• WASHINGTON POST

After bison gores a hiker in Texas, she posts the video to TikTok

Rebecca Clark
Rebecca Clark captured this image, a screenshot from her video, of the bison as it turned to attack her.

Rebecca Clark’s solo hiking trip to Caprock Canyons State Park in Texas began earlier this month with two days of beautiful sunrises and tent camping, all of which she chronicled on TikTok. But in her next video post, which has been viewed more than 2 million times, Clark’s trip takes a dangerous turn.

One minute, she is waiting for a group of bison to clear the trail. The next she’s running for her life as a bison charges at her. The phone falls as the bison gores her back, off camera, sending her tumbling into a thorny bush yelling in pain.

With limited cell service, she told The Washington Post, she managed to get word to her son, and rescuers reached her about 50 minutes later. The attack left Clark, 54, hospitalized for six days with a large gash in her back, but she expects to fully recover and return to exploring the outdoors by December.

“I was very lucky,” said Clark, an early-childhood specialist from Boyd, Texas, who described herself as an avid and experienced hiker. She said she forgot she had been recording during the attack, but when she rediscovered the clip in the hospital, she decided to post it on TikTok to warn even the most experienced hikers to never be complacent around wild animals.

“The more I watched it, I thought, wow, I was just too close,” she said. “And there are people out there just like me who get confident.”

She credited Caprock Canyons for having extensive warnings not to get too close to bison, including a large display in the visitor’s center, but she said it was her second time visiting and she did not pay as close attention as she should have.

Bison can run three times faster than humans, despite weighing up to one ton, according to the National Park Service. Officials at Yellowstone National Park, which is home to the country’s largest and oldest wild bison herd, warn that bison have injured more visitors than any other animal in the park, including three people attacked in a one-month span earlier this year.

Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Stephanie Salinas Garcia said the agency is aware of Clark’s attack and has kept in touch with her during her recovery. Visitors to Caprock Canyons should stay at least 50 yards away from bison, Garcia added.

On its website, the agency recommends following the “rule of thumb”: If you close one eye, stretch an arm out and hold your thumb up to the bison, it should completely cover the view of the animal – otherwise, you are too close.

In Clark’s video, the animals’ tails begin to swish before one of the bison charges at her. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, anxious bison will raise their tails in a question mark, a sign that you are disturbing the animal.

“Other signs of agitation or disapproval are pawing the ground and lowering its head,” the agency says. “In bison culture, a head-on gaze can communicate a threat or just simply rude behavior, especially to dominant males. If you see any of these behaviors, leave the area.”

As a general rule, the agency says, if a bison changes its behavior in any way as a result of your presence, you should leave the area. “You are visiting the home of bison,” it notes.

Caprock Canyons, which lies in the Texas panhandle about 300 miles northwest of Dallas, is home to the Texas State Bison Herd. The only remaining examples of the southern plains bison subspecies, they are genetically different from any other bison in the world, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In 1878, rancher Charles Goodnight and his wife decided to preserve their few remaining southern plains bison as hunting nearly wiped out the subspecies. The ranch’s owners donated the herd to the state in 1996 and the animals were moved to Caprock Canyons, which is part of their historical range, according to Texas Tech University’s Natural Science Research Laboratory. In the long term, the state hopes to restore the subspecies on a 100,000-acre refuge.

On the day of the attack, Clark was solo hiking the park’s Eagle Point Trail, an out-and-back trail. On her way out, the herd of bison was blocking the path, so she walked around off the trail to avoid them, she said.

That gave her “confidence” that she could slowly pass by the herd when she encountered them on her way back, but one of the bison suddenly turned and charged her. As she recorded, it gored her back and flipped her up in the air before throwing her forward into a mesquite bush, she said.

In hindsight, she said, she should have turned around or waited farther down the trail for the herd to clear, especially when the bison started to swish their tails. She said she had been filming other parts of the hike and was not trying to record the bison, which she discourages.

After the attack, her phone service was too spotty to get through to 911, which was not unusual for many of the remote areas she enjoys hiking, she said. By holding her phone high, she was able to get texts out to her family and friends, who contacted rescuers. Clark was carried out on foot and taken by ambulance to a hospital, then airlifted to United Regional Hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas.

She said the incident will not diminish her love of hiking, but she plans to take more steps to ensure her safety. Her children will probably buy her a locator device for Christmas this year, she said.

“I don’t want to stop doing what I’m doing,” Clark said. “But I just need to make changes.”