Bison exhibit settles in for summer at Pequot Museum

By: Joe Amarante

A bison hide, painted on its back, hangs in front of objects made of the hide.

MASHANTUCKET >> Mystery explored in Mashantucket: For thousands of years, until the early 1860s, there were tens of millions of bison roaming the Plains of North America. By 1890, there were fewer than 300. What happened?

A modest new exhibit on bison answers that question at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center starting Saturday, replacing the one on bugs in the gallery.

The North American bison, which is not a buffalo although it has been confused with such, conjures a power and symbolic presence. It has been depicted on teepees, coins and artists’ renderings of scenic North American landscapes.

“The Bison: American Icon” touring exhibit was funded by NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibit was originally developed by the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Mont., and taken on tour by Mid-America Arts Alliance through NEH on the Road.

It officially opens Saturday and runs through Oct. 18, exploring the meaning and significance of the iconic bison — from the Plains Indian culture of the 1800s through its use as a commercial (Ted’s Montana Grill) and national symbol today. And yes, you’ll find out about the profound changes that occurred to the creature and its habitat, not to mention the people who depended on it for their daily existence.

In a special preview Thursday for the Register, museum official Betsy Peterson said, “This show allows us to look at the tribes of the Great Plains and the prairies and their relationship to an important animal.”

Summer hours at the Pequot Museum, down the street from the huge Foxwoods Casino Resort, are Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit: or call 800-411-9671. (Admission is $12-$20, free under 6)

When we talk about the museum, we always say that the exhibits are a bonus but you should go for the great permanent displays, the tower view and/or live programs.

Part of the government of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the museum and research center is a nonprofit educational institution that seeks to further knowledge and understanding of the indigenous cultures of the United States and Canada, and it does it pretty well.

Special events and activities are planned for opening day, including a look at the fascinating topic of bison as health food and a bison challenge on the farmstead out back that tests man’s speed and strength vs. a bison’s (1-3 p.m.). No bison will be hand though, said officials, since they’re herd animals and don’t travel so well in trucks.