Thunder Butte

January 02, 2010

Earl's Museum

Earl's Museum

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:

Earl's Museum
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.

--Mike Crowley

*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
Mike Crowley Saturday, January 02, 2010


Thank you, Mike, for the wonderful review of the museum/library. It was fun to meet you and hope you can bring your family sometime. Pictures of the museum/library can also be seen on our website at:, businesses, Bison Public Library.
Jan, I'll definitely return with my family some day! Thanks so much for showing me Earl's Museum. --Mike
I am so glad to know Earl's Museum still exists. I visited it with my parents from the Mud Butte area years ago, and we really liked it. I have been to Bison a time or two, but I know now that when I get there again, I want to see Earl's Museum.
I remember going to the museum once when I was a kid. There was a mounted pair of conjoined lambs that gave me nightmares for weeks. I wonder if they made the move to Bison.
Dear Anonymous, I think I might remember having seen the conjoined lambs. And, sorry to hear about your nightmares!

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