The World’s Largest Buffalo Monument (“Dakota Thunder”)
Location: Jamestown, North Dakota (404 Louis Lamour Lane, Jamestown ND 58401)
When to visit: Daylight hours
Time needed: 10-20 minutes
Website: Wikipedia page
The best roadside attractions are the ones that are impossible to miss, because they’re so big you can see them from the highway. Say hello to the world’s largest buffalo monument!
This American bison statue sits right off I-94 in Jamestown, North Dakota. You literally can’t miss it if you’re on a road trip through the area.
Just pull off the highway, drive over, and walk up to see the monument up close in all its glory.
Fun Facts About the World’s Largest Buffalo Monument in Jamestown, ND
1. Let’s start with the numbers. This thing is big. It stands 26 feet tall, 46 feet long, 14 feet wide, and weighs about 60 tons. At that size, yes, you can see it from the highway. If you’re driving from the east, you’ll be greeted with the sight of its backside.
2. The buffalo was created using steel beams and reinforced rod. That was covered by a wire mesh to help shape the form. It was finally coated in gunite, a form of sprayed concrete, and then painted to create its permanent appearance.
3. The buffalo monument was created in 1959 by sculptor Elmer Petersen, who also happened to be an art instructor at Jamestown College (now the University of Jamestown.) The cost at the time was $8,500, which is equivalent to more than $86,000 in today’s dollars. Petersen was personally paid $800.
4. The buffalo didn’t have a name for its first 50 years. A 2010 contest to give the guy a moniker drew more than 3000 entries. The winning entry was “Dakota Thunder,” submitted by Michael Shirek of Devil’s Lake, ND.
5. Technically, Dakota Thunder does not actually depict a buffalo! In fact, it depicts an American bison. Bison and buffalo are not exactly the same thing. However, over the years, the American bison has become commonly nicknamed “buffalo,” so either word fits. We can call this thing a buffalo, after all.
6. This bison statue was specifically created for tourism purposes. In 1957, while the Michigan-to-Montana highway I-94 was being constructed, the town of Jamestown realized it needed to do something to lure visitors off the interstate and into the city.
An area businessman named Harold Newman hired Petersen to create something big and noticeable. Petersen’s first idea was a giant shock of wheat, but thankfully he switched the structure to a buffalo instead.
Side note: I love when a city purposely sets out to create a tourist attraction, and then succeeds. It’s like going viral, decades before going viral was a thing! Many famous roadside attractions were created this way, like Standin’ On the Corner Park in Winslow, Arizona.
7. In 2007, the world’s largest buffalo monument was refurbished with a new paint job and an enlargement of the horns. That’s right, Dakota Thunder had plastic surgery! He had some work done!
8. Dakota Thunder is undeniably male. You can see his junk hanging proudly on the underside of the statue.
9. The buffalo monument was surrounded in the 1960s by Frontier Village, an old-time neighborhood with buildings designed to look like they came from the 1800s. In 1993, the National Buffalo Museum was built on adjacent land, giving visitors a chance to learn more about the bison.
10. Wondering why the address for the world’s largest buffalo is 404 Louis Lamour Lane? Louis L’Amour was a popular novelist who was born in Jamestown. He penned 89 novels and more than a dozen short stories during his life.
11. The sculptor, Elmer Petersen, created some other notable roadside attractions and art pieces, including a steel eagle in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and a Martin Luther sculpture in Seguin, Texas. Petersen lived to age 91 before passing away in 2020.
12. With roughly 16,000 residents, Jamestown is the ninth-largest city in North Dakota. Largely due to this statue, it is nicknamed The Buffalo City.
Visiting the World’s Largest Buffalo Statue
The statue is just a quick drive from the highway. When you pull up, you’ll find a small parking lot and a short sidewalk leading right to the buffalo.
The sidewalk has fake buffalo footprints, of course. Look at those hooves!
Walk over to the giant buffalo monument and take your selfies. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in this part of North Dakota. But it’s still in North Dakota, so there usually aren’t massive crowds here. Which is nice.
You can visit here anytime to take a few pics, but summer days provide the best weather and daylight. You can walk all the way around the monument to get pics from every conceivable angle.
If you’re so inclined, make a donation to “Feed the Buffalo.” A sign informs visitors that donations are used to maintain and refurbish the world’s largest buffalo. So drop your coins or bills into the little slot on the buffalo sign.
The buffalo statue sits next to a wooden sign that declares “World’s Largest Buffalo 1959 Dakota Thunder.” There’s a small pot with flowers that seem to vary by season. Sunflowers were growing during my autumn visit.
There’s also a small plaque from the City of Jamestown & Chamber of Commerce noting the 1959 creation date and Elmer Petersen as the sculptor.
The buffalo statue resides on an elevated piece of land, so it provides a nice view of the surrounding area. You can look out and see the I-94 highway, as well as the rolling fields of the nearby properties.
Other Nearby Attractions
As noted, the world’s largest buffalo monument is right next to Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum. Spend some time walking around the village to see the old bank, school, church, and railroad depot. They have plenty of gift shops too.
Frontier Village is similar to other pioneer villages you may have seen elsewhere, such as Connor Prairie Interactive History Park in Hamilton County, Indiana; The Pioneertown Old West village near Joshua Tree National Park in California; and Fanshawe Pioneer Village in London, Ontario, Canada.
Spend time inside the National Buffalo Museum to learn about the American bison’s history and the successful effort to save the animal from near-extinction in the late 1800s. The museum has two large buffalo herds on the grounds outside the main building.
Outside the museum, you’ll see another buffalo statue. This one’s more life-size, so it’s nowhere near the world’s largest.
What other attractions can you find near Jamestown? Seek out Sandy, the world’s largest sandhill crane, in the town of Steele. Go to Fargo to see the actual wood chipper from the film Fargo in the city’s visitor center.
Alternately, take a North Dakota road trip on the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway, starting in Valley City.
Or head west from Jamestown to Bismarck for Art Alley and the Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea figurines. Continue west to eventually reach Roosevelt National Park, one of my favorite parks in the country. See the park’s wild horses, turkeys, rattlesnakes, bison, and prairie dogs.
The world’s largest buffalo monument is a cool attraction to stop for on a Chicago to Seattle drive, or a drive from Chicago to Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada.
Would you road trip to North Dakota to see the biggest buffalo in the world?