Bison: The American Icon

Few animals conjure the power and symbolic presence of the North American bison.

Whether painted on a tipi or an artist’s canvas, minted on a nickel, or seen grazing in Yellowstone National Park, the image of the bison stirs in us deep loyalties to the North American landscape. Wild and fundamental, the bison is a familiar part of our shared heritage.

Originating from the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, The Bison: American Icon explores the meaning and significance of this iconic creature from the Plains Indian culture of the 1800s through the commercial and national symbol of the present. Along the way, The Bison charts the dramatic changes that occurred to the creature and its habitat, and to the people who depended upon it for their daily existence. The exhibition also illuminates the human response that eventually led to the bison’s preservation as a species and a symbol in the twentieth century.

The exhibition opens with a primary mystery: For thousands of years until the early 1860s, there were tens of millions of bison roaming the plains of North America. By 1890, there were fewer than 300. What happened? Centered on this question, The Bison explores the “before” and “after” of the bison’s dramatic decline. The exhibition also shows how the bison’s seeming extinction was ultimately averted by conservationists. In charting this positive outcome, the exhibition explores the many ways that the bison’s identity was transformed yet again into a symbol of America and a popular image that appeared on everything from soft drink bottles to national currency. The Bison also shows how the animal still inspires contemporary Native American artists, continuing a living relationship between Plains peoples and a creature that has always held a special significance for them.

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The Bison toured April 2010 through March 2015.

This exhibition has completed its tour and is no longer in circulation. This page is for archival reference only.

  • April 6–May 25, 2010 Fort Caspar Museum
    Casper, WY
  • June 16–August 11, 2010 Star of the Republic Museum
    Washington, TX
  • September 1–October 20, 2010 Kauffman Museum
    North Newton, KS
  • November 10, 2010–January 7, 2011 Hasting Museum of Natural and Cultural History
    Hastings, NE
  • January 28–March 16, 2011 Bravos Valley Museum of Natural History
    Bryan, TX
  • April 6–May 25, 2011 Pioneer Library System
    Norman, OK
  • June 16–August 11, 2011 Fellows Riverside Gardens
    Youngstown, OH
  • September 1, 2011–January 7, 2012 Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center
    Lawton, OK
  • January 28–May 25, 2012 Pink Palace Museum
    Memphis, TN
  • June 16–August 11, 2012 Branigan Cultural Center
    Las Cruces, NM
  • September 1, 2012–January 7, 2013 The High Desert Museum
    Bend, OR
  • January 28–March 16, 2013 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2013 XIT Museum
    Dalhart, TX
  • June 16–August 11, 2013 Symphony in the Flint Hills
    Cottonwood Falls, KS
  • September 1, 2013–January 7, 2014 Bell County Museum
    Belton, TX
  • January 28–March 16, 2014 Brigham City Museum
    Brigham City, UT
  • April 6–May 25, 2014 Brown County Historical Society
    Hiawatha, KS
  • June 16–October 20, 2014 Mashantucket Pequot Museum
    Mashantucket, CT
  • November 10, 2014–January 7, 2015 Park City Museum
    Park City, UT
  • January 28–March 16, 2015 John E. Conner Museum
    Kingsville, TX

Downloads & Resources

Fact Sheet
Exhibit Checklist
Exhibit Schedule
Programming Guide
Registrar’s Packet
Press Kit Available Upon Request

Related Reading


C.M. Russell Museum
The Bison: American Icon,
Heart of Plains Indian Culture

Intertribal Bison Cooperative

 American Bison Society

 Center for Bison Studies
at Montana State University-Bozeman

National Bison Association

Books for Adults

Braithwaite, Charles A., ed.Great Plains Quarterly 21 (2), Spring 2001.Special edition on the Bison.

Dary, David A.The Buffalo Book: The Full Saga of the American Animal.Chicago: Sage, 1974.

Geist, Valerius.Buffalo Nation:History and Legend of the North American Bison.Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc., 1996.

Isenbert, Andrew C.The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Books for Children

Berman, Ruth.American Bison.
Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1992.

Patent, Dorothy H. The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny. New York: Clarion, 2006.

Swanson, Diane.
Buffalo Sunrise:The Story of a North American Giant.

San Francisco:Sierra Club Books for Children, 1996.