December 26, 2022 3 min read 0 Comments

Antelope Island is the largest of 10 islands that are located within the Great Salt Lake in Utah. In 1845, John C. Fremont and Kit Carson were the first non-natives to visit and explore the island. They said they “rode on horseback over salt from the thickness of a wafer to twelve inches” and “were informed by the Indians that there was an abundance of fresh water on it and plenty of antelope.” During the exploration on the island, they shot a pronghorn antelope. They were grateful for the meat they collected from the animal so much that they named it Antelope Island and it has been that way ever since. 

Arial View of Antelope Island Utah

Today Antelope Island has more wildlife than antelope. The island also has bighorn sheep, bison, porcupine, badger, coyote, bobcat, mule deer, and millions of waterfowl. Even though it is still called Antelope Island, its main attraction is the bison. Bison were brought to the island in 1893 by John Dooly and William Glassman. At that time, bison were almost going extinct because of overhunting and extermination during the settlement of the American West. John and William decided to bring a herd of 12 bison to the island and since then the bison have proven to be a valuable genetic pool for bison breeding and conservation purposes. Bison hunting did continue on the island until 1926 when the final "Big Buffalo Hunt" eliminated all but a few of the bison. Public sentiment changed during the 1920s and activists began to call for the protection of the herd on Antelope Island.

In 1923, a silent film called “The Covered Wagon” was partially made on the island. Scenes for buffalo hunts and stampedes were the main reason for filming there. 350 bison were herded for the stampede scenes and 7 bison were actually shot for the hunting scenes. At that time, people thought of bison as worthless and that their meat was terrible. Although the movie itself was named one of the greatest Western epics, the story of filming it on the island is a small reminder of the great American West. 

Bison Antelope Island Utah

The bison were eventually sold off to a man named A. H. Leonard in 1924. Leonard intended to sell the bison to zoos but was not able to corral them. He also tried to offer the island and the bison to the United States as a park but was not so successful. He then decided to expand cattle ranching on the island. There was still the obvious of all the bison on the island, so he announced that a hunt would be held in November of 1926. There were a lot of protests for this hunt but because the island and the bison were privately owned, the government wasn't able to stop it. 

Antelope Island Utah

The bison and the island remained privately owned until 1969 when the island and the wildlife were finally purchased by the state of Utah. The herd was granted protection on the southern end of the island in 1981. In 1986, park rangers saw the need to begin controlling the bison population to prevent overgrazing. The first roundup was held in 1987 and it has since become an annual event. Every year, in late October, all the bison on the island are herded to a central area in a "Great Buffalo Roundup”  and after some purchases the majority of the bison are released on the island to roam free. The bison that are purchased are sent to other parts of America for breeding on commercial farms.