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Buffalo Jumps: The Plunge of Death

A Buffalo Jump

A Buffalo Jump

Skills for A Buffalo Jump

Skills for A Buffalo Jump

The Magnificent Buffalo/Bison

What a magnificent animal roaming across the plains, simply grazing the lands, oblivious to most things around them unless, of course, they got spooked. They did have an excellent scent but were extremely nearsighted. But this mammal would give the Native Indians their lifeline for survival. The buffalo would provide them food, tools, clothing, and other necessities they needed. The bones were used to make utensils, tools, and the hair was used to make rope; the sinew was used for thread, glue, and bowstrings. Their hides were made into clothing or for their tepees. One buffalo alone weighing 7-900 pounds would yield 225-400 pounds of food.

Nothing Wasted from a Buffalo

Nothing Wasted from a Buffalo

Buffalo Considered Spiritual

Native Americans called the buffalo Tatanka, meaning "Big Beast'. The Blackfeet Indians called the Buffalo Jump Pishkun, meaning "deep blood kettle'. Indians held the buffalo sacred and in harmony with nature. A rare occasion was the birth of a white buffalo, which only happened one in ten million. Recently, in September 2020, a white calf was born at the Heroot Valley Bison Ranch. Members of seven different tribes gathered to celebrate the white calf's birth, believed to be a sign of hope and good things to come.

Sacred White Buffalo

Sacred White Buffalo

Buffalo Jumps

Buffalo Jumps took great skill, courage, teamwork, and a communal effort with everyone having a part. At times different tribes would come together for a better harvest of a large herd. The Indians had devised a unique yet ingenious way to capture large herds. The plan was to force them to stampede and fall off to the butcher and skin them. At times, the fastest runner of the tribe would be given the honor of starting the herd toward the cliff. He would be at the front of the herd waving his blanket or a hide to startle them and then run for his life to the cliff. Behind the herd was other Indians dressed in wolf's hides with fat smeared over them and waving and yelling to start a stampede. A herd of just 50 buffalo could yield 11-20,000 pounds of meat, enough to feed a tribe for the winter.

For years the Indians hunted buffalo using the jumps' method until the Europeans brought the horse and guns. Now they were able to travel to find the herd and had guns for their hunts. As the pioners kept coming, taking their land and hunting buffalo for our sport leaving hundreds of carcasses rotting, the buffalo herds were slowly being eliminated. And the military was aware that without the buffalo, the Indians were losing their way of life. Generals like Sherman, Custer, and other military encouraged buffalo hunts to eliminate their food source.

Archaeologists find the sites offer scientific knowledge within the tools and things left at the cliff sites that can date and tell the story of the Indians and their way of life.

Buffalo Jump

Buffalo Jump

Some Buffalo Sites To Visit

Here are a few buffalo jump sites to visit and learn more about:

  • Bonfire Shelter, one of the earliest sites, Langtry, Texas
  • First People Buffalo Jump, Montana. This is a National Historic Landmark and offers trails, picnic tables, and a huge 6000 ft. Visitors Center.
  • Ulm Pishkan Jump Site, Cascade County, Montana
  • Vore Buffalo Jump, Sundance, Wyoming
  • Madison Buffalo Jump State Park
  • Head-Smashed-In, Alberta, Canada. This site is designated a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. It got its name from a legend when a young Indian boy wanted to witness the buffalo jump up close. He stood under a ledge watching as the buffalo fell and he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed under the buffalo's weight, and they named it Head-Smashed-In Cliff.
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Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Sign for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Sign for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump


fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on November 28, 2020:

Thank you Peggy for your visit and comment. I appreciate it very much.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 27, 2020:

We have seen wild herds of buffalo roaming freely in the Dakotas. I had never heard of the buffalo jumps, but it makes sense. It is excellent that we remember how native people in the Americas lived and honored the lives that they took for sustenance, tools, clothing, and such.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2020:

Thanks for sharing this interesting look at history. I've heard of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump but have never visited it. I hope to see it in real life one day.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on November 27, 2020:

Thank you for your visit. Yes, the buffalo was their total survival.

Rosina S Khan on November 27, 2020:

The buffalo jump seems to be an intriguing way for the Native Indians to provide for them food, tools, and clothing. Thanks for sharing.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 26, 2020:

This is an interesting article that reveals a lot about customs of the past.

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