Bison Facts – Did you know?

Bison Biology – Facts About Bison       Bison Anatomy        Bison Ecology         Bison Parasitology


Odd bison facts you may not know. 

Why were bison called buffalo?

How the word ‘buffalo’ came into use. To the Spanish explorers the animal was called cibola or cubola. Some Spanish writers called them bisonte. Others called them armenta. Early French called them le boeuf buffe, vache sauvage or Bison d’ Amerique. Canadian voyagers called them boeuf (ox or bullock) The later French called them bufflo and later still buffelo. English colonist were using the term “buffalo” around 1710 and it 1st appeared in print around 1754.

Peter Kalm, who traveled through America in 1749, spoke of them as “wilde ochsen” but the word buffalo first spelled buffels soon replaced these earlier names.

The difference between American ‘buffalo’ and ‘bison’. There is none, the difference comes from the people who use the words. Buffalo is the common name and Bison is technically, the correct usage.

What’s the correct pronunciation of bison?

Bison is a French word pronounced “Bee-zohn,” and our pronunciation may have its roots there, going back generations to the area’s early fur traders and explorers. However, it’s pronounced Bi-son in most places. 


Elizabethville Echo
Elizabethville, Pennsylvania 26 Apr 1928

Q. When was the buffalo introduced into America? And from what country did they originate. C S.

A. The Buffalo or bison is purely an American animal. The first authentic knowledge by any person outside of America was that gained by Ilvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca a-bout A. D. 1530, who described the buffalo or bison as “an animal living in freedom on the plains of Texas in the United States. At that time the herds ranged from below the Rio Grande River in Mexico northwest through what is now known as New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia; then crossing the mountains to Great Slave Lake, they roamed the valleys of Saskatchewan and Red Rivers, keeping to the west of Lake Winnipeg and Lake Superior and south of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie to the vicinity of Niagara; there turning southward to western Pennsylvania, and crossing the Allegheny mountains, they spread over the western portion of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, northern Mississippi and Louisiana. There is some evidence that the buffalo in those days came almost to the Atlantic Coast.  (Harpers Monthly 1892- Hernando Cortez found specimens of the animal in a museum attached to Montezuma’s palace ten years earlier than this. Coronado saw them in Indian Territory, which he describes as a region “ full of crooked back oxen as the mountains of Serena in Spain are of sheep.”)

THE BUFFALO PLAINS : a term derived from Coronado’s reference to “ Llanos del Cibola,” usually thought to be the same as the Great Plains (or natural grazing and migration area of buffalo herds.)

In the 1600s, the Monks of St. Frances in Zacatecas, (central Mexico), had two buffalo that pulled a two-wheeled cart.

1701 East coast of North America is when the first efforts to raise buffalo began.

About 1815, Wickliffe trained some for oxen work. (only, still very wild)

1860’s during the Civil War, a pair in Kansas, extremely gentle and trained for yoke.

1869 One of the earliest known photographs, of wild buffalo on the plains “Buffalo Hunt”.

1874 For lack of a proper tree, a green hide was used to confine a horse thief. He was sewn inside and left on the prairie. (in the sun, a raw hide, turns rock hard)


A ‘pot hunter” is a hunter who kills for meat.

‘Hide hunter’ wants just the hide and maybe takes the tongue as well.

Some people would distance themselves from men who would kill a cow with a calf. (although, some of our more famous killers often did this.)

A ‘cripple” is a buffalo that has been wounded and is afterward discovered and killed.

A ‘spike” is a young bull.

After the hide is removed it is thrown into the wagon, and the Skinners move on from carcass to carcass, until the “whole stand,” as it is called, is skinned.

When taken to camp the pelts are laid in rows in a place known as “the hide yard.”


Where the term “Wild and Woolly” came from. (cattle drives)

In 1867 Butler, Baylor & Rose drove a herd to Abilene, Kansas, as did also Pucket & Rogers.

In 1868 the drives were pretty heavy, but further west, crossing Red River at Gainesville. In 1869 and 1870 they were heavier still, most of the herds crossing at Red River Station, passing east of old Fort Sill and west of the Indian and negro settlements, over which route water and grass were plentiful. This was known as the old Chisholm Trail. When we reached Kansas we usually found plenty of buffalo. When these animals were disturbed they would begin to travel northward. That is where the expression “wild and woolly” originated. When the boys reached “Abilene or some other Kansas town, they were usually long-haired and needing a barber’s attention, as there were no barbers on the trail. Upon being asked how they got there, they would sing out : “Come the Chisholm trail with the buffalo wild and woolly.”

Dr. Hayden on Buffalo Drownings.

“The wolves watch the deer, antelope and other feebler animals as they go down to the streams to drink, and all over the wide bottoms are the skeletons of these animals in a more or less perfect condition.
It is not an uncommon occurrence for a band of wolves to attack an aged buffalo too old to offer a successful resistance.
He must always betake himself to the river, where he is not unfrequently drowned, or is destroyed by the wolves on a sand bar or island. Annually thousands of buffaloes are drowned in attempting to cross the Missouri on the ice, as it is breaking up in the spring. Their bodies have been seen floating down the Missouri at Fort Union and Fort Clark by hundreds, and lodging on some of the islands or sand bars in the river. In the spring of 1858 several thousand bodies of buffaloes passed down the Kansas River below the mouth of Solomon’s Fork and were carried into the Missouri.”


“Buffalo Hunt”

This photograph depicts a buffalo hunt along the Big Timber River, located in Ellis County south of Hays, Kansas. Some more well-known members of the hunting party include General George Armstrong Custer, Hill P. Wilson, Captain Tom Custer, and General Samuel D. Sturgis.

This 1869 image is on loan from the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply 

1869 buffalo hunt Big Timber River Ellis Co Kansas Gen Custer, Hill P Wilson, Capt Tom Custer, Gen Sam D Sturgis


Refrigerating Boxcar Tiffany Ad

The advertisement is taken from the 1st edition (1879) of theCar-Builders Dictionary for the Tiffany Refrigerator Car Company, a pioneer in the design of refrigerated railroad cars. Attempts have been made as early as 1842.

The first refrigerated boxcar entered service in June 1851, on the Northern Railroad.  This “icebox on wheels” was a limited success since it was only functional in cold weather. Around cir. 1857 Swift experimented by moving cut meat using a string of ten boxcars with their doors removed and made a few test shipments to New York during the winter months over the Grand Trunk Railway.  The method proved too limited to be practical. In 1868 William Davis patented a refrigerator car that employed metal racks to suspend the carcasses above a frozen mixture of ice and salt. Which kind of worked, unless to hit a corner to fast and the meat would swing and derail the cars.

Swift Line 1899

In 1878 Swift hired engineer Andrew Chase to design a ventilated car that was well insulated, and positioned the ice in a compartment at the top of the car, allowing the chilled air to flow naturally downward, this worked.


In 1871 this was done by Weaver, Rankin and Co’s. patent car. read more 1871, about halfway down the page, is an article of a salesman showing his new design, ice formed on top of the car.

An estimate on a single buffalo coat made by Gordon and Ferguson in 1880 itemized the cost to the company:
 l large robe                                     7.00
4 yds. linsey                                       .50
2 ” sleeve lining                                 .25
 percentage labor, fuel                     .38
cutting .60 sewing .60                    1.20
In 1885 Buffalo Coats ranged from $14.00- $45.00

Buffalo saddles arrived in October and November 1881, and in January 1882, to add to the market’s variety of big game. (Minnesota area) Bison were gone from the area and hides and meat were imported. 

1888- Americanisms 

Buffalo (1) (Bison americanus) The American Bison (q.v.)
2) Often used instead of Buffalo Robe, the skin of that animal, it being thus distinguished from the skins of all other game. Generally speaking however, buffalo in this sense means a dressed skin used to wrap or covering.
(3) An extraordinarily shaped fish (Taurichthys) found in the Mississippi and other Southern rivers.

BUFFALO BERRY (Shepherdia argentea ). So called from its being mostly found on the plains once frequented by the buffalo, and especially in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains. The tree attains no great height but its scarlet berries form an article of food with Indian tribes.

BUFFALO BUSH . – A native of the region round Humboldt River; a shrub, the fruit of which is called the bull-berry.

BUFFALO CHIPS.— The dung of the Buffalo which, when dried, is used for fuel. Also called by the French bois de vache (q.v.) (Buffalo Chips or Bison Dung)

The next day was spent looking on the Ridge, which was followed up to the head of Chalcedony Creek. A great many eld were seen, a few sheep and much old buffalo sign. A camp was made on the Ridge by a large green pine,  a fire was built of Buffalo Chips, of which a great quantity was lying around. – Forest and Stream March 15 1888.

BUFFALO CIDER.- A liquid found in the stomach of the buffalo, which has sometimes served the hunter in good stead, when far removed from water. (What Part of the Bison was Used)

BUFFALO CLOVER.- (Trifolium reflexum and stolonifernum) – This popular name is derived from the fact of the plant abounding in the West, once the haunt of the buffalo.

BUFFALO GNAT. – A small, black insect pest, common on the prairies of the West. Very pertinacious in habit, and with a poisonous bite.

BUFFALO GRASS (Sesteria dactyloides)  A short grass found in great abundance on the prairies of the West, and which, at one time, formed the favorite food of the buffalo. A peculiarity of this herbage is that,  in winter, the blades wither, but do not fall or decay,  and in the following spring they again become verdant – a process seemingly akin to the circulation of the sap in trees, with one important distinction, namely that whereas the tree is reinvested with the leaves each season, the self-same blades of the buffalo grass are again and again revivified. See Gamma Grass.

BUFFALO NUT (Pyrulia oleifera ) . —The oil nut of the West.

BUFFALO ROBE , -A rug or covering made of the buffalo skin . More commonly called a BUFFALO (q.v. ). A furious storm of wind and snow with the most intense cold etc. in, and we, with all the protection of the thickets, with our Sibley stoves red hot, were forced to remain under cover of piles of Buffalo Robes all next day. Dodge’s Plains of the Great West.

BUFFALO SOLDIERS. – Colored regiments in the United States Army. An Indian term applied to the men on duty at the military post scattered about the Indian reservations, probably from their dark color and curly heads.  Note: Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the Black Cavalry by Native American tribes who fought in the Indian Wars. Going into places other would not and usually with lesser equipment.  (see National Museum of African American History)

BUFFALO STAMP – are tracts of hard blue soil, supposed to be due, originally, to the presence of alkali and saline properties in the ground, causing numbers of buffalo to crowd together, licking and stamping the life out of the soil.

BUFFALO WALLOWS – (1) Curious depressions in the prairies are so called. These, says Dodge, are formed in the following manner. A heavy rainfall deluges the hard and level country. The water is soon absorbed by the thirsty soil, or licked up by the hot sun-rays: a portion of the soil, a little more moist that adjoining, opens in cracks such as can be seen in any ordinary dried up mud hole. Another hard rain comes: these cracks are filled up by the earth washed from their edges, which, packed more tightly, and retaining moisture longer that before, cracks again wider in drying. This process is repeated again and again, until quite a depression is made in the soil, which in now so tightly packed as to retain water for a considerable time. When the buffalo is shedding his coat in the spring, he is constantly endeavoring to get rid of the superfluous hair, and, in the absence of trees against which to rub, he is frequently rolling and rubbing himself on the ground. These small water- holes are his especial delight. The buffalo is in no way necessary to the formation of the buffalo wallow, it being found in parts of the country where there are no buffalo. The process of formation is exactly similar to that of the Hog Wallow (q.v.) of Southern Texas. Given certain conditions of soil, position, and rainfall, and prolific nature does the rest. (Buffalo Wallows)
Note: Definition of hog wallow
a: a depression in land made by the wallowing of swine (same for bison)
b: a similar depression said to be due to heavy rains

BUFFALO WOLF. – A lean, gaunt and hungry looking animal, as tall as an ordinary greyhound. They are of an exceedingly cowardly disposition, one alone not possessing courage to attack even a sheep.

PRAIRIE BITTERS -A beverage compounded of buffalo gall and water, in the proportion of a quarter of a gill to a pint. It is a mixture the medicinal virtue of which was thought to have been in an exact ratio to its filthy taste.

ROBE – The dressed skin of buffalo. The term was formerly exclusively applied to the prepared hide of that animal, but of late other large skins are also called robes. A pack of Robes was 10 in number.

1890’s was probably the first successful artificial limb to a buffalo. I read about an attempt earlier in history, but I doubt it was successful, as it happened on the plains, by a hunter who had an idea…..Buffalo Bill Glassman who started a Zoological Garden in Utah, had a bull with a hind leg amputated. He went to great pains to save his bull and had a wooden leg made for him. After the bull finally came to terms with his new appendage, he lived out his days in the park.  (Antelope Island, article June 14 1902) “The buffalo laid great store by that wooden leg, and when death came, he willed that leg to the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, with his compliments, in the interest of science.”

I am reaching out to S.I. to see if they really have the leg or is this a wild tale? Response from S.I. “

The wooden leg donation, I, unfortunately, did not find any evidence that the object was accessioned by the Smithsonian. Our accession records do not include any mention of a “Glassman” or “Glassmann” donating a bison prosthesis.




On hoof, he weighed more than 1,800 pounds.
Dressed his carcass weighed 800 pounds
Hide 150 pounds
Liver alone weighed 20 pounds
Heart 6 pounds
Tongue 8 pounds


Bison calf colors, bison calves can be born in a few colors.

The black born calves can stay black or turn the natural dark brown, while some can be born red with black under hair, so they shed out and turn black.

The white calves like this one will remain white his whole life. (just born)

Black Bison Bull
‘Black Cloud’ Bison Bull- These are born dark mahogany red and turn black with shedding. The Grand Sire to this bull was 93′ Canadian Gold Trophy Yearling, “Mr Big” aka “Big Guy” , who is also one of the sires I used to make my 1st metal Bison Sculpture. 

White Calf

White, not albino – (recessive gene, dark eyes)

1)A very rare albino, in which case they will remain unpigmented throughout their lives, and may also have hearing and vision problems.
They may be leucistic, with white fur but blue eyes, instead of the pink seen in albinos.
They may have a rare genetic condition which causes a buffalo to be born white, but to become brown within a year or two as it matures.


The cream-colored calves can sometimes turn the natural dark brown, in this case, this calf will probably turn white. You can already see the white stripe down his back and in a month or two, he will be all white or dirty white. The main color is red (just born)  “red dots” or  “red dogs”, they will shed out and usually turn dark brown and sometimes blackish.

Cream calf , will turn white
Red Dog, will turn dark brown
Red Dot










We all know about Miracle, the white calf born in 94’ to the surprise of the Wisconsin Farm. During her lifetime Miracle’s hair coat changed four times, as prophesied in many Native legends. Her first winter coat was dark brown. In 95 she turned black, then in June she turned a deep red, by July of 1997 she changed to a pale yellow and was beginning to turn white again just before her death in 2004.



Did you know? Lyndon B Johnson Texas Ranch 1966

Lyndon B Johnson had buffalo on his Texas ranch 1966. ( Texas History –scroll to the bottom)


Did you know? Bison Grave Marker

Bison grave marker in the Evergreen Cemetery, Paris, Texas

I have seen several buffalo bulls that have been ‘cut’ or ‘steered’ and I noticed, their horns curl like a cow. (Do all do this?, I don’t know, I suppose it may depend on when they are ‘cut’.

Example:Did you know? Don Hight with Bill

Also, could be the first housebroken buffalo. In the mid 60’s, he was also on an episode of “Rawhide” I am guessing this picture to be around the early 70’s.


The start of the National Bison Association. This was the idea of Roy Houck in 1967, he suggested that rather than bidding against each other they organize to protect their interests. This is how the National Buffalo Association was born.


“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a grammatically correct sentence in American English.


*Bison milk is closest related to mare’s milk

Table is adapted from course notes by Robert D. Bremel, University of Wisconsin and from Handbook of Milk Composition, by R. G. Jensen, Academic Press, 1995.


Aug 2017  I contacted James Derr of Texas A&M , to find out his most recent percentages of bison DNA tested. This is what he sent back to me.

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University has conducted DNA testing on more than 60,000 bison in both private and public herds across North America. About six percent of those bison tested, have evidence of cattle mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited from the dam, and the sire makes no contribution to the offspring. Analysis of the nuclear genome reveals the level of cattle genetics in North American bison average less than 1.5 percent from the genes inherited from both parents. While most public and private bison herds have evidence of historical hybridization with domestic cattle, (I assume he means of the herds tested) some important herds including Yellowstone National Park, Elk Island National Park and Henry Mountains State Park in Utah appear to be free of cattle introgression.

However, be aware that these few sentences are a superficial explanation of a more complex issue.  Ph.D. dissertations have been written on this subject so I caution you to make sure this statement is in the correct context.

Regards, Jim  Dr. James Derr, Professor  Texas A&M University

I would add, that I have always believed we were left with bison from history and, that in and of itself is something to protect no matter their make-up. Until we have DNA from ancient bison, we do not know if any cattle DNA findings are only in recent history. I do know they are trying to get samples to be tested. As soon as I know those results, I will share them.