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Tyson's Leap For Freedom

After Her Great Escape, Lake County's Notorious Bison Roams Free With Her Own Kind.

Article by Stephen Neilson

Photography by Stephen Neilson

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

I watched it happen, all-too-live, from just a few feet away: a sudden, spontaneous explosion of flesh, fur, horns and hooves.

Getting a tip about a new pair of bison coming to Milk and Honey Farm between Wauconda and Island Lake, I stopped by to snap a few shots. We all waited over an hour while the deliverers got lost on their way from northern Wisconsin, mistakenly passing far south and having to circle back (extending what was already a long, hot and uncomfortable ride for their live bison cargo). Eventually they arrived and backed their truck up for delivery.

Tyson’s sister emerged first; her dismount from the trailer and initial slow jog around her new home was uneventful.

Tyson’s was not. In a burst of pent-up fury, she bolted from the trailer and sprinted off, taking one quick look back before somehow launching over and/or through the inner fence into a neighboring pasture. The other farm animals fled in fear as she scoped out the scene and sprinted suddenly to the west, swirling off into the distance like a wild Bisonado.

Her steely glance ran straight through me when she bolted from the trailer, and sent a clear message: "I’ve got places to go, and this ain’t it." Thus her legendary 251-day trek through the area was launched (September 2021­–May 2022).

As the yet-unnamed, intrepid bison ran free as the wind, social media ran free as well, taking control of the narrative regarding its name (and its adventures). Early leader “Tyson the Bison” refused to yield, even when discovered that she was female. “Tyson” shook off name-challengers “Billy” and “Billie” as easily as she shook off the unauthorized camo-garbed, chase-dog-supported rabble that tried initially to hunt her down. 

At first seemingly every local, state, and social media outlet chimed in, and her legend grew only larger:

  • The Chicago Tribune noted she somehow forged the Fox River on her way west. She checked into Cary in September, did her “jogging bison” routine for Mark Stage’s camera along Darrell Road, and was spotted in Volo, Crystal Lake, Lake Zurich, and beyond. 
  • Various police departments helped hype the legend. Island Lake shared video of her dashing across Darrell Road in November, and shared their ­­­­April Fool’s Day version of a “new police patch” featuring a bison logo. 
  • A Lake County Deputy Chief wryly suggested, “She’s become an expert at being ‘cow-moo-flaged’, blending in with her surroundings,” in correspondence with the Tribune.
  • The Lake McHenry Scanner reported that the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said on social media that they “cannot confirm or deny” a post made in the “Wauconda For Wauconda” Facebook group that “Tyson the Bison” might be responsible for some of the damage to the historic Long Grove Covered Bridge... supported with an obviously-photoshopped pic (also posted April Fools Day 2022).
  • Note: The Tribune again came through with the straight scoop in a post: Tyson couldn’t have been in Long Grove, as alert citizen Margaret Slove caught her on video that day at a busy Hawthorne Woods intersection, trotting about on her early morning constitutional.

In the winter and spring of 2022 Tyson frequently traveled back near the farm, as bison hoofprints in the snow indicated, perhaps seeking a glimpse of her sister. 

Farm owner Scott Comstock spent many months trying to recapture Tyson. His efforts included working with forest preserve rangers and leaving sweetened food out to help lure her into an enclosure nearby set up for her capture, but the wily bison would have none of it. As Comstock told the Daily Herald they came very close to shutting the enclosure door with her inside, but she has such keen senses that she avoided capture each time. “She is so smart and so alert that when you get close to the door, she beats you to it,” Comstock said. 

Although the bison never approached humans or behaved in a menacing way toward them, spring brought more frequent Tyson sightings in the Lakewood Forest Preserve and potential concerns for public safety increased. Lake County Forest Preserve District officials set a deadline before Memorial Day 2022 with $500-per-day fines until the bison was removed. Soon thereafter the Forest Preserve worked independently with a professional livestock specialist who administered a light tranquilizer, dulling Tyson’s senses enough to coax her into a trailer, bound for a farm in Boone County near the Wisconsin border. She remained there for many months while the complicated issues related to the fines, her actual ownership, and her final fate were turned over to lawyers and the court system. 

As reported by Mick Zawislak of the Daily Herald, in July 2022 the court granted a “motion for preservation” filed by Comstock’s attorney to ensure that no harm would come to Tyson and that she would be fed and cared for until final disposition was determined. 

Although Comstock originally had intended to purchase Tyson and breed her on his farm, the long, challenging experience of trying to capture her and observing her strong natural aversion to captivity convinced him that she really needed to be in a place where she can roam free. She had proven herself to be independent, highly intelligent, and able to survive in the wild.

Ultimately, the parties involved agreed; last November, the motion for preservation was replaced with an order allowing Tyson to be turned over to an Intertribal Buffalo Council to be placed on lands out of state that the council deemed fit. 

And now, the rest of the story: the long and winding road of Tyson’s legendary tale was finally resolved in court this February. Judge Raymond D. Collins ruled that the delivery of Tyson to Comstock was never completed, therefore he was indeed neither its owner nor liable for citations related to its temporary presence in the Lakewood Forest Preserve. 

Meanwhile, her sister has turned into a favorite on the Farmstead. She earned her name, “Twinkle Toes”, fair and square: “We put her in the field with the horses early on when she joined us, and when the horses would start to prance about, she would try to imitate them,” said the farm's Sunny Krycha last summer. She also noted how Twinkle Toes would try to copy the horses as they rolled around on their backs in the hay (a task made quite difficult due to her bison hump). Twinkle Toes is well acclimated and reportedly has a love interest in the farm's cattle herd, with hopes of successful breeding in the future.

And fans of Twinkle Toes’ famous sister can rejoice, as Tyson the bison now runs free with her kind at the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. 

"I watched it happen, all-too-live, from just a few feet away: a sudden, spontaneous explosion of flesh, fur, horns and hooves."

"The other farm animals fled in fear as she scoped out the scene and sprinted suddenly to the west, swirling off into the distance like a wild Bisonado."

  • April Fools Day 2022 social media post from ILPD.
  • Tyson has left the building
  • The Leap For Freedom
  • Photoshopped image of Tyson at the Long Grove Bridge (another April Fool's post, this by Lake Cty. Sherriff's Office
  • Tyson, checking out the RVs at Camping World the day of her escape
  • Twinkle Toes (L), observing her friends in the herd