Buffalo was founded in 1879, when Fort McKinney was established at the base of the Bighorn Mountains to protect travelers along the Bozeman Trail. Although it had already been a stopping place for the Northern Plains Indians for centuries, Buffalo’s location gained distinction as a popular new hangout for travelers. Attracted to the soldiers that needed a way to spend their wages, saloons, hotels and trading posts began popping up.
The town is named not after the bison that happened to live in the region, but after the New York city that a random citizen, Will Hart, had previously called home. The name was drawn out of a hat at the Occidental Hotel, according to local storytellers.
Perhaps one of the most popular stories involving Buffalo, the Johnson County Cattle Wars marked a tumultuous time for settlers in the area. Cattle barons and homesteaders competing for the right to brand cattle in the region broke out into full on warfare. Because of their wealth and power, the barons were able to use dirty tactics to tip the odds in their favor, setting houses on fire and hiring gunmen to take out the most influential against their cause. In retaliation, the homesteaders started their own cattle association and scheduled their roundup to take place just before the larger one, essentially giving them the opportunity to take all the cattle for themselves and leave the barons without any stock for the year. The conflict finally culminated in a shootout between hired guns and a posse from Buffalo at the TA Ranch, where the scene of the crime remains preserved today. The Cattle War was ended in April of 1892 when President Harrison sent troops from McKinney to arrest the hired guns.
Since then, Fort McKinney was disbanded, sheep ranching drew in the Basque community and the tourism industry has taken hold. Today, visitors flock to Buffalo from all over the world for the history, scenic views, and Wild West adventure. To learn more, peruse our Pathfinder magazine online or request a visitor packet to be mailed to you.