I’ve not seen any historical records documenting American Bison a.k.a. “buffalo” traipsing around what is now known as Newton County, Indiana where I live. For one thing, most of the county was a marsh. A buffalo wouldn’t go far before it became bogged down in the bog. Maybe the southern part of the county was more bison friendly. Probably the odd group meandered through the native tall grass prairie down by the Iroquois River on a semi-regular basis. Most of Indiana and on east as far as Pennsylvania is listed as the original range of North America’s bison but the numbers were only a fraction of what existed in the Great Plains.
Over a century and a half ago, back when most of the northern end of the county was half cattails, half under water and all mosquitoes, there was a large lake - largest in Indiana - covering around 40,000 acres, more or less, depending on just where the surveyor marked the lakeshore. Then a couple of steam powered dredges, trenched through Beaver Lake and drained it. Eventually, the lake bottom of old Beaver Lake became farmland and in recent history, The Nature Conservancy bought a sizeable acreage in the lake’s former location and began creating a prairie across the open landscape.
Though some bison lived in forested areas, they did best in open prairie habitat. So once the Kankakee Sands project of TNC created thousands of acres dominated by prairie plants, what was missing? Prairie animals! Buffalo! So the TNC fenced off two sections of land (over 1100 acres) and stocked a couple dozen bison.
Yesterday was sunny and warm. I finished most of the chores I’d set for myself so I told Peggy to load up. We were going buffalo hunting!
We turned off of U.S. 41 and drove slowly along the gravel road bounding the southern border of the bison prairie. Then we coursed north on County Road 400W a mile and a half. No buffalo spotted, but it became quite apparent, seeing a buff in the tall vegetation would be nearly impossible from a vantage point on the ground.
A new road had been graveled leading a half mile to the east from 400 to what is left of Bogus Island, once a large island in Beaver Lake. Now it’s a hill, tall enough to give a buffalo hunter just the edge needed to spot one of the needle in a haystack bison. There’s a parking area there for bison watchers.
No need for us to climb the ancient slope of the island or even leave our vehicle. About half
way to the parking area, the herd was grazing just north of the road. At first, there appeared to be only one, then, as they slowly moved about, it was evident the entire group was there but in the tall vegetation, only glimpses of their backs and vague shapes could be seen, though the animals were only 50 yards distant, at most.