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Truly Buffalo Valley: Calf believed to be first one born in Unicoi County in 300 years

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Apr 22, 2018 at 1:21 PM

UNICOI — The community between south Johnson City and the town of Unicoi lived up to the name Buffalo Valley last Wednesday.

Late that afternoon, a calf was born in the pasture at Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens. It’s believed to be the first birth of a buffalo in Unicoi County in 300 years.

The calf is yet to be named and its mother is protective of the newborn to the point where neither Unicoi Mayor and herd owner Johnny Lynch nor his son, Robin, have been able to get close enough to determine its sex.

Despite that, it has still created quite a buzz, even leading to a different take on a longstanding tradition.

"If I let someone name it, that will probably be my neighbor who came out here with the carrot cigars," Lynch said. "He was so tickled, so thrilled with that baby, that he was handing out carrots to everyone."

There is noticeable anxiety with the new mother as we stand outside the fence. Normally one of the most gentle cows, she grunts as a warning sign to not get any closer to the calf.

"They're really protective of their young," Lynch said. "That's their instinct of being a wild animal. It's a real matter of survival to keep the babies from wolves and different predators."

It's a completely different story with the father, Sammy the Bull, who comes over the fence looking to be petted, mugging for the camera, ready for more of the carrot cigars, apples or other treats.

While classified as an American Bison, the calf is a mixed breed, according to Lynch.

Sammy the Bull is a 3-year-old, western plains buffalo that Lynch obtained from a farm in Northern Indiana. The mother, which Lynch simply calls No. 12, is a mix of plains and woodlands buffalo, which he purchased with other cows from a farm 70 miles west of Roanoke on the Virginia-West Virginia border.

With four other cows expected to give birth in the coming days and weeks, Lynch explained the differences in the breeds.

"The plains buffalo is more of a woolly looking creature," Lynch said. "The woodlands buffalo is more of a lanky buffalo and it doesn't have the leggings with the hair around the ankles and legs like the plains buffalo."

BUFFALO HISTORY IN UNICOI

According to the Town of Unicoi website, the buffalo has a long history in the area. The examples of Buffalo Mountain, Buffalo Creek, Buffalo Valley, North Indian Creek and South Indian Creek give tribute to the first inhabitants of the area, the buffalo and the Cherokee Indians.

There are signs how abundant the bison were centuries ago, with examples of buffalo trace, a narrow path cut in the woods and open fields where the animals pounded down trails with their hooves chipping out land and rock.

According to the town website, frontier leader and Tennessee's first governor John Sevier defeated a large band of Cherokee and Creek warriors at Rocky Fork in Southern Unicoi County (then part of Carter County) in what he described as the bloodiest fight in all the Cherokee Wars. The story says after that battle, both the Native Americans and buffalo began to disappear from the county.

Lynch said the discovery of Indian artifacts in the area like two of the oldest known atlatls (weights used as a counterbalance on a spear) and clovis points (the type of arrowheads which were most common) suggests that Native Americans inhabited Buffalo Valley for thousands of years. The Native Americans were known to closely follow the bison, dependent on the animal for food, clothing and shelter.

RAISING THE HERD

Lynch has always had a love for animals and he formerly raised more than 50 head of Hereford and Charolais cattle and 60-some hogs on the 75-acre property. He's also worked with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for the rehabilitation of wild animals including bears.

But, there was something about the buffalo which strongly appealed to him, although he quickly found out such a strong and powerful animal which can reach speeds of 35 mph with amazing agility can be more difficult than raising domesticated cattle.

"The more research you do on them, the more interesting they become," Lynch said. "They're a huge animal here today that was here in the Ice Age. It's mind-boggling to think about that. By the 1900s, there were less than 1,000, but they've come back.

"But keeping them, you have to be more careful than with cattle because I don't think you will ever completely get the wild streak out of them. These have been around people more and they're the closest to pets you will see, but you still have to be much more careful when you're handling them and have really good fences."

Many will have an opportunity to see the buffalo and other animals like the peacocks and geese roaming the property next week as Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens plays host to the 23rd annual Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Convention on Saturday, April 28.

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