Eva Jerde (18) lives with her parents and nine siblings – Emily (24), Payton (23), Hannah (16), John (13), Bo (11), Jack (9), Jesse (7), Viggo (5), and Quilla (3) – in a green-roofed log home near Reva, South Dakota. They manage one of the largest buffalo herds in the USA. Their dad, Phil, says that he and his wife, Jill, raise “buffalo, cattle, and kids, though not in that order.” The Jerdes have owned and operated the Great Plains Buffalo Ranch on Zeona Road for 20 years, and they have been homeschooling their children for almost as long.
Stephanie Anderson, a writer who grew up in similar circumstances on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, penned an article about the Jerde family saying, “Even if the Jerdes wanted to send their children to public school (they definitely do not), they would have a hard time doing so: though there’s a grade school about 20 miles away in Reva, the nearest high school is 40 miles away in Bison – and there’s no bus service.” In fact, the area is so remote and sparsely-settled that it’s not even tracked by the Census Bureau.
Anderson adds that “[c]ountry schools used to dot the rural landscape so that farm children could walk, bike, or ride to school. The number of one-room schoolhouses in South Dakota peaked in 1916, with 5,011 in operation. In the early 1930s, that number had decreased to 4,731. By the turn of the century, there were only 50 left, and today there are less than two dozen…. Many of the abandoned schools remain standing.”
In the Jerde’s yard there is an entire playground that came from a closed country school, complete with a merry-go-round, swing set, slide, and tetherball pole. The family also has an old post office building on their property. In the past, it was a prominent status symbol for homesteaders to be a designated post office. The decommissioned structure now serves as the Jerdes’ chicken coop.
Life on the Ranch
Being good stewards of the land they have been entrusted with is a responsibility that the Jerde family takes very seriously. They practice sustainable land management and holistic animal husbandry. This method accounts for the needs of the whole grassland ecosystem: soil, plants, insects, wildlife, livestock, and people. Healing the land, making it productive, and looking at the bigger picture is something that the Jerdes believe everyone has to do if we all want to survive and thrive on this planet.
The family’s 100% grass-fed buffalo roam freely on native pasture in the middle of the Great Plains – just like they did centuries ago – moving from one area to the next so there is no overgrazing. The herd is managed in the most natural and hands-off method possible, so their buffalo fit right in with other wildlife on the prairie.
Great Plains Buffalo Ranch is a supplier of premium USDA processed buffalo meat and gourmet burgers to restaurants and individuals throughout the United States via online sales. The Jerdes say, “Our family usually harvests cows 5 to 10 years old for our own table, and enjoy that buffalo meat immensely.”
All of the Jerde children are involved with the family business, literally from the time they are born. Their dad takes the younger children along with him on his rounds about the ranch, so mom can focus on homeschooling the older ones. Phil even wears the baby in a front carrier, cuddling the child against his chest while leaving his hands free to do chores. “At this age they spend more time with me than Jill,” he proudly said.
Eva is a skilled buffalo herder and is certified in Equine/ Canine Massage Therapy. She works on the ranch, trains colts, and has an equine sport therapy business on the side. Although she has done some rodeo competition, most of her riding is work-related. Eva is also a talented writer and photographer, and would like to eventually publish some of her original work. Her motto is: “Be an encourager, the world has enough critics.”
A photo of Eva (shown above) was published in photographer Andrew Moore’s Dirt Meridian coffee table art book. The “meridian” of the title refers to the 100th meridian, the longitude that bisects the USA and has long been considered the dividing line between East and West. Dirt Meridian interweaves two stories: the history of the vast American High Plains alongside portraits of the people who live there today. Moore worked with ranchers, farmers, crop dusters, game wardens, writers and historians to capture the mythology and reality of the High Plains.
Eva is looking forward to finishing her education this spring. She is dually enrolled in her senior year at home and online at Western Dakota Technical Institute. When she graduates in May she’ll not only be done with high school, but have a degree in Business and Entrepreneurship. She has also studied at Berklee Online, the online extension school of Berklee College of Music.
The whole Jerde family is musical, in the traditional cowboy style. When they’re out on the range, they like to listen to the radio and sing along, which has helped them develop robust, harmonious voices. The siblings learned 80’s rock, 90’s country, and modern pop/hip hop while doing chores like building and mending fence. Jamming is another form of relaxation and release in the evenings after the ranch work is done for the day.
Eva was singing even before she could walk. She started playing the piano and violin at age 6. After that she worked on teaching herself the mandolin, harmonica, guitar and bass guitar, as well as the accordion and whistle. Eva has had plenty of vocal experience, winning many local and regional music contests.
In June of 2014, Eva competed in the Black Hills Roundup National Anthem contest, and she won. She sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at the July 4th, 5th, and 6th Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo performances.
Eva’s strong and charming voice wins the hearts of listeners wherever she goes. Recently, she was asked to sing the National Anthem at Cheyenne Frontier Days, one of the country’s largest rodeo events next to the National Finals Rodeo (NFR).
Eva also sings in a band that was started by her older sister, a Berklee College of Music graduate who has spent some time in Nashville. Zeona Road, named after the road they live on, is made up of the eldest three Jerde siblings: Emmy, Payton, and Eva. Eventually some of their other siblings may join the band, too.
Zeona Road started playing music together “officially” in June of 2015, starting out as the house band at the Deadwood Mountain Grand in historic Deadwood, South Dakota. Their instruments reflect traditional folk and bluegrass; however, the band has a very modern edge. They play country, rock, and pop.
The siblings’ musical style was influenced by their mom listening to Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and the Dixie Chicks along with their dad listening to Queen, Aerosmith, and Led Zeppelin. And of course, there are the country classics like Alan Jackson, Johnny Cash, and George Strait. As a group, they are into Fleetwood Mac, Little Big Town, and The Band Perry. The band has many followers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The siblings enjoy brightening people’s days through music, so they’re looking to run with it and see where it takes them. Eva says, “For those of you who haven’t taken the time to check out the “private” (nothing you put on the internet is private) social media pages I have up… feel free to check us out on Facebook, twitter and insta 😉 Schedule and some exciting updates coming soon! Thanks everyone!”
Here is a fun music video compilation that the family made:
Anderson, Stephanie. “The Jerde Ranch.” Coastlines Literary Magazine (Spring 2014).
Moore, Andrew. Dirt Meridian. Bologna, Italy: Damiani (September 29, 2015).