Massive and majestic creatures, the bison holds an intimidating presence on the American landscape. But they could have been lost forever had it not been for the foresight of Kalispell’s founder, Charles E. Conrad, who corralled a herd of bison right here in the Flathead.
On Sept. 12, the Conrad Mansion Museum is hosting the C.E. Conrad Buffalo Bash and Sideshow at the Spring Brook Ranch in Kalispell. The event will raise funds to increase security at the mansion on Woodland Avenue that has been the target of several thefts this year. The event will feature dinner, dancing and a presentation about Conrad’s heard of buffalo, the decedents of which live at the ranch.
“(Conrad) saw the demise of the bison and had the means to do something about it, so he did,” said museum director Gennifer Sauter. “Had he not preserved buffalo, there is no guarantee they would be around anymore.”
Conrad, who fought for the Confederates during the Civil War, arrived in Montana in the late 1800s. He founded Kalispell in 1891, the same year the Great Northern Railway arrived in the Flathead Valley. One of Conrad’s early projects was establishing a herd of bison. At the time there were around 100 wild bison left on the continent, down from 30 to 60 million. In 1900, he purchased 50 bison from a man in Pablo and brought them to Wild Horse Island, according to an account by Conrad’s daughter, Alicia. A few years later, the heard was moved to the Smith Valley, where they grazed for part of the year, before being moved to some fields just north of downtown Kalispell, now known as Buffalo Hill.
In 1902, Conrad died at the age of 52, but his wife kept the herd intact. In 1908, she offered 37 buffalo to start the National Bison Range in Moiese. The group has provided breeding stock for bison around North America. Others were sold to zoos for about $300 a head. The herd was sold in 1923, but mementos from that era remain at the Conrad Mansion, including the stuffed and mounted head of the leader of the herd, known as the “Kalispell Chief.”
“They were just crazy about those buffalo,” said volunteer Mary Lou Lumpkin.
The history of Conrad’s buffalo herd will be the focus of the Sept. 12 event at the Spring Brook Ranch. Entertainment will include roper Jack Fairchild and singer Bill Humenik. Original art will be auctioned off and all proceeds will go toward building up security at the mansion. According to Sauter, in May someone was caught digging up and stealing flowers on museum grounds. A month later, another person sneaked on to the property, dodging security cameras, and stole a century-old antique garden trellis. Because of the recent incidents, Sauter said the museum has held off on putting up some more historic displays until tougher security can be put in place. She hopes to outfit the building and grounds with more security cameras and motion sensors.
“(The Buffalo Bash) be an old west theme, there’s going to be a chuck wagon and all the fixings,” she said.
Tickets are $120 per person and can be purchased from the museum by calling (406) 755-2166 or online at www.conradmansion.com. Tickets can also be purchased from The Bookshelf in Kalispell, the Going to the Sun Gallery in Whitefish, Station 8 in Columbia Falls and at the Bigfork Museum of Art & History in Bigfork.
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