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The bison roundup

Each fall in the Mission Valley of Montana there is a bison roundup. The animals are brought off the range for inoculations, branding, and chipping. It’s an intense time of riders, wild bison, curious spectators, modern technology, and ancient memories.

One of the first wildlife refuges in the country, the National Bison Range was founded as a place to prevent the extinction of an animal that once numbered in the tens of millions and ranged across the entire US and Canada. The near eradication of this species in the late 1800s is a tangle of politics, racism, westward expansion, genocide, Manifest Destiny, and greed.

The bison that remain in the contiguous US today are remnants of a landscape, an animal, and the people that once relied upon them for life. Yet they are no more than cattle. They may be wild but they do not roam the prairies, for the prairies no longer exist. They may be sacred but they are no longer an icon, for the great nations they sustained are no more.

I took this photo in the heat of the roundup on a cold October day. Seeing it now, I empathize with the bison being herded into a future they cannot see and do not recognize. Forced from the endless days of grass and open sky to the fences and pens of the modern world. We are no more than cattle.