He Had a Home Where the Bison Would Roam

He Had a Home Where the Bison Would Roam

By Emily Rust

With 15 acres in his Eugene, Oregon, backyard, Don Schroeder, BS’60, MD’64, agreed with his children that they needed some kind of animal. The previous owner had horses, but the Schroeders did not want a pony, sheep, pigs or cows.

The family wanted something different. So when a patient at Schroeder’s orthopedic surgery clinic mentioned he had a bison connection, the Schroeder family got excited.

“We bought a dozen,” Schroeder says. The bison, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, resided in the family’s backyard.

When the Schroeder family moved to a larger ranch with 130 acres in the 1970s, the bison came too. And he would add more. He named the ranch Bison-ten-yal — honoring his newfound passion and the nation’s bicentennial. Schroeder built corrals, fences made from guardrail he sourced from the state highway department.

“I would get up early in the morning, do the feeding,” Schroeder says. “Once I made the animals happy, I would go into the house, clean up and head to the hospital for the operating room.”

An orthopedic surgeon by trade, Schroeder raised bison as a sort of therapy for stressful workdays. Many doctors play golf or tennis to relax, but Schroeder chose something different.

“Once we got (bison), we sort of got hooked,” Schroeder says.

Growing up in South Dakota, Schroeder did not have any family pets. But one thing that did run in the family was a Creighton education.

His parents met at Creighton, where his father earned his law degree in 1934. Schroeder first attended the University for undergraduate studies, then medical school. During his undergraduate years, he stayed with his grandfather in south Omaha.

To get to school, Schroeder walked from 19th and Martha streets up to the corner of 24th and Martha, where he would stick out his thumb and hope for a ride to 24th and California.

“The ticket to getting a ride was carrying your books with you,” Schroeder says.

After medical school, he interned and did his residency at Detroit Receiving Hospital, with a year at Shriners Hospital in St. Louis before moving to Eugene.

“I came to Eugene, looked around and said, ‘Gee, this is a nice place to live.’ Nobody really invited me. I hung out a shingle and opened up a solo practice,” Schroeder says.

He hired a receptionist for his orthopedic clinic, and was ready for business, missing only one key ingredient: patients.

“I told (my receptionist) that I was going to the hospital,” Schroeder says. “Wait about 15 minutes and then call me.”

His trick? Have his receptionist call the hospital and ask for Dr. Schroeder. He’d get a page on the overhead speaker, and suddenly, patients knew his name.

“I would go to the emergency room and say to the nurses, ‘Is Mr. Smith here? I was supposed to meet him here,’” Schroeder says. “Kind of funny that’s how I got started.”

After work, he’d go home to the bison ranch, where the herd would graze and eat hay. He also partnered with a local bakery to get stale bread, a favorite bison treat.

“If someone wanted to get up close and personal, I’d put some bread in the four-wheeler,” Schroeder says. “I would drive them out to mingle with the herd.”

For 42 years, Schroeder raised bison, his herd varying in size. At one point, he had the largest herd in western Oregon, with around 150 bison. He sold the last 31 in early 2017, as he and his wife moved into an independent living facility.

Semiretired, he flies twice a month to Anchorage, Alaska, to perform independent medical exams on workers’ compensation and personal injury cases.

Though he no longer has his bison, the doctor has fond memories of the herd.

“Doctors need to do something other than being a doctor,” Schroeder says. For him, it was creating a home where the bison could roam.