View Full Version : Spirit of the Buffalo

07-28-2005, 03:32 PM
Spirit of the Buffalo has now found a new home along Main Street in Bricktown. An attraction now knows as the OK Corrall houses the many buffalo that once roamed the downtown area.

"Buffalo find an urban home

By Tom Lindley
The Oklahoman

Another disappearing buffalo debacle on the southern Great Plains has been averted. Never mind that this time the principals are faux, not real. It doesn't even matter whether you call them buffalo or bison.

What matters is that Oklahoma City's popular herd of painted buffalo that sprang up around town last year as part of an Oklahoma Nature Conservancy art project has a home on the range.

It may be only a corner lot that backs up to the railroad tracks near the Main Street entrance to Bricktown, not the room-to-roam Tallgrass Prairie near Pawhuska.

But all that is needed is a little rain, and before long, the prairie grass will be sprouting knee-high amid downtown's concrete and steel.

The OK Corral is the brainchild of a small group of downtown boosters who call themselves the herd committee and who put their collective talents to use in the name of love.

"It seemed like such a shame for all of a sudden for the buffalo to disappear," restaurant owner Avis Scaramucci said of the Nature Conservancy's buffalo public art project and fund-raiser, which was to end last year when each buffalo was turned over to its sponsor.

Anyone who saw them couldn't help but fawn over those buffalo.

Tourists wanted to be photographed with them. Kids couldn't stop playing with them. Even adults acted like kids around them when they weren't admiring the creativity that went into each one.

Some favored the bi-plane buff, who wears a Wiley Post patch over his eye. Pearl I and Pearl II are lookers, too. Personally, I admired artist Mike Larsen's clever concept of using the handprints of Devon Energy Corp. employees to form 50 stars on his buffalo, which was painted like the American flag.

The herd committee is an interesting mix of urban dwellers, conservationists, art patrons and business leaders, including Don Karchmer, who donated the land and warehouse where the herd of about 40 will eventually "graze" in the spring and "camp" in the winter until completion of Oklahoma's centennial celebration in 2007.

Others volunteering their time include Brian Daugherty of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, Gene Chumbley of Personnel Solutions, Janee Deupree of Oklahoma City Beautiful, UPS employees and Dave Lopez of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.

Some among them have admitted that the last time they got close to a real buffalo was as a kid on the front row of the old buffalo ranch near Afton.

But it's not important whether they know bison can thrive in extreme cold or heat, that they don't loiter by the water or in the shade and that the last recorded sighting of a bison in the 14-state tallgrass prairie ecosystem was in 1851 in northern Osage County.

It may be 150 years too late, but what counts now is that Oklahoma City wants to save its set of fiberglass buffalo, which unlike their hardier cousins can't bear to stand out in the sun without their UV coating.

Even Harvey Payne, the man who has responsibility for the 2,000-plus herd of bison on the conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, has some appreciation for our citified view of bison.

"Anything that heightens our awareness for our natural resources and the state's heritage has to be a very positive thing," Payne said.

At one point, it is estimated there were fewer than 550 Plains bison left. The irony, Payne said, is that the species was saved in part when bison from the Bronx Zoo in New York were reintroduced into the Wichita Mountains near Lawton around 1915.

"The more you learn about them, the more enthralled you are with them," Payne said. "And the worse you feel for being part of a race of human beings that almost exterminated them."

As fate would have it, conquering the West meant killing almost everything in its path and turning grasslands into crops.

It worked in the sense we are still here today. But Payne shakes his head at the cost.

"The Colorado River doesn't flow into the Gulf of Mexico anymore, the Ogallala Aquifer is depleted and look at the abandoned appearance of all the old rotting farmsteads," he said.

Payne acknowledges he has been accused of spending too much time in the hot sun, watching the bison frolic and play, twist and cavort on the prairie.

"It sounds corny, but you can really get attached to them," he said.

Apparently, so too has Oklahoma City, which is using art to imitate life.

"There was a period of time when we weren't too interested in our history," Scaramucci said. "It was out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new phase."

She said it is fitting that the buffalo, which were the center of every community of life on the Plains for thousands of years, will be a part of the city's renaissance.

"I can't think of a great city that has sold its past," she said.

Once again, we find ourselves following the buffalo."