Nora Springs residents hope bison return to town
NORA SPRINGS, Iowa (AP) — Many Nora Springs residents can’t remember a time when the town’s unofficial mascot wasn’t roaming through a field.
Multiple bison, commonly called buffalo, have roamed the grassy area next to Al Brallier’s welding and manufacturing shop at the edge of town. Brallier has been caretaker of the large herd mammals since the 1980s.
“These things are still a wild animal, and you can’t get out there with them. You got to be careful because they’re still wild, and if they get mad at you, you’re in trouble,” Brallier told the Mason City Globe Gazette.
In October, Brallier’s male bison “Bart” was found dead. Bison may live for 15 years in the wild, but in captivity they live 25 years or more, according to the National Park Service website. Bart was 24 years old.
Word slowly got out about Bart’s death, and Brallier started receiving messages from community members offering condolences.
“I don’t get around a whole lot, but I had a few people text me that know my phone number and stuff,” said Brallier.
The news reached the Facebook group “Nora Springs Community Page,” where people shared memories of the bison. Some asked how they could help raise funds for a new one.
Bison have been part of Nora Springs going back as far as the 1940s, owned by Francis Sherman and his father on the east side of town. Over time their numbers dwindled. Sherman got rid of the remainder of the herd in 1972, according to Brallier. Brallier acquired the location of his shop that had a grass area adjacent to it.
“I thought, ‘Well, (I’ll) get some buffalo to graze on it and bring back the buffalo tradition.’ So that’s what I did,” said Brallier.
Brallier’s bison have varied in numbers and names over the years. The animals have given him quite a few stories over the years as well, like the time the bison escaped and roamed through Nora Springs, or about the people who have stopped to admire them. Brallier has kept a book for people to sign and say where they are from.
“There were some people from France and one guy from Tibet, and they signed their name in Tibet,” said Brallier while pointing out some of the signatures in the book.
The animal have been central to Nora Springs annual “Buffalo Days” event, decor around the town, and were featured on the front page of the local newspaper. Brallier has also made collectible wooden coins to celebrate the bison and special animals like Bart.
“I used to buy these coins every year and they had the date on them,” Brallier said.
Nora Springs resident Alicia Schmitt said Brallier has raised bison as long as she can remember. She is person who suggested finding a way to fundraise in the Facebook group.
“I just kind of threw the idea out there like, ‘Hey, what do you guys think about a fundraiser for a buffalo?’ and just seeing if there’s community interest,” said Schmitt.
Before organizing an effort, Schmitt wanted to find out if Brallier would want a new male bison. A family friend of Brallier’s reached out to him and told Schmitt he was interested. After getting the okay, “Bingo for Buffalo” was created.
“I kind of brainstormed a little bit, fun community ideas. Everybody loves bingo, and you can’t go wrong with bingo,” said Schmitt.
Bingo for Buffalo will be held Dec. 17, same day as Nora Springs Holiday Hangout, at the Nora Springs School cafeteria and gym starting at 10 a.m. Cost is $10 for two cards per game. People can also bring a grocery bag full of nonperishables to get a set of two bingo cards for one game.
Brallier is not only interested in bringing in a male bison but a breeding female as well. He has already started doing research about what the current pricing is for a pair. A pair would also improve the overall mood of his lone, elderly female bison “Mama.”
“She’s not happy, especially when we loaded up the buffalo and left. She paced the fence and she ran. She was really upset by that, even when he was laying there deceased,” Brallier said.
“I can see where we would need a younger companion to go with them,” said Schmitt.
Schmitt hopes the event is able to raise around $2,000 since Brallier thinks the cost per animal would be between $1,000 to $2,000. People who can’t make it to the event but want to donate can reach out to her or Brallier.
The caretaker said he would like to continue to watch over the bison for two reasons: tradition and his 93-year-old mother, who wakes up before dawn to feed them. Brallier might think about stepping away when his mother is no longer able to feed them, but he is afraid of what would happen to the tradition.
“I don’t know what to do if we ever get rid of it. It is a long-term tradition for Nora Springs, and it’ll probably never come back, which is sad,” said Brallier. “I always thought maybe I could get somebody else to take care of them at that location, but I would hate to quit the welding shop because it gives me a place to go.”
For now, Brallier is going to research and find a way to bring more bison to Nora Springs.
“If I could get a younger male and female, I told (a friend), I’d like to get a bred female because everybody just loves the calves,” Brallier said.
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