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Buffalo Romping Through the Kawarthas

April 27, 2023

Mossie Boyd's Cattalo

When Mossom M. Boyd was trying to crossbreed cattle and bison one ongoing challenge was trying to keep the herd contained. They pastured on Big Island, and though they often peacefully grazed there, these animals could swim very well. Once they reached shore, had little respect for fences (which farmers can tell you are often mostly psychological), jumping anything less than seven feet. The first year he was sent to pasture, Boyd had one worker devoted to tracking Napoleon, the bull.

To keep an eye on their swimming herds, the Boyds had a cupola fitted on the roof of their barn south of Bobcaygeon to provide some help in tracking the cattalo (as they were then called). Even with this help, it often took several days to track them down, and it was often quite the exciting rodeo as his workers chased them. Once, while trying to use a steamship to herd the cattalo in water, one of them drowned. A few times they made it as far as Sandy Lake. In 1896, the Watchman newspaper observed that the ten cattalo:

These remnants of the wild west determined that they were not to be cribbed, cabined and confined on any booming island, and taking to the water struck out for Freeman’s quarry, a swim of a mile and a quarter. Landing safely they made their way to the Bick settlement, and word was sent to the village that the removal of the gentle buffs would oblige for they had a profound indifference to fence no matter what height and were throwing on airs as if they owned the country. With some difficulty they were brought to the village and crossed the first bridge. The noise and sway of the bridge, however, frightened them, and they baulked at the second one by taking the river and swimming to Mr. Junkin’s. Going round the point of the island they again swam to Mr. Garlick’s and then went off full gallop to the Beehive and around to Brandeston. Monday morning the herd of Herefords were sent out to the Red Rock, and when the young buffalo met them, their delight was plainly manifested. They were then driven home without any mishap, going along with the cattle in the most well behaved and exemplary manner.

For more of the extraordinary exploits of the Boyd family, check out the Boyd Museum:

 In 1898 one drowned while swimming off the island. Three years later Boyd received a note from Lakehurst informing him that “a herd of your halfbred are roaming around here in crop & on roads & people are afraid of them.” Another farmer at Lakehurst wrote two years later that “your Buffalo has been at my place for the past 2 weeks and it is a great trouble to me, as it is very ugly on my cattle and I want you to come for it at once.” In 1903 one of the cattalo swam off and joined the herd pasturing in Harvey. Two years later, a buffalo bull—acquired from the Rocky Mountain Park of Canada for two hybrids and some Persian sheep the previous year—escaped while being transported to the Island:

He went down with the cattle to the shore alright, but instead of going on the scow he bolted through the side works into the lake and started to swim across. The man left the scow at the shore and kept up with the buffalo in the Ajax. When nearing the Island he showed signs of tiring when they caught the ring in his nose with a pike pole, then got a rope through the ring and took him to shore without much trouble. When he reached land he galloped off into the woods.

He died later that year after he was dehorned to reduce the damage that he was doing, because the workers could not catch up with him to attend to the wounds. The park lent Boyd another buffalo bull in 1900. Napoleon had died of dysentery in 1896. His head was stuffed and hung in the Bobcaygeon Council Chamber for years.

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