Bison/Buffalo in Virginia

Buffalo Forge on topo map Bison (or buffalo) were native to Virginia. In the 1730's, William Byrd II was feasting on bison when exploring his Land of Eden grant south of the Dan River. Buffalo skins were still being sold in Augusta County in 1749.

A query of the Geographic Names Information System produces a list of 79 place names in Virginia with "buffalo," suggesting how common they were.1

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:2

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.

Wilderness Road State Park in Lee County maintains a herd of buffalo
Wilderness Road State Park in Lee County maintains a herd of buffalo

Native Americans, and then later immigrants such as Daniel Boone, hunted buffalo in the backcountry of Virginia
Native Americans, and then later immigrants such as Daniel Boone, hunted buffalo in the backcountry of Virginia

buffalo are included in the artwork at Cumberland Gap's Pinnacle overlook, commemorating colonial expansion through southwestern Virginia in the second half of the Eighteenth Century
buffalo are included in the artwork at Cumberland Gap's Pinnacle overlook, commemorating colonial expansion through southwestern Virginia in the second half of the Eighteenth Century

Links

References

1. Charles E. Kemper, "Papers Read Before the Lancaster County Historical Society, Volumes 25-26," Lancaster County Historical Society, 1921, p.147, https://books.google.com/books?id=-tUwAQAAMAAJ; Geographic Names Information System, US Geological Survey, https://geonames.usgs.gov/domestic/index.html (last checked September 22, 2018)
2. "Doctor Thomas Walker's Journal (6 Mar 1749/50 - 13 Jul 1750) - A Record of His Travels in Present-day Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky," TNGenWeb Project, http://www.tngenweb.org/tnland/squabble/walker.html (last checked September 22, 2018


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