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E. J. (Bud) Cotton

Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1890, Bud Cotton grew up in the Eastern Townships, but longed to ride the range. He was just 16 when he made his way to Medicine Hat, Alberta and got his first job as a cowboy.

One of his first tasks was driving the camp wagon on a hundred mile cattle drive to a railway construction site. In the evening he was the night herder. After two weeks the crew arrived with the herd and supplied fresh beef for the railroad crew that was laying track across the prairie.

His cowboying skills grew and he cowboyed for some of the biggest cattle outfits across the Canadian West, including Pat Burns.

One of his most memorable nights as a cowboy was in 1911 when a cyclone almost blew out Regina. He was working for Burns’ outfit and he had drifted a cavvy of about 100 head of horses onto the flats for grazing when the ferocious storm struck. The horses took off and he followed. By the dawn he was ten miles out and only had 46 horses left to take back to camp. By the afternoon the missing bunch were found and the storm was forgotten.

In 1912 Cotton was one of the original eleven cowboys from the Burns Ranch who brought a herd of 100 horses and a chuckwagon from Cluny to the Calgary Stampede. That same year, he helped to run 12,000 head of cattle through a mange dip on the Blackfoot reserve.

It was in 1913 when his life changed. The Canadian government had purchased the last remaining buffalo herd from Montana ranchers Pablo and Allard with the express purpose to save the threatened animals from extinction. Rounding them up was a monumental feat and eventually the herd arrived at the newly formed Wainwright Buffalo Reserve in Alberta. Bud and his saddle pal Ed, were hired to get a count on the buffalo herd.

The cowboys received a quick lesson in handling buffalo; they were wild, they were fast and they weren’t afraid of anything. After a day of being chased and threatened, the cowboys found themselves horse-belly deep in a lake, chased in and held there by a threatening bull. Eventually, the cowboys worked their way around to the other side and were able to escape. Needless to say, their respect for the dangerous animals grew — and they didn’t get an accurate count on the herd that day.

Soon Bud was promoted to the warden, and his responsibility of managing the buffalo.

During his time there he guided newsmen and parks officials, cowboys and movie stars through the wild terrain. During his career with the buffalo, he had four horses killed out from under him by buffalo and narrowly escaped with his own life on numerous occasions.

In 1915 Bud went to war and fought at Vimy Ridge. By 1919 he was on his way home to the Wainwright Park Buffalo Reserve.

In 1921 he married and he and Edith had two daughters. Bud remained the warden over the now massive herd of 48,000 buffalo. In 1940 Wainwright was closed and some of the buffalo were shipped to the newly formed Elk Island Park, the rest were shipped to Wood Buffalo National Park. The once tiny herd had blossomed into the thousands and the buffalo was no longer threatened with extinction. Bud Cotton remained the warden until he retired in 1947.

During his years at the buffalo park, Bud launched a new career as a writer, co-authoring many books recounting his life on the plains.

In 1980, in celebration of Alberta’s 75th anniversary as a province, a small herd of plains bison were once again established at Wainwright and Bud Cotton and many of the original Park Riders were invited for the opening of the Bud Cotton Buffalo Paddock at Camp Wainwright.

Bud Cotton died in 1987 and is buried in Calgary.

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