THEY WEREN’T SUPERHIGHWAYS, BUT BUFFALO, INDIAN TRAILS WERE FIRST ‘ROADS’ USED BY AMERICAN PIONEERS
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
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 winter time, 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.
A preservative method was then commenced by dipping these strips into brine or salt. 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 which 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. Grand paths were worn by the buffalo across the portages. They crossed on the watershed from Pittsburgh along the ridges which 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 which 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.
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