Buffalo Mountain Place-based Interviews

Now a Virginia State Natural Area Preserve, Buffalo Mountain (The Buffalo), named for its humpback profile, is the highest point in Floyd County at 3,971 feet. Prominently seen from from many vantage points, “There’s the Buffalo!” is a frequent refrain.  Figuring in much county lore and identity, its image is featured on the County Seal, and, of course, the buffalo is the much revered high school mascot. In 1999 – 2001, Radford University anthropology students interviewed fifteen families from the Buffalo Mountain community, Willis, Virginia, for the Old Church Gallery oral history archives.
Buffalo Mountain viewed from Kyle Weeks Road, Floyd County, Virginia

The Buffalo Mountain Series, part of the Floyd County Traditions Project, was directed by the Floyd Story Center at the Old Church Gallery, where the complete archives are held. The project was guided by Co-Directors Kathleen Ingoldsby and Catherine Pauley in a unique community-university partnership with Radford University anthropology professors Dr. Melinda Bollar Wagner and Dr. Mary LaLone. Students in Anthropology 411: Appalachian Cultures, and Anthropology 121: Honors Cultural Anthropology, teamed with senior anthropology major, Adam Sowder to record a wealth of stories, family histories, and recollections of community life during a time of one-room schools and self-sufficiency, all anchored by the magnificent presence of Buffalo Mountain. Floyd Story Center later developed comprehensive archive units on each interview. Generations will be enriched by these recordings of all who shared their memories. Thank you all.

Below is a list of those interviewed. Click on any of the highlighted names to read more about that particular interview:

  • Arlie Tobler (1999)
  • Rush Alderman (2001)
  • Dellas Bolt (1999)
  • J. E. Bolt (2001)
  • Brian Childress (2001)
  • Marie Gallimore (2001)
  • Unice & Vada Hylton (1999)
  • D. J. & Janet Keith, Kevin Keith (2001)
  • Jack Lawson (1999)
  • Ruby Minta Vaughn Lorton (1999)
  • Stanley Lorton (1999)
  • John Thomas McNeil (2001)
  • Joe & Nadine Rutrough (1999)
  • Garvin Sutphin (2001)
  • Posey Franklin Vaughn (2001)
  • Dorothy Vest [Stonewall area] (2001)
  • Hugh Vest [Stonewall area] (2001)

Our Radford University student teams who conducted the Buffalo Mountain place-based interviews:

We owe appreciation to Dr. Melinda Wagner, who interviewed Brian Childress, and to our Radford University anthropology, student interviewers: Julian Alleyne, Rebecca Arthur, Laura Bell, James Bielo, Lydia Bryant, Timothy Cox, Jason Dull, Whitney Frostick, Brian Hill, Josh Klemmer, Denise Lewis, Lauren LoCurto, Dahlia Macon, Freddy Marion, Zeb Mathews, Anna Marie Meador, Becky Minter, Andrew Moeslein, Martha Phillips, Melissa Powell, Donna Quesenberry, David Rotenizer, Kelly Snead, Adam Sowder, Jennifer Tush, David Wade, Amanda Wagner, Jessica Whited, Peg Wimmer, Rachel Witt, Jessica Woods, and Meghan Worrel.

The student researchers transcribed and analyzed their interviews. They discovered that “The Buffalo’s always been a draw for people . . . a place people went.” The flora and fauna around the mountain were critical for residents, especially the chestnuts, which were eaten, stored, sold, and used as ready fodder for hogs that were semi-domesticated. Chestnut boards were shaped into long-lasting fence rails. Even after the devastating chestnut blight of the 1920s-1940s killed virtually every tree, the dead wood was sold as “acid wood” (tannin) to tanning factories. Some interviewees were familiar with medicinal plants. Rattlesnakes and their dens on the mountain figured in nearly every interview. On neighborliness and community, one interviewer noted that, “the houses are far apart, but the neighbors are close.”

Burks Fork Road view of Buffalo Mountain
Burks Fork Road, Willis, toward Buffalo Mt.
“the houses are far apart, but the neighbors are close”

In addition, the Old Church Gallery hosted an independent study for Kiera McReynolds, who interviewed Arlie Tobler under the direction of Dr. Mary LaLone, Radford University Anthropology 499. Arlie and her husband ran a country store in the Buffalo Mountain area. As an intern at the Old Church Gallery, Kiera also assisted in assessing and cataloging a large collection of archaeological stone tools from Floyd County with assistance from Dr. Cliff Boyd.

Based on this series, student project presentations were accepted for the Appalachian Studies Conference at Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia, March 16, 2002: Rebecca Arthur and Becky Minter, “Community Collaboration: Radford University and Floyd County”; Sowder, J. Adam. “Anthropological Fieldwork: Mentoring Students.”