is Coming to Cody Yellowstone

Springtime, however, features many species showing off their newborns. Black bear cubs see daylight around the month of April after they were born during the winter. Moose cows give birth to a new calf around May or June, and they promptly chase away the previous season’s calves. Bighorn sheep produce one or two lambs annually, also in May or June. Elk thrive throughout the region, particularly in East Yellowstone Valley along the North Fork of the Shoshone River, with babies usually born in late May and June. Wolf pups begin appearing in April and May, and their packs will remain with them for three to 10 weeks as they learn bit by bit how to be a wolf in Yellowstone. River otters are born in March and April, and aquatic nomads stay with their moms for a year as they learn how to find fish and other food and swim underwater for minutes at a time. Eagles emerge in mid-April and fly from their nests three to four months after that.

Don’t miss your chance to see the beautiful babies of Cody Yellowstone take their first steps toward becoming the majestic wildlife our region is known for. Start planning your 2024 Cody Yellowstone vacation today.