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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Shuffle off to Buffalo

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Next time you decide or need to shuffle off to Buffalo (Texas), best make sure your GPS knows which Buffalo, Texas you plan to visit.

The buffalo, the roving meat department of the Plains Indians for generations and a species almost made extinct in the 1870s by professional hunters armed with .50 caliber Sharp's rifles, has been named the national mammal of the U.S. by Congress. Of course, buffalo are technically bison, but they're far better known as buffalo.

Even though hundreds of thousands of the shaggy critters once roamed Texas and most of the rest of the West, you'd think only one town in the Lone Star State would be named for the buffalo. But you would be wrong.

If you enter "NWS Buffalo TX" into your search engine, hoping to see what the National Weather Service is forecasting for the Buffalo in Leon County -- a food and lodging stopping point astride I-45 between Dallas and Houston -- you will be presented with four choices:

Buffalo, Texas (Leon County)
Buffalo, Texas (Coleman County)
Buffalo, Texas (Henderson County)
Buffalo, Texas (Mills County)

Of course, there's also Buffalo Gap in Taylor County, but that historic community near Abilene got saved from the rest of the herd by the gap, so to speak.

Prideful Texans tend to think of buffalo as being almost as distinctively a Lone Star beast as Longhorns or armadillos, but alas, a little research reveals that the whole nation has honored the great animal by using it as a place name. In fact, the website www.placesnamed.com identifies 73 capital "B" little "u-f-f-a-l-o" towns, cities or places scattered across the nation like so many free-ranging bulls.

And those places are not just in the West, where the deer and the antelope and the buffalo roam(ed). Of the 22 states with at least one Buffalo, 12 (Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming lie west of the Mississippi and 10 are east of that river. Those states are Alabama, Illinois, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

That may seem like a lot of buffalo, geographically speaking, but the website notes that Buffalo is merely the 41,215th most common place name in America. The first town named Buffalo was Buffalo, N.Y., back in 1759. The city in western New York is also the largest Buffalo in the U.S. and gets a fair amount of publicity because of its harsh winters and its professional football team, the aptly named Buffalo Bills.

Springfield, incidentally, is the most common post office name in the U.S., with 41 towns or cities bearing that name. (No wonder the creators of "The Simpsons" picked that name as the cartoon home town for Homer and Marge Simpson and their kids Lisa and Bart.) Texas has two Springfields (see Springfield, Limestone County), but both are ghost towns or close to it and neither have post offices.

The Buffalo in Henderson County is a "has been" town. Now essentially a ghost town, it was the first seat of Henderson County. But another town with a famous name, Athens, eventually became the county's capital.

Coleman County's Buffalo was a small community around a school founded in 1893. It taught kids until it was consolidated with another school in 1933.

The Buffalo in Mills County is something of a stretch. While the Mills County Buffalo continues to digitally graze on some websites, the community 23 miles west of Goldthwaite was renamed Ebony in 1891 after the U.S. Post Office Department (as it was then called) rejected Buffalo as the town name. Now a ghost town, its only residents lie in the Ebony Cemetery.

In Texas, the Leon County Buffalo is the largest community with a population of 1,847 counted in the 2010 Census. The town dates back to 1872, when the International and Great Northern Railroad laid tracks through the county. Four years later, the government approved a post office for Buffalo. Rail passenger service through Buffalo ended in 1970, but its location on I-45 kept the town alive as a way point.

Despite its evocative name, the Leon County town has not seen much colorful history. Well, there was one case of frontier-style extralegal adjudication. Back in 1888, on the night of May 10, one W.T. Martin -- accused of equine misappropriation -- was taken into custody by a deputy sheriff. As the lawman escorted the suspected horse thief to the Leon County jail in Centerville, parties unknown shotgunned Martin in an ambush. The sheriff had three suspects (one of them had accidentally left his hat near the crime scene) but it is unclear whether they ever faced trial in the killing. Tragedy put Buffalo in the national news media's cross hairs in 1959, when Braniff Airlines flight 542 plummeted 15,000 feet and crashed into a sweet potato field just outside the town. Thirty-four people died in the aviation accident.

On a happier note, Buffalo residents have been staunch supporters of the Dallas Cowboys. In 1993 and again the following year, the town temporarily renamed itself "Blue Star" when Dallas faced the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII. The Bills lost both games and Blue Star went back to being Buffalo.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" - May 6, 2016 Column

On Buffalo

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