I recently visited Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, located near Harlem, Montana. If you are driving on US Hwy 2 in Central Montana you’ll drive right through the northern part of the reservation.
Fort Belknap, established in 1888, is home to the Gros Ventre (pronounced Grovon) and the Assiniboine people. The word Belknap is pronounced with a silent “k” so it sounds like belnap.
Quite a few years ago a tribal buffalo herd was established and there are now about 300-400 in that herd.
This past year about 32 buffalo from Yellowstone National Park were relocated to Fort Belknap. This was an effort to keep the size of the Yellowstone population in proportion to the amount of food/grazing available in the national park.
My scheduled tour was to see the Yellowstone herd which was about twenty minutes south of the Visitor Information Center on Fort Belknap (see photo above). As we left the Visitor Center (at Don Addy Memorial Park & Campground) I saw lots of photo ops but I didn’t want to delay our touring schedule so we didn’t make any stops.
As we traveled south on Hwy 66 the terrain became rolling. Plenty of recent moisture had covered those rolling hills with lots of green grass. We turned off the highway into a fenced-off part of the buffalo pasture and one traveler with our group instantly saw the buffalo grazing on a hill in the distance.
The buffalo looked so docile – big and cumbersome – and like they couldn’t run if they tried. Well, our tour guide told us they definitely could run and they can pretty much go where they seriously want to go.
Fencing surrounding the massive pasture was extra tall and very substantial. I can’t even imagine how long it took to build that fence.
With the help of some long camera lenses we were able to get some nice photos. Some of the herd seemed to pose, others completely ignored us and kept grazing. I liked the calves, still much lighter in color than their parents. In the photos you can see how much the large buffalo were shedding.
This big, beautiful American icon is truly impressive and they are important to Native American culture.
Fort Belknap has plans to process buffalo jerky for retail sale. You can also order a buffalo burger at the Smokehouse Grille on the northern part of Fort Belknap.
The drive to the buffalo pasture was picturesque and we heard many oral history stories from our local tour guide.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the buffalo in their natural environment and I learned some interesting history about the area.