Scene one. It’s noon: Sunday after church. The modern family gathers around a table laden with homemade rolls, covered dishes and an assortment of pot luck dessert contributions. Then a male voice announces “it’s almost game time,” and chairs are pushed back, plates quickly emptied, and guests begin staking out the choice seats in front of the big screen.
Then the unexpected takes place when a small grandchild asks, “When are we going to see the real live buffaloes?” The silence is deafening. Another grandchild adds, “You said we were going to see some buffaloes. You promised.”
Scene two: We load up and head out on a country road until we spot the gate to the Broken Bar Ranch, where our hosts, Terry and Judi Leonard, are working a ranch that is part of the acres homesteaded in 1893 by Terry’s great-grandfather, Peter Stewart. Terry attended Michigan State on a wrestler’s scholarship where he met Judi, who is from Grand Rapids. They finished their education, married, and Terry brought his bride back to Perry, where they both taught in the school system.
One step inside the kitchen and the grandkids were wide eyed with excitement. We were in the middle of a treasure trove of collectibles, souvenirs, posters and paintings, with not one single “do not touch” nor a “do not sit on” warning.
I could have spent much more time here, but there was this matter of buffaloes. As we rode along, I asked Terry how he had gotten into the buffalo business. He answered that the acreage was in his family since 1893: they now own 800 acres and lease an additional 1,440 to run cattle.
He said he had worn many hats before concentrating on buffalo. After his teaching and coaching career, he opened a restaurant, but sold it due to hours that were “too early or too late.” Next was the oil business: then he was a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley, followed by operating a sale barn for four years.
I was expecting a dozen or so of the buffalo, but as we grew nearer to that solid mass of a primitive animal herd I was stunned and apprehensive. I asked Terry if they were friendly. His answer was a definite, “No.”
And he added, “buffalo are not a domesticated animal. I have never known of a pet buffalo that children could ride or train as they would a dog or pony.”
He said they once escaped their pasture. Realizing that the entire herd had gotten out, he drove his truck loaded with feed out toward them, honking the horn, then drove back to his pasture. It worked. The entire herd slowly turned and followed him.
Terry said he has never known an animal as loyal to the herd as the buffalo. He has observed with disbelief a rule among the herd that when buffalo sense danger, they will form a circle around the calves to protect them.
Another time, a newborn calf appeared to be weak or lifeless. The mother stood near her offspring until a male buffalo approached and stood guard while the mother left the circle long enough to go to the feeding station and return.
It had been a fantastic afternoon. I thanked Terry and Judi for their kindness and generosity in sharing their home and history with us, helping us understand who we are and where we come from.
Jimmie Cook is retired from the faculty of the Department of English, Oklahoma State University. She wrote a weekly column for the Drumright Gusher for 23 years.