Did you know that the Buffalo on the “Buffalo Nickel” is not a Buffalo at All?

While the official name is the Five Cent Indian head, this coin has come to be known in the hobby as a “Buffalo Nickel”. Peculiarly, the sturdy animal featured on the coin is not an actual Buffalo… It is an American Bison!


Image courtesy of Tim Rathjen using the Lookzee App.

One may understandably have a hard time distinguishing between the animals. Early American settlers called bison “bufello” due to the similar appearance between the two animals, and the name “buffalo” stuck for the American mammal. Bison is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal while the term buffalo came from French fur trappers as “boeufs” (meaning ox or bullock), both have a similar meaning. Like buffalo, bison belong to the Bovidae family. The American bison is the national mammal of the United States.


American Bison Image By katsrcool from Edmond, OK, USA – Majestic Bison


African Cape Buffalo Image By Nevit Syncerus_caffer_in_Tanzania

True Buffalos do not inhabit North America. The American bison lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo reside in Africa and Asia. Asian water buffalo were domesticated around 4000 years ago. They are used for tilling rice fields and milk production. African cape buffalo have never been domesticated and are highly dangerous to humans.

With the true identity of the animal on the reverse of this popular US Coin revealed, another layer of curiosity and rich history of our US coinage has been explored.

Related Past & Present Blog Posts:

The demise of the Buffalo Nickel:

What Native American image is on the coin? https://pastandpresent.com/2015/07/20/who-is-the-native-american-on-the-buffalo-nickel/

Why Buffalo Nickel was created:

Hobo Nickels:



Leave a Reply