Bison vs Buffalo

Bison, Boeuf, Buffalo: What’s the difference?

What is the difference between Bison and Buffalo? In common speech, we often use these terms interchangeably. Bison and Buffalo are distantly related to each other, as well as to cattle and goats. However, there are important differences between the two. The animals native to North America are “Bison,” even though we commonly call them “Buffalo.” French fur trappers in the early 1600s first called these animals “Boeuf.” They were referring to African and Asian Buffalo. However, the name “Buffalo” stuck and there is still confusion over it today! The Wild West will forever be associated with “Buffalo,” such as Buffalo Bill Cody, commemorative Buffalo nickels, “where the Buffalo roam,” etc. Know the difference between the “Buffalo” of the wild west, the American Bison vs Buffalo that are found abroad, or true Buffalo.

True Buffalo

True buffalo are native to Africa and Asia. There are many kinds of buffalo, but African or Cape Buffalo and the Water Buffalo are the most well known. African Buffalo are wild and unpredictable animals. They have not been domesticated despite being one of Africa’s most successful grazers. Nicknamed “the black death” or the “widow maker,” this dangerous animal is sought after by big game hunters. The Water Buffalo, on the other hand, were domesticated in China and India thousands of years ago. These animals are used in ways similar to Oxen or Cattle. They are raised for meat, dairy, and products made from bone and horn. They also serve as working animals on small family farms. Water Buffalo are both pack animals and living tractors.

Buyer Beware!

Many “Buffalo Leather” products are actually imported and made from Water Buffalo leather. This leather has a coarse fiber structure and large, unsightly pores. When it comes to Bison vs Buffalo leather, there is no competition. The Buffalo Billfold Company uses only Full Grain American Bison Leather, even if we sometimes call it “Buffalo” in everyday conversation. Whether we say the technically correct “Bison” or the more informal “Buffalo,” we are always referring to America’s original leather.  Furthermore, we always handcraft our leather products at our leather workshop in Worthington, MN. Everything is entirely Made in USA!

Water Buffalo Plowing Rice Paddy
This Asian Water Buffalo is plowing a rice paddy to prepare for planting.

True Bison

There are several types of Bison, including the European bison. In North America, however, there are two main subspecies of American Bison: the Plains Bison, and the Wood Bison. The Wood Bison is also known as the Mountain Bison. It lives in the forested areas of Northern Canada. This subspecies has dark shaggy coats, short pointed beards, and a hump that is slightly ahead of its front legs. The wood bison exists in fewer numbers than the plains bison, and is currently classified as a “threatened” species according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The American Plains Bison

The Plains Bison are more numerous. They can be found in the United States, Canada, and even parts of Mexico. Its scientific name designates genus, species, and subspecies. It is easy to remember: bison bison bison! Slightly smaller than the Wood Bison, Plains Bison have a hump that peaks directly above their front legs. The Plains Bison can run faster and further than it’s woodland cousin. We use mostly Plains Bison hides in our leather shop. This is the “Buffalo” you will see in the United States when driving past ranches, or visiting Custer State Park, Yellowstone National Park, or anywhere else where the Buffalo roam. You will know when you see them. They may dot the countryside like cattle, but their large hump is unmistakable!

American Bison are not true buffalo.
An American Bison roaming the plains.
Handmade in USA

American Bison Leather Wallets