Settlers mistook the animals for buffalo because they looked so much alike, but it was a misnomer; the American bison is a distant relative.
Surveyors in the 1800s often drew the Trace and adjacent buffalo wallows on Indiana maps. A 1910 history of Dubois County by Wilson described the wallow remnants as “big circular patches, where the grass was greener, thicker and higher than anywhere else around.” Wallows were essentially huge mud puddles dug out by bison in order to take cooling baths.
Though the bison disappeared, their route was put to good use. Archaeologists believe it served as a trade route for Native Americans. Pioneers followed it west. In the early 19th century, a stagecoach line ran the length of the Trace from New Albany to Vincennes. Much of it was eventually paved over as U.S. 150.
Today, there’s scant evidence of the Trace. There’s a spot off Ind. 37, about 6 miles south of Paoli, where motorists can see trenches in both directions. Probably the best way to experience the Trace is on the Springs Valley Trail in the Hoosier National Forest southeast of French Lick. A segment of the trail follows the Trace, and attentive hikers may notice other remnants and signs of wallows from centuries ago.
Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at email@example.com.