The West Virginia. Cyclopedia


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Commonly called "buffalo", the American bison are not actually buffalo. Cape Buffalo and Water Buffalo of Africa and Asia are example of true buffalos.

Often associated only with the Great Plains of the American West, bison were once numerous east of the Mississippi, and were once common in West Virginia. The town of Buffalo, WV, was named after Buffalo Creek, so named because bison were commonly seen along it. Dr. Thomas Walker recorded that 13 buffaloes were killed during the his 1743 expledition of the trans-Allegheny region.

The Native Americans of West Virginia made use of the bison for food, clothing, bedding, war paraphernalia (shields made from hides), utensils, and musical instruments (trumpets made from horns, drum skins from hide.)

Although valued as a source of food by white settlers, many engaged in the wanton killing of bison as as a "sport." Dr. Walker noted in 1743 that, "game in these parts and would have been of much greater advantage to the inhabitants than it has been if the hunters had not killed the Buffaloes for diversion."

The bison once roamed in large herds over the entire state, the greatest number of them being found along the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. By 1730, all the wild bison were gone from Virginia and by 1760 they had were no longer found in the Carolinas or eastern Georgia. Daniel Boone wrote in his diary that he hunted buffalo in North Carolina until they "became scarce" in the late 1760's.

Teh last buffalo seen in West Virginia were a cow and calf in Webster County in the year 1825. The last wild bison living east of the Mississippi River was shot in 1832.

Bison: Builder of Roads

White hunters and early settlers in the trans-Allegheny region reported sizable populations of bison, that had beaten down traces or paths between salt licks. Many of these paths served as roads that used by Indians, and later by the white settlers. Many decades later, the paths of the bison became the route followed by many of the early turnpikes and road systems.