Wilderness Road State Park in Lee County maintains a herd of buffalo
Bison (or buffalo) were native to Virginia. In the 1730's, William Byrd II was feasting on bison when exploring his Land of Eden grant south of the Dan River. Buffalo skins were still being sold in Augusta County in 1749.
After Dr. Thomas Walker crossed through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky in 1750, he reported seeing concentrations of buffalo where salty brine came to the surface and formed a salt lick:1
A query of the Geographic Names Information System produces a list of 79 place names in Virginia with "buffalo," suggesting how common they were.2
The native bison may have been "wood buffalo," which could have been a different subspecies from the bison that Lewis and Clark saw on their journey up the Missouri River in 1804-6. The western bison formed large herds and migrated across vast distances in the grasslands.
The Virginia bison may have migrated seasonally through Cumberland Gap, to move from the Powell River valleys to the bluegrass prairies in Kentucky. Compared to the great Plains, Virginia herds would have been smaller and some bison may have lived a relatively solitary life.
Bison were hunted by the Native Americans and the early colonial explorers. Dr. Thomas Walker recorded in his journal:3
buffalo are included in the artwork at Cumberland Gap's Pinnacle overlook, commemorating colonial expansion through southwestern Virginia in the second half of the Eighteenth Century
Native Americans, and then later immigrants such as Daniel Boone, hunted buffalo in the backcountry of Virginia