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The American Bison or Buffalo - Facts and True Story

Updated on February 2, 2017

Herd of Buffalo

Herd of American Bison or Buffalo grazing.
Herd of American Bison or Buffalo grazing. | Source

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.

Plains Bison

Plains Bison on wildlife preserve.
Plains Bison on wildlife preserve. | Source

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!

Male Buffalo

American Bison
American Bison | Source

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.

Angry Buffalo

American Buffalo
American Buffalo | Source

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.

Buffalo Herd

Small Herd of Buffalo
Small Herd of Buffalo | Source

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

Close Up of Buffalo
Close Up of Buffalo | Source

Moving On

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!

White Buffalo

I wish we had found this guy.
I wish we had found this guy. | Source

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.


Native Americans

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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    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi Pat! Yes, the old cliché works well in this situation. Since no one was actually injured, I am glad we made that trip. It was definitely something I will never forget! They are awesome creatures, we had a female in our backyard for several days several years back. She had escaped from a ranch several miles away. We didn't even know the rancher had buffalo. I wrote a hub about it too, " A Stranger in my Garden", if you haven't read it yet. :) Thank you for stopping by, I always enjoy hearing from you! Angels are always appreciated! Have a wonderful and blessed day! :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Well, in this case, the old cliché 'all's well that ends well' works. I was happy to read none of you left with hoof marks on your bodies. They are awesome creatures...we visited them in South Dakota in the late seventies. We went visited Custer State Park where buffalo roamed freely and by all reports still do today. We had one come very close to our car but looking for a handout only I think. We had been told not to get out of our cars---it was a drive through situation.

      Not the adventure you had by any means but we were in awe of those majestic creatures.

      thanks for sharing your exciting encounter..

      Angels are on the way :) ps

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hello funfest! I'm very glad my article was of some help to you. Thank you for leaving a comment, I appreciate it! Have a great day! :)

    • profile image

      funfest 5 years ago

      This is a very interesting article that helped me in writing a book about bison.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Glad to hear it! Thank you, Becky! :)

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I have read the hub about the Stranger in Your Garden, I even remembered the title. It was a good one.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi Becky! I don't blame your mom for being scared of them, they are really big! We had one in our garden one time. She got loose from a ranch up the road. I had already learned to to get too close, so we pretty much left her alone. I did write a hub about it. A Stranger in My Garden, if you haven't read it. Thank you for stopping in and commenting. I always enjoy hearing from you! Have a great day! :)

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hello Randy! If the ancient bison were 25% larger than today's, they were freaking huge! These are scary enough, glad they are smaller now! It is a shame that they were almost destroyed, I'm glad they have survived. We actually had one in our garden one time. It is an interesting read...A Stranger in My Garden. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      My great uncles had a herd of buffalo on their ranch. I have heard stories of them although they got rid of them before I was born. My mom was scared to death of them and she was raised on the ranch. She would have to help her uncles when it was roundup and branding time. She was not allowed off of her horse, they didn't think it was safe enough. As long as you were moving slowly and stayed on your horse, they did not bother, just kept eating.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi Alastar! They do seem rather docile when you see them, such as you said or, at the zoo, but they are anything but docile if you get too close. We actually had a buffalo in our garden once, we knew better than to get too close. It is an interesting read, if you choose...A Stranger in My Garden. Thank you for your wonderful comment and share! I always enjoy hearing from you! Have a wonderful day! :)

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Interesting and fun read, SG. Just imagine how scary the ancient bison were as they were 25% larger than today's remaining examples. The paleo Indians hunted these over 10,000 years ago.

      The former magnificent herds of today's bison were intentionally destroyed to help starve the Plains Indians and we are lucky to have them today.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

      How right you are on Bison being the most dangerous animal in America. We get accustomed through movies and such to seeing them running away from the natives and docilely grazing as hide hunters shoot them down. One got very near and almost attacked the horse i was on once, up close they are formidable and anything but docile cud-chewers. Shared with pleasure, Shelia.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi JKenny! It is hard to imagine that so many of these animals have disappeared. I'm glad they have survived also. I don't know if you read my hub on the "Stranger in My Garden", but I didn't get very close to her either. I learned my lesson the first time! Thanks for reading and your vote up! It is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi susan. Thank you for your kind comment. Yes, I was pretty scared. I was very young and stupid back in those days. What is it they say...God looks after children and fools. I think I fell into the second category. LOL Thank you for reading and vote up, it is always appreciated! Have a great day! :)

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi Peggy. I will look for your hubs. I would be interested in reading them. Yes, I'm sure there were probably signs warning us too, but...I was about 20 and Allen had taken pictures there before,so...we lived through it and I have a good story to tell. :) Thank you for you comment, vote and sharing! Havea great day! :)

    • profile image

      susanm23b 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your hub! I especially liked how your added interesting facts as you told your personal experience. I have seen bison many times at the zoo--but they were far away in a grassy area and there was a fence. They looked big even from that distance. I can imagine how large and frightening they must have looked to you :) Voted up!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 6 years ago from Birmingham, England

      A truly wonderful hub. I've never seen the American Bison, but I was lucky enough to see its European cousin in captivity. Its startling to think that as recently as the 1850s there were tens of millions of them. I remember reading that by the end of the 19th century, they were down to 500. I'm so glad they survived. Voted up etc.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      On the Black Hills road trip with my parents years ago my Dad took some great pictures of buffalo from inside of our car. I have written a hub about that in case you are interested. It dates back to the 1950s. We also have some buffalo in Bear Creek Park...a large county park near where we live (another hub) and what I did not realize until reading your hub was that there were two types of buffalo. They warn people in Yellowstone and other areas to maintain their distance. Your friend is fortunate that he got away unscathed by his encounter with the buffalo. Interesting, useful and sharing this hub with others. That is quite a story!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi Stephanie! It was scary when Allen fell, but I will say, he didn't stay down long! Thank God,the buffalo had already stopped running. I don't know that he ever went back to take anymore buffalo pictures. I know I didn't! Thank you for reading and voting, you know it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

      You did a great job of incorporating many interesting facts about the buffalo into your story. I would surely not ever want a buffalo to charge at me, and the times I've seen them, I have felt uncomfortable with them coming close to our Jeep! They are incredibly huge! It must have been quite a frightening experience to see your friend falling face down in front of the charging beast.

      Great hub, voted up!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Thanks again for your kind words Paul. They can get very large! When they are running towards you, I think they get bigger and bigger! Thanks for the vote up and comment, it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

    • profile image

      paulgc 6 years ago

      The Bison is an impressive beast and i was lucky enough to see some of them when i went to one of only 3 Bison farms in the Uk. I could not believe how big some of them were. Brilliant article, voted up and awesome.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Thank you Peg! Always love to hear from you. We laughed about the "face plant" a few times! Thank you for reading, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Have a wonderful day! :)

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Buffalo stories have always fascinated me and the way you told this one was great. There used to be a herd of buffalo beside Hwy 287 when I lived out near Aubrey. I stopped a few times and tried to take a picture but didn't venture into their space. Your phrase "does a face plant in the dirt" struck me as funny although at the moment I'm sure it wasn't. Good tale and well told SG.


    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hello cleaner3! Yes, I think he got a little more personal than he really wanted! Thank you for commenting, it's always good to hear from you. Have a wonderful day! :)

    • cleaner3 profile image

      cleaner3 6 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      sg, isn't mother nature beautiful, when she is up close and personal( tell allen, not to personal next time)

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Thank you Pat. Glad you enjoyed my hub! :)

    • profile image

      pat 6 years ago

      Very interesting read.enjoy Sheila's posting very much.


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