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An image of my buffalo/bison painting. Namesake is heading to the Big Apple soon! It'll hang in a show at the Salmagundi Club from Oct. 25-Nov. 5, 2021.

How Did the Buffalo National River Get its Name? | “Namesake”

I bet you’d already guessed it. The namesake of the Buffalo National River is … the buffalo. But that’s a misnomer. What we call ‘buffalo’ are actually bison. The American ‘Buffalo’ is really an American Bison. Before Europeans arrived on this land, there were bison everywhere. Many tribes of Native Americans depended on them, literally, for their lives. It is a sad and shameful part of our history as Americans that our predecessors did everything they could to wipe out the ‘buffalo’ as well as the first people.

Dustin Black, via a FB comment, also told me that the name came from the ‘buffalo carp’ that lived in the river, and that it was named so because they were so plentiful you could walk across the river on the backs of the carp. These fish were a major food source. I haven’t found any references documenting that yet, but am still searching. Carp aren’t as romantic as buffalo, so it’s possible that the early Europeans attributed the name to the bison, when in fact, it was the carp that is the true namesake. Interesting mystery!

This painting is a tribute to the ‘Buffalo’, the river for which they are a namesake, and to the First People who depended on that majestic creature.

Namesake of the Buffalo National River

Bison, not Buffalo

There were two kinds of bison roaming North America back then. Plains bison and woods bison. You’re probably familiar with the plains bison, as that’s what most of us think of when we hear the word ‘buffalo’. Early French explorers began calling the bison ‘buffalo’ and that stuck with us for the rest of history. The woods bison went extinct.

Bison roamed not only the plains states but during winter, herds of them would migrate into the Ozarks for shelter. The First People did, too, and took shelter in the many caves that exist in the bluffs along most of our rivers and creeks. The Buffalo National River was given its name in 1810 when Zebulon Pike drew a map for the U.S. Government.

Putting the ‘National’ in Buffalo National River

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Neil Compton and the Ozark Society that he founded in 1962, and a vigorous campaign that lasted ten years, the pristine river was saved. In 1972 it was finally granted the status of Buffalo National River. This meant that it would never be dammed or used industrially, and thereby preserving the wilderness surrounding the banks. It was also our nations very first national river.

Don’t pick the rocks at the Buffalo River. It’s illegal.

The Process of Painting ‘Namesake’

The showed in New York City for the Audubon Artist’s 79th Exhibition at the Salmagundi Club on 5th Ave. from Oct. 25-Nov. 5, 2021.

More about Neil Compton

And, here’s a page at FB about the name from the National Park Service: Buffalo National River

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2 thoughts on “How Did the Buffalo National River Get its Name? | “Namesake””

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    1. Thank you! I just added another little tidbit that I’m still trying to find references to, about whether it was in fact the Buffalo Carp in the river (and not actually the bison) that may be the original namesake of the river. If so, then maybe I’ll have to do a carp painting too, ha.

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