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 drank 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.


  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.