Roaming wild animals create Buffalo Trace
Karen Schwartz, Special to The Corydon Democrat
An ancient system of interlocking, crisscrossing trails that ran from the present day New Albany/Clarksville area west to Vincennes, known as the Buffalo Trace, passed through Harrison County.
The route was originally formed by large, migrating herds of hoofed animals such as buffalo, deer and elk. The buffalo, one of the largest and heaviest animals in America, weighing between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, bears much of the responsibility for the trail formation in their quest for salt licks. Their enormity forced them to seek the path of least resistance, and they naturally avoided difficult hills and bluffs and sought out flatlands to traverse.
When thousands of these migratory animals moved through, they naturally left behind a wide trace showing the impact of their passage, which could be used by smaller animals and, eventually, man.
In addition to serving as a pathway for the animals, this trail system proved invaluable to Native American tribes who used it for thousands of years. When the white settlers began moving into western lands, they quickly recognized that the path of the buffalo was the only route to gain access into the lands north of the Ohio River.
In fact, when George Rogers Clark led his troops to Fort Vincennes, he traveled the Buffalo Trace and the trail eventually became known as ‘the Vincennes Trace.’
When plans for the construction of Highway U.S. 150 were laid out, they basically followed the old route, although oral traditions have kept memories alive of remnant spurs off the main trail.
Buffalo Trace Park just east of Palmyra, one of the parks in the Harrison County Parks & Recreation Dept. system, is named in honor of the ancient trail ‘The Buffalo Trace.’
Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. In preparation of Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016, she is providing a monthly column ‘ focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County’s history ‘ that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 812-736-2373 or 812-738-2828, by e-mail at [email protected] or by regular mail at 5850 Devil’s Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.