- Historic Sites
A novelist turned compulsive traveler tracks a peculiar quarry all across America
April 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 3
Okay, let’s start off with a big one, a major triumph. February 27, 1989. We spent the previous night in a Best Western in Durant, Oklahoma. Now, after a quick breakfast, we’re packed and on our way. This is southeast Oklahoma, just a few miles north of the Red River and the Texas border, and we head northeast on U.S. 69 and U.S. 75 for thirty-two miles to Atoka, then cut east on State 3 for another thirty miles. At Antlers we pick up U.S. 271, and we’re going northeast again. It’s a pretty drive on 271, but it figured to be; the road has a dotted line next to it on the map, Rand McNally’s indication of scenic beauty. We pass through Finley and Snow and Clayton, and then something makes me abandon 271 and head due north on Route 2.
“I think this’ll be more scenic,” I say. “We get to cross Sardis Lake this way, and we’ll be going through Yanush.”
“Sounds good,” Lynne says.
“Of course we’ll be missing Tuskahoma and Albion, but we’ll be hooking back into 271 in about twenty miles anyway, at Talihina. The road less traveled and all that.”
“You’re the pathfinder,” she says.
Her eyes are shining. Wordless, we put on our Buffalo T-shirts.
We proceed about half a dozen miles on 2, across the lake and through the town of Yanush. A little ways outside Yanush Lynne spots a sign on a small frame-wood building, and we go back and look at it. BUFFALO VALLEY HEAD START PROGRAM , it says. Something like that.
“Some kind of administrative district,” I tell her. “Maybe there’s a stream in the area called Buffalo Creek. You throw a handful of stones over your shoulder in this part of the country, one of ‘em’s odds-on to splash in something called Buffalo Creek.”
A couple of miles farther we head east again, on Route 1. This will run us right into Talihina and 271, but before it does, we come round a bend and come upon a batch of houses. Some of them have signs, and all the signs say BUFFALO VALLEY .
It wasn’t just a school district. It’s a community, no question about it. I don’t know what you’d call it, a hamlet, a wide place in the road, but it is definitely a community. It even has a population, for God’s sake.
That hasn’t always been the case. Some of our best Buffalos have been deserts compared with this place, and few have been so abundantly supplied with photo opportunities. Buffalo Valley clearly exists, and it has people living in it, and it even has signage to tell the world what it is.
“Where’s the camera?” I want to know. “Where are our Buffalo shirts?”
“Somewhere in back. I didn’t think we were going to need them today.”
“Neither did I. Buffalo Valley, Oklahoma! It’s not on any of the maps. It wasn’t in the industrial-strength atlas. We weren’t even looking for it, we just wandered off on a back road, and … and—”
“And here it is.” Her eyes are shining. She has never looked more beautiful. “It’s as if we were led here,” she says.
Wordless, we locate and put on our Buffalo T-shirts. Lynne grabs the camera, and we pile out of the car. I strike a pose in front of a sign. COLLINS BAR-C RANCH , it says. BUFFALO VALLEY OK .
Lynne snaps a picture. Now it’s her turn, and I hurry her across the road. There’s a white house set back a hundred yards or so, but out at the road’s edge is one of those large signboards they have at service stations that usually proclaim special rates on brake jobs. But this sign announces BUFFALO VALLEY TAX SERVICE .
Where better to pose a retired accountant? Lynne stations herself beside it and smiles hugely, and I take her picture.
In no time at all we’re back in the car, and in not much more time Buffalo Valley is a speck in the rearview mirror. For miles, all through the day, all the way into Arkansas and on to Hot Springs, we keep babbling at each other.
“It’s really amazing. I mean, it’s like it was a gift.”
“I know. We weren’t even looking for it—”
“Because who knew it was there to look for? According to the maps, there’s only one Buffalo in Oklahoma, and we hit it last year.”
“In Harper County, and then last month we picked up the one in McCurtain County, which isn’t on any map, but I found it in the marketing atlas in the library.”
“The industrial-strength atlas.”
“Right. So who thought there would be a third Buffalo? Buffalo Valley! I think it’s our first Buffalo Valley.”
“Is it? I think you’re right. What is it, our twenty-sixth Buffalo? I want to note it on the back of the Polaroids.”
“Put down Latimer County. Twenty-six Buffalos. That’s got to be a record.”
“I mean, we’re getting good at this, don’t you think? When you can just drive right into an unrecorded Buffalo without even trying—”
“You’re right. Pretty soon we’ll be able to find ‘em in our sleep.”