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.
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