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You want to collect Buffs? (part 1 of a series on the buffalo nickel)

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by Peter J. Miksich, Jr., a Buffalo Nickel Devotee

Be prepared to enter the world of mystery. Some have traveled here. A lot have left. As you peruse this road you choose to travel, be prepared for a lot of sick Bison. Study them. Examine them. Some have no tails. Some are shiny and uncirculated, but were born with lumps on their heads instead of horns. Some Bisons look like ghosts, with shadowy legs and smooth bodies.

They scream to you: I have NO WEAR!!! Yet they float on the reverse of the coin like wax melting in the sun. Some of the invalids have only three legs. The saddest of them hobble on 3 1/2.

Now go to the obverse and look at the poor, sad Indian. He stares at the LIBERTY he fought for and lost. "Iron Tail" sometimes looks like his hair will come free from the knot that is supposed to be there, but looks like a square lump.

He also is plagued by moths that drove him crazy in his later life. Look and see how his neck is being eaten away -- and he almost NEVER puts his good feather headdress on. He seems to prefer the one with the incomplete, worn looking feathers. Sometime he puts on his "two feather" top. Reservation life took away his pride.

The Mint tried to help him by strengthening LIBERTY and the date in 1916, but still he fades into obscurity most of the time, his date gone, not knowing when he was born. In 1918, even the Mint didn't know -- and put two different dates on him.

Iron tail sometimes does not know where he was born: Denver or San Francisco. Some coins have both mintmarks on the back. At least He knows that he came from the West Coast.

I welcome you to this coin and series. Please stay. Don't get frustrated. Your rewards come from your finds: and when you see "Iron Tail" with his good clothes on and his Sunday go to POW WOW feathers; and when you see "Black Diamond" the bison in all his ruggedness with that bushy head of hair and full horn and tail.

Articles in this series:

Happy buffalo hunting!


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