October 3, 2006
Carolyn B. Leonard

Photo by Carolyn Leonard

BUFFALO FOR BUFFALO Mayor Meryl Keding recently presented Richard “Dick” Beale of Oklahoma City a key to the city, along with an engraved plaque and other gifts in a special ceremony to thank Beale for giving the town of Buffalo, Oklahoma, a mascot. (First published in the Daily Oklahoman, Metro page and online 10/3/2006, and in the Harper County Journal of Buffalo, and the Woodward News)

Mayor Keding conferred the title of “Buffalo Beale” to their benefactor, Richard “Dick” Beale, who donated one of the OKC art buffaloes to the town last week.  Keding assured the donor the animal would be well-cared for, saying, “We are so proud of receiving this gift, and hope you will come back soon and often.”

The Buffalo Decorations Committee drove the five-foot-tall and eight-foot-long fiberglass buffalo to the lawn of city hall at the north end of the tiny town’s main street – which is actually US Highway 183 just 11 miles south of the Kansas line and 20 miles east of the panhandle.

Buffalo, located in the valley of Buffalo Creek, is well known as a cowboy town, with many rodeo performers calling it home, including world champion steer roper Buster Record.

James Leonard, head of economic development for this remote town where most industry is agriculture-based, said this animal is no steer, and it is for sure not a bum steer.  Leonard said he is warning the Sheriff to watch out for rustlers, because this stray is now branded and has found a home.

“We are happy to tie this buffalo up where he can welcome visitors and everyone can enjoy him,” he said. “We have plenty of dry grass to feed him all winter and it is a good thing no pooper-scoopers are required, otherwise we might have to start a buffalo-chip throwing contest.”

In 1970 tossing cow chips became a sport in the Celebration held at Beaver, about 60 miles west of Buffalo, in remembrance of the rugged courage and individualism of early pioneers. Buffalo hunters learned that buffalo chips could be used for fuel. By the time the settlers arrived, hunters had killed all the buffalo so the homesteaders had to depend on cow droppings, which were a tad smellier and did not burn as efficiently. The chips are also known as cow pie, meadow muffin and pasture patty, or as one citizen described it –the part of the animal that stays behind when it moves on.

Dedication of the new mascot occurred in conjunction with the town’s annual Homecoming event. A parade immediately preceded the ceremony.  Beale and his wife Leah rode on the flatbed float with the big (fiberglas) wooly mammal.

“It was our first time to ride in a parade,” Dick Beale said, and his first visit to Buffalo. He said the animal was well behaved and did not try to stampede even when the BHS band struck up a cadence, nor when overenthusiastic paraders tossed Mardi Gras beads around his horns.

Three years ago the Nature Conservancy sponsored a popular art project in Oklahoma City called Spirit of the Buffalo, which coincided with the state’s Centennial Celebration. Actually the name buffalo is a misnomer, bison being the preferred term. As far as everyday usage is concerned, however, buffalo usually wins. The program originated as a public art project combining art, commerce and civic pride in the state, and benefited Oklahoma artists. Big and powerful, yet peaceful and quiet, our state animal helped shape Oklahoma's natural landscape, with wide depressions where they wallowed in muddy shallow lakes and grazed the tall grass prairie; which the Nature Conservancy is working to preserve.

Beale Professional Services office just off I-44 in OKC was one of a hundred Oklahoma businesses participating in the program, each paying from three to four thousand dollars for the privilege of choosing the art design and displaying an animal for a year. Out of that money, the Conservancy invested about $1,500 for an animal in the buff, and put some green in pockets of local starving artists by giving $1,000 honorarium each. It was a win-win for everyone. The public enjoyed "buffalo hunts" during the display, seeking and finding locations of the herd of 100 beautiful animals grazing around Oklahoma and "shooting" them with cameras.  They will have a long drive to shoot this one.

Many of the buffalo, instead of being auctioned, have been herded to a pasture in Bricktown, while others are still grazing around the city and now one has wandered off from  the herd as far as Buffalo, a three-hour drive. A book on the Oklahoma buffalo art project is in the works.

Dick Beale and his wife Leah are members of an OKC dinner club with Jon and Carolyn Heavener.  When Dick Beale mentioned over dinner one night they might be willing to donate their decorative buffalo to some good cause, Ms. Heavener knew just the place the animal should be pastured -- in her hometown of Buffalo.

Leonard arranged for a local rancher to bring the creature home in a horse trailer, and kept him in a barn until the day of the parade. Leonard said the bison is also the school mascot, so Buffalo art students got involved by choosing the name, “Spirit”.  A local body shop gave the fiberglass a fresh coat of white paint, touched with gold.

World famous landscape artist Stan Herd painted a patriotic blanket across the humped back of the ox-like animal with massive head and shoulders.  Herd, who recently completed a huge mural on one of the historic town buildings, used the original American flag colors of beige, maroon and dark blue according to Buffalo Decorations Committee instructions.

Spirit of the Buffalo was based on a 1998 public art display of fiberglass cows in Zurich, Switzerland. A year later, Chicago promoted a similar idea and called it Cows on Parade, which was very successful. After auctioning off the painted cows, Chicago promoters followed up with sales of miniatures, popular with collectors around the world.  For more information on the Nature Conservancy, and photos of other artistic fiberglass bison, go to www.spiritofthebuffalo.org