- Historic Sites
A novelist turned compulsive traveler tracks a peculiar quarry all across America
April 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 3
You know something? I don’t believe a word of it. I don’t think a Frenchman would call the spot beau fleuve in the first place, and I don’t think an English colonist would hear beau fleuve and turn it into Buffalo.
When Buffalo was first settled, there was another town a few miles distant called Black Rock, which Buffalo later grew to absorb. I think Black Rock got its name from the presence of a rock in the neighborhood, and a dark rock at that. And I likewise believe that Buffalo got named after a buffalo. Someone either saw one hanging around, not a far-fetched notion, or thought he saw one, or saw something that looked like one, or something.
There’s a place in Arkansas named Toad Suck. I haven’t been there, not yet, and I don’t know how it got its name, but don’t expect me to believe that toads didn’t have something to do with it. I won’t accept that it was named for an itinerant Rhinelander named Taussig or that there was a plague of tussock moths in the area. There’s a toad at the bottom of this one. I’m fairly sure of it.
I should probably say something about our T-shirts. They appear in photo after photo. Going through our album, you get the impression that these two weirdos have worn the same outfit all over the country. Actually we put them on only to get our pictures taken, and we take pictures only when we come to a Buffalo. We’ve been to national parks and natural wonders all over the place, and the only pictures we’ve taken are these crummy Polaroids of each other standing in front of churches and cemeteries and grocery stores and road signs.
The shirts are made by a firm called New Buffalo Graphics, located on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, New York. It makes twelve or more different designs, and we own three of them. One shows a road sign with a buffalo on it and bears the legend BFLO-XING. Another, dopily surrealistic, shows a reinterpreted Camel cigarette pack, with a bison replacing the familiar humped quadruped and a couple of clarinets sticking up from the opened pack. BUFFALO, the legend reads, JAZZ & GEOGRAPHY BLEND CLARINETS. If you can sort of sense what they’re getting at, don’t drive or operate machinery. Our favorite shirt simply shows a noble bison surrounded by the best municipal motto I’ve ever read. BUFFALO, it says, CITY OF NO ILLUSIONS.
Where will it all end? It’s beginning to look as though it won’t. We’ve been doing this for fifteen months, and I suspect we’ll keep at it for another year before we latch on to a house or apartment somewhere and settle down. We’ll be spending this summer in the northern plains and the Pacific Northwest. There aren’t any Buffalos in Washington or Oregon, but there’s a strong herd in Montana and the Dakotas. By September we’ll be in the Southeast, trying to round up some of the Virginia Buffalos. After that, well, it’s hard to say.
But there’s no way we’re going to bag all of the outstanding Buffalos within the next twelve months. I doubt we’ll get up to Buffalo Center, Alaska, or Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan, and Buffalo Springs, Kenya, would seem to be out of the question. (Once, I shouldn’t wonder, it was a hot prospect for selection as the capital, but then they ran the railroad through Nairobi instead …)
For an ostensibly endangered species, the Buffalo is a resourceful beast. New specimens keep turning up. Just the other day I learned of the existence of a second Buffalo in New York State. It’s called Buffalo Corners, and it’s in Wyoming County near Letchworth State Park, not a hundred miles from the City of No Illusions itself.
I don’t think we’re going to run out of Buffalos or of the urge to hunt them. What began as a lark is starting to look like a lifelong commitment. As long as we can get gas for the car and film for the camera, we’ll never really settle down. It’s no longer a matter of choice. It’s an imperative. When you hunt the Buffalo, you have to let the chips fall where they may.