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Buffalo - 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 buffalo.

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 American Bisonthe 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.


Related Information within this Site
[ Arrow ][ Bow ][ Bullboat ][ Dishes ][ Food ][ Glue ][ Hunting ]
[ Jerked Meat ][ Paint ][ Pemmican ][ Rawhide ] Stone Boiling ]