With an open palm, the young man reaches toward the three buffalo horses. They nuzzle through the wooden fence, their eyes on the gentle teenager.
This photo by John Hockensmith is featured on National Geographic's Crown of the Continent MapGuide.
Sadly, the Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition fell into shambles in Winter 2007 when founder Bob Black Bull, also known as Bob Bedard, fell off his four-wheeler "quad" during chores on the ranch. With a severe hip break, Black Bull entered an East Coast hospital. For the horses, it was the beginning of a harsh winter of deprivation that ended in the death of several of the wild herd of 150-or-so mustangs.
By December 2008, all of the horses had been removed from the ranch and the operation has effectively been shut down. Horse were adopted by various individuals and sent to new homes across Montana and as far away as Canada and Kentucky. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Montana Horse Sanctuary, and many Blackfeet tribal members were involved in the rescue of the emaciated horses.
As the project's destination editor, my decision to include the Seven Eagles Ranch on the map was controversial from the beginning, although ultimately supported by National Geographic's senior editor, Jonathan Tourtellot.
My site visit suggested that the Buffalo Horse Coalition's ranch was a bit sketchy as a tourist destination. Yet the ranch and Bob Black Bull were strenuously, if tenuously, trying to preserve and share Blackfeet heritage with troubled youngsters from Browning. Visitors were welcome, but amenities were all but non-existent ... if you don't include the raw beauty of this rolling prairie, the peaks of Glacier National Park poking above coulees and fresh beaver dams.
Dedicated to maintaining and preserving the Blackfoot Buffalo Horse, this non-profit coalition was formed to preserve a herd of over 160 horses in their several breeding herds. The horses were used in a variety of programs promoting and strengthening the culture with the youth of the Blackfeet Reservation and non-Native participants. Seven Eagles Ranch has been maintained in natural grasses pastures with a stream containing over 16 beaver dams and an abundance of wildlife. Wolves and grizzly bears are common visitors.
Life can be hard on the frozen, windswept plains of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Unfortunately, the Blackfeet Buffalo Coalition was unable to recover from Bob Black Bull's accident. And now his dream for the children and horses has evaporated.