In a local newspaper article, True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell explained “buffalo” meant hitting a man over the head with a pistol. Where did that term originate?
Fountain Hills, Arizona
“Buffalo” or “buffaloing” dates back to at least the 1870s. It meant to be confused, cheated, intimidated or frightened—usually by bluffing or cowing. But, as you note, it also came to refer to bashing someone’s skull with a gun in order to subdue him. Author Stuart Lake reported Wyatt Earp using that method.
I would define it as the gentle art of bending the barrel of revolver around an adversary’s skull without homicidal intent. Folks considered it more humane to anesthetize an inebriated lad, and let him sleep it off in jail, rather than shoot him.