Search This Blog

Monday, March 19, 2018

Southern California Vol. 15: The Wild Buffalo of Catalina Island

I’ve written about Catalina Island a few times on this blog.  Mostly I’ve mentioned it when talking about diving as it’s the home of some of the most beautiful diving spots around.  However, it’s also home to something kind of weird.

A herd of buffalo.

That’s right, there’s a herd of wild buffalo on a small island out in the Pacific Ocean. 
Now I know what you’re asking yourself.  How did they get there?  Were they grazing when a massive earthquake separated the island from the mainland and they’ve just existed all these years?  Perhaps they were picked up by aliens and deposited in the wrong place!
No, there’s a much simpler and obvious reason they’re on the island. 


In 1924, a Hollywood production company sent a film crew to Catalina Island to film a silent version of Zane Grey’s western The Vanishing American.  It was to be directed by George B. Seitz whose other film credits include The Black Secret and The Iron Claw.  It was to star Richard Dix who later would be nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Cimarron.  The costar was Lois Wilson who lived to age 93 and appeared in over 150 films.

Apparently no expense was to be spared because the budget allowed for the transport of a small herd of bison to the island for use in filming.  Once production wrapped though, the crew found it impossible to round up the herd to get them back to the mainland.  After some frustration, the decision was made to just leave them to fend for themselves.  Over the years they thrived.  At one point the herd was 600 strong but now it’s maintained at about 150 individuals.  They are periodically moved to the mainland and in some cases even transported to the Great Plains where their ancestors originated.

Here’s the kicker to this story.  If you watch The Vanishing American, can you guess what you don’t see?


Every scene that featured the buffalo was eventually cut from the final version of the film.  According to Jim Watson, a columnist for the Catalina Islander Newspaper, there’s not even any footage from the Catalina portion of the shoot in the final film at all.

The good news in all this is that the bison are actually good for the island instead of being a detriment like most invasive species.

There are tours that will take you to the islands’ interior and allow you to get a look at the bison for yourself.  I highly recommend you get out to Catalina at some point and spend the money to take a tour. It’s a fantastic place to visit whether you’re under water or above it.

No comments: