Perhaps when you read the title of this blog and then saw the painting of a buffalo you expected a story about the warmth of buffalo rugs, blankets, or robes. That would have been logical, for their hides were used for those things. However, this blog is not about buffalo hides. It is about another gift the buffalo gave to settlers. No, not meat either.
This gift was known as prairie coal. The brown disks of buffalo dung deposited on the prairie were known as prairie coal, for once it dried it was burnable. Trees on the prairie, if they could be found, were too valuable to use as fire wood. Instead, the earliest settlers gathered the dried buffalo dung to burn as fuel.
By the time Isaac Werner arrived on the prairie the buffalo were gone and the prairie coal had been exhausted as a fuel source. Settlers had begun planting corn, and the husks were tied for fuel, the stalks were chopped into shorter lengths to feed into stoves, and the cobs were saved to burn once the kernels were removed. (See "Corn Harvest, Then and Now," 9-18-2014 in the blog archives.) Eventually trees were available for fire wood, but for the earliest settlers, prairie coal kept them warm.
(These photographs were taken at the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder, Colorado. Visitors are welcomed for free tours and may also see their gallery of art and tea pots, purchase tea-related gifts in their tea shop, and dine in the cafe which is decorated with delightful murals. To read more visit www.celestialseasonings.com/tours. )