Now, the roundup is an annual tradition.
"We started coming out for the sale and we fell in love with it," said Bennie Barcroft, as he and his wife groomed their horse.
The couple will be among 60 on horseback Monday to help corral nearly 1,300 rumbling bison. The annual event in the Black Hills draws thousands of spectators from across the nation and the world to watch the magnificent animals barrel down the prairie at speeds of up to 50 mph. Visitors begin arriving days before to take part in an arts festival that draws 150 vendors and their western-inspired handmade arts and crafts.
The goal of the corral is to maintain a balance of bison and rangeland forage. Approximately 300 to 400 of the animals will be sold and shipped across North America, said Gary Brundige, resource program manager at Custer State Park. The buffalo will supplement an existing herd, help start a new herd or be used for meat.
The remaining animals will be sorted to brand newcomers, vaccinate others and check cows for pregnancy.
"We've really had a big influence on the re-establishment of the bison over the years with this live sale," he added.
The event drew nearly 14,000 spectators in 2011, and organizers expect a similar turnout Monday.
"It's big. The numbers aren't going down at all. It gets bigger every year," said Custer State Park conservation officer Ron Tietsort, who has participated in the corral for the past 13 years.
Spectators have come from as far away as Germany, Australia and New Zealand to watch Tietsort and the other riders lead the bison into a fenced in area. About 20 of the riders are from a core team who take part in the event every year. Another 20 riders are chosen from an application process, and the last 20 spots are special invited guests, Brundige said.
Tietsort said the experience of corralling the bison is generally enjoyable as the crowd cheers for the bison and the riders work to catch the animals. Sometimes a buffalo will break free from the riders' control, leading to even more cheering from the spectators, he said.
It's not always easy to catch and bring in each bison, Tietsort said. Riders warn each other if they hear a cow or bull starting to snort, a sign that the animal is about to begin a chase.
"If you just get away from then, then they will go right back into the herd and keep moving them," Tietsort said.
Bill Kramer plans to apply to become a rider next year. Kramer, who traveled from Clarinda, Iowa, said he was mesmerized by the wide expanse of rolling prairie.
"Some of this land doesn't even look real. It looks like a picture," he said. "You get to a high point you can see more land than what some countries are. It's just hard not to be impressed by it."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)