- The American bison, misnamed "buffalo" by the early white man, was the
most important animal to the Plains Indian. it provided him with
everything he needed - food, clothing, weapons, shelter, and warmth.
Not so long ago there were millions of
buffaloes ranging the Plains and prairies west of the Mississippi River
from the Canadian border to the Gulf of mexico. In earlier history
they are said to have been found as far west as Ohio. All tribes
within range of the buffalo were in constant contact with the great herds
during the summer and winter migrations. They regulated their habits,
tribal customs, and even religious rites to conform with the ways of the
Strict regulations were observed during
the tribal or ceremonial hunts, which occurred in June, July, and August.
The flesh of the buffalo was then the best for eating.
Such hunts were organized under leaders,
and rules were made so that every member of the hunting party had an equal
chance. Individual hunting, or what was known as "still hunting,"
was forbidden and sometimes punished by death. An individual might
scatter an entire herd and thus cause suffering to the tribe.
The "buffalo surround" was one of the most
common methods of hunting on the Plains. A large circle was formed
around the herd and then the hunters rushed in and killed the animals with
arrows and lances - later firearms. Squaws followed and skinned and
dressed the carcasses on the spot. Other times a hunter would disguise
himself in a buffalo hide and act as a decoy for the herd, leading the
buffalo to the edge of a precipice where they were driven over to their
death. The place where this was done was known as a "buffalo fall."
In hunting, Indians marked their arrows
so they could tell which animals they had killed. Sometimes when
several arrows were found in a buffalo, the animal was divided accordingly.
The hide and certain parts of the carcass went to the man whose arrow had
apparently killed the buffalo, while the remainder was divided among the
helpers, the poor, and the disabled of the tribe. In winter the buffalo
was hunted mainly for his thick pelt, from which were made robes, bedding,
and the thicker heavier garments. The winter hunt was not a tribal
or ceremonial hunt, but one of small, independent, but organized parties.
Every portion of the buffalo was used by
the Indian. the hide was made into a covering for his lodge, or bed,
or into a robe, as explained. Or the rawhide was thickened
by heating it beneath a fire in the ground to make it arrow proof - and
even bulletproof - for a shield. Or it was softened for use as horse
gear, bags and pouches, and numerous other articles. Stretched on
willow withes, the hide formed a bullboat with which to cross streams.
Buffalo hair was woven into ropes and used for ornaments.
Every part of the flesh was eaten.
The hump ribs were the finest meat the Plains offered. The Indian
ate the inner parts right on the spot - the liver was consumed after being
sprinkled with a little gall.
The stomach was cleaned and dried and used
as a container for cooking by the
stone boiling process. The meat jerked, or cut into narrow strips
and dried. Dried meat was pounded into pemmican. marrow bones,
or the bones of the hind legs, were roasted. They were then cracked
open and the marrow eaten. Bones of the forelegs were of no value
as marrow bones, as they contained no marrow. The buffalo had two
stomachs. The contents of the first were believed to be a remedy
for skin diseases and especially frostbite. Sinew was used for thread
and for backing bows, as well as for tipping buffalo arrows. Buffalo
chips were used as fuel.
The buffalo was also a totem or clan -
symbol animal. He was believed to be the instructor of the medicine
man, teaching him where and how to find healing plants and herbs.
Some Indians believed the buffalo had been created by a Supreme Being especially
for them. The head and horns of the animal were used by some tribes
in religious ceremonies.
The great indian uprisings of the West
came because of the wanton slaughter of the buffalo by the white man.
Millions were killed, often merely for the tongues, which were considered
great delicacies, or for the robes. The white man never fully understood
what the buffalo meant to the Indian - to every aspect of his life, his
culture, and even his religion.
within this Site
][ Bow ][ Bullboat ][
Dishes ][ Food ][ Glue
][ Hunting ]
Meat ][ Paint ][ Pemmican
][ Rawhide ] Stone