Last week I got the chance to go with my 4th grader's class on a field trip. They went to The First People's Buffalo Jump State Park. The park is just out of Great Falls, MT.
We hiked three and a half miles to the top of the butte and back.
I had Bunny on my back and Bear by my side so we fell behind more than I would have liked. This meant that I missed much of what the guide had to share with the class. I will try and share what I did get, though.
The various tribes would come for weeks at a time to gather their buffalo and lead them to this butte.
It doesn't seem like a large cliff, but if you are a 1000 pound animal going 30 miles per hour, it's enough, I guess! The tribe would have a buffalo herder, who would dress like a buffalo and lead them on. Thinking he was one of the herd, the beasts would slowly follow on. The man would stay out of range so the animals couldn't quite see him. Or at least they couldn't see he was actually a human. Then, when they were at the top of the cliffs the tribe would begin to chase the herd toward the cliff. The Lead Buffalo, being a man, would know right where to jump over into a crevice along the mile wide drop off. The land slops downward just enough to make it look like a simple hill.
It could take sometimes weeks to guide the buffalo to the right spot where they could then chase them over the cliff. Then hunters would lay in wait at the bottom to finish off any animals who may have survived the fall.
This is the view from the top of the cliff. You can see how hard it is to see the drop off, thus aiding to the deception of the buffalo.
These are the frames of sweat huts that were used to perform ceremonies at the top of the cliffs. These were built in the 90's when the park was established and have been left. The natives who built them did use them at the time.
Obviously buffalo cannot read, or they would have never been fooled by this sign.
The women would then help in the cleaning of the animals. The whole tribes would work to preserve and use every part of the buffalos for food, clothing, weapons, even glue.
I imagine the trips to the buffalo jumps were welcomed celebrations in spite of the work it would have been.
And now, in the park's gift shop you can get your very own buffalo in a can. But be warned! These buffalo might just snuggle you to sleep! Or so the can says!