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George Washington spent much time in the West as a young man, both as a surveyor and as a soldier serving during the French and Indian War. More than a decade after Washington left the army to become a gentleman farmer, he traveled West again to visit the lands that had figured so prominently in his early life. In the fall of 1770, this time travelling with his friend Dr. James Craik and three servants, Washington was gone for nine weeks and one day, traveling to view the lands that he earned in exchange for his service during the French and Indian War.1
One of the foods that sustained Washington during his travels on the frontier was buffalo. Washington recorded in his diary that during a journey on the Ohio River near present-day Lee's Creek, West Virginia, he visited Kiashute, one of the Native Americans who had served with him against the French in 1753. The two men were pleased to see one another and Washington's "old acquaintance" made a gift to him of "a Quarter of very fine Buffalo." Washington also hunted buffalo. A few days after the gift from Kiashute, Washington and his party killed five buffaloes. His writings indicate delight with these western lands, with comments such as "This Country abounds in Buffalo and Wild game of all kinds as also in all kinds of wild fowl."2
Washington had been interested in raising buffalo as early as 1775. Just before he left Mount Vernon to travel to the Second Continental Congress, Washington wrote to James Cleveland, who was overseeing his lands on the Ohio, "After you have got a place Inclosed, try and buy me all the Buffaloe Calves you can get and make them as gentle as possible. I would not stick at any reasonable price for them, especially the Cow Calves, but I should like at least two Bull Calves for fear of Accidents as I am very anxious to raise a Breed of them."3
Thirteen years later, Washington learned from his friend Dr. David Stuart that a man named Andrew Lewis, Jr., was thinking about giving Washington a "Buffaloe calf…if it would be acceptable." Washington wrote back to say that "it would be very much so, as I had been endeavouring for sometime to get a pair (male and female with a view of propagating the Breed for the drought)."4
Though it took many years, by the end of Washington's life anyone walking around the Mount Vernon estate looking for signs of his connection to the West would have found living, breathing proof of that interest, quietly grazing in a Virginia pasture; one buffalo cow and a young buffalo heifer.5
1. The Diaries of George Washington, Vol. 2 eds. Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1976), 328; Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, Vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), 245-248.
3. George Washington, "Instructions for James Cleveland, 10 January 1775" in The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 3, 261.
4. "George Washington to Andrew Lewis, Jr., 1 February 1788," The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, Vol. 6, 75.