Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where the Buffalo Roamed

In the late 1970s and for the next twenty years, my parents had a thirty-acre land tract with home and outbuildings in rural northern Durham County, North Carolina, they called La Terre. It was bordered in back by Buffalo Creek, a small tributary of the Haw River, which is in turn a tributary of the Cape Fear River, eventually flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.

I only lived there briefly, maybe a year in all, but helped do some of the routine maintenance work from time to time. With friends and family, I also explored all around the area, which was hilly and heavily wooded in back. Over the years, we found old wells at abandoned homestead sites, a few old grave sites, and a number of Native American artifacts like spear points and arrowheads and scraping tools. But it was the very name Buffalo Creek that piqued my interest. Where there buffalo/bison in the area at one time?

Sure enough there were, right into historical times. For at least up until the 1700s, Piedmont North Carolina was situated at the Eastern fringe of where the buffalo roamed -- to me, a mind-blowing realization at the time.

Between the 1700s and early 1800s, the bison population of North America peaked at perhaps seventy million, only to be hunted into near extinction near the end of the long US-tribal wars, by the 1880s. From seventy million to a few thousand buffalo in a generation or two -- can you imagine?

Just short of extinction, the bison as a species (or subspecies) was saved by a handful of smart people and has been somewhat repopulated, up to more than a third of a million in the USA as of 2009. Even so, two thirds of those are for food, and most have cattle in their lineage. (I've tried buffalo beef myself, it's leaner than cattle beef.)

Last but not least, I remember seeing a large herd of buffalo near the South Dakota Badlands in 1982. Do you have bison in your area, or were there at one time?

Today's Rune: Wholeness.


the walking man said...

Possibly but I don't think MI at the time was conducive to free range grass feeders seeing as most of the state was heavily wooded.

jodi said...

Erik, our home in Ossineke was found to have an ancient Indian burial ground in the back yard. As kids we found all sorts of artifacts. Oh, and I love buffalo as a lower fat alternative!

Distributorcap said...


i dont think Manhattan was home to bison

what we have done to biodiversity is just criminal

Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard that there were Bison even in Arkansas once upon a time but no longer, although you see some on farms here and there that are trucked in.

I well remember exploring the woods and land when I was a kid. Loved it.

Lana Gramlich said...

I don't know if buffalo COULD have lived down here, with the overwhelming heat, humidity & marshiness/swampiness. The very nature of the area seems rather anti-buffalo, actually. Their mass slaughter disgusts me & makes me incredibly sad. In a similar but different vein, I once saw a b/w film taken a looooooong time ago from a low flying plane in Africa that showed herds of elephants in the hundreds (if not thousands--honestly!) They went on for miles & miles, elephants filling the screen. It made me cry. I know that elephants face tough challenges, but I never knew that we'd already decimated them to extreme levels, too.
Unfortunately, given the "nature" of mankind, I have very little hope. I appreciate what still remains today (i.e.; polar bears, brown headed nuthatches, longleaf pine trees, etc.,) because I know we'll get rid of them all someday, too.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks all, for the super comments!
Very good ones, indeed . . .

Johnny Yen said...

At Fermilab, a government research facility near Chicago, there is a herd of bison.