Bison in Virginia

Buffalo Forge on topo map Bison were native to Virginia. As late as the 1730's, William Byrd II was feasting on bison when exploring his Land of Eden grant south of the Dan River. A query of the Geographic Names Information System produces a list of 79 place names in Virginia with "buffalo." (See what you get for "cow.")

The native bison may have been "wood buffalo," which could have been a different subspecies from the bison that Lewis and Clark saw on their journey up the Missouri River in 1804-6. The western bison formed large herds and migrated across vast distances in the grasslands.

The Virginia bison may have migrated seasonally through Cumberland Gap, to move from the Powell River valleys to the bluegrass prairies in Kentucky. Compared to the great Plains, Virginia herds would have been smaller and some bison may have lived a relatively solitary life.

Bison were hunted by the Native Americans and the early colonial explorers. Dr. thomas Walker recorded in his journal:

March 15th. We went to the great Lick on A Branch of the Staunton and bought Corn of Michael Campbell for our horses. This Lick has been one of the best places for 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, and the Elks and Deer for their skins.1



1. Doctor Thomas Walker's Journal (6 Mar 1749/50 - 13 Jul 1750) - A Record of His Travels in Present-day Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky (last checked April 3, 2004)

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