Buffalo wallow

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An 1897 photograph of a buffalo wallow, underlain by the Ogallala Aquifer (Haskell County, Kansas)[1]

A buffalo wallow or bison wallow is a natural topographical depression in the flat prairie land that holds rain water and runoff.

Originally this would have served as a temporary watering hole for wildlife, including the American bison. Wallowing buffalo that drank from and bathed in these naturally occurring shallow water holes gradually changed the pristine watering hole into a buffalo wallow. Each time they went away, they carried mud with them from the hole, thus enlarging the wallow.[2] Furthermore, wallowing action caused abrasion of hair, natural body oils and cellular debris from their hides and left the debris in the water and especially in the soil after the water evaporated. Every year the debris accumulated in the soil in increasing concentration and formed a water-impenetrable layer that prevented the rain water and runoff from percolating into the lower layers of the soil. Ultimately the water remained for long periods which attracted more wildlife. Even when stagnant, the water would be eagerly drunk by thirsty animals.[3] Though thriving buffalo herds roamed and grazed the great prairies of North America for thousands of years, they have left few permanent markings on the landscape to recall their past presence. Exceptions are the somewhat rare yet still visible ancient buffalo wallows found occasionally on the North American prairie flatlands.

Buffalo wallows are also made by the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo.

In 1953, the writer Charles Tenney Jackson (1874–1955) published The Buffalo Wallow: A Prairie Childhood,[4] an autobiographical novel about two boys (cousins) growing up during pioneer days in an almost empty stretch of Nebraska, where their favorite hideaway is a buffalo wallow.

Battle of Buffalo Wallow[edit]

A buffalo wallow plays an important part in an incident from American history. On 12 September 1874, Sergeant Zachariah T. Woodall, Private Peter Roth, Private John Harrington, Private George W. Smith, plus civilian scouts Amos Chapman and Billy Dixon, while carrying dispatches from McClellan Creek to Fort Supply as part of General Nelson A. Miles Sixth Cavalry, were encircled at sunrise by a "large band of Kiowa and Comanche warriors" near the Washita River.[5]:254-255 Dismounting, George Smith was mortally wounded while caring for the horses.[5]:255 Soon, Woodall, Harrington, Dixon and Chapman were wounded.[5]:257 All had by noon, except Smith and Chapman, made their way to a nearby buffalo wallow 10 feet (3 m) in diameter, where they used their hands and knives to throw up the sandy dirt all around the sides.[5]:258 Sitting upright, each man "fired deliberately, taking good aim, and were picking off an Indian at almost every round."[5]:259 Dixon eventually ran for Chapman, whose left knee had been shattered, and carried him back to the wallow.[5]:260 By 3 PM, a thunderstorm brought rain and relief from their thirst, but when the wind "shifted to the north", the cold brought discomfort to all parties, especially the Indians who sat on their horses out of rifle range "with their blankets drawn tightly around them."[5]:262 Roth went for Smith's gun and ammunition, but when Smith was discovered still alive, Roth and Dixon brought Smith back to the wallow where he died during the night.[5]:263 and 267 At daylight, Dixon went for help, soon encountering troops under the command of Major Price.[5]:269 For their participation in what became known as the Battle of Buffalo Wallow or the Buffalo Wallow Fight, Woodall and the five men under his command were awarded the Medal of Honor.[6][7]

A Kiowa ledger drawing possibly depicting the Buffalo Wallow Fight.


  1. ^ Darton, Nelson Horatio (1920). Syracuse-Lakin folio, Kansas. Folios of the Geologic Atlas, No. 212: United States Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. p. 17 (plate 2). 
  2. ^ Conway, Sr., Emmett A. "Buffalo Wallow on Pancake Trail". Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  3. ^ Munroe, Kirk (1891). Campmates: A Story of the Plains, Chapter XXVI. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  4. ^ Jackson, Charles Tenney (1953). The Buffalo Wallow: A Prairie Childhood. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company. Republished by University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dixon, O., Life and Adventures of "Billy" Dixon, 1914, Guthrie: Co-operative Publishing Company
  6. ^ Anderson, H. Allen. "Buffalo Wallow Fight", Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  7. ^ Lively, Garland R. (2009). "General Phillip Sheridan's Southern Plains Campaign of 1874–1875", MilitaryHistoryOnline.com. Retrieved May 26, 2011.