BUFFALO TRAILS LED THE WAY FOR PIONEERS
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
At the arrival of the first
Europeans, the American plains buffalo ranged over most of North America
in numbers estimated as high as 60,000,000. Around 1900, the great buffalo
neared extinction. However, cooperative efforts by cattlemen and conservationists
led to its protection; results, government reserves were eventually
provided. At present managed herds tend to over-populate their ranges
and must be reduced by controlled hunting.
The buffalo was the premier food and clothing
source for the Native American. The skin was prepared and used as a
robe, and sometimes it was tanned with the hair attached, and when turned
in it made very warm moccasins.
The Indians made the buffalo its prime
meat source. Hunting being difficult in the wintertime, the Indian laid
in his meat supply, which was "dried and jerked." This latter
preparation was made by evenly cutting the fleshy parts of the animal
into sheets rarely more than one inch in thickness.
Dipping these strips into brine or salt
then commenced a preservative method. These strips were exposed to the
sun and wind and dried before the decaying process set in. In this way,
all the nutritive properties of the animal could be sustained.
Traveling over the grand North American
continent was overcome by using the old buffalo and Indian trails, possibly
the most famous being the Wilderness Road, or Daniel Boone's road. This
old buffalo path led from Virginia to Kentucky. It was opened up as
a passable trail by Daniel Boone from the Wautaga Settlement on the
Holston River up to Otter Creek, Kentucky. Its history is one of the
blackest of pioneer days. It was called the Wilderness Road because
of the wilderness of laurel thickets, which lay between the settlements
and the Cumberland Gap.
It followed the Great Warrior's Path through
the crevice of the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge. It next passed White
Sulfur Springs over to Greenbriar to the New River, up an old Indian
trail, over through Powell's (Powell) Valley to Cumberland Gap, up to
Rock Castle Creek to Danville, and on to Lexington where it extended
to the Indian Road over to the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville.
This buffalo trail continued from Lexington
up to the mouth of the Licking, where the animal crossed to what is
now Cincinnati. (Croghan, an Irish fur trader, who was a great friend
to the Indians, tells in his journal of seeing a large number of buffaloes
around the Great Bend of the Ohio, possibly in the vicinity of Big Bone
Lick, Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati.)
The old Braddock Road, which was an old buffalo trail, was the second
road that preceded the National Road, the old Washington Road being
the first. The blazed trees which marked this route for many years pointed
out the trail of the unfortunate British General Braddock to the battlefield
of the Monongahela.
Washington, previous to Braddock's expedition,
had blazed a trail to the Ohio Valley, this route afterwards becoming
the marching path of the British army. For seventy-five years Braddock's
Road answered all the required needs of modern travel, however, journeying
over it at most seasons was a rough experience.
The great buffalo trails followed the
streams north and south from the Ohio to the Great Lakes along the Muskingum,
Scioto and both Miami rivers. The buffalo wore grand paths across the
portages. They crossed on the watershed from Pittsburgh along the ridges
that divided the streams that flowed into the Great Lakes and the Ohio.
These migratory trails opened up the four
great railroad routes from the Atlantic to the central west, they becoming
the New York Central lines, the B & O lines, the C & O lines,
and the Norfolk and Western.
The buffalo was known for its speed and
endurance, most assuredly if it got a head start on its opponent the
horse, the latter was left behind in the dust. The buffalo was clumsily
built but could leap from one rocky ledge to another. They could ascend
and descend a vertical rise with great agility.
The impressive animal was driven west
and ruthlessly butchered by the white man. With the completion of the
Union Pacific, the Great Herd had been cut in half, and from 1870 to
1875 it is said the annual destruction was 2,500,000 head.
They were killed in every possible fashion. The herds were stampeded
and driven over cliffs and into rivers; the remainder of those left
behind being crushed and slaughtered by thousands of those in front.
Being a migratory animal, he was therefore
a great traveler; he went north in summer and south in winter. Many
preferred to stay north in the winter, thus finding shelter in the valleys.
The most famous find for the gigantic
animal is possibly at Big Bone Spring, Boone, Co., Ky., about twenty
miles south of Covington, which in this locality the trail depressions
were worn wider and deeper than anywhere else. Nearby, at Union, Boone
Co., Ky., on Buffalo Ridge, is the old stamping grounds. Here they met
in large numbers and found solace.
The Tennessee River - Ohio - and Great Lakes Trail was part of a great
trunk trail that ran from the Lakes to the Gulf, this trail being opened
up by the great animal. At Danville one branch, as I mentioned earlier,
went southeast through the Cumberland Gap and was known as the Wilderness
Road. Another branch swung southwest through Nashville and was called
the Natchez Trace, or the Boatman's Trail.
The courageous and gallant pioneers who
pushed their way into the new lands are long since departed and lie
unknown in some neglected, unmarked grave. They witnessed the shrill
bellowing of the great buffalo herds. Now, along the mighty buffalo
trails, only the occasional whistle of a train or the blasting of the
automobile horn can be heard.