The Frontier Village and National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND, are a small potatoes tourist attraction, but nicely built around the buffalo theme. It is a perfect place for a family day outing without being overwhelming.
“A very long time ago, they say, two scouts were out looking for bison, and when they came to the top of a hill they saw a white cloud coming toward them from afar. As it came closer, they saw a young Indian woman dressed in beautiful white buckskin and carrying a bundle... Then the woman spoke, ‘You shall go home and tell your people that I am coming and that a big tipi shall be built for me in the center of the nation.’... Then she stopped and rolled over four times... the fourth time she rolled over she became a white buffalo.” (From the Lakota Elders “White Bufffalo Calf Woman”)
Jamestown, North Dakota, claims to be the Buffalo Capital of the World. It’s at least interesting, and everyone needs some claim to fame! Located just off Interstate 94, it’s easy to find... just look for the “world’s largest buffalo.” That’s a statue of course!
They advertise that entrance to Frontier Village is free, and that is true, but the village is really a street of shops with an 1800's western theme. There are gift and craft stores, a restaurant with a soda fountain / grill, a place to feed buffalo (and see baby ones up close- we were there in August and there were two that were small enough to be very cute). There are small museums, and good restrooms. You can pay to ride a stagecoach drawn by two lovely (but bored) horses. There are pony rides for small kids. You can walk up to the world’s largest buffalo for free.
There is a small natural amphitheater stage where various shows perform throughout the season. We attended a country-music Sunday service there, which was free. I suspect some shows might cost money, but yet, it’s all open, so they really can’t keep people from just wandering in, or hearing it anyway... perhaps the town subsidizes this.
The main attraction is the National Buffalo Museum. There is a small fee to enter this facility (you can enter the nice gift shop for free). In 2007 it was $5 for adults and $1 for kids ages 7-18, or $10 per family. The museum has exhibits about plains Indians, Lewis & Clark, pictures and art work of the buffalo (including the special one described below), and some other North Dakota stuff. It was nicely presented. It didn’t “wow” us, but we are pretty experienced museum goers. However, it didn’t strike us a below par, trashy, or worthless either. As I said, it would be a good place to educate the kids for a day.
The biggest drawing card for the Museum is that you have the closest access to the buffalo herd. Although you can get near the fence without paying admission, the access through the museum puts you right near the feeding stations beside the large fenced area for the buffalo herd. We got to see mothers and babies quite close and yet acting fairly naturally (as opposed to the confined place described earlier where you can feed them).
The number one attraction for this destination is something that we did not even get to see, even though we went there 3 times to try to catch a glimpse of Mahpiya Ska. That is Lakota for “White Cloud.” The star of their show is a true albino buffalo, born in 2006. The problem is, that typical of albinos, she doesn’t like the sun. So every time we were there, she was hiding in the trees at the bottom of the hill. If we had planned this destination, rather than just stumbling into it, we would probably have chosen to be there early in the morning. Supposedly Mahpiya Ska shows herself at the feeding station before the sun is very far up. Perhaps she also comes out at dusk. White Buffalo are supposed to be sacred to the Lakota, and at worst, she would certainly be interesting to watch.
There is a 2-mile hiking trail near a stream which is very close to the village, so that gives you another nearby free activity.
There are the usual bunch of chain motels at the interstate interchanges.
Update On Jul 08, 2009: The first picture is the buffalo statue, and the second one is your view of the live buffalo if you pay to go through the museum.