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Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  702 Ratings  ·  124 Reviews
For twenty years Dan O’Brien struggled to make ends meet on his cattle ranch in South Dakota. But when a neighbor invited him to lend a hand at the annual buffalo roundup, O’Brien was inspired to convert his own ranch, the Broken Heart, to buffalo. Starting with thirteen calves, “short-necked, golden balls of wool,” O’Brien embarked on a journey that returned buffalo to hi ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 8th 2002 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Buffalo for the Broken Heart is Dan O’Brien’s account of his reckoning with the ongoing futility of cattle ranching on the Great Plains in South Dakota. He adopts 13 orphaned buffalo babies he refers to as the original Gashouse Gang—including Peatry and Curly Joe, whose little buffalo personalities I was able to catch a glimpse of through Dan’s observations of their buffalo behavior. We read about Dan’s efforts to build a herd that his land can sustain, but as importantly to Great Plains ecology ...more
Découvert grâce à la sélection de mars (je crois!) de Victoria pour le Club de lectureMS, je ne regrette pas une seconde ma lecture.
L'auteur est vraiment passionné par sa région d'adoption, les Grandes Plaines américaines, qu'il nous fait découvrir de façon très imagée, et dont il nous explique l'histoire et les enjeux économiques et écologiques mais pas du tout de façon chiante, au contraire!
Il nous décrit son quotidien d'éleveur de bovins, puis de bisons (pour lesquels il développe une vraie a
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, environment
Summary: Part memoir, part nature-writing, this book describes the story of a cattle rancher who hits bottom, and makes the transition to herding buffalo for economic and ecological reasons.

Dan O'Brien grew up in my home state near Findlay, Ohio and even holds a degree from Bowling Green State University in northwest Ohio. He has traveled a long way from the flat, rich farming land of northwest Ohio to the plains of South Dakota. Along the way, he has written novels and worked as a wildlife biol
Barb Heart
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely the best non-fiction I have ever read. Dan O'brien has not just told you how his rance came about but adds in history, environmental concerns, people's choices, emotional ties, and the real love of the land. his ability to express his appreciation for the buffalo, prairie, & the american indians plight is astounding. I laughed, cried, felt such connection it at times overwhelmed me. A small book with the impact not heard of much......please a Must Read. Reality on the range at its ...more
Claudine Taillac
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing true story of a former cattle rancher in South Dakota who abandoned cows and turned to American bison. His story is so inspiring, and now we only buy our buffalo meat from his ranch. He faced down the odds and has now made huge progress in restoring the Great Plains to a more natural state and in promoting buffalo as a better alternative than beef. The movie rights to the story were supposedly purchased by Ed Norton, and it would be wonderful if this story was told on the big ...more

I learned without noticing I was learning so much about the West, the trials of ranching, and owning your own business especially when the fluctuations of nature don't caring about your bank statement (which was a bit depressing). My favorite tidbits were the differences between cattle and bison, making clear the fundamental ways that bison are not cattle and bison feed upon the land much more naturally. Bison are not picky eaters like cattle; bison herds bunch up in a space and clear it be
Apr 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a well written book about a Great Plains rancher who switches from cattle to buffalo. I gave it only 3 stars because the writing is a little drier than I like and there was quite a lot of writing about equipment and fence building. The chapter that describes the almost complete obliteration of buffalo in less than a decade (after the Civil War) was fascinating, and his explanation of why and how cattle have destroyed the Great Plains grasslands and how the habits of buffalo actually nour ...more
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
So I actually expected this book to be more of a memoir of sorts. And in a way it was, but largely, it was what the cover said, "restoring life to a black hills ranch." More specifically, restoring buffalo to the land.

Dan O'Brien has owned a ranch in the Black Hills for some time. And he started out with cattle. But like most ranchers in the area, making ends meet with this type of ranching is near impossible. So much so that he has to take jobs elsewhere just to make the mortgage payment. But i
Paul Donahue
Mar 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very quick and enjoyable read about a rancher in the Black Hills who converts his cattle ranch to buffalo.

O'Brien is very passionate about the Great Plains grasslands, its history, and buffalo, and is equally heartbroken about the way in which the white man has exploited this land in the name of agriculture since our mass arrival in the 1800s. However the way in which he conveys this message is not at all preachy or grating, just an account of one man's feelings and responsive actions.

After a
3.5 stars.
Somewhere in the mess that is the Cliven Bundy take-over of the NWR in Oregon, someone mentioned this book. Don't recall the context, but so glad I caught the reference, because this book is all about things near and dear to my heart: restoring the Great Plains ecosystem AND more humane practices of food animal rearing.

O'Brien is a novelist as well as a rancher, so he knows how to tell a story and keep it interesting, while at the same time imparting information about grassland ecosys
Buffalo for the Broken Heart is a memoir based on author Dan O’Brien’s decision to switch his South Dakota farm from primarily cattle stock to buffalo. As an environmentalist and a farmer O’Brien has always been concerned about the devastating impact that cattle and wheat farming have had on the Great Plains. In his memoir O’Brien chronicles the details of his life changing decision. After reading the book this city girl is confident that she can now put up a barbed wire fence in a snow storm a ...more
Allison Fetch
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This isn't a book that I ever would have picked up on my own, but because my sister passed it along to me I thought I'd give it a try - I'm very glad that I did. A nonfiction memoir, it tells the tale of the author's decision to switch from cattle ranching to raising buffalo. Not only that, it delves into the ecology of the Great Plains and how the running of cattle have destroyed a delicate ecosystem and how the return of buffalo can help to rejuvenate the land and it's inhabitants. White a bit ...more
Apr 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a great book. It is the tale of the author deciding to convert his beloved ranch into a buffalo operation, and the trials and hardships and joys along the way. It is part nature writing, part memoir, part Great Plains history, part ecology, part rancher testimony.

I learned a lot about the Great Plains I did not know and came to further appreciate the synergistic relationship between those grasslands and bison and the destructive role cattle farming has played on the land. I k
Claudia Goodyear Fett
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch is a must read. My friend Dawn W, has clearly captured the essence of the book so I am only going to write a small amount (see her Good Reads review). My husband and I traveled west this summer and read the book during our trip. Due to Dan O'Brien and his powerful writing, the reader is drawn into the story/narrative about the struggles of a cattle rancher turned bison rancher. Dan details the reasonings for his farm's transitio ...more
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a wonderful book. Dan O’Brien writes about his experiences owning and running a ranch in South Dakota that he decides to convert from cattle to buffalo. Along the way he tells stories of his predecessors, the land and his neighbors as well as the buffalo that he gathers. I laughed at his gentle humor and shed tears as he describes his own over the tragedy that neighbors suffer. He agonizes over the decisions that he (and other ranchers and farmers) has to make. He paints a wonderful port ...more
Mason Sundvold
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book because its about a buffalo round up and I have been to one in Rapid City. In the book thay have a newcomer to the round up and he has trouble doing the stuff right and on time. The place the book takes place is in Rapid City and the Main character is Dan O'Brien and he has his own cattle ranch but is having trouble with that so his nieghbor invited him to the Buffalo Round Up and it inspired him.

I would let people now about this book if they like to learn about neat
Jana Bouc
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
A wonderful book by a very literate writer who is more at home on the wide open plains of South Dakota than anywhere else. After years of financial failure at trying to ranch cattle he begins to experiment with raising buffalo on his land instead. Because they are native to the area, buffalo, unlike cows, are able to thrive during the freezing winters and hot dry summers without much human intervention.

The book is both a personal story about the author, his neighbors and the life of ranchers, b
Nathan Rice
Oct 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book - Buffalo For The Broken Heart, is a fascinating read.

I have to admit it started slower than I normally like. My friend told me about the book and I trusted him enough to keep reading past the first few chapters. And thank goodness I did because this is a book worth reading all the way through. Dan O'Brien discusses sustainability, ecology, and the beauty of the world we live in - and he makes those hearty topics accessible for all. And all the while engaging us as we were standing rig
Karen Hannah
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

Dan O'Brien is a favorite author of mine.

His is poetic environmental writing about the challenges of the great plains and his places near the Black Hills. He is a great observer and he has embraced the ethic of self-sufficiency and care for the earth that is mine also.

You will learn fascinating things about the suitability of the buffalo to the Great Plains and I wouldn't be surprised if you end up buying buffalo from Dan O'Brien's website.

Perhaps I should fess' up that I grew up in SD and am a
Bonnie Wilcox
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to me by staff at Common Good Books in St. Paul, MN, when I inquired about books to help me prepare for this fall's Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. A beautiful mix of the healing of the land, and the healing of a soul, intertwined with the history of land acquisition, the buffalo in North America, and the story of a community working together. The author left me with a strong sense of the land, the power and grandeur of the buffalo, and a deep desire to eat more bison and less bee ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookgroup
I loved this book. I fully admit that when Toby suggested it, I was skeptical since the West has never been my thing. But Dan O'Brien writes so beautifully, interweaving the history of the plains with ecology, buffalo, homesteaders, and his own life situation. This is one of the finest memoirs I've read--not the usual neurotic self-absorption that I usually go in for. I'd like to read more of his work.
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book; the love of the author for the landscape is obvious, as is his appreciation for the restorative value of returning the range land to its native biodiversity and reintroducing the bison.

I'm not captivated by his writing, so much as I am by the hope his book represents. Don't get me wrong, his writing is good, just not really great.

He's a great marketer, though. I plan to try and order some of his buffalo steaks!
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you've spent any time in, and around, the Black Hills of South Dakota, or in eastern WY, CO, MT, I highly recommend O'Brien's book. A beautifully written book about his love for the land and the difficulty of making a living on the land. O'Brien owns a ranch because he loves the beauty of the Great Plains -- the grasses, other plants, and wildlife -- and he manages his ranch to maximize those things. Definitely makes me want to get back out to the Black Hills and the Badlands soon.
Jun 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I now give this book a 5 star rating, because I read it several years ago and I'm still discussing it. It features a dilletante rancher in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He buys cattle in the Spring, fattens them, and then sells his herd in the Fall: It's too difficult to care for cows in the brutal Winters. So he decides to forget about cattle and raise animals that are used to this climate: BISON. Good Green reading!
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
Easy to read and very informative memoir about raising bison/buffalo in South Dakota. Really liked learning about the history of bison in America, even though history wasn't kind to them. Inspired by Mr. O'Brien's commitment to sustainable grazing and resurrecting natural habitats. Even though I'm not a big meat eater, I appreciate the author's desire to raise his buffalo in kind and humane conditions.
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not every book that I have seen change the dietary habits of people I know. I love his description of running out onto his land, convinced that his new herd will have starved to death with the arrival of a winter storm, and of course learning otherwise. The last couple of pages laid on the marketing pretty thick but the storytelling was wonderful fun.
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a beautifully written, meandering story.

I must admit that O'Brien's viewpoint sings to my heart, and I find myself entranced with his on the ground descriptions of the buffalo ideal.

Quick read, but non the less poetic and incredibly meaningful. Thank you Dan O'Brien, next I will be purchasing your bison meat!
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Mark served his mission in South Dakota (and North Dakota, and Wyoming, and Nebraska, and Minnesota) and it really captured the culture and the struggles there. It also was a good synopsis of so many of the beef industry's problems. I loved the solution he found, too bad it wouldn't work for everyone. Maybe elk would work here...
Apr 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Dan O'Brien writes lovingly and knowledgeably about the northern great plains. He knows its native grasses, flowers, and fauna. He knows that the plains will thrive with bison roaming its land again. He's also realistic -- and knows how costly it will be to return the bison to its native range. Excellent read.
Nov 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Deeply interesting and satisfying memoir about an Eastern transplant to the Dakotas and his battle to find a way to make the ranch he bought healthy, both ecologically and financially. O'Brien weaves in local history and culture, natural history, and tales of his personal struggles to create a compelling story of looking to the past for answers to the future.
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Dan O'Brien was born Daniel Hosler O'Brien in Findlay Ohio on November 23, 1947. He attended Findlay High School and graduated in 1966. He went to Michigan Technological University to play football and graduated with a BS degree in Math and Business from Findlay College in 1970 where he was the chairman of the first campus Earth Day. He earned an MA in English Literature from the University of Sou ...more
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“You can only look forward to a South Dakota winter if, as with childbirth, remodeling a house, or writing a novel, you're able to forget how bad it was the last time.” 7 likes
“The mythic American character is made up of the virtues of fairness, self-reliance, toughness, and honesty. Those virtues are generally stuffed into a six-foot-tall, dark-haired, can-do kind of guy who is at once a family man, attractive to strange women, carefree, stable, realistic, and whimsical. in the lore of America, that man lives on the Great Plains. he's from Texas, Dodge City, Cheyenne, the Dakotas, or somewhere in Montana. In fact, the seedbed of this American character, from the days of de Tocqueville through Andrew Jackson, Wyattt Earp, Pony Express riders, pioneers, and cowboys to modern caricatures played by actors such as Tom Mix, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne has aways been the frontier. It's a place with plenty of room to roam, great sunsets, clear lines between right and wrong, and lots of horses. It's also a place that does not exist and never has. The truth is that there has never been much fairness out here.” 2 likes
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