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The Great Buffalo of Old

Buffalo in Adair County, Eighteenth century

By Mike Watson

Bison or Buffalo once roamed the countryside of what we call Adair County. This majestic creature was so numerous there was no possibility of hunting to extinction, until it became a sport and they were killed by the tens of thousands and left to decay.

When the first adventurers and later settlers came into this area there were buffalo still to hunt. Settlement forced them to retreat to the west and eventually across the Mississippi River.

When I try to explain that many of our early roads, if you could actually call them that, were previously buffalo trails, most people are leery. But it is true. The first Long Hunters, then thousands of others, followed the century's worn trails of wild life, particularly the buffalo, as they came westward.

Columbia's site was partly chosen because two major trails crossed very near the location of the Old Courthouse.

One path extended from near Greensburg through Columbia, into Russell County and on to a ford of the Cumberland River. The second came from beyond Cane Valley, crossed through Columbia, and on toward Burkesville at the ford of the river there.

All of this is well documented. Also, Judge Rollin Hurt wrote in his history of the memories of noted pioneers, many of whom he personally knew. Old court cases also bear out the importance of the buffalo trails.

From Judge Hurt: "One of the first known and remembered instances of white men being in Adair County was about the year 1774. About the time that Colonel James Harrod built a cabin and cultivated a small patch of corn upon the present site of the city of Harrodsburg. He was in Adair County. He, in company with several others, came from the Cumberland Gap along a buffalo trail which led across the Cumberland River in Russell County, and near by the Lawless Mill, and through Adair County near Ozark, and thence by the way of Mount Pleasant in the latter county. He and his companions made a camp and remained for a time about the large spring near Mount Pleasant Church on Camp Creek, now usually called Butler's Branch. The neighborhood of Mount Pleasant is a very finely watered country and abounds in many noble springs, and doubtless in that early time was an excellent scene for hunting."

Judge Hurt continued, "Between the years 1790 and 1793, the exact date is not now known, while hunting near where the town of Columbia is now situated, on the south side of the Russell [Creek], [Colonel William] Casey and others wounded a buffalo, which fled and was pursued by them for four miles, and killed by them near the road from Columbia to Burkesville..."

"Upon the ridge between the dwelling house upon the farm which was known to the older people as the Joe Green Atkins farm and the Old Robin Fletcher place, which is the farm now [1918] owned by N.T. Mercer, was a path, which, in the period of which we write, led from Casey's Station to the cane brakes upon the Russell and the lower reaches of Pettit's Fork. The people at Casey's Station drove their cattle and horses along the path in carrying them to the pasturages of the cane brakes. It was, likewise, a route for the buffaloes seeking water and pasturage. This path or trail ran nearly north and south.

"Another path or trail, running nearly an east and west direction, somewhat upon the same course, afterward pursued by the original road from Columbia to Glasgow, crossed the first named trail or path upon the top of the ridge mentioned."

The path of some settlers into Adair: "The large majority had entered Kentucky at the Cumberland Gap, and followed the Wilderness Road over the mountains to central Kentucky. Others, however, entering at the Cumberland Gap, came along trails which the buffaloes had made on the south side of the Cumberland and crossed that stream at the mouth of Greasy Creek, in Russell County, and from thence to Adair County."

For those interested in this era of our history, a copy of the Hurt History may be seen at the Adair County Public Library, in the Genealogy and Local History Department. Additional historic accounts of this time is also detailed in Westward into Kentucky by co-founder of Columbia, Col. Daniel Trabue.

This story was posted on 2020-02-13 13:24:38
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