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American Bison Still Vital to Oklahoma Tribes

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The American bison, almost extinct just over a hundred years ago, now roams the Oklahoma plains near Concho. The American bison, almost extinct just over a hundred years ago, now roams the Oklahoma plains near Concho.

Darren Brown, News9.com

CONCHO, Oklahoma -- The American bison, almost extinct just over a hundred years ago, now roams the Oklahoma plains near Concho. A staple feature of Old West lore has found a new home in Oklahoma, and it's serving the same purpose it did hundreds of years ago. 

Stephen Fletcher has been the Cheyenne Arapaho Ranch's supervisor for the past couple years.  Fletcher is from Oklahoma, but spent several years learning the cattle ranching business up in Wyoming with his uncle Adrian Mosqueda, who assists him with the Cheyenne Arapaho venture.

"You don't really see a lot of cowboy hats and Indians underneath 'em and on horses y'know," said Fletcher. "We're trying to bring kinda the old way back to our people."

However, Fletcher and Mosqueda quickly found that ranching cattle isn't remotely related to ranching  bison. 

"Everything we do here is trial and error," Fletcher said. "A lot of things don't' work but we come up tomorrow with another way."

One method that works most days is herding the buffalo with horses. "Days it goes good and then there's days it goes terribly awful," laughed Fletcher. "If you can train a horse to work for a buffalo that horse can go up against anything."

One particular bison has become more tolerant of Fletcher than the others.  Boomer, a young bull, is rumored to eat potato chips out of Fletcher's hand. 

But that rumor is only partly true, depending of course on Boomer's mood.

The herd serves a higher purpose. It provides meat for the tribe's Diabetes and Wellness programs, and materials for tribal ceremonies. Managing the herd is a job that Fletcher doesn't take lightly.

"'Cause the purpose of these animals are to feed our kids and our elders," Fletcher said.  "That's the main purpose. That's why we're here."

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