I read Dan O’Brien’s “Buffalo For The Broken Heart” not long after it was published in 2001 and now that it’s turned up in an unexpected place (the set of shelves in Mason City that is supposed to hold only oversize books), it’s been added to the re-read pile.
It’s a grand account by a rancher (sometimes teacher, writer, falconer, wildlife biologist) in the shadow of South Dakota’s Black Hills, owner (thanks to a substantial mortgage) of a small place called the Broken Heart because of the configuration of its brand, who abandons cattle and begins raising buffalo.
It’s a love song about the Great Plains, the Black Hills region and its people, and, of course, about the buffalo that once ranged these plains (and Iowa’s vast prairies, too) by the million. It’s just a wonderful book and I’m looking forward to the reread.
In the meantime, perhaps a year ago, I happened onto the Web site for O’Brien’s “Wild Idea Buffalo Co.,” located here.
In the years since 2001, O’Brien has sold the Broken Heart (although he still manages it) and now owns the Cheyenne River Ranch, west of Badlands National Park and north of the Pine Ridge reservation. He lives there with his partner, Jill Maguire, and associates Gervase Hittle and Erney Hersman.
Hittle is an interesting guy, too --- retired chairman of the Modern Languages Department at the University of South Dakota, now a ranch hand.
The Web site has a number of purposes, but one certainly is to market the buffalo meat produced by Wild Idea, developed into what O’Brien calls a “model of native grass-fed animals culled humanely in the pastures where they live.”
One of the most interesting accounts found on the Web site details an especially “wild idea” developed by O’Brien and others --- a mobile (state inspected and fully approved) slaughtering operation that goes to the pastures where the buffalo graze so that animals to be harvested can be killed and processed on site and with minimal stress. One point of this exercise is to make it available, too, to the people of the Pine Ridge.
The big bonus for those of us who enjoy reading what O‘Brien (and Gervase Hittle, too) has to say is “Cheyenne River Writings” (look for it in the site index), monthly essays by both, also available in newsletter format if you care to subscribe. Past writings are available in the archives.
Reading them all, and I’ve done that gradually from start to July 2008, has been almost as much a pleasure as finding a new book by O’Brien on the shelves at Borders would be.