San Francisco – Everyday Insider! (TM) Trip 19B

My love for San Francisco is deep, as I lived there through my teenage years and twenties. It’s a fabulous city, and I love being able to share it with you and other visitors from all over the globe.

This first specific entry for Golden Gate Park is actually one of my oldest memories of the City, which I first visited in 1957, on my way from Australia to see my father’s family in Chicago.

He took us to see the Golden Gate Park Buffalo herd, yes, you read that correctly! America’s famous bison have a home in the Park, and you don’t need to rush to Wyoming or Colorado to see them roaming in a native setting.

When you research, there actually was a species of California Bison which Europeans hunted into extinction. So, these are their cousins, brought from the Great Plains. Anywhere that people can help them have habitat, they should, so Golden Gate Park admin was very forward-thinking and this was an act of conservatorship to be praised!

The Zoo staff cares for the bison which are located at the Bison Paddock in Golden Gate Park. Back in 1891, Park Superintendent John McClaren brought the bison there.

At that time, even the Great Plains species was close to extinction in the United States, because of massive slaughter by hunters for trophies and hides.

Over the years, more than 500 buffalo calves have been born in Golden Gate Park, and this and other captive breeding efforts, have saved the species from extinction.

Today there are several healthy herds in a few National Parks as well as large populations maintained by private breeders and bison ranchers.

For the Golden Gate Park herd, the first bison to arrive at the Park was a bull named “Ben Harrison” who hailed from the Kansas ranch of C.J. Jones, an early conservationist. He began his own breeding program in 1884.

“Ben Harrison” was purchased for $350 which was a great deal of money at that time. He was then shipped to San Francisco and became the first of a herd of bison that was intended to help preserve the species. Within two years, he had sired a calf by the first female bison, “Sarah Bernhardt,” and from that point on the herd thrived.

One hundred years ago, the bison were named after public figures: “Grover Cleveland”, “Bill McKinley” and “Bill Bunker” were among the original animals at Golden Gate Park.

Next, the bison currently residing in the Park were originally named after the royal family according to Shakespeare. But, in 1993, the bison relinquished their Shakespearean names in favor of Native American names.

At a special bison reclaiming and renaming ceremony (sponsored by the Watchbison Committee, the Native American Advisory Committee, and the San Francisco Zoological Society) Native American elders returned the bison naming to their traditional American roots.

This is particularly appropriate as the buffalo is sacred to Native Americans. It is removing one more of the travesties imposed on them from the Anglo culture.

I am happy we have finally recognized the Native Americans and the Buffalo’s real heritage.

The Buffalo Paddock is just east of Chain of Lakes Drive on Kennedy Drive, and while you are there, realize that the area can also be a wonderful birding spot. More on that, next time.

Golden Gate Park is a huge refuge for many small native animals. Unfortunately, with the exception of the fenced Bison Paddock, none of the other large native animals have been re-introduced. That is something that I hope the present Park will consider, along with coordinating with the National Parks area at the Presidio nearby.

Enjoy! More on Golden Gate Park tomorrow.

San Francisco Archive

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