The first reports of the animals popularly called buffalo (a genus of American bison) in Texas were written by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in his description of his journey from Florida to Mexico (1528–36). The buffalo occupied about a third of the North American continent, from latitude 63° north in Canada to about latitude 25° north in Mexico, and from the Blue Mountains of Oregon to the western parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Authorities disagree about their range in Texas because of the migratory nature of the animals and the shifting of the herd during the period of buffalo hunting by white men, but it is generally agreed that they roamed the western and central plains of Texas in great numbers. The four main herds in Texas migrated from northern Montana and entered Texas between the 99th and 101st meridians on established trails. The main buffalo trails in Texas were east of the Trans-Pecos and Llano Estacado and west of the Western Cross Timbers. At the height of the buffalo population in Texas these trails could be several miles wide. The buffalo usually did not range farther than the Concho River valley, but during certain seasons they migrated as far east and south as the Gulf Coastal Plains.
What was known as the "great slaughter" took place in the early 1870s, and by 1878 the so-called southern herd was practically exterminated. There have been several attempts to protect the buffalo. In 1875 the Texas legislature considered a measure to protect the animals from wholesale slaughter, but Gen. Philip H. Sheridan protested the bill, contending that peace with the Indians could be maintained only if their food supply was eliminated; the bill failed to pass. Preservation of a few animals was due to the efforts of such men as Charles Goodnight and Charles J. (Buffalo) Jones, who preserved small herds on their ranches. In 1949 buffalo were found in several city zoos in Texas and on a few ranches in Armstrong and Nolan counties. In the late twentieth century various ranches throughout Texas continued to maintain buffalo herds; the animal had rebounded from near-extinction from the Midwest to the Southwest and West.