The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 24, 2013

Did bison live in the Central Susquehanna Valley?

— LEWISBURG — Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam — just don’t call it Union County, because they didn’t live here, ever, sang Kim Mattern, half of a father-son “anti-bisonist” team, with his own twist on “Home on the Range.”  

Not so fast, said the “bisonists,” who cited historic documentation of sightings, even one from Col. John Kelly himself — yes, that Col. Kelly with the road named after him — that buffalo once called the Valley home.

It could have gotten ugly, it could have gotten mean, but both sides of the “Great Bison-tennial Debate” Wednesday night at Campus Theatre respectively kept their cool and their senses of humor in this showcase event to settle before roughly 250 people, once and for all, whether bison lived in the Central Susquehanna Valley.

Bill Mattern was the father half of the anti-bisonist team, who reminded Union County sheriff’s deputies they could escort out any rowdies.

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, even though the Matterns presented statements from scientific experts from universities of New York and Virginia stating that no way, no how did bison roam Union County. Among their arguments: no remains ever have been found to support this, they said, and if there were remains, they likely came from cows.

Au contraire, said the bisonists. First, Kathy Swope, president of the Lewisburg school board, gave her step-by-step history of buffalo citations: everything from a 1698 reference from Gabriel Thomas, a 17th century colonist, who noted “a vast number of other wild creatures” in his writings on the region; to Dr. Samuel Beck, who took an account from Kelly three months before his death of an abundance of buffalo and that he had shot one.

Author and historian Ron Wenning, the other bisonist, noted numerous oral histories tracing native Americans in the Valley and pottery depicting the region as “a place of buffalo.”

Many, many more citations and facts were presented, but you get this idea.

Hosted by the Union County Bicentennial Committee, this debate was no joke. Attendees munched on buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes and bison meatballs, while members of the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area prepared for their role as timekeepers. Gary Sojka, former president of Bucknell University — home of the Bison — was official moderator.  

Even if bison didn’t live in Union County, they did for a few hours Wednesday night as 15 Fiberglass statues, custom-painted to represent each municipality and the county itself, stood proudly in the M&T Bank parking lot next door to the theatre.

“This is wonderful!” was heard repeatedly among folks who strolled and marveled at the creatively painted statues. Most depicted municipal history or reputations, such as Hartley Township’s bison with the remarkable forest of hidden animals painted on its sides. Mifflinburg borough’s buffalo looked like a postcard highlighting scenic venues.

So is the bison debate over?

Attendees got to cast a commemorative wooden buffalo nickle to vote yes or no at the end of the event. The tally was not immediately available.

Check out online at to see what the final word is in Union County.

Text Only
  • xbjfire21az.jpg Firefighters battle blaze at BJ's in Danville

    DANVILLE -- Firefighters were called to fight a fire at BJ's Steak & Rib House on Mill Street before 9 p.m. Sunday night. Customers in the restaurant and residents in nearby apartments were evacuated to the streets.

    April 20, 2014 3 Photos

  • Loaded language

    Sometimes it’s the offhand remark that’s the most telling. Indeed, the way we Americans casually, often unthinkingly, incorporate gun metaphors into our everyday slang says a lot about how deeply embedded guns are in our culture and our politics, and how difficult it is to control or extract them. Consider this list, presented as bullet points — which are themselves so conventional, so central to the typography of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, that you can forget what their shape represents.

    April 20, 2014

  • Prize claim cost man $1,829

    WINFIELD — Western Union is doing what it can to educate people about the risks in wiring money. An entire section on its website ( is devoted to providing information that might reduce the risk of people falling victim to fraud schemes.

    April 19, 2014

  • Reel good time enjoyed by 200 young anglers

    TREVORTON — It only took about three minutes for J.C. Wallish to reel in his first fish at the Little Shamokin Creek Watershed Association’s annual Youth Trout Derby on Saturday.

    April 19, 2014

  • Elytte Barbour's 'bad trip' put him on the road to prison, friend says

    SUNBURY — A former roommate of slaying suspect Elytte Barbour drove 450 miles from North Carolina to spend 45 minutes in the Northumberland County Prison with his best friend last week, and was not surprised when he heard Barbour say: “I am afraid to spend the rest of my life in jail.”

    April 19, 2014

  • bonehunt20a.jpg 60 dogs battle for biscuits at annual bone hunt

    It was a scene similar to ones playing out all over the nation this weekend: nervous parents holding baskets and bags, watching their little ones search for goodies in the grass.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona tribe set to prosecute first non-Indian under a new law

    PASCUA YAQUI INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. — Tribal police chief Michael Valenzuela drove through darkened desert streets, turned into a Circle K convenience store and pointed to the spot beyond the reservation line where his officers used to take the non-Indian men who battered Indian women.

    April 19, 2014

  • Danville parents hope strike ends quickly

    DANVILLE ““ First-grader Madison Wild was sad she missed school Thursday.

    April 19, 2014

  • Schools ask state to waive 180-day rule

    Three area school districts have asked the Pennsylvania Department of Education to add up their hours instead of their days in order to reach the required amount of instruction time in the school year.

    April 19, 2014

  • Former Bucknell star in NBA playoffs

    ATLANTA — It really hit Mike Muscala a few days ago when he was listening to the Nets’ starting lineup at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

    April 19, 2014

The Daily Marquee

How do you eat your chocolate Easter bunny?

Feet first
Tail first
Ears first
     View Results
Photo Galleries
The Valley


Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.