buffalo jump

The Plains peoples of North America hunted buffalo for thousands of years. One of their techniques was to find herds in a natural grazing area near a cliff or a steep bank over which the animals could be stampeded. The Cheyenne, the Kiowa, the Kiowa-Apache, the Lakota, and other Native peoples of the Great Plains constructed driving lines, sometimes with stone cairns, sometimes with logs, to funnel the herds to the cliffs. The sites had different names in different languages. To the Peigan-Blackfeet people of Alberta they are pishkun. In English they are buffalo jumps. The driving lanes, in the centuries before the horse reached North America, could be as much as ten or twelve miles long. The killing sites at the base of the cliffs are a compound of bones, stone rubble, and earth, sometimes to a depth of thirty feet with strata that go back 5,600 years. When Meriwether Lewis came upon a buffalo jump hunt in Missouri, he described the activities in great detail in a May 29, 1805, journal entry beginning with this: “Today we passed on the Stard. side the remains of a vast many mangled carcases of Buffalow which had been driven over a precipice of 120 feet by the Indians and perished; the water appeared to have washed away a part of this immence pile of slaughter and still their remained the fragments of at least a hundred carcases they created a most horrid stench.” Well-known buffalo jumps among the remaining sites include the Vore Buffalo Jump in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming, Glenrock Buffalo Jump in central Wyoming, Madison Buffalo Jump State Park near Bozeman, Montana, and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump near Fort McLeod, one of 150 jumps in Alberta.

Robert Hass