From Ohio History Central
Adult bison and calf, Custer State Park, South Dakota (2009-08-25).jpg
The buffaloes are dark brown in color, covered with long hair, or rather soft down mixed with hair. Their legs are short, the body is heavy. They have a hunch upon their backs, just above the shoulders. This diminishes towards the rear, hence, they appear much shorter from the back than from the front. They have a thick head and a long beard depends from the chin. Altogether, they present a terrible appearance. Their horns are short, but thick and quite black.

David Zeisberger, History of North American Indians, 1779-1780


Scientific Name:Bison Bison
Adult Weight:1,500-2,000 lbs., male; 1,000 lbs., female
Adult Body Length:9-11 ft (height: 6 ft.), male; 7 ft.(height 5 ft.), female
Breeding Period:July - August
Litters Per Year:1
Litter Size:1
Life Expectancy:30 years
Foods:Herbivore - grass


The Bison, or American buffalo, is the largest land animal in North America since the end of the Ice Age. The Bison has been very important in the history of the United States. Stories of their vast numbers, performances in Wild West shows, and their near extinction from mass hunting fill the nation's history books.



Most of the Bison remains in Ohio are associated with later cultures, particularly, the Fort Ancient Culture. An archaeological site in Licking County revealed a complete Bison skeleton.


In 1521, the explorer Cortez was the first European to see a Bison, in a Mexican zoo. In 1530, the explorer deVaca saw a large herd of Bison in Texas.

Before European settlers arrived, Bison ranged over most of North America. Estimated Bison population at that time varied from 30 million to 70 million animals.


In Ohio, Bison were hunted by the Native Americans, but not to the extent that they were by the Plains Indians in the western United States. Moravian missionary, David Zeisberger, reported in the late 1700s that (in regard to the Delaware Indians he came in contact with) "...buffalo they shoot little and rarely, as the hides are too heavy and of little value, and if they shot one of these animals now and again, most of the meat is left lying in the woods, where it is consumed by wolves, or other animals or birds."

When European settlers first arrived in Ohio, there were many Bison throughout the state. With the arrival of settlers, the Bison population rapidly declined.

At one time these animals appeared in great numbers along the Muskingum but as soon as the country begins to be inhabited by the Indians they retire and are now only to be found near the mouth of the above named river. Along the banks of the Scioto and further south, both Indians and whites say that they may be seen in herds numbering hundreds. That is two or three hundred miles from here.

David Zeisberger, The History of North American Indians, 1779-1780.

They were killed, commercially, for both their meat and hide.

By 1790, few, if any, Bison could be found along the Ohio River. In 1795, Charles Duteil, while hunting for deer, came across a herd of Bison two miles west of Gallipolis. The event was recorded in an 1876 letter from George Graham:

Duteil fired without aiming at any particular one, and luckily a large one fell. He was so elated with this feat that without stopping to examine the animal he ran as fast as he could to the town, and having announced his luck, came back, followed by the entire body of colonists,. They quickly formed a procession with musicians playing violins, flutes, �the fortunate hunter proudly marching with his gun�. and for several days there was feasting, as the first and last buffalo of Gallipolis was served up�.

Nineteenth Century

Bison were extirpated in Ohio early in the nineteenth century. The last Bison recorded in Ohio was shot and killed in Lawrence County in 1803. The story of the Bison continued out West.

The Native Americans of the Plains hunted and used every part of the Bison. A very small list includes meat for both fresh and dried food; horns for cups and powder horns; bones for pipes; tendons for bowstrings; stomach lining for water containers; and its hide for cradles, moccasins, shelter, drums, saddles and much more.

European traders enlisted American Indians to hunt Bison. The hides were then sent to a tannery or used as a wool substitute. In the early 1820s, approximately 200,000 buffalo were killed yearly. Of that number, Europeans killed only 5,000. Workers who were hired to process the Bison were not reliable, and most of the hides were allowed to rot. Although, this industry failed, the Bison hunts continued for another twenty years. This was due in part because of the near extinction of beaver from years of trapping.

American Indians were encouraged to continue to hunt Bison for robes (hides) and tongues (used for meat and making combs). The rest of the Bison was left to rot. In the early 1830s, George Catlin reported a large number of Sioux went hunting in Missouri and returned with 1,400 Bison tongues.

European men and women also participated in yearly large Bison hunts. The last large Red River hunt (southern Canada) was in 1940. There were 1,630 people involved, killing 3,500 Bison. The hunt ended because the Bison were becoming harder to find in the area. During that same year, hunters shipped 15,000 robes to St. Louis, Missouri from the land that is now Colorado. In 1850, around 100,000 robes were shipped.

During the Civil War, in order to feed the Union Army, the Army paid local hunters to provide Bison meat to the military posts. After the war, these same hunters provided meat for the railroad workers as they laid track across the country. William "Buffalo Bill" Cody was one of the most famous buffalo hunters.

In the late 1860s railroads began to advertise sightseeing trips and Bison hunts to encourage rail passengers. One of these trips included a group of 30 women and 250 men armed with 75-80 guns.

Bison hunts continued throughout the western United States until the mid-1880s. In 1882, Montana and the Dakotas shipped 200,000 hides east. The next year, 1883, the Dakota Territory passed a law protecting the Bison, because they had virtually disappeared. In 1884, only 300 hides were collected.

Twentieth Century

The preservation of the Bison began with the American Bison Society in 1905. The National Bison Range was established in 1907 on 18,500 acres of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.

There are an estimated 290,000 Bison in North America. Many of these are privately owned. The largest wild herds can be found in Custer State Park in South Dakota, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

There are currently privately owned Bison in Ohio.

See Also


  1. Dary, David A. The Buffalo Book: The Full Saga Of The American Animal. The Swallow Press Incorporated, Chicago: 1974.