Duane Lammers, Bison Walker – best chicken ever

The Right Stuff on the Range – Duane Lammers

maxresdefaultFrame of Duane Lammers from a 4-minute Verizon “mini-documentary,” shot on the South Dakota prairie, on Youtube. Watch it! It’s a “testimonial” for Verizon, but it’s also a terrific portrait of one of this country’s leading experts on bison. 

(Note: The animal is bison, but I use “buffalo” and “bison” interchangeably). 

When my wife and I lived in Taos, NM, we became good friends with our next door neighbor, Katie, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota native, now living in Bend, Oregon. When I told her last spring about my blog and that I was going to some pieces on her home state, she let me know her family had several large herds of buffalo, and that the buffalo scenes in Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves were shot on her family’s ranch land near the Black Hills. Some months later, she connected me with her cousin Duane Lammers via email, who, it turn out, heads the A list in North America of any and all things having to do with buffalo.

Bison rancher, Duane Lammers, rides a horse among bison herd on the 777 Ranch, near Fairburn, South DakotaDuane with the buffs on the 777 ranch, Custer County, SD. (photo © Tom Bean)

Katie’s cousin Duane looks to have done it right from the gitgo. Born in the tiny town of Polo, SD, a bit northeast of Pierre, Duane now plays polo for the Rapid City team – or at least when he’s in the area. Go figure: born in Polo, plays polo. At South Dakota State, he wrote his masters thesis on bison handling. In 1977, he leased the 25,000 acre 777 Ranch from the owners and introduced buffalo to the pastures in 1984. Then, in 1989, along came Kevin Costner, scouting locations for his new movie, Dances With Wolves (Costner was producer, director, and star; the movie would go on to win 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director).

0112486_4513_MC_Tx360Dances With Wolves: Kevin Costner on a buffalo hunt, arranged and wrangled by Duane on the Hawk Ranch (neighboring the 777). (movie still)

Here’s the story on Duane’s work, as reported back in 1990 by Knight-Ridder:

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After Wolves and suddenly in demand for buffalo wrangling for other movies (like Wyatt Earp, also with Costner) and several TV commercials, Duane found himself wrangling buffalo all over the West, and in some cases shlepping them into downtown LA for one crazy commercial shoot or another. It made sense that he would open his own film services business near Rapid City to promote South Dakota and his own special way of managing these one-ton ungulates which, though generally mild-mannered, can turn ornery and dangerous.

What’s his approach? He admits he hasn’t fully formulated it, but it begins by being peaceful with the animals and not stressing them.

“Walks with Buffalo”

Most mega-ranchers of bison do whatever it takes to raise large animals and then ship them off to market. If the bison are unhappy, tough luck. Duane said recently, “Human creativity is the big difference between corporations and privately owned buffalo ranches. During a past project of mine, I used molasses on some noxious weeds instead of chemical sprays and the buffalo were immediately attracted to the molasses and grazed the weeds down to nothing.”

When not managing bison on multiple ranches at the same time, he’s lectured widely at colleges throughout the west, including many colleges serving Native Americans, who’ve shown renewed interest in reviving the herds that used to roam free by the millions.

But it may be a hard sell to convince them of his special herding tactic. True, he’s done it on horseback and ATVs and even in small planes, but lately (as shown in the Verizon video, above) he joins the buffs on the ground and walks with them. Take a step forward, the animal steps forward. Lean one way, they lean the other. And up ahead is a gate that waits for them, and sure enough, with one or two more gentle steps by this nonthreatening human they mosey on through.

“Walks with Buffalo.” This is the Right Stuff on the range.

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Best-ever chicken

There’s not much of a segue between the story above and this recipe, except that our friend Katie (Duane Lammers’ cousin) has a cat whose name is Chicken. Great cat! Maybe that’s enough. In any event, in her honor, and because the chicken we cooked was huge, it’s capitalized in the recipe that follows.

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This is a 9-pounder. I didn’t know chickens got that big… but then I didn’t know Barry Bonds could get that big, either.

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

We’ve had this twice now, and to my way of thinking I’ve never had a better Chicken. Never. Can’t be done. Also, this is a French recipe, so it must be good. Don’t sweat the 40 cloves of garlic – you throw them in the pan unpeeled. And don’t worry about the four ugly lumps of dough on the pan’s rim – they’re there for a simple reason. This is an easy recipe for Chicken!

You’ll need:

  • small pat of butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 roasting Chicken – 7-9 lbs. (or, a smaller Chicken if you prefer)
  • 40 cloves  of garlic, unpeeled – about 3 heads
  • 2 tbsp. chopped rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 8-9 oz. dry white wine
  • 5 oz. Chicken stock or broth
  • 1 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350. Melt the butter and oil in the roasting pan and brown the Chicken over medium until golden all over. Remove the Chicken from the pan, and throw in the garlic, thyme, and rosemary and cook for about a minute. Now return the Chicken to the pan, add the wine and Chicken stock, and simmer for a few minutes, basting the Chicken with the stock.

Now make four blobs of sticky dough: mix the flour and add up to 5 oz. of water until you have a firm paste. Divide into fourths, and roll the dough into cylinders and place them around the rim of the pan. Put the lid on and press down to form a tight seal.

This is the magic! A tight pan so the Chicken steams! It’s incredibly tender and moist, and bursting with flavor.

Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, a bit longer for a very large Chicken. Remove the lid by cracking the chunks of paste, then return the Chicken to the oven in an open pan to brown for about 15 minutes.

Now transfer it to a platter, and put the roasting pan on a medium burner and reduce the liquid to about a cup. Remove garlic cloves, squeeze them onto the Chicken and rub them in (this can also be done after it’s carved).

Serve the Chicken au jus – have the sauce in a gravy boat. Fabulous!

There you have it.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.