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Nonfiction Review – Buffalo for the Broken Heart

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien


Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Ever since I saw the mini-series Lonesome Dove and read the books in the Lonesome Dove series by Larry McMurtry, I wanted to see buffalo on the plains. A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit South Dakota with my job and the first thing I thought was ‘I can see buffalo!’  I was able to tack a few extra days to the work trip to do some sightseeing.   I had a few items on my list of places to visit (Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood and Crazy Horse Memorial) but at the top of the list: find buffalo!

I discovered Custer State Park, especially Wildlife Loop, was the place to go to find buffalo.  One day during my trip I packed a bag lunch and hit the road for Custer State Park.  I was on a mission…and I succeeded! I’ll just say the name ‘Wildlife Loop’ is very accurate.  I saw wild burros, deer, prairie dogs, antelope, and hundreds of buffalo.  I pulled my car into a pull off along the Loop and ate lunch while watching the buffalo.  It was a dream come true and it’s a day I’ll never forget.  Here’s a picture of my lunch dates that day.


Later in my trip I visited the Museum of the American Bison in downtown Rapid City.  The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the American bison and its brush with extinction as a result of America’s westward expansion.  The highlight of visiting the museum was talking with Susan Ricci, museum director and co-founder.  Her passion for these amazing creatures was palpable and her dedication to the protection of the buffalo was contagious.  She told me about her buffalo George, buffalo ranches, and the role of these ranches in preserving the buffalo. I told her about my dream come true at Custer and we parted with a hug, bonded over our love of the buffalo.

Once I got home from South Dakota I wanted to learn more.  I had fallen in love with South Dakota; the buffalo and Black Hills, the parks and national monuments were all incredible.  After some research I found Buffalo for the Broken Heart.  The book is a journal of sorts of author Dan O’Brien’s undertaking to introduce buffalo to his Broken Heart Ranch in South Dakota and restoring more buffalo to the grasslands that have long suffered under the hooves of cattle. He told of the difficulties of ranching and farming in the Black Hills and what it took to convince him to give buffalo a try on his ranch. O’Brien describes helping with buffalo roundups on other ranches and the roundup and buffalo sale at Custer State Park, where I had my lunch with the buffalo.  His stories of the buffalo, their introduction to the ranch, the growth of his ranch, and the importance of the buffalo in the bigger picture of repairing the West was touching, educational, and emotional.  O’Brien weaves his personal story with the story of the young buffalo on his ranch to create a dynamic story of redemption and hope.  I think readers who enjoy nonfiction, environmental studies, American history and culture, and ecology would all identify with and enjoy various elements of this book.

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to sit and eat lunch while watching the buffalo at Custer State Park.   I send my best wishes to Susan at Museum of the American Bison and thank her for taking the time to talk with me that afternoon I visited her and for all of her efforts on the behalf of the American bison.  I have Lonesome Dove and Larry McMurtry to thank for inspiring me to visit the land of buffalo and I have Dan O’Brien’s Buffalo for the Broken Heart to thank for giving me a greater understanding of the grasslands and importance of the buffalo in the West.