Finding Buffalo Creek

Cari Ledford Misseri

final class presentation by Cari Ledford Misseri on William Bartram

Reading Bartram’s Travels this semester, I found his descriptions of Georgia’s 1773 landscape fascinating. The conversation he describes between the surveyor and the Indian Chief at Buffalo Lick is obviously iconic because of the cultural and historical significance, but I was interested in the land where the meeting occurred. After some research, I realized that Bartram’s Great Buffalo Lick, where the meeting took place, is close to Athens. I learned that for over two hundred years, the true location of Buffalo Lick had been lost, due to bad maps and descriptions, and the passage of time, as the land changed hands.

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Dr. Louis De Vorsey Jr., a professor at UGA, took on the daunting task of finding the actual location that Bartram writes about. Until then, there were three other locations near each other, that different scholars claimed were the site of the important meeting.

This is the map from De Vorsey’s essay “Searching for William Bartram’s Buffalo Lick.” The potential locations he discusses are Union Point, Philomath, and Sunshine, Georgia. Dr. De Vorsey, after extensive research, describes where he believes the true location to be writing, “in view of the foregoing there can be little if any doubt that the Great Buffalo Lick shown on the 1773 Ceded Lands map and described by William Bartram is located close to where present-day highway Ga. 22 crosses Buffalo Creek in Oglethorpe County, Georgia.”

I determined to follow De Vorsey and Bartram to see the places described. I found it strange that a place so important could be lost and found again, at several different locations, hundreds of years later. The beginning of this survey in 1773 of the ceded lands was critical to the future of this state. This ceding of land allowed the European settlers to move here with less fear and some confidence. This sense of connection to the past through the land made me want to see the place that Bartram and De Vorsey describe. I couldn’t imagine how beautiful, surprising, and inspiring the journey would be.

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My husband Hal and I set out east from Athens headed to Union Point. Looking for the monument that marks one location that De Vorsey disputes as being The Great Buffalo Lick. This is a sign painted on a brick building, in Woodville. It’s across the street from an ancient store with the coldest drink cooler in Georgia.

This is the monument near Union Point Ga.  It’s about 2- 3 feet wide and 3-4 feet tall, but right beside the road and nearly below road level. This monument might be the most official looking evidence on the journey, but not convincing. It proclaims this to be The Great Buffalo Lick. On to the next place, Philomath.

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I didn’t find any evidence of Bartram or Buffalo Lick in Philomath, but did find this “ancient church,” as the sign says. The most interesting thing was this town name changed many times. From Liberty, to Salem, to Woodstock, then finally to Philomath. This brought up thoughts on the changes land goes through over time. Even town names change, making it difficult to keep track of locations, especially in Bartram’s time.

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The landscape was incredibly beautiful as we left Philomath, looking for De.Vorsey’s location- where Ga 22 meets Buffalo Creek.

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I had to stop at another church just up the road because of this monument, with the date 1789 on it. I thought of this church being established just 16 years after Bartram was here. It really reinforced the connection to his survey trip and the subsequent settlements that arose.

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We were enjoying the scenery so much, we sped passed De Vorsey’s location, but captured this picture of Long Creek’s marshy area.

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Back on the trail, Buffalo Creek was not marked on 22, so we had trouble finding it. We take this lovely road that, according to De Vorsey’s map, runs parallel to Buffalo Creek. There is no sign of the creek, but the wild goose chase is beautiful.

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Finally, Buffalo Creek!

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But this is where it crosses 78 because we circled around. Time to backtrack, trying to beat the lowering sun.

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Finally, we spy the water of Buffalo Creek as it passes under Ga 22. We find a place to pull off, and I walk down the hill.

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Here it is,  De Vorsey’s location. I did not see from the car how beautiful this spot is.

I took this video of the tree first

Then this blurry photo of the awe inspiring ancient looking tree living on the edge of Buffalo Creek.

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It captures the essence of this tree and the moment.  I wished that this tree was here when Bartram was. Standing there under that tree, I felt a sense of connection to the land, its history, and its influence in my life.

Just in time for a magical sunset, we headed back to Athens.

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I passed this sign on 78 and went back. It says the survey that began at Buffalo Lick ended here. So does my journey on the trail of De Vorsey and Bartram.

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I learned so much that related to and was enhanced by this environmental literature class. Most revealing was the deep connection between the land and history I had not fully considered before reading Bartram and the other authors we studied.There is more to learn about nature, the land, and history just outside my door, I only need to take time to look. There is no marker at De Vorsey’s location, but I can feel the power there and am convinced that this is the place Bartram wrote about 241 years ago.

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