The following brief summary documents the presence of buffalo in the Southeast, particularly in present day Alabama.
© “On the high plains of North America, the buffalo was the economic basis of Native American life well into the nineteenth century. When European-American settlement began to encroach on the area early in that century, an estimated 30 million buffalo lived in a large area from present-day Texas in the South to northern Alberta. East and west, buffalo ranged from present-day New York state to Alabama and Mississippi, to Idaho and eastern Oregon.” – Johansen, Bruce. “The Encyclopedia of Native American Economic History”. 1999. Greenwood Press.
Southern states in which buffalo were documented include Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. One writer documented buffalo in Georgia to the middle of the state and in Mississippi to the coast, but stated he had found no primary source from the earliest settlement for buffalo in Alabama. He explained, however, that due to them being common in the neighboring states they were obviously present in Alabama but not documented by the early writers he had studied. Perhaps this was because in the mid-18th century Alabama was not yet a state and buffalo present in the area were lumped in with neighboring states or territories. [AL became a state in 1819, GA in 1788]. – “The Extermination of the American Bison”. 1889. U.S. Govt. Printing Office. Project Gutenberg.
Compare the first map below which dates from shortly after the French and Indian war (mid-18th century) with the second one from 1800 and note how the boundaries of Georgia have changed. In 1800, Georgia’s boundary has receded eastward and the area where Alabama will eventually be is labeled Mississippi Territory.
A little known account written in 1708 and published in 1988 documents buffalo in Alabama. The 18th century journal of Thomas Nairne was published by the University of Mississippi Press in 1988, and in it is found the following letter, penned by Nairne: “…the usuall divertion of the hunters was either to look for Bare [bear], fire a ring for Dear or go to the Clay pitts and shoot Buffaloes, for you must observe that in the spring and all sumer these cattle eat abundance of Clay. They find out such places as are saltish, which they like [lick] up in such quantities as if some hundreds of thousands of Bricks had been made out of them, and the paths leading to these holes are as many and well Trod, as those to the greatest Cowpens in Carolina…”.
The area Nairne was describing was on the Chattahoochee and crossing the Coosa, near present day Mongomery. – Nairne, Thomas, ed. By Alexander Moore. “Nairne’s Muskhogean Journals: The 1708 Expedition to the Mississippi River. U. of Miss. Press. 1988.
Thomas Foster says that buffalo were probably utilized by the Lower Creeks from the 1720’s or earlier. “In August 1739, at a Creek town on the Chattahoochee River (Russell County, Alabama), Oglethorpe’s men observed Creek men hunting turkeys, deer, geese, and buffalo. At another Creek town in Alabama, the white hunters observed that the Indians ‘spend much time in hunting deer, turkeys, and bison’.” He noted that by the 1770’s buffalo were probably becoming scarce in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. – “Archaeology of the Lower Muskogee Creek Indians 1715-1836”. 1970.
Sir Robert Montgomery described neighboring Georgia as the land between the Altamaha and the Savannah Rivers, “and abounding with large herds of deer, will buffalo’s, and most kinds of beasts, birds, …”. James Oglethorpe on his way to meet with the Creeks in Alabama encamped at Oconee River and the next day, “crossed the river and killed two buffaloes of which there are an abundance.”
Buffalo were prevalent in the area of Anniston, Alabama in the 1500’s according to author Ernest Callenbach who also noted the Army had a small herd of bison at the Depot there during present times. – “Bring Back the Buffalo!”. 1996.
An archaeological excavation at Moundville turned up bones which are thought to be bison. They weren’t positively identified as bison bones, but they did come from, “a very large mammal”, and there were distinct skinning marks on the bone further strengthening the belief that they were bison. – Knight, Vernon J. “Mound Excavations at Moundville”. 2010. Tuscaloosa.
“Before the days of white settlement in Alabama, herds of bison and elk grazed the prairies of the Black Belt and Wire-grass sections, and black bear and deer ranged the upland forests and river bottom canebrakes.” The author who penned those words went on to say that early explorers into Alabama found the Indians using hoes made from bison shoulder blades. – Writers Program (Ala.). “Alabama a Guide to the Deep South”. May 1941.
It is obviously safe to say that buffalo did once roam freely through Alabama, more’s the pity that “civilization” pushed them to the brink of extinction. Good day, – THF.© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.