The day the last bison was sold.


It was mid-spring of 2008. My friends were selling their bison and getting rid of their herd — they had been for a while — and wondered if I’d find it interesting to film the roundup of the last two bulls.

I drove over to their farm, and climbed into the old truck with my small digital video camera. I did not know what to expect.

“These bulls are a whole different ballgame,” he said as we drove into the small pen where he’d separated the last two bulls. We would be herding them towards the stock trailer through two pens and a narrow chute.

I stayed in the truck. The bulls were clearly worked up. They were huge.

“They already know what’s going to happen,” my friend said as he hopped in and out of the truck to open and close gates.

“We’ll load this one first,” he said, pointing to the one in the pen with us. “This is General Sherman,” he went on to say. “He leaves nothing but ruins behind him. Ruins and rubble.”

General Sherman was big. That wasn’t encouraging.

My friend gunned the truck, and we were bouncing across the pen with the bull in front of us, barreling at a high speed through a narrow chute. The only way the bull could get out would be to go up and over us in the truck. I looked nervously as the walls of the chute passed us with just inches to spare on both sides of the truck.

The truck didn’t want to keep running.

We got to the end of the chute and the engine began to sputter. Suddenly, General Sherman appeared in front, wanting to get back out.

My friend struggled to keep the engine running while the bull angrily paced back and forth. There were several men at the end of where the chute led into the stock trailer, ready to drop the gate, but the bull didn’t want to go that way. He wanted back out, towards the truck.

“Is he going to jump over this truck?” I asked nervously.

“I don’t know. I hope not.”

The bull finally went forward, and we got out of the truck. My door only opened a few inches, since we were wedged into the chute. I made my way to where the bull was in the small pen near the stock trailer, and climbed up onto the red rail around it so I could get a look inside. The men were wondering how to get the bull into the trailer.

“I suppose we’ll need the hotshot, or not?” my friend asked them. “That’s how I got those holes in my trailer.”

Previous efforts to sell off the herd had resulted in damage to his trailer, with a bison shoving his horns through the metal side as if it were a pop can, peeling back the metal.

Suddenly, the bull exploded in the small pen and started goring at the wall of it with his horns. I jumped down off the ricocheting side wall I was perched on.

At long last, the men were able to get the first bull in the trailer. My friend then had to find a way to close the divider door from the safety of the outside, and he gave it a hard push hoping that the momentum would carry it closed and into the latch.

No such luck.

It almost slide into the latch, but then stopped, sliding backwards. This caught the bull’s attention, and so it turned around and placed its horns between the railings of the divider. With an angry shudder, it ripped it from the wall and tossed it to the floor of the trailer.

“Gosh, he busted it right off the…right off the…” my friend said incredulously as he looked inside at the damage.

We headed back to the truck to round up the second bull. I could see where the sides of the truck were dented and torn from the abuse out in the bison pasture. This was truly a farm truck.

The second bull seemed even more agitated, now that the other one was gone from the pen.

“This one’s a little bigger,” my friend said.

Oh, joy.

My friend hopped out of the truck at the gate, opening it to let this last bull in. The bull began running towards us, so my friend picked up the pace and ran back to the truck.

This one was a lot bigger.

Gate by gate, my friend herded the bull into the chute area. The bull was aggressive, running around. He knew what was happening. At one point, as he circled the truck yet again, he tucked his head down and banged it into the side of the door where I was sitting.

This was several thousand pounds of angry animal.

We herded him down the chute. At the end of it, he whirled around and I truly thought he was going to go up over the hood of the truck. He was big enough; it didn’t seem like it would take much effort.

Without anything eventful happening, though, the men got him into the trailer with the other bull, and they calmed down.

My friend headed out to the pasture to put out some feed for the rest of the herd. Then, we were on our way, and my friend was that much closer to the end of an era on his farm. It’s strange how an era ends in as little as a day or a season.