- Historic Sites
A novelist turned compulsive traveler tracks a peculiar quarry all across America
April 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 3
“At last count. There may be more. Scattered all over the country.”
“Like our friends.”
“Twenty-five or more. I think we should go to some of them.”
Lynne thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I think we should go to all of them,” she said.
Buffalo, Alabama, is on the map. It’s in east-central Alabama, three miles north of Lafayette and not far from the Georgia border.
It was our third day out of Florida when we hit Buffalo, Alabama. It was to be our first Buffalo—we weren’t counting Buffalo, New York; we wouldn’t count it until we bagged it in the course of our travels—so the anticipation was enormous. We had spent the previous night in Eufaula, a charming antebellum town, and we drove up to Buffalo, skirting Phenix City and passing through Opelika. North of Lafayette we kept watching for highway-department markers. Every town in Alabama has a green sign at its limits, stating its name and population.
Not Buffalo. Our first Buffalo had deen delisted. It was still on the map, but the highway department had taken it off the books. We would have missed it altogether but for a sign hand-painted in irregular white capitals on the gray stucco wall of an out-of-business gas station. BUFFALO ALA., it announced. It looked like subway graffiti, only not as neat.
Half a mile farther on we came to Jack Tomlinson’s general store. Just beyond it stood a two-acre lot with nothing in it. A large and forceful sign proclaimed the property a private club and assured us that trespassing was strictly forbidden.
“What’s that?” I wondered. “How can that be a club, and who would want to trespass there, and why would anybody else want them not to, and what the hell is the point of that sign?”
‘That’s to keep the riffraff out,” Lynne explained.
We didn’t ask Jack Tomlinson about the private club—maybe it was a secret society, maybe you’re not supposed to talk about these things—but we did learn something about the town. It had originally been called Buffalo Wallow, he advised us, because there was a place over yonder where you couldn’t get anything to grow, and the conjecture was that this was because buffalo used to wallow there. The town itself had dwindled when the railroad stopped providing service north of Lafayette.
We put on our Buffalo shirts. We took pictures—with Jack in front of his store, and by ourselves in front of the Buffalo sign.
Our first Buffalo!
Buffalo, Mississippi, was almost as much of a surprise as Buffalo Valley, Oklahoma. It did not just fall into our laps, however, or we into it. It, too, was given to us, but we had to do a little work for it.
We were in Mobile, to visit Lynne’s mother, but it turned out she had gone off on her own to visit friends in Lucedale, Mississippi. There was something on television that evening that I found irresistible, or at any rate less resistible than a visit to my mother-in-law. Lynne felt restless enough to go to Lucedale alone. I wished her Godspeed and turned on the TV and put my feet up.
She came back the next morning bursting with news. Alone in the car on the way back and starved for companionship, she’d put on the CB radio. In among the bursts of static she’d heard two truckers jawing about something or other, and one of them mentioned Buffalo, Mississippi. She cut in with a breaker asking for information on that very place, and before their signal faded altogether, one of them managed to say that he wasn’t actually sure, but he thought there was a place called Buffalo near McLean or McLain or McClayne or something, she wasn’t sure just what.
In Alabama, the sign looked like subway graffiti, only not as neat.
McLain, Mississippi, is on the road from Mobile to Hattiesburg and wasn’t much out of our way, since I’d been planning to drive up to Meridian so that we could check out the Jimmie Rodgers Museum. (It’s housed in an old railway building, a fitting memorial to the Singing Brakeman, and I’d have to say it’s well worth a visit: pictures of Jimmie, drafts of songs, and tapes for sale you can’t get elsewhere.)
A lady at a gas station in McLain directed us to Buffalo. We didn’t have to go more than a few miles. There were no official signs, but we could tell when we were there. The woods were posted against trespass by the Buffalo Hunt Club, and there was also the Buffalo Baptist Church and a vast graveyard that called itself the Buffalo Cemetery, Inc.
"This one’s not on any of the maps,” I told Lynne after I’d taken her picture in front of the big old boneyard. “Or in any of the atlases.”