American Plains Buffalo are not true Buffalo. Buffalo is just a nickname given to them by the early explorers and settlers. True Buffalos are the Cape Buffalo and Water Buffalo of Africa and Asia. American “Buffalo” are actually Bison and are close relatives to cattle. The Lakota (Sioux) call them Tatanka.
Bison are sacred to Native Americans. “Brother Buffalo” provided their food, shelter, and clothing. Bison bones, rawhide, and other parts were also used for making ceremonial items, drums, tools, weapons, and decorations. Bison are good “medicine”. When the great herds of bison were gone from the plains, this made the Plains Indians very sad and much damage was done to their spirit and their diet. Now many tribes have their own growing bison herds and this is good for their spirit and their diet.
Durring the 1700s there were 40-60 million bison roaming North America where they had lived for thousands of years. Train travel made it possible for many people to go west and due to the war against the indians, and the desire for buffalo hides and tongues, almost all of the bison were killed. By the late 1800s there was less than a thousand bison left. A few ranchers, parks, and zoos saved the bison from becoming extinct. Now there are over 350,000 bison in North America. Bison are back!
Bison are known for the large herds that once roamed the great plains but they also were found in the east…even in Pennsylvania. The bison in the east roamed in smaller herds because there was less grass and more trees here. The last wild bison in Pennsylvania was killed in the late 1700s while there were still great herds in the west.
Bison are the only “cattle” native to North America.
Bison are North America’s largest land mammal. Some bulls grow to weigh over a ton.
Bison’s favorite food is grass.
Mother Bison are called cows, young female bison are heifers, male bison are bulls, and the babies are calves.
Bison calves can run with the herd and swim the same day they are born.
Both male and female bison have horns.
Bison can live 30-40 years.
The big bulls are not the leaders of the bison herd. The leaders of the herd are the old grandmother cows.
Bison look big and slow but they are as quick and agile as most horses. They can run up to 40 miles per hour, they can jump a six foot fence, and they are good swimmers.
Bison are very playful. Sometimes they love to just run around. Bison also like to play king-of-the-mountain.
When a bison gets mad it raises it’s tail straight up in the air.
Bison have very thick fur to keep them warm in blizzards. They eat snow to get a drink when the lakes and streams are frozen. And they use their head as a snow-plow to get to the grasses buried under several feet of snow.
Bison shed their thick winter fur in the Spring so they are comfortable in the Summer heat. It is fun to watch them rub up against trees and roll around in the dirt trying to get rid of their itchy winter coat.
Bison also “wallow” or roll around in the dirt to make a dust cloud to chase away flys and to impress other bison.
“Buffalo chips” were used as fuel because there were no trees for firewood on the great plains.
Bison do not moo. They grunt and roar.
Bison are not very good house-pets.
Buffalo do not have wings.
Click here to see places named after buffalo (besides Buffalo, NY)...you'll be surprised!
Click here to shop for buffalo books and more
Click here to go to our links page for other interesting buffalo related websites
Visit our farm store to see our display of buffalo items. We have a buffalo hide drum, hoof rattles, and many other buffalo items that the Plains Indians would have used. While you're here you can see our buffalo herd.
Backyard Bison - 685 Crowthers Rd. - Coopersburg, PA 18036 - (610) 346-6640
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This web-page was first published on October 11, 2001
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