Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

WE WERE THE HOME
WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAMED

If you think that the American Buffalo only roamed on the plains of Kansas and the plateaus of Montana where the deer and the antelope played, then think again. These shaggy bovines once lived and thrived across almost the entire North American continent, including right here in East Central Georgia.
For nearly a century and a half, historians and scholars have disagreed about the southeastern limits of the ranges of the buffalo. Conspicuously absent from the meticulous journals of the expedition of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in his journey across the central section of Georgia in 1540 is any mention of the presence of buffalo. The fact that no mention of the harry bovine suggests that none were seen. In 1876, J.A. Allen published his monumental work which proposed that the Buffalo's migratory path from the west dipped only into the northeastern section of Georgia. A decade later, William Hornaday modified Allen's line to include all of the state's territory above a line running in a southeasterly direction from Carrollton above Macon through western Laurens County and ending thirty miles west of Savannah. Fifty years ago E. Raymond Hall and Keith R. Nelson extended the line of the buffalo's domain to include nearly all of Georgia except the coastal region.

Since the Native Americans who inhabited Georgia left no written records, any evidence of the buffalo's presence must be drawn from early colonists and explorers. On July 31, 1739, a ranger in a troop under the command of General James Oglethorpe reported in his journal, "We killed two buffaloes, of which there were in abundance, we seeing several herds of sixty or upwards in a herd." Upon his arrival in Georgia in 1733, Oglethorpe in describing the fauna of the Crown's newest colony, "There are wild beasts are deer, elk, bears, wolves, and buffaloes." In his definitive work, The Geographic Range of the Historic Bison in the Southeast, Erhard Rostlund believed that Oglethorpe's men saw the massive herds in what is now Laurens County.

That same year, it was reported by a soldier, "We killed several buffaloes, of which there is a great plenty." Rostlund places the kill in present day Screven County within Hornday's 1886 line. Just up the Savannah River in Effingham County, Varron Von Reck reported, "As to game, here are turkeys, stags and buffaloes."

In 1740, Thomas Spalding wrote that William McIntosh told him that he had seen a herd of ten thousand buffaloes between Darien and the Sapelo River. As late as 1746, General Oglethorpe himself, a highly reliable source, wrote in a letter that he and Chief To-mo-Chachi and desire to go out and hunt buffalo in Glynn County. Charles C. Jones, one of Georgia's most preeminent 19th Century historians wrote that in the early years of the 19th Century, James Hamilton Couper shot a wild buffalo near the head waters of Turtle River, a short distance from the port city of Brunswick. In 1735, Francis Moore discovered no bison on the barrier islands, but he recounted that there were large herds on the mainland.Edward Kimber, in his 1744 account of General Oglethorpe's march through southeastern Georgia to northeastern Florida, wrote, "There are in the province abundance of deer and buffaloes."

It was in the years before the American Revolution that the American naturalist William Bartram explored the virtually uninhabited central regions of Georgia. In 1774, Bartram, who traveled through present day Wilkinson and Washington counties wrote, "The buffalo, once so very numerous, is not at this day to bee seen in this part of the country." Bartram's hypothesis of former occupation of the area resulted from his observation of "heaps of white, gnawed bones of ancient buffaloe, elk, and deer." Although few remains of buffaloes have been found in Georgia, there are authentic reports of bones and fragments across the southern part of the state from Chatham to Brooks counties.

Many historians believe that place names are indirect evidence of the buffalo's presence in Georgia and the Southeast. In nearby Washington County, west of Sandersville is the Great Buffalo Creek. Along the coast of Georgia are two Buffalo Swamps and two Buffalo Creeks.
Up in northeast Georgia in Oglethorpe County is the long documented "Buffalo Lick," which according to some historians is the best known buffalo place in the Southeast.Buffalo and other large mammals were attracted to exposed areas of clay. By licking the clays, the animals could ingest salts, which were vital to their bodily functions. In 1812, Johann David Wyss wrote in his classic novel, Swiss Family Robinson, "We ought to establish here a buffalo lick like there is in Georgia. It is a spot prepared by nature for the capture of certain animals. There is one in New Georgia, between the Savannah River and the Alleghenies. It is not more than three acres in extent, and its peculiarity is that the soil is mixed with a kin of marl, or saltish earth, which ... wild animals, particularly the buffalo, take great pleasure in licking, so much so that large cavities are the results of their visits.

Buffalo were prized by the Native Americans who occupied the lands of Georgia in the third quarter of the second millennium A.D. Though the Creek Indians were no longer classified as "hunters and gatherers" as their Archaic period predecessors, the buffalo dwarfed all of the large mammals in the woods and natural pastures of Georgia. The Indians used all parts of the animal. A mature buffalo could feed many people for several days. After the animals were slaughtered and cleaned, the hide was used for clothing and accessories as well as the construction of houses. The coarse hair of the buffalo was cut away from the skin, twined into ropes and braided into bags, belts and other accouterments.

The current consensus as to the period of when the buffalo roamed the coastal plans and Piedmont regions of Georgia began after de Soto came through the region in the mid 1500s and peaked about the year 1700. After a century of decline, the buffalo was hunted and killed into extinction by the end of the 18th Century by the Creek Indians and early English and Spanish explorers.

So, now you know. You have a home where the deer still play and the buffalo once roamed. By the way, there were never any native antelopes in Georgia or anywhere else in North America. Believe it or not, the antelope is more closely related to the buffalo than the deer. If you don't believe me, google it.

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