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The Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota (Sioux) Indians used the buffalo for food. They also used it for clothing and shelter. Because the buffalo was so important, it had a special place in their religion. An old story tells that the Indians once lived underground. They called themselves Pte Oyate, or the Buffalo Nation. One day, they came to the surface to live. Here, life was hard. A holy man named Tatanka came to them as a buffalo. He gave the people everything they needed. Today, one Indian name for the buffalo is tatanka.
The buffalo moved in herds. The Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota people had to move with them. They lived a nomadic lifestyle. They followed the buffalo to new grasslands or pastures. Hunting was hard before white people brought horses to the Americas. Most of the tribe had to help hunt the buffalo. The people would herd the animals into a canyon or corral. Hunters killed the penned animals. One of these ancient "kill sites" is found near the town of Buffalo, South Dakota.
798,000 B. C.Bison begin to cross the land bridge 3000 Bison bison appears A. D. 1520 Horses brought to America 1600 60 million buffalo roam North America 1881 Frederick Dupree saves five buffalo calves 1890 Buffalo nearly extinct 1901 Scotty Philip buys Dupree herd 1914 Custer State Park herd started 2000 Buffalo population at 250,000 Lesson 2
American Indians and the Buffalo
Sometimes the tribe forced a herd to stampede off a high cliff. This is called a "buffalo jump." Most animals died in the fall. Others were killed with spears and arrows. Then the tribe cut up the animals. There are buffalo jump sites in South Dakota. One is south of Lemmon. It is near Shadehill Reservoir. Arrowheads and bones from thousands of buffalo were found there. They were below a steep cliff.
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society
Other times, hunters pretended to be wolves. They put on wolf skins. They crept close to the herd. They shot the buffalo with arrows. Buffalo were not afraid of wolves. They ignored the men in wolf skins.
It took fewer hunters to kill buffalo after the Indians got horses. Each hunter had a fast "buffalo horse." Man and horse chased the buffalo. The hunter shot it. The women cut the buffalo up. They hauled the parts back to camp.
The Indians used almost every part of the buffalo. The tongue, heart, liver, and back fat were special treats. The muscle meat was cut into strips. The strips were dried to make jerky. They were hung on trees and branches in the sun. Jerky was an important food. It lasted a long time and was easy to carry.
The Indians used jerky to make wasna. The women pounded the dried meat into a fine meal. They mixed it with wild berries and fat. Sometimes they packed it into clean buffalo intestines. It was like a sausage. Usually they kept wasna in rawhide containers. These holders were called parfleches.
The Indians used the tanned hide of the buffalo to make tipis, clothing, and bedding. First, the women stretched the hides. Then they scraped them to clear away fat and flesh. Next they worked in a mixture of cooked brains. Then they let the skins dry in the sun. They soaked the hides and dried them again.
Two women pulled a hide back and forth over a tree branch. They were making it soft. The hide was then ready to be made into clothing or tipis. Rawhide, or hide that was not tanned, was used for shoes, or moccasins. It was also used for shields and ropes.
Buffalo hair was made into horse ropes and the lining of clothes. From bones, the Indians made arrows and scrapers. They also made knives, axes, and hammers. Flat bones made good cutting boards. Even toys were made from bones!
Horns became spoons, dippers, and bowls. Teeth and hooves became necklaces, door rattles, and glue. Buffalo bladders made good containers for liquids.
Another important buffalo product was dried dung. It made good fuel. It burned without much smoke. It did not smell either.Vocabulary nomadic (adj.), wandering without a permanent home
parfleches (n.), rawhide containers
stampede (n.), a sudden charge of scared animals
tatanka (n.), Lakota name for buffalo
wasna (n.), dried meat pounded and mixed with fat and dried fruit