Ceramic buffalo stands strong since 2005

  • Published
  • By Chris Willis
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Ever wonder why all of those beautifully painted ceramic buffalo are on display around Great Falls, Mont.?

It was all part of "The Buffalo Hunt," a public art project and fund-raiser for the C.M. Russell Museum, which opened in 1953.

There are similar projects around the world, projects like Chicago's painted pigs, Seattle's horse and overseas, Berlin's bears just to name a few.

Kelly Nathe, 341st Missile Wing assistant ground safety manager, has been stationed at Malmstrom on and off since 1979 and remembers when the city displayed the first buffalo.

"I remember it being a good project for the local artist," he said. "The buffalo also made Great Falls more visitor friendly and appealing to the eye."

The buffalo was a natural choice for the Great Falls project since they were indigenous to these parts and remained a feature of the American West for later settlers. Charles M. Russell featured them in more than 400 paintings.

"The first one my family saw was the one on 10th Avenue South and I thought 'well that is pretty interesting' and as we kept going we spotted another one just a little further down the road," said Master Sgt. Caroline Vaughn, 341st MW 3A1 functional. "We then decided to try and see all the buffalos."

Trying to find all 30 buffalo is a challenge many locals and visitors attempt.
One buffalo painted by artist Jan Johansen with scenes from Charles M. Russell's "Trails Plowed Under," is on display at the C.M. Russell Museum.

Vaughn sums up what most new visitors probably thought the first time they saw the ceramic buffalo.

"We saw them and thought, 'Wow how colorful and decorative,'" she said. "The buffalo really does bring an artistic touch to the area.