The American Bison or Buffalo - Facts and True Story
Herd of Buffalo
American Bison or Commonly Known as the Buffalo
The American Bison is also known as the American Buffalo, which once roamed the plains of North America in huge herds. The buffalo were nearly eradicated in the 19th century due to hunting and now are restricted to parks and reserves. There are approximately 500,000 buffalo on privately owned ranches and refuges today. Buffalo can be found here in Oklahoma at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern part of the state.
My Trip to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Back many years ago when I was taking a photography class, the instructor, Allen, and I became good friends. He was going to be taking pictures of the Texas Long Horn cattle that were also located at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and asked me if I wanted to go along. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
Two Types of American Bison
As we are driving along looking for a good place to stop and photograph the long horn cattle, we decide to stop and take some pictures of the buffalo. There are two types of American Bison. The Plains Bison which is smaller in size and has a more rounded hump and the Wood Bison which is the larger of the species and has a taller more square hump. The bison we are about to photograph are the Plains Bison and there was a small herd not far from the road. I had never been very close to a buffalo before and did not realize just how large they are. The American Bison is the largest land animal in North America. Males can stand six feet from hoof to shoulder and weigh between 1000-2000 pounds. Females are around five feet tall and weigh between 800-1000 pounds. Thank God I had a zoom lens!
Don't Come Any Closer!
As we proceeded towards the huge beasts, with much caution, I noticed one in particular with his head down, glaring at us as we approached. I hollered at Allen, and told him to look out for this one, as he is not appreciating our approach. The bison has long shaggy brown fur, a mane and beard under its chin and a long tail with a tuft of hair at the end. It has a big head with short black horns and a hump on its shoulders. This one also had a glare in his eye that would frighten the devil! His large head was still pointing down and now the dust was flying as he snorted warnings at us.
Now I am not the smartest person in the world, but I could tell this was not going to come out well. Mr. Buffalo was now pawing at the ground as Allen was continuing to get closer and closer to him. I, not being the braver of the two, was now standing behind a huge boulder that was between myself and the buffalo. I had now forgotten all about taking pictures of this huge animal, I was more concerned about getting back to the car without being trampled. Allen, on the other hand, had the camera to his eye and had become deaf to my warnings.
The Ground Began to Shake
Both the female and the male buffalo have short curved horns used for fighting for status within the herd and apparently for protection against photographers. At this point I wasn’t sure where the most danger lied, in the horns that were now pointed directly at Allen or the hooves there were shaking the earth as he angrily pawed the ground. I yelled at Allen with everything I had, as he looked up from his camera he realized how close he was to this angry animal. About that time the buffalo decided it was time to run off this nosey intruder and he snorted loudly and began to run at Allen.
The American Buffalo are closest to the domesticated cattle but were never domesticated as the native Americans claimed they were too temperamental and being as large as they are, too difficult to contain. They could jump over or crash through their fences. So as there are no fences the only thing between Allen and the buffalo is open ground and Allen was running just as hard as he could run. I am still hiding behind the boulder and screaming at Allen to run for the car.
You Can't Out Run a Buffalo
Bison are among the most dangerous animals encountered by visitors to the various U.S. and Canadian national parks and will attack humans if provoked. These animals have been observed running between 35 and 40 miles per hour. I don’t think Allen is going to outrun this guy. Thankfully Mr. Buffalo decides that this skinny guy with the camera is not worth wasting his breath over and comes to a halt. It’s a good thing too because just as the buffalo stops running at him, Allen trips over a rock and does a face plant in the dirt. As he scrambles to his feet and grabs his camera, I have already made it to the car. As we get in and drive away we both decide that we have all the buffalo pictures we need! Allen said he apparently didn’t realize just how temperamental these animals were. Really?
Buffalo Close Up
Between 1980 and 1999, more than three times as many people in Yellowstone National Park were injured by buffalo than by bears. It takes a little time to gather our composure but we move on to take some pictures of the Texas Longhorned Cattle, staying at a good distance from them. Allen gets several of his photographs published for his effort as did I, so I guess since there were no injuries, other than pride, the trip was worth it. It was definitely an experience we will never forget!
We had really hoped to see a white buffalo. White buffalo are very rare and are considered to be sacred by many Native Americans, but we were not fortunate enough to find one. At this point I really don’t think we were looking very hard.
A Few More Interesting Fact About the American Bison
Bison are herbivores and eat only grasses. Bison typically live for 15 years in the wild but have known to live as long as 25 years in captivity. I can see why as they have no natural predators.
The name bison is a Greek word meaning ox-like and buffalo came from the French fur trappers who called the animals boeufs, meaning ox or bullock, thus both names, have a similar meaning. The term buffalo actually dates back to 1635 and the term bison was first recorded in 1774. From now on I just call them sir, or ma’m.
The Native American Indians hunted the buffalo in great numbers and used every part of the buffalo that they killed. The skins were used for clothing, and shelter. The meat was eaten for food. Even the hooves were boiled for glue. The American Buffalo is a popular symbol in the Great Plains states. Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming have adopted the animal as their official state mammal. I see why the American Buffalo is a symbol of respect!
I hope you have enjoyed my story along with the facts about the American Bison, or commonly called the buffalo, I have tried to incorporate into my story. Unfortunately, I no longer have our pictures of the buffalo we took on that trip. It has been many, many years ago. The American Bison has a long and prestigious history and with our care and protection should be around for many, many more years.
Have you ever had a close encounter with a buffalo?
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