I saw this impressive bison jump sculpture at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Free Fall, created by T.D. Kelsey in 2001, depicts a hunting method in use for hundreds of years. Hunters herded bison toward a steep cliff, where they fell to their death. As I’ve mentioned before, bison are dangerous and this is a safer alternative for harvesting them. At the base of this sculpture, piles of bones appear in a recreated archaeological dig.
T.D. Kelsey was born and raised on a ranch near Bozeman, Montana. T.D. Kelsey: Realist, Romantic, and Inspired Sculptor describes his background, including time spent as a rodeo cowboy, pre-med student, rancher, and airline pilot. With encouragement from his wife, Sidni, Kelsey eventually began working full time as an artist. His love for animals shows in this piece and other sculptures and paintings he created over the years.Read more: Bison jump sculpture, painting, & poem: SS & LAPC
Painting of buffalo jump
I’m also including a 1947 painting entitled Buffalo Drive, by William R. Leigh. This painting, located downstairs at the Center, shows the view from the top of a bison drive. Native people waved bison skins and sticks to scare the animals over the cliff. Later, they employed horses to move the animals. However, W.R. Leigh’s Buffalo Drive notes they did not use the woman’s pack saddle pictured for this activity. Riders rode with only a pad for quick dismounts and mounts.
Born in West Virginia, W.R. Leigh studied art at the Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, and the Royal Academy of Art, Munich, Germany. While in Germany, Impressionism was gaining popularity, but he preferred a more realistic style. In 1906, Leigh visited New Mexico and in 1910, he went on a hunting expedition in Wyoming. Inspired by what he saw, he began creating bold colorful paintings of the American West. William R. Leigh, Frederic Remington, and Charles M. Russell are regarded as pioneers of art depicting the West.
Bison jump nonet poem
Both of these works of art show a bison jump from different perspectives. I’m concluding this post with one more interpretation, a nonet poem I wrote on this topic.
Pushed across the plains by First Peoples
Astride mounts, chomping at jaw ropes
Triggering a stampede,
Running from pursuers
Eyes wild with fear,
Jump off cliff
15 thoughts on “Bison jump sculpture, painting, & poem: SS & LAPC”
Great sculpture! Thanks for sharing it and a look at Buffalo Bill Center.
It would be worth a visit. There is a First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park near Great Falls, MT
Thanks! I didn’t know about that jump in Montana. There’s one in Alberta called Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Great name!
Ha ha! That is a great name.
Wow! your poem is powerful and leaves this reader near tears. You have captured a moment in time.
Thanks, Suzy! Glad you liked my little poem.
I really enjoyed your take on the challenge, the painting gives a little extra info to compliment that amazing sculpture.
Thank you, Sofia, and thanks for hosting the challenge.
I guess you might say I love and hate this one Siobhan. Beautifully shown and an explanation of something I never heard of. How very cruel! But I suppose it was a necessity in those days for food and clothing. Sigh
Yes, I can understand your feelings about that hunting method, Tina. However, even today, bison kill more people in Yellowstone than any other animal. The jumps seem cruel but they provided for the people, as you mentioned. The artists captured the emotion of the moment, sad though it may be.
Great topic, great photos, great poem. I’ve seen Lakota Bison Jump by Peggy Detmers, just north of Deadwood, South Dakota. It is not the Native Americans who slaughtered the bison nearly to extinction.
Thanks, John. I just looked at photos of the South Dakota sculpture. Wow! Very impressive. Yes, you’re right, settlers of the American West nearly caused bison to go extinct due to over hunting.
Photos and poem are excellent. Sad, sad, sad – but I guess they had to.
Thanks, Ann-Christine! Yes, it was a sad, but necessary part of history.