Local cowboys ride in annual buffalo roundup at Custer State Park

Published: Sep. 27, 2020 at 2:09 PM CDT
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Custer State Park, S.D. – For 55 years, a select group of cowboys and cowgirls have been an essential part of the annual buffalo round up at South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

Each fall, around 1,400 buffalo are herded into the corrals, where they are sorted, branded tested and then selected for auction.

All that happens in just one day, thanks in part to 60 volunteers on horseback. This year, those riders, included Larry Frei of Halliday and Chuck Anderson from Lemmon, South Dakota.

This is a day Chuck Anderson looks forward to every year. It’s his seventh “go-round” herding buffalo at Custer State Park.

“I’m not a great horseman, but I enjoy horses and we use them on our ranch,” Anderson says.

His horse Rusty is 13 years old and knows his way around livestock.

“Rusty is a good solid cow horse,” says Anderson.

After six roundups, Rusty has become a pretty good buffalo horse too. In his younger days, Anderson was a bull rider. Now, he gets that same adrenaline rush from the roundup.

“Your blood is pumping,” he says with a smile.

For the first time ever, Anderson’s friend, Larry Frei, was chosen for the ride.

“It’s just a blast,” says Frei.

His baptism as a buffalo cowboy was a rush. But Frei is no stranger to the saddle; he grew up on horseback.

“Pretty much,” smiled Frei.

Anderson convinced Frei to put in an application for the event. He never expected to be chosen.

“It’s pretty cool to be part of something like this,” says Frei.

The terrain here is a little different than what Frei and his horse, Pyro, are used to on their ranch near Halliday.

“This is big country,” says Frei as he looks across the terrain of the state park.

He says the work isn’t all that different from trailing cattle at home.

“Everyone needs to work together and pay attention,” he explains.

These cowboys say the thrill of the leading thousands of bison into the corrals is great, but it isn’t the best part. Instead, they say, it’s the riders they’ve met.

“I’ve met different people from all over,” Frei says.

People like Anderson, who come back year after year.

“It’s reunion of sorts,” Anderson explains.

Frei hopes he can “cowboy up” for this event again and log some more miles, with his new friends, and his old ones too.

“It was a great ride,” Frei says after the roundup, his smile bigger than ever.

Anderson has been able to ride in the past seven roundups as a rider with the governor’s office. Frei was one of 20 volunteer cowboys selected for this year’s roundup through an open application process. He’ll have to wait three years before he can apply again.

Anderson says the buffalo round up is sort of the last hurrah of the year – when he gets home he’ll start fixing corrals so he can work his own cattle in the fall.

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