Black Hills State University graduate Susan Ricci, founder of the new Museum of the American Bison in downtown Rapid City, poses with Bruno, a full-sized mounted bull and star of the museum.
 Susan Ricci opened the museum in an effort to educate the public about the American bison's historical significance and ability to survive.
Susan Ricci is a Black Hills State University alumnus whose passion for the American bison led her to found the Museum of the American Bison in Rapid City – a place dedicated to educating the public about the animal’s historical significance and ability to survive.

After several years working with nonprofits, Ricci got burnt out. She wanted to do something different. Her inspiration came after she received a historic preservation grant from a proposal she wrote as part of a project for a class taught by Dr. Robert Campbell, BHSU associate professor of history. With a love of history and the motivation that she could succeed, Ricci decided to set off on a new adventure.

Six months later, Ricci took over the building in the heart of historic downtown Rapid City that is now the Museum of the American Bison. “It’s a beautiful historic building that’s over 100 years old,” Ricci says.

According to Ricci, in the two months the museum has been open, they’ve had more than 2,000 visitors and the response has been great. “We’ve had all sorts of visitors including kindergartners on a field trip; people from France, Russia, Poland…people from all over the country and all over the world,” Ricci says. “Their responses have been overwhelming. We have a comment book, and it’s been great to see how people are amazed by the museum, as well as how they have been touched by the story of the bison.”

Their story is one of survival and resiliency, Ricci said. The American bison, commonly referred to as the buffalo, once roamed this continent, 60 million strong, but were exterminated by the thousands in the 19th century until less than 1,000 remained. They were slaughtered for their hides and to make way for western expansion. Thanks to rescue efforts by several ranchers across the Great Plains and conservation groups such as the American Bison Society, there are now more than 400,000 bison in North America.

Aside from Ricci’s museum, there is only one other museum in the nation dedicated to American bison history - The National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, N.D.

Ricci’s museum features exhibits for visitors of all ages including a dig site where children unearth bison bones; a “tracks and scat” table which educates visitors on wildlife indigenous to the bison habitat; an art gallery with current bison projects taking place in the Dakotas and Montana; and the star of the museum, Bruno, a full-sized mounted bull.

Ricci says she hopes that visitors will take away an appreciation of the incredible survivor skills of the American bison having lived in America since the ice age and surviving nearly being exterminated by man. “If people knew why that animal was still standing, they would really respect and admire the bison,” she said.

Ricci hopes to one day expand the museum.  “My immediate wish-list would be to do a mobile museum of some sort. Our state is the heart of where the bison lived and where the revival took place, so I would love to take some of our exhibits on the road to rural kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to visit the museum,” she says.

Ricci’s board of directors includes one of her former BHSU history professors, Dr. Mitchell Stone who serves as president; Donovin Sprague, BHSU adjunct instructor; and two wildlife biologists who specialize in bison ecology.

To learn more about the Museum of the American Bison, stop by the museum located at 607 St. Joseph Street, Rapid City; call (605) 791-3266, or visit www.bisonmuseum.org.