Earl J. Peterson (1897–1966) was a lifelong rancher in the famous Sandhills of Nebraska. In addition, he ranched for a few years on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He became interested in bison in the mid-1930s in a quest for a more hardy animal.
In 1937 he bought two heifers and a bull from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge at Valentine, Nebraska, taking them to his ranch in Newport, Nebraska. Later he bought several of the remaining head from the Scotty Philip herd. The animals were en route to the Omaha Livestock Market at the time, but the truck was stopped in Newport, where the bison were transferred to the Peterson truck.
For the first several years he simply let his herd multiply, watching them closely and learning more about them. As numbers grew, he sold both males and females for breeding stock. To move excess bulls and publicize the bison, he gave several community barbecues and sold many bulls to clubs throughout Nebraska for that purpose.
After the great blizzard of 1949, Peterson became even more fond of his bison herd. It took a Herculean effort from daybreak to dark to get enough hay to cattle to keep them from starving, but the bison were left to fend for themselves. When the blizzard finally ended, the cattle were thin but the bison were in good condition. His respect for the species grew even more from incidents such as this.
In a way only bison owners can appreciate, Peterson’s animals were forever a source of pride and delight to him. As long as he lived, he never tired of showing his herd and “talking buffalo” to anyone. His firm belief that they were part of the future is finally being realized today. Had he lived to see their progress today, he would have been very pleased.