Colonel’s Love Affair with American Buffalo
“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam, Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the skies are not cloudy all day.”
“Home on the Range,” a song that has become an anthem of the American West, has long been a favorite song of mine. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the values and traditions of the American West; so much so that I snatched a page out of American history and created a line of products that evokes that time when buffalo became a revered species.
Whether it’s the west of the 1800s, the rugged cowboy, the mountain man, the Plains Indians, the westward expansion of the railroad or the trek of Lewis and Clark, we can hardly talk about the American west without including the role of the buffalo. It provided sustenance in the way of clothing, shelter and food for Native Americans, explorers and those who followed them.
Even though I love the classic look of our American steer hide, from which most Col. Littleton products are made, I was drawn to the romance of the early west and flirted with the idea of adding American buffalo products to the line long before it became a reality.
The tannery that so beautifully tans our steer hide did not work with buffalo at the time; and my enthusiasm was tempered by the buffalo samples I received from other sources. They were an insult to the integrity of this great animal. Because buffalo is a low-yield leather; and, therefore, expensive to process, tanneries often “paint over” the entire hide, covering up the natural texture along with the blemishes inherent in buffalo so the entire hide can be used. Then, they actually stamp the texture onto the hide. This process definitely increases the yield and decreases the cost, but it takes away the natural character and feel of the leather. I was having none of that.
IMPERFECTION PERFECTION. We’re lucky to have a tannery up the road where folks love leather and what it represents as much as we do. They have worked with us since we made our first leather product to reach the level of perfection we wanted and were kind enough to work with us to develop our American buffalo leather. In this case, we wanted “imperfection perfection.” Let me explain that oxymoron.
Even though most buffalo live on ranches today, their genetic makeup is that of a wild animal. They’re shaggy, rough, tough and rugged and their hides reflect their genetic heritage and habits. I felt it was important that our American buffalo products stay true to the historic nature of these majestic animals and that includes keeping the scars and scrapes they collect along their life journey. We brought hides into our tannery and had them naturally hand-tanned and double tanned, just like our steer hide. In the end, we got leather with a fantastic feel while retaining the wonderful, rugged texture and character. Thus, imperfection perfection.
In today’s world of modern technology, which has fostered the expectation of instant gratification, chrome, glass and polished aluminum have come to the forefront. Yet, the ancient art of leather making, which dates back to Biblical times and has been a part of every generation since that time, still has a place in modern society. Naturally-tanned leather has heart and soul and over time develops a character, warmth, patina and suppleness not found in other products.
People want to turn in their cell phones and laptops for the latest model each year, but they wouldn’t trade in their leather bags for a new one if they could. Their well-worn and well-traveled leather products have simply become a part of them. As long as there are people who appreciate the character and uniqueness of handmade leather products, we’ll keep on providing them with pride here at The Great American Leather Company®.
When I work with buffalo hides, I feel connected to the brave men and women who expanded our country beyond the Rocky Mountains. Buffalo leather is so unique that I knew instinctively there would be a customer for this more rugged look. Since we added it to our line in 2014, our customers have definitely taken a liking to it. And, when we ship out an American buffalo product, we know we’re shipping a true Americana product from beginning to end.
“Incidentally, I do know that the scientific name for American Buffalo is Bison . . . however, use of the name “Buffalo” is popular in American culture and that’s what I like to use. After all, it was “Buffalo Bill” not “Bison Bill” and the “buffalo nickel” not the “bison nickel.” If it was good enough for Buffalo Bill, it’s good enough for me.
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