Bull buffalo drawing by Owen Garratt
The first buffalo drawing in a series
So is it Bison or buffalo?
Technically, it’s bison.
Buffalo live in Africa and Asia, not in North America, but the settlers – not apparently knowing any better, called them buffalo. For that matter, I’m not sure that any First Nations folks back then knew much about the buffaloes in Africa and Asia either, so when it translated into English, they likely didn’t know it wasn’t taxonomically correct. Or care.
Lakota tribes called them Tatanka, but Plains Cree called them Paskwâwimostos, and if they did know about, say, African Water Buffaloes back then, there’s every possibility that they’d point at it and say “Look! A Water Paskwâwimostos!”, and if we couldn’t speak Cree, we’d just assume they’d said “Look! A Water Buffalo!”, so that’s no help.
What I do know is that most folks outside of the bison business call them buffalo, including most of the First Nations and Metis people in my acquaintance. As well, Wood Buffalo National Park is just over there, and the folks who’ve bought this print said “Look! I just bought this buffalo drawing!”, so let’s call it buffalo on this page.
Anyhoo, buffalo hate me.
When I was twelve, Dad, his best friend Si, and I took a driving tour of the American West. In no particular order, we hit The Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska.
That trip also included an exploration of Yellowstone, and if you’ve never been to Yellowstone, you can take it from me that the place is festooned with Buffalo. Fields and ditches are littered with the large and placid creatures who’re intent on grazing.
While leaving the hotel one morning, a large bull was standing on the lawn out front, apparently helping out with the landscaping.
“Hey Dad! Get a picture of me with the buffalo!”
“Bison,” he said, “and I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“They’re just like cattle!” I said, jogging towards it.
As I reached out to pet it, it gave a terrific snort and swung it’s gigantic head at me. At that same instant, Dad grabbed my collar and yanked me out of the way. Even so, the side of the horn banged into my sternum; if Dad hadn’t pulled me out of the way, I’d have been airborne.
The Buffalo Part Two
When I was researching this drawing, I wanted to make sure it was a purebred plains bison, er, buffalo, and not a wood buffalo. (Maybe it’s plains bison and wood buffalo?)
Plains Buffalo (see that sounds like it should be bison!) are a little shorter, but have more powerful chests and stubbier horns than wood buffalo. However, due to all that unfortunate slaughter a hundred plus years ago, most domestic buffalo are a cross between plains and wood buffalo. In fact, the plains ‘bisonfalo’ are in great danger of being bred out of existence.
I found this big fella at a game preserve, and the gamekeeper took me out to the paddock where the buffalo were eating.
The gamekeeper talked about how dangerous these things could be, and I assured him that I was fully aware. He said that if the bull gets aggressive, that we should just leave immediately. I concurred, and we opened the gate and stepped in.
We eased forward and a little to the side, and I raised my camera, but as I futzed with the focus, the big bull must’ve mistaken me for paparazzi, and he charged.
Buffalo can outrun a horse, and apparently, so can I.
As the bull bore down on us, the arsehole gamekeeper ran out first and shut the gate behind him! Despite the snorting and hooves thundering behind me, and the rising panic, I had the presence of mind to scramble up the 12-foot high fence, fly over the top and drop down the other side, landing hard but still holding the camera. I still have no idea how I climbed it with only one hand.
The gamekeeper sauntered over and looked at the height of the fence with an impressed air, then back at me.
“Huh … he never did that before,” he said, scratching his head through his hat.
Some people are desperately in need of a tazering.
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