Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Buffalo Herds

Buffalo in the Tennessee Valley

         At the time the first long hunters came into Alabama and Tennessee in the mid 1700's,  they observed huge buffalo herds that roamed throughout the Tennessee Valley.  Many of the Indian trails that crossed the Tennessee River along the Muscle Shoals followed the traces made by the herds of buffalo and elk that migrated to their feeding grounds and salt licks along the same routes for hundreds of years.   The Natchez Trace was said to have been laid out along a buffalo trail that led from the Big Lick or French Salt Lick (Nashville) south into Alabama and Mississippi.  The Old Buffalo Trail, which became known as the Chickasaw Trail and later Doublehead's Trace after the route was upgraded by the Cherokees to a wagon road from the mouth of Blue Water Creek  in Lauderdale County, Alabama to Franklin, Tennessee, was made by the herds of roaming buffalo and elk.

Buffalo herd moving toward the river!

         According to Ted Belue's book The Long Hunt, "James Adair was one of the best-known traders in the Southeast and migrated from London to Charleston, South Carolina in 1735.  In less than one year, he was leading teams of pack-horses with several men from Charleston to the Cherokee and Chickasaw in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. From 1738 until 1744, Adair was operating out of north Mississippi where lived and traded.  During this time, Adair made made many notes about the buffalo or "Yanasa" as the Chickasaw called the bulls.  He watched Chickasaw hunters kill buffalo, observed women dressed in buffalo hides and men wearing loincloths of buffalo wool, slept on cane beds draped with buffalo robes, and saw sachems dance wearing ceremonial buffalo headdresses...Buffalo meat, Adair said, tasted like tame beef but was sweeter and coarser grained.  Therein lay a problem, Adair admitted: The buffaloes are now become scarce, as thoughtless and wasteful Indians used to kill great numbers of them, only for the tongues and marrow-bones, leaving the rest of the carcasses to the wild beasts (Belue, 1996).

         Other writers describe the traces made by the migrating buffalo and animal herds moving to and from large mineral and salt licks.  According to Edward Albright's book Early History of Middle Tennessee, the salt licks also attracted hunters and animals alike,..."the region now embraced in Middle Tennessee was indeed a hunter's paradise.  Through its valleys and over its hills roamed countless herds of buffalo, deer, and elk.  Within its forests and canebrakes, bears, wolves, panthers, bob-cats, foxes, and other wild animals in great numbers found a home.  Besides the food necessary for each they must also have salt.  The provision made by nature for this essential was the saline water of the sulphur springs with which the country yet abounds.  In times of overflow these springs left on the surrounding ground a slight deposit of salt, and over this the beasts would tramp and lick until often long trenches or furrows were made, sometimes over several acres.  Thus were formed the "licks" which played so important a part in determining the location of early forts...To this fact, together with the close proximity of...the Cumberland River is largely due their selection as a location by the pioneers.  The big sulphur spring in the bottom now within the corporate limits of Nashville, no doubt determined the location of that city.
       To the licks in the region...came at regular intervals the animals from over a large territory, and these in their journeys to and fro formed beaten paths or trails, all centering in this locality like the spokes of a wheel...all traces led to central licks which spots were destined to become the scene of earliest activity.  Hunters, both Indian and white, roaming at will through the forests came upon these narrow paths, and turning about threaded them to the end.  Here these mighty Nimrods fell upon and mercilessly slaughtered the game, large and small, which was usually found assembled in great abundance. After feeding upon the flesh of the slain animals, they carried away the hides or pelts from which they made clothing for themselves and their families...(Albright, 1909).

Chickamauga Chief Dragging Canoe

         At the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals in 1775 which took the area of middle Tennessee and Kentucky, Dragging Canoe stood and pointed toward Kentucky and said to Richard Henderson, “You have bought a fair land, but there is a black cloud hanging over it.  You will find its settlement dark and bloody.  The buffalo are our cattle".  The Cherokee, Chickasaw, and other Southeastern Indian tribes depended upon buffalo as a primary food source, but the early trade in their hides and the advent of long rifles became their demise in the southeast.  As the long hunters and later the settlers invaded the Cumberland River Valley in middle Tennessee, the systematic destruction of the buffalo became a motivating factor for Dragging Canoe, Doublehead, and other Indian leaders to fight the intruders upon their hunting lands.  As promised, the Chickamauga War became very dark and bloody time for Indian people and settlers.  The Cumberland settlers were claiming the stronghold of the eastern buffalo and converting their last feeding grounds and salt licks to row crops and farmlands.  These factors as well as uncontrolled over hunting finally eliminated the remaining buffalo herds.  

Herds of Buffalo were food for Indians!

         Besides the Indians, the very first groups to hunt the buffalo were the explorers of the Spanish, French, and English.  Later the colonists, long hunters, and American settlers took advantage of the herds of buffalo to eat their meat and to sell their hides to make money.  Large parties of long hunters would come from the colonies east of the Appalachians and hunt the buffalo for several months at a time.  By the 1770's, few if any buffalo remained in north Alabama, but they were still abundant in the Cumberland River Valley and the barrens of Kentucky.  By the 1820's, the buffalo were for the most part killed out of the eastern United States, and shortly thereafter, the majority of the Indian people of the southeast were also removed west of the Mississippi River.  In the end, not only did the Southeastern United States lose the buffalo, but also the Indian nations that had lived in harmony with the land for over 14,000 years. 

1 comment:

  1. Can you imagine what it would be like if buffalo where as available as deer. :-)