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Buffalo Nickel

The American Bison as a Symbol


Strength. Courage. Prosperity. Challenge. Survival.

These, and many more, are words that the American Bison has come to symbolize.

For hundreds of years Native Americans of the Great Plains relied on the bison to feed them, clothe them, and get them through the harsh winters. The bison became a symbol of many things for the people who depended upon them. The large head symbolizes an intelligence of a higher order. And, their strong bodies ground them, symbolizing their connection to the earth, nurturing personalities, and the importance of social connections.

Several states and one Canadian province use the bison as a symbol. Kansas, North Dakota, and Wyoming use the bison on their flag, their state quarter, or both. There is even a west-central Kansas town named Bison having been founded in 1888. The Canadian province of Manitoba uses a bison on its flag and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police use the bison on their coat of arms.

Back here in the United States what is probably the most recognizable icon of the bison is the so-called “Buffalo” nickel, or “Indian Head” nickel. This coin was a copper and nickel alloy designed by James Earle Fraser, and was minted between the years of 1913 and 1938. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt expressed his dissatisfaction with the design of American coins and set off what became a great political journey to get the Buffalo nickel produced. President Taft introduced the new coin on February 22, 1913 with several Native American chiefs in attendance. The new coin became widely accepted and acclaimed for its depiction of truly American themes.