January 02, 2010
On July 17th, at the close of business trip to South Dakota, I drove out to Faith and checked in at the Prairie Vista Inn. It was only about 3pm and I debated whether to drive out towards Thunder Butte or go see Earl's Museum in Bison. I'd never been to Earl's Museum and had heard so much about Earl Engebretson from my father, so that's where I went.
When I got to Bison, I drove up and down what looked to be a couple of the town's major thoroughfares, but saw no sign for a museum. This was surprising, as my Dad's tales of Earl's stuffed animal collection sounded like something to rival the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in Washington, DC. Finally, I pulled up in front of a shop and accosted a woman who was climbing into her car. When I asked her where Earl's Museum was, she insisted on leading the way and having me follow her there. A few blocks away, we pulled up in front of the museum's large steel building, but the sign in the window said it was closed. Not in the least bit concerned, she led me to another woman's house a short distance away.
Earl's Museum in Bison, July 2009
Jan*, who runs Earl's Museum, said that the museum was only open a few days a week. Seeing that I had come from a long way off, though, she insisted on opening the museum to give me a personal tour. The museum, which now shares its space with the Bison Public Library is a large room whose walls and center section are adorned with hundreds of mounted and stuffed animals and birds of every assortment. Most of the creatures are ones that are native to the prairie. And, while there are an assortment of bobcats, snakes, and even a two-headed calf, most numerous are the hundreds of specimens of every variety of wild bird and fowl.
A Variety of Prairie Fowl on Display
The museum is Earl Engebretson's personal collection and taxidermy handiwork from years spent attempting to document the life of the prairie. It is quite a sight to behold. In fact, I've never seen anything like the variety of mounted creatures in Earl's Museum even in a big city museum. What's remarkable about these creatures, too, is that this is a collection of mostly native South Dakota birds and animals – some of which no doubt are quite rare in the wild today. Of late, the museum also has been collecting artifacts from Bison's pioneer days, which makes a visit all the more worthwhile.
Peacocks, Chickens, and the Two-Headed Calf
Just a little history about Earl's Museum – Jan told me that a committee was formed and fund raising started in 1993. To move the collection to the museum from Earl's ranch, Earl had to transfer his state game licenses. Because of the requirements of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, federal fish and wildlife permits also had to be issued. The museum was dedicated in 1995, a year before Earl's death. Earl's Museum is well worth a visit:
PO Box 130
300 West Carr St.
Bison, SD 57620
Hours: T, W, Th, 1-6pm
The museum also has a web page on the internet that can be visited here.
*I'm honoring Jan's wish for some privacy by not using her last name. Come to Earl's Museum, and I'm sure that you'll meet her!
Editor's Note--Although Earl's Museum has hundreds of mounted birds on display, my photos do no justice to the exhibits and many of them did not turn out well enough to post here. Alas, my wife was on another trip with my son, and they had the "good" camera.
American Eagle at Earl's Museum
Elk, Antelope, Deer and Bison
Raptor Captures a Jackrabbit
A Variety of Creatures on Display