Alaska biologists say wood bison reintroduced to the wild are thriving

Alaska biologists say wood bison reintroduced to the wild are thriving

Alaska wood bison. Wood bison are the largest native land mammals in the Western Hemisphere. (Photo by Laura Whitehouse/USFWS)

August 21, 2021 by Mary Auld, KUAC – Fairbanks

State biologists completed an annual survey of the Innoko-Yukon River wood bison population earlier this summer, and they say the results show the animals are doing well six years after a seed group of bison was released in the area.

Biologists counted 103 wood bison this summer — an increase of more than 10% from last year’s herd size. Twenty-six calves joined the herd this year — the most the herd has produced since it was established in 2015. The survey also showed that the animals are in better physical condition than in previous years.

Darren Bruning,  a regional wildlife conservation supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the survey shows the bison are succeeding in the wild.

Bruning flew along in the plane that took photos for the count. He said seeing a thriving herd of wood bison in the Innoko-Yukon River area is a testament to members of the public who advocated for the reintroduction and Fish and Game.

“So to see them in the wild is almost indescribable. It’s extremely rewarding, and I feel good for everyone, knowing the bison are there,” he said.

According to Bruning, the herd’s success in the last year is related to weather. The population tends to decline when a layer of ice forms on top of the snow during spring rains. That barrier prevents bison from accessing the food they need, so fewer animals survive. That wasn’t the case this year, Bruning says.

“The bison probably had more consistent access to forage, which led to healthier cows that were carrying calves, and therefore more calves were born,” he said.

The wood bison were released onto the landscape in 2015 after years of planning. Ken Chase represented Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk and Holy Cross on the Alaska Wood Bison Management Planning Team. Chase said people who live in his area supported the reintroduction because they wanted to hunt the bison.

“We just wanted to see something positive done, you know, with our area, we have no oil development, we have no gas development and so we look to the food source instead,” he said.

Despite the herd’s success this year, biologists say it will be several years before there are enough animals to hunt. But Chase said local people are willing to be patient.

“The main thing is just to try to maintain the herd and let the animals get used to the environment and how to survive,” he said.

Chase hopes once the bison are available for hunting it will provide opportunities for local people. Residents could get involved in managing the bison. Hunters from out of state could bring revenue to the villages. Bison meat could be processed locally. Animals from the herd could be transported to other places to re-establish wild bison. But mostly, Chase wants his people to eat the meat themselves.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2; Métis hunts in Canada

Part 2; Métis hunts in Canada

Paul Kane painted many scenes of Métis men hunting buffalo, including this one. The red sash worn by the man on the ground in front was typical of the capote worn by Métis.

 Paul Kane was an artist and writer who followed the Buffalo hunting Métis onto the western Canadian plains and observed, painted and wrote about them. Born in 1810—while he was still a boy his family emigrated from Ireland to the Toronto area.

Always interested in art, he spent 4 years in Europe studying painting, mostly copying the style of old masters. In England he may have met George Catlin and seen some of his 1830s paintings of Native tribes on the Great Plains of the US. This inspired him to bring together a visual record of the Native people of Canada.

In June 1846 Kane left his home in Toronto to hunt buffalo with the Red River Métis—pronounced Mah tee’ or Mah tees’—from Ft. Garry (now Winnipeg).

Kane soon found that to get safely into the interior of Canada where he could paint many different tribes, he needed a sponsorship from the Hudson Bay Company.

He was fortunate in being able to meet with Sir George Simpson of Hudson Bay, who gave him the papers he needed. Simpson granted Kane free board, lodging and transportation to trading posts in Hudson Bay territory (which was roughly one quarter of North America)—in exchange for a dozen sketches of Native American life for Simpson’s personal museum of “Indian curiosities.”

Kane set off across Canada all the way to the Pacific Ocean—going from one trading post to the next. Sometimes he travelled by water with a fleet of voyagers—sometimes he rode horseback, alone with an interpreter or guide.

He missed by only a few days a Métis group that had just left on a buffalo hunt. Without delay he purchased a cart for his tent, a saddle-horse for himself, hired a Métis helper to drive and hurried to catch up.

Three days later they joined one of the bands of “200 hunters, besides women and children” who welcomed him “with the greatest cordiality.”

Self Portrait by Paul Kane, artist, painted about 1845.

The Métis at Ft. Garry, he wrote: “are more numerous than whites and now amount to 6,000. These are the descendants of the white men in the Hudson’s Bay company’s employment and the Native Indian women. They all speak the Cree language and the Lower Canadian Patois.

“Here the tribe is divided into three bands, each taking a separate route for the purpose of falling in with the herds of buffaloes. These bands are each accompanied by about 500 carts, drawn by either an ox or a horse,” he writes.

“Their cart is a curious-looking vehicle, made by themselves with their own axes and fastened together with wooden pins and leather strings—nails not procurable. The tire of the wheel is made of buffalo hide and put on wet. When it becomes dry it shrinks and is so tight that it never falls off and lasts as long as the cart holds together.

“The carts containing the women and children—each decorated with some flag or other conspicuous emblem on a pole, so that the hunters might recognize their own from a distance–wound off in one continuous line, extending for miles, accompanied by the hunters on horseback.

Traveling to buffalo ranges, the carts with Métis women and children extended for miles, accompanied by hunters on horseback. In recording their travels, Paul Kane’s method was to sketch as many scenes and portraits as he could on the spot in pencil, oils or charcoal, and then later spend more time in painting similar scenes.

Attack by Sioux Hunters

“A very hardy race of men, [they are] capable of enduring the greatest hardships and fatigues—but they make poor farmers, neglecting their land for the more exciting pleasures of the chase.

“Their camps while on the move, are always preceded by scouts, for the purpose of reconnoitering either for enemies or buffaloes. If they see the latter they give a signal by throwing up handfuls of dust. And if the former, by running their horses to and fro.

Métis and the caravan, taking a break for lunch, while scouts went on ahead to scan the horizon for enemies or buffalo. The Sioux deeply resented the Métis’ wholesale slaughter of large herds on what they considered their own hunting grounds.

Three days later the scouts in the distance were seen riding back and forth—the signal of enemies being in sight.

Kane writes, “Immediately 100 of the best mounted hastened to the spot and, concealing themselves behind the shelter of the bank of a small stream, sent out two as decoys—who exposed themselves to the view of the Sioux.

“The latter, supposing them to be alone, rushed upon them, whereupon the concealed [Métis] sprang up and poured in a volley amongst them, which brought down eight. The others escaped, although several must have been wounded—as much blood was afterwards discovered on their track.

“The following afternoon we arrived at the margin of a small lake, where we camped earlier than usual for the water. Next day I was gratified with the sight of a band of about 40 buffalo cows in the distance and our hunters in full chase. They were the first I had seen but were too far off for me to join in the sport.

Buffalo Hunting

“They succeeded in killing 25, which were distributed through the camp and proved most welcome to all of us, as our provisions were getting rather short—and I was abundantly tired of pemmican and dried meat.

The hunters, “Succeeded in killing 25, which were distributed through the camp and proved most welcome to all of us, as our provisions were getting rather short—and I was abundantly tired of pemmican and dried meat,” wrote Kane.

“The fires being lighted with wood we had brought with us in the carts, the whole party commenced feasting with a voracity which appeared perfectly astonishing to me, until I tried myself and found by experience how much hunting on the plains stimulates the appetite.

“For the next two or three days we fell in with only a single buffalo, or small herds of them, but as we proceeded they became more frequent.

“At last our scouts brought in word of an immense herd of buffalo bulls about two miles in advance of us. They are known in the distance from the cows by their feeding singly and being scattered wider over the plain—whereas the cows keep together for the protection of the calves, which are always kept in the center of the herd.

According to Kane, a Métis named Hallett “who was exceedingly attentive to me, woke me in the morning to accompany him in advance of the party, that I might have the opportunity of examining the buffalo whilst feeding before the commencement of the hunt.

“Six hours’ hard riding brought us within a quarter mile of the herd. The main body stretched over the plains as far as the eye could reach. Fortunately the wind blew in our faces. Had it blown towards the buffaloes they would have scented us miles off.

“I wished to have attacked them at once but my companion would not allow me until the rest of the party came up—as it was contrary to tribal law. We therefore sheltered ourselves from the observation of the herd behind a mound, relieving our horses of their saddles to cool them.

“In about an hour the hunters came up, about 130 and immediate preparations were made for the chase. Every man loaded his gun, looked to his priming and examined the efficiency of his saddle-girths.

“The elder men strongly cautioned the less experienced not to shoot each other. A caution by no means unnecessary—as such accidents frequently occur.

“Each hunter then filled his mouth with balls, which he drops into the gun without wadding. By this means loading much quicker and being enabled to do so whilst his horse is at full speed. It is true that the gun is more liable to burst, but that they do not seem to mind.

“The scene now became one of intense excitement. The huge bulls thundering over the Plain in headlong confusion, whilst the fearless hunters rode recklessly in their midst, keeping up an incessant fire at but a few yards’ distance from their victims.

“Upon the fall of each buffalo, the successful hunter merely threw some article of his apparel—often carried by him solely for that purpose—to denote his own prey—and then rushed on to another. These marks are scarcely ever disputed, but should a doubt arise as to the ownership, the carcass is equally divided among the claimants.

“The chase continued only about one hour, and extended over an area of from 5 to 6 square miles, where might be seen the dead and dying buffalos to the number of 500.

“In the meantime my horse which had started at a good run, was suddenly confronted by a large bull that made his appearance from behind a knoll within a few yards of him. Being thus taken by surprise, he sprung to one side and getting his foot into one of the innumerable badger holes, with which the plains abound, he fell at once. I was thrown over his head with such violence that I was completely stunned.

“Some of the men caught my horse and I was speedily remounted. I again joined in the pursuit and coming up with a large bull, I had the satisfaction of bringing him down at the first fire.

“Excited by my success I threw down my cap and galloping on soon put a bullet through another enormous animal. He did not however fall, but stopped and faced me pawing the earth, bellowing and glaring savagely at me. The blood was streaming profusely from his mouth and I thought he would soon drop.

“The position in which he stood was so fine that I could not resist making a sketch. I accordingly dismounted and had just commenced when he suddenly made a dash at me. I had hardly time to spring on my horse and get away from him, leaving my gun and everything behind.

“When he came up to where I had been standing, he turned over the articles I had dropped, pawing fiercely as he tossed them about and then retreated towards the herd. I immediately recovered my gun and having reloaded, again pursued him and soon planted another shot in him. This time he remained on his legs long enough for me to make a sketch.

“I have often witnessed an Indian buffalo hunt since, but never one on so large a scale.”

As he returned to camp, he came upon “One of the hunters coolly driving a wounded buffalo before him. In answer to my inquiry why he did not shoot him, he said he would not do so until he got him close to the lodges as it would save the trouble of bringing a cart for the meat. He had already driven him seven miles and afterwards killed him within 200 yards of the tents.

“That evening while the hunters were still absent a buffalo, bewildered by the hunt, got amongst the tents and at last got into one—after having terrified all the women and children, who precipitately took flight.

“When the men returned they found him there still. And being unable to dislodge him, they shot him down from the opening in the top.”

Buffalo Hunting methods

The hunting methods used by the Métis were far different from that of their Indian ancestors. Instead of driving bison off cliffs or into pounds and corrals on foot, they had horses and guns from the first, provided by their fathers and grandfathers. Their Native mothers taught them buffalo culture.

They ran their trained buffalo horses into the herd, picked out a fat cow and fired point-blank at full gallop. Experienced hunters on buffalo horses could kill 10 to 12 buffalo in a two-hour run.

The Métis hunters had horses and guns from the first, provided by their fathers and grandfathers. They trained their horses to move in close to the targeted buffalo—they could kill 10 to 12 buffalo during a two-hour run.

“The sagacity of the animal is chiefly shewn in bringing his rider alongside the retreating buffalo, and in avoiding the numerous pitfalls abounding on the prairie. The most treacherous of the latter are the badger holes.

“Considering the bold nature of the sport, remarkably few accidents occur. The hunters enter the herd with their mouths full of bullets. A handful of gunpowder is let fall from their powder horns—a bullet is dropped from the mouth into the muzzle, a tap with the butt end of the firelock on the saddle causes the salivated bullet to adhere to the powder during the second necessary to depress the barrel, when the discharge is instantly effected without bringing the gun to the shoulder.”

Kane recorded the Métis’s buffalo adventures not only in paintings and sketches, but also in colorful narratives, collected later in his book “Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America” published in London in 1859.

As Canada’s first artist of national significance he has an interesting and important place in the history of Canadian art and ethnography. However, he does not escape criticism and questions about his authenticity—it was said his final paintings did not always match with the sketches he had made on site.

During his 2 voyages through the Canadian northwest in 1845 and from 1846 to 1848 Kane sketched and painted Métis people who lived around the forts as well as Indians from a variety of tribes who came to visit or trade at the forts. Everywhere along the way he made sketches, in pencil, watercolor or oil.

He made two voyages through the Canadian northwest—in 1845 and from 1846 to 1848.

During those years Kane sketched and painted Métis people who lived around the forts as well as Native people from other tribes who came to visit or trade at the forts. Everywhere along the way he made sketches, in pencil, watercolor or oil.

Hudson Bay after 1821 had a monopoly and operated about 100 isolated outposts along the major fur trade routes.

What he found in the Métis, Kane wrote was, “A race, who, keeping themselves distinct from both Indians and whites, form a tribe of themselves. Although they have adopted some of the customs and manners of the French voyageurs.”

Metis settlements on the Red River were located upstream as far as Pembina, ND, and downstream to Lake Winnipeg and Hudson Bay.

Métis hunts involved organizing hundreds of men, women, children, Red River carts and horses for the westward journeys which covered vast stretches of the Plains to harvest the buffalo where they grazed. On the return trip, tons of processed buffalo meat and hides were shipped for the fur and hide trade.

Buffalo hunts provided the Métis with an impressive organizational structure. By 1820 it was a permanent feature of life for all individuals on or near the Red River and other Métis communities.

The Red River Métis became famous for their buffalo hunts. However, experts say this was largely because of the abundance of writers and observers who passed through that area along the Red River between Winnipeg and Pembina publicizing their large hunts and pemmican trade.

Actually the Red River Métis were on the eastern edge of the pemmican commerce and only came late to the game.

Métis buffalo hunting and the making of pemmican for trade actually began in the late 1700s farther north and west. Fur trading companies looked for food items that could last their traders on long trips. The buffalo hunters showed them that pemmican was an ideal product, since it could be stored for long periods of time without spoiling.

During the early 1800s, Canadian Métis established themselves as suppliers of pemmican to the new world.

The first Métis communities appeared in Ontario, particularly around the Great Lakes, and Eastern Canada. As the fur trade moved west, so did the French-Canadian fur traders. Métis settlements were located as far west as British Columbia, and as far north as the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories.

Some who participated in the northern hunts preferred to stay out on the Prairie in winter camps. Roughly 30 such settlements have been found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana. Their small villages consisted of about 40 or 50 rough-hewn, flat sod-roofed cabins.

Métis lived in log cabins near or within fur trading forts. They were first and foremost buffalo hunters.

Among their many other names, the Métis were also known as Buffalo Hunters. Although they sustained themselves in a variety of ways—such as fishing, trapping for furs, practicing small-scale agriculture and working as wage laborers for the Hudson Bay Company—they were first and foremost buffalo hunters.

There were usually two organized hunts each year: one in the spring and one in the fall. The buffalo hunts of this time were carried out through almost militaristic precision.

Often a priest accompanied the devout Métis hunters and one of their rules was ‘No Hunting, No travel’ on Sundays.

Kane reported that the first organizational meeting for the hunt was held and a President selected. A number of captains were nominated by the President and the people jointly. The captains then proceeded to appoint their own policemen, the number assigned to each not exceeding ten.

Their duty was to see that the Laws of the hunt were strictly carried out. Guides were responsible for the camp flag that remained raised until it was time to settle for the night. At the end of the day the captains took charge.

Arrival at Fort Edmonton

A favorite fur trading fort for Paul Kane was the Edmonton trading post on the Plains of central Alberta. There he arrived in deep snow amid temperatures of 40 and 50 below. He rode across the Continental Divide the end of November and spent the rest of the winter there.

Kane observed the men working in the ice pits. He wrote “The buffaloes range in thousands close to the fort. The men had already commenced gathering their supply of fresh meat for the summer in the ice pit.

 “This is made by digging a square hole capable of containing 700 or 800 buffalo carcasses. As soon as the ice in the river is of sufficient thickness, it is cut into square blocks of a uniform size with saws. With these blocks the floor of the pit is regularly paved and the blocks cemented together by pouring water in between them and allowing it to freeze solid.

“In like manner the walls are solidly built up to the surface of the ground.

 “The head and feet of the buffalo when killed are cut off, and the carcass without being skinned is divided into quarters and piled in layers in the pit as brought in, until it is filled up, when the whole is covered with a thick coating of straw, which is again protected from the sun and rain by a shed.

“In this manner the meat keeps perfectly good through the whole summer, and eats much better than fresh killed meat, being more tender and better flavored.”

 Five or six gentlemen prepared for a buffalo hunt to which Kane was invited.

First they selected their horses. “We had our choice of splendid horses, as about a dozen are kept in the stables for the gentlemen’s use from the wild band of 700 or 800. Which roam about the fort and forage for themselves through the winter, by scraping snow away from long grass with their hoofs.

“They have only one man to take care of them, he follows them about and camps near them with his family. This would appear a most arduous task. But instinct soon teaches them that their only safety from their great enemies, the wolves, is by remaining near the habitations of man.

“These horses are kept and bred for the purpose of sending off pemmican and stores to other forts during the summer. In winter they are almost useless, on account of the depth of snow.

After going about 6 miles on a wagon trail the hunters saw a band of buffalo on the bank.

“A dog who had sneaked after us—running after them, gave the alarm too soon—and they started off at full speed. We caught the dog and tied his legs together and left him lying in the road to await our return.

“About 3 miles further we came to a place where the snow was trodden down in every direction and on ascending the bank, we found ourselves in the close vicinity of an enormous band of buffaloes, probably nearly 10,000.

“The snow was so deep they were either unable or unwilling to run far, and at last came to a dead stand. We therefore secured our horses and advanced towards them on foot to within 40 or 50 yards. We commenced firing, which we continued to do until we were tired of a sport so little exciting.

“For strange to say, they never tried either to escape or attack us.

“Seeing a very large bull, I thought I would kill him for the purpose of getting the skin of his enormous head and preserving it. He fell. But as he was surrounded by three others that I could not frighten away, I was obliged to shoot them all before I could venture near him—although they were all bulls and are not generally saved for meat.

“The sport proving rather tedious, from the unusual quietness of the buffaloes, we determined to return home and send the men for the carcasses and remounted our horses.

“But before we came to the river we found an old bull standing right in our way. Mr. Harriett, the chief, for the purpose of driving him off, fired at him and slightly wounded him. Then he turned and made a furious charge. Mr. Harriett barely escaped by jumping his horse on one side. So close, indeed was the charge, that the horse was slightly struck on the rump.

”The animal still pursued Mr. Harriet at full speed and we all set after him, firing ball after ball into him, as we ranged up close to him without any apparent effect than that of making him more furious and turning his rage on ourselves.

“This enabled Mr. Harriett to reload and plant a couple more balls in him. We were now all close to him and we all fired deliberately at him. At last after receiving 16 bullets in his body, he slowly fell.

“On our return, we told the men to bring in the cows we had killed, numbering 27, with the head of the bull I wanted. Whereupon the women—who have always this job to do, started off to catch the requisite number of dogs.

“These dogs are quite as valuable as horses, as it is with them that everything is drawn over the snow,” Kane observed. The snow at Edmonton was so deep in winter that horses could not be used. “Yet no care is taken of [the dogs] except that of beating them sufficiently before using them, to make them quiet for the time they are in harness. Painting by Paul Kane.

“About the fort there are always 200 or 300 who forage for themselves like the horses and lie outside. These dogs are quite as valuable as horses, as it is with them that everything is drawn over the snow. Two of them will easily draw in a large cow. Yet no care is taken of them except that of beating them sufficiently before using them, to make them quiet for the time they are in harness.

“It would be almost impossible to catch them were it not for the stratagem of tying light logs to them, which they drag about. By this means they soon catch as many as they want and bring them into the fort where they are fed—sometimes—before being harnessed.

“Early next morning I was roused by a yelling and screaming that made me rush from my room, thinking we were all being murdered. And there I saw the women harnessing dogs.

“Such a scene! The women were like so many furies with big sticks, threshing away at the poor animals, who rolled and yelled in agony and terror until each team was yoked up and started off.

“During the day the men returned, bringing the quartered cows ready to be put in the ice-pit. And my big head, which before skinning I had put in the scales and found that it weighed exactly 202 lbs. The skin of the head I brought home with me.

The Métis women often decorated with beadwork borrowed from French floral designs. These Muckluks were worn in winter time.

“The fort at this time of the year presented a most pleasing picture of cheerful activity. Everyone was busy; the men, some in hunting and bringing in the meat, some in sawing boards in the saw-pit and building boats.

 “The women find ample employment in making moccasins and clothes for the men, putting up pemmican in 90-pound bags, and doing all the household drudgery, in which the men never assist them.

“Evenings are spent round their large fires in eternal gossiping and smoking. The sole musician a fiddler is now in great requisition amongst the French part of the inmates, who give full vent to their national vivacity, whilst the more sedate Indian looks on with solemn enjoyment.

‘No liquor is allowed to the men or Indians. But want of it did not in the least seem to impair their cheerfulness.

Christmas at Ft Edmonton

On Christmas day the flag was hoisted and by 2 o’clock they sat down to a delicious dinner in the spacious dining hall, which was about 50’ by 25’.

Boiled buffalo hump, a boiled unborn buffalo calf, white fish browned in buffalo marrow, buffalo tongue—all considered delicacies—were served along with beavers’ tails and roast wild goose. Also piles of potatoes, turnips and bread.

“Long will it remain in my memory, although no pies, puddings or blanc manges shed their fragrance over the scene.

That evening they held a dance for all the inmates of the fort. The dancers were “glittering in every ornament they could lay hands on. Whether civilized or savage, all were laughing and jabbering in as many different languages as there were styles of dress.

Kane says that about 130 people–traders, their Native wives and children—the Métis —lived within the walls of the Edmonton trading post in comfortable log houses, supplied with abundant firewood.

“English was little used—as none could speak it but those who sat at the dinner table.

“Occasionally I led out a young Cree [woman] who sported enough beads round her neck to have made a peddler’s fortune.

“Having led her into the center of the room, I danced round her with all the agility I was capable of exhibiting to some highland-reel tune which the fiddler played with great vigor. Whilst my partner with grave face kept jumping up and down, both feet off the ground at once.

A half-Cree girl—her poetic name was Cunne-wa-bun—or ‘One that looks at the Stars.’ Posing for a picture, she held her swan’s wing fan with an ornamental handle of porcupine quills “in a most coquettish manner,” according to Kane, who later painted her in two styles.

“Another lady with whom I sported the light fantastic. . . whose poetic name was Cunne-wa-bun—or ‘One that looks at the Stars’ was a half-Cree girl. I was so much struck by her beauty that I prevailed upon her to promise to sit for her likeness, which she afterwards did with great patience—holding her fan made of the tip end of swan’s wing with an ornamental handle of porcupine’s quills in a most coquettish manner.”

Making a Calf

A few days later Kane went out hunting with Francois Lucie, a Métis voyageur and his friend.

“We fell in with a small band of buffaloes and Francois initiated me into the mysteries of ‘making a calf.’

“This ruse is performed by 2 men, one covering himself with wolf skin, the other with buffalo skin. They then crawl on all fours within sight of the buffaloes and as soon as they have engaged their attention, the pretend wolf jumps on the pretend calf, which bellows in imitation of a real one.

‘As the bellowing is generally perfect, the herd rush on to the protection of their supposed young with such impetuosity that they do not perceive the cheat until they are quite close enough to be shot.

“Indeed, Francois’ bellowing was so perfect that we were nearly run down. As soon as we jumped up they turned and fled [leaving 2 dead cows behind].

“We shortly afterwards fell in with a solitary bull and cow and again ‘made a calf.’ The cow attempted to spring towards us, but the bull seeming to understand the trick, tried to stop her by running between us.

“The cow however dodged and got round him and ran within 10 or 15 yards of us—with the bull close at her heels, when we both fired and brought her down.

“The bull instantly stopped short and bending over her, tried to raise her up with his nose—evincing the most persevering affection for her. Nor could we get rid of him so as to cut up the cow, without shooting him also—although bull flesh is not desirable at this season of the year, when the female can be procured.

“Having loaded our horses with the choice parts of the 3 cows we had killed, we proceeded home.”

Another day, another trick—taught Kane by Francois was “making a snake.” For this the 2 men crawled on their bellies, dragging themselves along by their hands.

“Being first fully certain that we were to the leeward of the herd, however light the wind, lest they should scent us—until we came within a few yards of them, which they would almost invariably permit us to do.

“Should there be 20 hunters engaged, each follows exactly in the track of his leader, keeping his head close to the heels of his predecessor.

“The buffaloes seem not to take the slightest notice of the moving line, which the Indians account for by saying that the buffalo supposes it to be a big snake winding through the snow or grass.”

Exhausted as he was after the days’ hunt, Kane stayed up late that night watching a dazzling performance of the northern lights.

“It extended from the east to the west across the zenith. In its center, immediately overhead appeared a blood-red ball of fire—of greater diameter than the full moon rising in a misty horizon. From the ball emanated rays of crimson light, merging into a brilliant yellow at the northern edges.

“The belt also on the northern side presented the same dazzling brightness, while the snow and every object surrounding us was tinted by the same hues.

“I continued lost in admiration of this splendid phenomenon until past one in the morning, when it still shown undiminished if not increased brilliance.

“The Indians have a poetical regard for the Aurora Borealis, which is in this high latitude remarkably brilliant, shooting up coruscations of surprising splendor. These they think are the spirits of the dead dancing before the Manitou or Great Spirit.”

A group of war chiefs from a large party of 1500 warriors headed for Fort Edmonton in pursuit of Crees and Assiniboines. Paul Kane, who painted them, said they included Big Snake in the center, Miskemekin “The Iron Collar” a Blood Indian chief with his face painted red, and Little Horn on the left with a buffalo robe draped round him. “As they were expecting to have a fight with the Crees next day, they got up a medicine dance in the afternoon and I was solemnly invited to attend, that I might add my magical powers,” he wrote.

Travelling home that fall Kane joined a brigade of voyagers, making portages with Mr. Harriet in the lead boat—“being lighter and generally better built than the rest.”

Homeward Bound

Their fleet arrived at Grand Rapids. “And the whole brigade shot down them—a distance of three and a half miles,” writes Kane.

“No rapid in the whole course of navigation on the eastern side of the mountains is at all to be compared to this in velocity, grandeur or danger. The brigade flies down as if impelled by a hurricane, many shipping a good deal of water in the perpendicular leaps which they often had to take in the descent.

“The whole course is one white sheet of foam from one end to the other!”

They arrived in Sault Ste Marie by Oct 1 and he finished the trip by steamboat.

Paul Kane brought home to Toronto some 500 sketches, from which he completed 100 paintings and published the book Wanderings—a detailed record of his travels throughout Canada. He has been criticized for romanticizing the Native people in a European way, giving viewers what they expected, rather than what he saw.

Kane married Harriet Clench in 1853. She was an accomplished artist and a drawing and painting instructor. They had four children, two sons and two daughters.

Kane’s home in Toronto, built upon his marriage to Harriet Clench in 1853. Now a historic site. They had four children, two sons and two daughters. Paul Kane died Feb. 20, 1871.

The oil paintings he completed in his studio are considered an essential part of Canadian heritage in recording those early times, although it was said he embellished some of them considerably, departing from the accuracy of his field sketches in favor of more dramatic scenes.

In 1857, Kane fulfilled his commissions of more than 120 oil canvases for his patron George W Allan, the Parliament and Simpson of Hudson Bay. His works were shown at the World’s Fair at Paris in 1855, where they were reviewed very positively.

In 1879 the hunters on the prairies of Canada reported that only a few buffalo were left of the great herds and within two years the last of the buffalo herds in Montana Territory were also gone.

Source: Wandering of an Artist Among the Indians of North America: From Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon, Through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again, by Paul Kane, published in London by Longman, Brown, Green and Roberts in 1859. Respectfully dedicated to George William Allan, ESQ. as a token of gratitude for the kind and generous interest he has always taken in the Author’s labors, as well as a sincere expression of admiration of the liberality which, as a native Canadian, he is ever ready to foster Canadian talent and enterprise. Toronto: July 9, 1858.)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Conservationist aims to replace old bridge with bison preserve

Conservationist aims to replace old bridge with bison preserve

Sketch of possible future wildlife crossing links Iowa and Illinois across Mississippi. Photo credit Bison Bridge Foundation.

To benefit environment and spotlight Native American history

Between Iowa and Illinois, spanning a stretch of Mississippi River that flows from east to west, sits an exhausted 55-year-old concrete bridge. Each day 42,000 cars drive across the ageing structure, which is slated to be torn down and replaced.

But when Chad Pregracke looks at the bridge, he has a different vision entirely—not an old overpass to be demolished, but a home for the buffalo to roam.

The conservationist and local hero hails from the Quad Cities, a 300,000-person metropolitan area spanning two states on either side of the Mississippi River. It is known for its four cities: Bettendorf and Davenport in south-eastern Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in northwestern Illinois.

Pregracke spends months every year living on barges and cleaning up refuse from the Mississippi and he has brought his passion for the river to his latest project: converting the ailing bridge into a buffalo preserve. The idea came to him four years ago as he drove across the bridge one day, he says: “I thought, what if we made this a wildlife crossing?”

Now, his unlikely vision is being taken seriously. The departments of transportation in Iowa and Illinois are considering the proposal, which would break ground in as little as five years.

If completed, the bridge would become the longest human-made wildlife crossing in the world. The plan would see a new bridge built further down the river, where car traffic will be rerouted, and the existing bridge converted for use by humans and American bison—colloquially known as buffalo.

On one side would stand a pedestrian path and bike path and on the other an enclosed bison paddock that would let visitors see eye to eye with the huge creatures. The herds would be free to roam between Iowa and Illinois in the grassy expanse, and the project would establish the first national park in either state.
(The Guardian: Kari Paul Jun 27, 2021 06.00 EDT, https://apple.news/AFHknhgUCSwWPYZSwqri7zA)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

BSC Bison Symposium Agenda

https://bismarckstate.edu/events/Dakota-Bison-Symposium/

Welcome! We are looking forward to hosting Bismarck State College’s 5th symposium in 2021. We appreciate your interest and hope you will join us in September.

**To Register for Bismarck State College Dakota Bison Symposium,
Call 701-224-5600, or click HERE:

BSC Bison Symposium Agenda

Day 1—Bismarck State College and the North Dakota Heritage Center (Breakfast, lunch, reception appetizers provided)
Day 2—Tours to Southwestern North Dakota and Northwestern South Dakota (lunch, dinner provided)
Day 3United Tribes Technical College (lunch provided)

The past, present, and future of the American Bison impacts us all more than we probably realize.

 Mark your calendar for the Dakota Bison Symposium, an event that will educate and inform attendees on the American Bison through presentations, conversations, film, art, tours, exhibits, music, dancing, and culinary art. Bismarck State College will host this event September 16–18, 2021 in Bismarck, North Dakota.

This event is the fifth in a series of symposia led by the college to promote the arts, humanities, and history through major topics that shape our culture and heritage as a state and nation, promote mutual respect for diverse beliefs, and broaden our understanding of humanity.

Registration fees are listed below and registration is open!
September 16 only—$65 (includes light breakfast, lunch & evening reception)
September 17 only—$45 (includes bus transportation, lunch, snacks, Bison dinner)

September 16-17—$99
September 18 only—$35 (includes lunch; transportation not provided)
September 16, 17, 18—$125

Save 10% on registration with your OLLI @ BSC membership!
bismarckstate.edu/OLLI

Agenda (BSC Campus)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

7:00 am           Onsite check-in; Registration
    National Energy Center of Excellence, BSC

7:45 am           Welcome, Dr. Doug Jensen,
    Bismarck State College President

8:00 am           Bison: From Whence They Come
    John Eagle Sr., Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

8:45 am           Why Does the Bison Matter?
    Dan Flores, Author, A. B. Hammond
    Professor Emeritus of the History of the American West at the University of Montana-Missoula

9:30 am           Break/Book Signing

10:00 am         The Bison Arrival to North America
    Dr. Duane Froese, University of Alberta

10:45 am         Cultural and Historical Significance of the American Bison
    Dakota Goodhouse, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, United Tribes Technical College

11:30 am         Lunch & Field Trip Synopsis
    Francie Berg, author
    Cody Two Bears, Indigenous Energy

12:45 pm         Destruction of the Bison
    Andrew C. Isenberg, University of Kansas

1:30 pm           Return of the Bison: A Panel Discussion
    Arnell D. Abold, Oglala Lakota (Sioux), Executive Director for the InterTribal Buffalo Council
    Jason Baldes, Eastern Shoshone, Wind River native
    Corissa Busse, The Nature Conservancy
    Brendan Moynahan, National Park Service/Dept. of Interior’s Bison Working Group

3:00 pm           Break/Book Signing

3:30 pm           Bison and Healthy Indian Communities:, A Panel Discussion
    Scott J. Davis, Executive Director of Indian Affairs, Sanford Health – Moderator
    Donald Warne, Indians Into Medicine (INMED) & Public Health Programs at UND
    Melissa Sobolik, President, Great Plains Food Bank
    Chairman Mike Faith, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
    Lorraine Davis, President and CEO, Native American Development Center

6:30 pm           Reception and Dance by Kevin Locke
    North Dakota Heritage Center

7:00 pm           Film Viewing Bring Them Home (Documentary)
    Iniskim (fiction film) Produced by Daniel Glick

Friday, September 17, 2021 (Day Trip)

7:15 am           Check-in, Bus Assignments

7: 45 am          Buses Depart BSC

9:00 am           Kokomo Sculpture Gallery, Petrified Park (Lemmon, SD)
    Shadehill Buffalo Jump

11:45 am         Lunch, Shadehill Recreation Area

1:45 pm           Johnson Buffalo Herd, Jim Strand Herdsman
    Hiddenwood Hunt Historic Site

4:30 pm          Last Stand – Sitting Bull Hunt

5:30 pm           Buffalo Dinner, Dakota Buttes Museum (Hettinger, ND)

7:30 pm           Depart for BSC/Bismarck

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Events scheduled for United Tribes Technical College

8:30 am           Check-in

9:00 am           Opening Prayer

9:15 am           Significance of the Buffalo for Ocethi Sakowin & Local Nations

10:00 am         Indigenous Singing & Dance Performance

10:15 am         Dignitaries Speak –
    Political leaders, representatives from multiple tribal nations & other dignitaries

10:30 am         Indigenous Singing & Dance Performance

12:00 pm         Buffalo Lunch – prepared in traditional Northern Plains Indigenous way

Local Indigenous art vendors onsite from 10 am – 1 pm

 bscdakotabison.com

     **To Register for Bismarck State College Dakota Bison Symposium,

         Call 701-224-5600, or click HERE:

Selection of Confirmed Speakers

Francie M. Berg is a teacher, historian and author of 17 books, with strong homestead and ranching roots in the Old West. Born at home in the Missouri River Breaks, she grew up on a Montana ranch and lives in Hettinger, North Dakota, within a few miles of her grandparents’ South Dakota homestead and the center of a fascinating buffalo heritage of which she writes in Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes and its companion book Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains.

For over 35 years she has been researching buffalo, read most all the books on the subject, visited many public, commercial and tribal herds, talked and visited with bison ranchers, climbed some of the most famous buffalo jumps in the Rocky Mountains, US and Canada, and wrote three books about buffalo. Her other books on western history include: Montana Stirrups, Sage & Shenanigans, North Dakota Land of Changing Seasons, South Dakota Land of Shining Gold, Wyoming Land of Echoing Canyons and Ethnic Heritage in North Dakota.

Francie Berg has worked as a county extension agent, and taught high school, college and adult education.  A licensed nutritionist and graduate of Montana State University in Bozeman, she has a master’s degree in Family Social Studies and Anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

Books on Buffalo include: Buffalo Heartbeats Across the Plains, winner of three national awards, Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes, a Self-Guided Tour, and The Last Great Buffalo Hunts: Traditional Hunts in 1880-1883 by Teton Lakota (back ordered).

————————————————————————————————-

Dr. Duane Froese is Canada Research Chair in Northern Environmental Change at the University of Alberta, and has been working on the fossil record of Ice Age mammals in Northern Canada and Alaska for the last 25 years.  His research group focuses on environmental changes in the North, and undrstanding the ecosystems that supported the diverse grazing megafauna of Ice Age North America.

————————————————————————————————-

Dan Flores: A native of Louisiana and currently a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, he has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and numerous magazines. He is the author of ten books, most recently American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains, the Stubbendieck Distinguished Book Prize winner in 2017, and Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, which is a New York Times Bestseller, winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, and a 2017 Finalist for PEN America’s E. O. Wilson Prize in Literary Science Writing. His current project, “Wild New World: America’s Animals Confront Humanity” is a big history of the human/wild animal story and will be published by W. W. Norton in 2022.

————————————————————————————————-

Dakota Wind Goodhouse is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Goodhouse has a B.A. in Theology and a M.A. in History. He is a PhD candidate at NDSU in History. Goodhouse teaches U.S. History and Native American Studies at United Tribes Technical College. He is the editor and writer of “The First Scout,” a blog about the history and culture of the Northern Plains.

————————————————————————————————-

Daniel Glick is an Emmy-winning director, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor who has worked on projects of all types including documentaries, narrative films, comedies, commercials and web series.

These projects have garnered more than a dozen awards and span a range of topics that Daniel is passionate about: social justice, indigenous rights, wildlife, the arts, science, conservation, and prison reform.

His diverse range of clients have included The Wilderness Society, LL Bean, FICO, Wildlife Conservation Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and Colliers International.

————————————————————————————————-

Andrew Isenberg is the Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas.  He is the author, co-author, or editor of seven books, including The Destruction of the Bison:  An Environmental History, 1750-1920 (2000; second edition, 2020); Mining California:  An Ecological History (2005); and Wyatt Earp:  A Vigilante Life (2013).

From his book The Destruction of the Bison, “The interaction between Indians and Euroamericans in the western plains created bison hunters on both sides of the encounter:  notably equestrian Indian nomads and Euroamerican hide hunters.  By the second half of the nineteenth century… Indians and Euroamericans were engaged in a destructive battle over control of resources in the plains.”

————————————————————————————————-

The Dakota Bison Symposium will draw a diverse audience from across the state and region September 16-18, 2021, to experience and learn about the American Bison through presentations, panel discussions, film, art, tours, exhibits, music, dancing, and culinary arts. This three-day event is the fifth in a series of symposia led by the BSC to promote the arts, humanities, and history through major topics that shape our culture and heritage as a state and nation, promote mutual respect for diverse beliefs and broaden our understanding of humanity.

Presentations will be chronological, beginning with ancient origins of the bison and arrival to North America; the cultural and historical significance of the bison to Native American peoples and settlers; the exploitation and destruction of the bison; and modern efforts to re-introduce and conserve bison herds from both a Native American and farming/ranching perspective, as well as health benefits of the return of the bison to Native American communities.

The Dakota Bison Symposium—September 16-18, 2021. A symposium to explore the rich history of the bison, see its impact on where we are today and learn about the opportunities that are waiting in the near future. We hope you can join us—registration is open!

http://bscdakotabison.com/

A 3-day event to discuss the history, near destruction and remarkable revitalization of the Bison, and how it has played a staring role in living traditions and art from ancient to modern times.

 

Adams County Prepares for BSC Bison Symposium Tour

Viewing hint: To enlarge type simply hold down your Control key and roll the wheel on the mouse.

Adams County Record, July 15, 2021 by Frank Turner, editor, with permission

Thank you to our confirmed Sponsors & Partners!

Bismarck State College has been approved for a $30,000 Grants for Arts Projects award to support the college’s 2021 Dakota Bison Symposium. This project is among the more than 1,100 projects across America totaling nearly $27 million that were selected during this second round of Grants for Arts Projects fiscal year 2021 funding. 

As the country and the arts sector begin to imagine returning to a post-pandemic world, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is proud to announce funding that will help arts organizations such as Bismarck State College reengage fully with partners and audiences,” said NEA Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “Although the arts have sustained many during the pandemic, the chance to gather with one another and share arts experiences is its own necessity and pleasure.”

Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is proud to announce funding that will help arts organizations such as Bismarck State College reengage fully with partners and audiences,” said NEA Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “Although the arts have sustained many during the pandemic, the chance to gather with one another and share arts experiences is its own necessity and pleasure.”

The Dakota Bison Symposium will be an event that brings a diverse audience from across the state and region to experience and learn about the American Bison through presentations, panel discussions, film, art, tours, exhibits, music, dancing, and culinary arts. This three-day event is planned for September 16-18, 2021 in Bismarck, North Dakota. This event is the fifth in a series of symposia led by the college to promote the arts, humanities and history through major topics that shape our culture and heritage as a state and nation, promote mutual respect for diverse beliefs, and broaden our understanding of humanity.

“This is an exciting and enriching event that we are proud to be hosting on our campus with a great number of partners and stakeholders,” said BSC President Doug Jensen. “We look forward to working with the Arts Endowment on this endeavor.”

 Agenda details and registration for the event are available online at bismarckstate.edu/dakotabisonsymposium 

For more information on the projects included in the Arts Endowment grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

Sponsors

Sponsorship is a great opportunity to become involved in the Dakota Bison Symposium,
the 5th Symposia offered by Bismarck State College. Sponsor level details below:

Gold sponsor                                              $5,000

  • Full color 1/4 page ad in the Symposium program book.
  • Social media recognition.
  • Company logo included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Verbal name recognition during program.
  • Logo recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Symposium sessions will be streamed to schools, and the stream will feature Gold company logos.
  • Logo recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • Priority seating at Symposium for complimentary registrations.
  • Four complimentary registrations to the full symposium, including Thursday evening speakers and Friday/Saturday tours.
  • Name tags will indicate Sponsorship level.

Silver Sponsor                                          $2,500

  • Company name listed in program book.
  • Verbal name recognition during program.
  • Social media recognition.
  • Company name recognition included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Company name recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • Priority seating at Symposium for complimentary registrations.
  • Four complimentary registrations to the full Symposium, including Thursday evening speakers and Friday/Saturday tours. 
  • Name tags at Symposium will indicate Sponsorship.

Supporting Sponsor                                                                        $1,000

  • Program book listing with company name and logo.
  • Company logo included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Logo recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Logo recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • Two complimentary registrations to the full Symposium, including Thursday evening speakers and Friday/Saturday tours. 
  • Nametags at Symposium will indicate sponsorship.

Community Sponsor                                                 $500

  • Program book listing with company name and logo.
  • Company logo included on rolling screen between speakers.
  • Logo recognition on Sponsorship signage during Symposium.
  • Logo recognition on website linked to your company’s homepage.
  • One complimentary registration to the Thursday’s Symposium events.

Name tags at Symposium will indicate sponsorship.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison Sponsor, Sen. Enzi Dies After Bicycle Accident

Bison Sponsor, Sen. Enzi Dies After Bicycle Accident

Former U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, a longtime champion for bison producers, died Monday
after sustaining serious injuries in a recent bicycle accident near his home in Gillette, Wyoming.

Enzi, who was 77, “passed away peacefully” while surrounded by his family, a statement read. “His family expresses their deep appreciation for all of the prayers, support and concern. They now ask for privacy and continued prayers during this difficult time.”

Enzi’s family said he was admitted to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado. He was unconscious and unable to recover from his injuries, which included a broken neck and ribs, the family said.

Enzi fell near his home about 8:30 p.m. Friday, a family friend said, around the time Gillette police received a report of a man lying unresponsive in a road near a bike.

Enzi, a Republican, led the drive in the early 2000s to have the U.S. Mint issue a limited-edition Buffalo Nickel in commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery. When the coin was officially issued in February 2005, Enzi helped preside over a Capitol Hill ceremony that featured Cody the Buffalo from Dances with Wolves.

He was also the original sponsor of the annual Senate resolution designating the first Saturday in November as National Bison Day and was an original co-sponsor of the Bison Legacy Act, which resulted in bison being designated as the National Mammal of the United States in 2016.

He was honored in 2010 with the National Bison Association’s first-ever Friend of the Buffalo Award. The plaque presented to Enzi at the 2010 Winter Conference honored the Senator, “For His Leadership and Commitment to the Stewardship of a Species, The Success of our Producers, And the Integrity of our Products.”

John Flocchini, former NBA president and Wyoming bison rancher, noted, “Senator Enzi was a strong and consistent ally of the NBA, and everyone in our business. He was always available to meet with our annual delegation in Washington, D.C. and eager to support our legislative priorities.

“Having known him personally for many years, he was a genuinely good man, and was committed to bipartisan cooperation throughout his time in the Senate.”

Enzi, a Republican, retired in January after four terms as Senator. He previously was a state lawmaker and mayor of Gillette, where he owned a shoe store.
NBA Weekly Update, Aug 6, 2021.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Broken Circle Healing on National Bison Range

Broken Circle Healing on National Bison Range

Long in the works, the 250 to 300 buffalo that live on this refuge as well as the National Bison Range itself have been turned over to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as of Dec. 27, 2021, when President Donald Trump signed it into law. These tribes have strong historical, geographic and cultural ties to the land and the bison. Credit Ryan Hagerty, US FWS.

Established in 1908, the National Bison Range is being restored to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Native American Tribes (CSKT) of Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation.

The National Bison Range Restoration Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec 27, 2020, one of his last official acts.

According to the Char-Koosta News, after 113 years the Flathead tribal flag now flies at the National Bison Range.

The Yamncut Drum sings an Honor Song at the raising of the Flathead flag.

“It’s a very emotional day for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and officially reestablishing our footprints on the Bison Range. It’s been a long time coming,” said Flathead Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant.

One lovely summer day my sister Anne and I visited the Bison Range near Moiese Montana, in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation. That was a year ago—before the transition from Federal Wildlife Service to the tribes.

We found a nature trail as well as three wildlife drives on the range:

  • West Loop and Prairie Drive are short year-round drives
  • Red Sleep Mountain Drive (19 miles) takes you through the heart of the reserve and is open mid-May to Mid-October

We took the shorter loops where buffalo herds grazed leisurely across the roads in front and behind us.

Cows with their calves taking a break. Credit Bill West, US Fish and Wildlife.

Then we struck out on the 19-mile, one-way route up and over Red Sleep Mountain. Once committed, there’s no turning back.

And who would want to?

Well, yes, it can be a little scary—looking way down where you just came from. Looking up and ahead where you’ve yet to go.

Switchbacks take us up Red Sleep Mountain all the way to the top and then down on the other side.

Bison Range Heals

This beautiful and amazing 18,500-acre wildlife conservation area is now managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and open to the public.

“The ceremonial raising of the flag is symbolic of the mending of a broken circle that was caused by the federal government ripping asunder the land that belonged to the Flathead Nation in 1908 to establish the National Bison Range on that 18,800 acres in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation,” wrote Bernie Asure, editor of Charkoosta News in the May 13, 2021 issue.

“Welcome to the Homeland of the Séliš, Ql̓ispé and Ksanka people where the footprints of our Ancestors are. Where their hopes and dreams still carry on through us. The buffalo are a big part of our lives, of our traditions, of our culture,” says Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola.

“As you know the buffalo almost disappeared from the face of the earth. When the buffalo disappeared, our people hurt.

“You can look at today as a beginning—a new beginning. A new start, for not only the Bison Range, but I would like to see this as the start of understanding of why it’s so important to Native Americans.”

“The buffalo are a big part of our lives, of our traditions, of our culture. As you know the buffalo almost disappeared from the face of the earth. I would like to see this as the start of understanding of why it’s so important to Native Americans,” says Incashola. Natl Park Service.

Why is understanding this so important, especially to the Séliš, Ql̓ispé and Ksanka people?

“It’s not just having it or controlling [the buffalo],” says Incashola. “it’s more of an opportunity to care. We must take care of them now as they took care of us.”

The restoration of the land that was taken against the will of the CSKT and the restored stewardship of the bison “brings a lot of healing for our people,” Fyant said. “We have a really hard working, dedicated staff that put a lot into this effort and we’re just so thankful for today.”
Fyant also thanked the present US FWS staff for their assistance during the transition period.

The 113 years of “long time coming” seemed to have been whiffed away with the same chilly breezes that snapped the flags of the US and the Flathead Tribes— for the first time ever at the soon to be former National Bison Range.

On one hand it’s still the National Bison Range as the US Fish and Wildlife Service is still in charge but on the other hand, as the Flathead flag indicates, things are changing there as a “long time coming” has arrived.

CSKT spokesman Robert McDonald said the public would see little change on the 18,800-acre wildlife refuge covering Red Sleep Mountain south of Pablo.

The Tribal Council agreed to continue following the conservation plan developed by FWS that controls how the refuge is managed for wildlife and the public.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is still in place,” McDonald said on Friday. “The Tribal Council is in regular contact with them, and we’re working on an agreement for how things will progress and operate in the future.

“There are a lot of questions about staffing, positions, what should be added or remain—things like maintenance crews, biologists, people in the gift shop and cultural interpretation. We’re in the early process of hashing out how it’s going to go.”

McDonald said the mission of the refuge to be a publicly accessible landscape focused on preserving wild bison would not change.

On Thursday, CSKT officials announced they were replacing federal regulations governing hunting, fishing and recreation on the refuge with an essentially identical set of rules authorized by the Tribes.

Elk hang out near the water where they have always lived.

The replaced regulations include rules governing user fees to enter the refuge, prohibition of fireworks, weapons or explosives except under authorized circumstances, prohibition of hunting or taking of resources from the refuge except as authorized, and use of motorized vehicles.

McDonald said the exceptions would apply to actions previously allowed by FWS. Boy Scout troops, for instance, have been allowed to gather shed elk antlers and biologists have conducted studies involving capturing or occasionally killing specimen wildlife. Those exceptions would continue under tribal management, he said.

The original herd of bison released in 1909 was purchased with private money raised by the American Bison Society and then donated to the Refuge.

Today, 250 to 300 bison live on this refuge. To keep track of herd health, the Refuge conducts an annual Bison capture. And to ensure the herd is in balance with their habitat, surplus bison are donated and/or sold live, according to US Fish and Wildlife.

The CSKT are working with the US FWS in the transition phase of turning over the management reins of the NBR to the CSKT with an expected official turnover by the end of the year. The restoration of the NBR property to the Flathead Nation was part of its Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact.

The Tribes now refer to the NBR as the Bison Range, and there are discussions on renaming the NBR to a more CSKT-related name.

Scenery on Red Sleep Mountain

It’s the perfect place for a day trip complete with a rich history, breathtaking Mission Mountain views and magnificent wildlife photography opportunities.
The herds were below, near water, but here and there Anne and I saw those old lone buffalo bulls standing off by themselves on the mountain—meditating, grumbling, mulling over mistreatment by the reigning monarch, making their slow, meandering way up a draw, where they might glimpse the herd in the distance.

Spring brings red-gold buffalo calves, bird song and the first wildflowers on the buffalo range.

Summer’s the time for an early morning or evening visit when the mountain temperatures dip a bit cooler—perfect for new fawns and elk calf sightings.

Bighorn sheep rams are out and about more. And in fall bears are scavenging for wild berries amid golden autumn backdrops and bugling and sparring elk.

Winter is the time for bald-eagle and great-horned owl sightings.

President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range in 1908 to provide a permanent range for the herd of bison.

Today the range is a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests, riparian areas and ponds.

Big Horn Sheep, mountain lions, elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, bears and more than 200 species of birds call the Bison Range home.

Most memorable it is home to some 250 to 300 bison, as well as elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bears and more than 200 species of birds.

You’ll find a nature trail or two as well as the three wildlife drives in the range: the two short drives you can take the year around. And Red Sleep Mountain Drive right through the heart of the reserve, up and over the top; it’s open mid-May to Mid-October.

 As you gain altitude you see the rise of spectacular views of the towering Mission Mountains thrusting up their rugged peaks just beyond these foothill mountains.

For the next 19 miles, we followed the byway as it slowly snakes its way through draws, scattered forests, open hills as well as making its way along the top of a ridge.

The views from the byway are spectacular. At the beginning, visitors have unrestricted views of the Flathead River and the western part of the Mission Valley, along with the forested Salish Mountains.

As the drive meanders its way to the east and continues to gain elevation, the views open up, providing superb vistas of the snowy peaks of the Mission Mountains, the agricultural fields of the Mission Valley that lie 2,000 feet below, as well as more distant views of Flathead Lake and the Whitefish Range.

Lake views and soaring mountains are viewed during the drive down Red Sleep Mountain. Credit FWS.

Once the gravel road reaches the flats, the road changes character as it passes through open fields. The road also follows the Jocko River for a short distance. This section of the drive is excellent for viewing wildlife besides bison, as the Jocko River and the surrounding fertile grazing lands are home to deer, antelope and more.

Range elevation varies from 2,585 feet at headquarters to 4,885 feet at High Point on Red Sleep Mountain, the highest point on the Range.

Much of the National Bison Range was once under prehistoric Glacial Lake Missoula, which was formed by a glacial ice dam on the Clark Fork River about 13,000 to 18,000 years ago. The lake attained a maximum elevation of 4,200 feet, so the upper part of the Refuge was above water.

Old beach lines can be seen on north-facing slopes. Topsoil on the Range is generally shallow and mostly underlain with rock which is exposed in many areas, forming ledges and talus slopes.

Anyone visiting Northwest Montana (and if you’re visiting Glacier National Park, then you’re visiting NW Montana), should absolutely find the time to take this scenic and very unique byway.

 Sudden Transition

Back in December, a bipartisan bill that would transfer the lands and management of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes looked as if it might die in Congress with the end of the session.

But it didn’t. Instead, it got attached to a must-pass package of COVID-19 relief and government spending bills, and unexpectedly it passed.

After a century of work, it felt sudden, said Morigeau, a tribal member and attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and a Montana state legislator. “It happened so fast, it just really hasn’t sunk in.”

Finally, after 113 years, the 18,800 acres of grassland, woodland, and wildlife that comprise the National Bison Range, along with its resident bison herd, were returned to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Today, the transfer has general support from the community, conservation groups and politicians. But the long journey included three rounds of failed agreements between the U.S. and the tribe, numerous lawsuits, a federal investigation and a massive public education campaign to quash rumors and stereotypes.

It comes at a time of a broader conversation on the return of land stewardship to tribal nations.

Also a Native woman—Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblos—pledges to oversee public-lands management as Interior Secretary for the first time in history.

Near the summit of Red Sleet Mountain two old bulls take a break from their ramblings.

When Shane Morigeau was growing up on the Flathead Indian Reservation, he knew that the land inside the fenced National Bison Range was different from the tribal lands elsewhere on the reservation, at the base of Montana’s Mission Mountains or the shores of Flathead Lake.

He remembers being a kid in his dad’s truck, driving past while his father explained that the lands inside the fence weren’t tribal lands anymore.

Why did the Flathead tribes feel shut out of the Bison Range on their own reservation?

As tribal elders tell, it was common knowledge that the fence was as much to keep them out as it was to keep bison in. “It happened long ago,” Morigeau said, but “it still resonates across generations.”

“It’s a reconciliation,” said Chairwoman Shelly Fyant. “We are such a place-based people. To have this land back, to be in control of it, is a fresh, new hope.”

History of the Buffalo Herd

The National Bison Range began as a small herd of free-roaming bison on the Flathead Indian Reservation managed by tribal members in the 1870s, while the bison around them were hunted to near-extinction.

Bison herds in the Mission Valley date back to the late 1800’s when a Pend d’Oreille man of the Flathead Reservation returned home from the plains of eastern Montana with four bison calves. The herd quickly grew to 13 animals.

The free-roaming bison were managed by tribal members while the bison around them were hunted to near-extinction.

At that point, partners Michel Pablo and Charles Allard bought the herd.

The Pablo-Allard herd thrived in the Mission Valley’s open grasslands. It became one of the largest private bison herds at the time when bison were most threatened with extinction.

 However, when it was announced the Flathead Indian Reservation would be opened for homesteading in 1910, surviving partner Pablo began making arrangements to rid himself of his herd.

The US Government declined to purchase the bison so Pablo sold them all to Canada. 

Just after this, the American Bison Society pushed the US government to set aside land to protect and conserve the American bison.

The National Bison Range was one such area. The American public pitched in to provide funds to purchase bison to place on the new Refuge.

The American Bison Society, under the direction of William Hornaday, solicited donations throughout the country. Over $10,000 was raised, enough to purchase 34 bison from the Conrad herd. Located in Kalispell, Montana, these bison were descended from the famous Pablo/Allard herd.

To supplement this, Alicia Conrad added two of her finest animals to the effort. The Refuge also received one bison from Charles Goodnight of Texas and three from the Corbin herd in New Hampshire. These 40 animals, all donated to the Refuge and coming from private herds, form the nucleus of 250 to 300 bison roaming the Range today.   

During the allotment era in 1904 when tribal lands the U.S. declared surplus were sold, the federal government divvied up the reservation. It gave some 404,047 acres to settlers, 60,843 to the state of Montana, and 1,757 acres to the U.S. “for other purposes.”

Settlers flocked in, took up the lands, and today tribal members are a minority on their own reservation.

The U.S. retained tribal lands for the range, which was carved out of prime habitat in the middle of the reservation.

The National Bison Range is deep in the heart of the Flathead Reservation. The buffalo started as a small herd of free-roaming bison on the Flathead Indian Reservation managed by tribal members in the 1870s, while the bison around them were hunted to near-extinction. During the allotment era in 1904, when tribal lands the US deemed surplus were sold, the federal government divvied up the reservation, giving some 404,047 acres to settlers, 60,843 to the state of Montana, and 1,757 acres to the US “for other purposes.” Settlers flooded in, and today tribal members are a minority on their own reservation.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt put the range under federal management. Tribal members did not work there.

The Salish word for this special piece of land means ‘the fenced-in place.’ The physical barrier grew into a powerful metaphor about how tribal members could relate to the lands taken from them, Fyant said.

But now, the tribes aim to put their energy into bringing their philosophy onto the range, telling the public about their priorities and sharing tribal stories.

Speaking of the return of the lands and Haaland’s potential as Interior secretary, Fyant summed it up simply: “It’s about . . . time.”

Many kinds of wildlife have co-existed on the Bison Range with the buffalo for generations. The tribes aim to put their energy into bringing their philosophy onto the range, telling the public about their priorities and sharing tribal stories.

Fish and Wildlife Co-Managed

Tribal efforts to co-manage the National Bison Range with the US Fish and Wildlife began in the early 1990s, but they were met with obstacles, despite the tribe’s established conservation record. (In 1982, for example, they became the first tribe to designate a wilderness area when it created the 92,000-acre Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness.)

The tribes and the wildlife agency agreed to co-manage the range in 2004, but the arrangement crumbled after a small number of vocal federal employees and locals allied with an anti-Indigenous group, alleging mistreatment. It was a theme that continued for nearly two decades.

“The restoration of this land is a great historic event and we worked hard to reach this point. This comes after a century of being separated from the buffalo and the Bison Range, and after a quarter-century-long effort to co-manage the refuge with the Federal Wildlife Service,” says Fyant.

A new crop of calves greets the summer flowers. It’s a healing time for the Flathead tribes. “This comes after a century of being separated from the buffalo and the Bison Range, and after a quarter-century-long effort to co-manage the refuge with the Federal Wildlife Service,” says Fyant.

Caution: Buffalo can be dangerous.

 “Nice park to enjoy the natural beauty and the sights of bison,” says local guide Steve Zamek.

“Rather than traveling counterclockwise the entire loop [that takes 2 hours] we took a left into the two-side traffic road and back. This takes about 40 min driving slowly. In my mind that’s a better way to explore the park as most bison stay close to the river. We saw elk, bison and deer. Great experience.”

Zamek recalls he was 8 years old the first time he visited the Bison Range. “Big Medicine, the only White Buffalo was there. I still have a large photo of him. Such magnificent animals.

“So glad the Range has been returned to the Flathead. They have been faithful stewards of the land and her animals forever. Innovation and guardians of Earth at great benefit to us and future generations of not only Tribal members, but everyone else as well,” says Zamek.

The Séliš, Qlispé, and Ksanka people warmly welcome you to the Bison Range, and we hope you
enjoy your visit!

Visitor Center and office: open from 7am to 8 pm.

Hours of Operation Front Gate Hours: 6am-8pm
Visitor Center Hours: 7am-8pm
Red Sleep Drive Hours: 6am-6pm; The Red Sleep Mountain Road takes visitors through the heart of the reserve. Trailers are prohibited on the road due to steep inclines, numerous sharp curves, and the road’s narrow width. This is a one-way road.

Contact Information Bison Range: (406) 644-2211
CSKT Natural Resources Department: (406) 883-2888 Visitor Information

In the spirit of Atatice 

 

NEXT: Part 2: Metis Buffalo Hunters in Western Canada

________________________________

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Turner Institute of Ecoagriculture to collaborate with South Dakota State University Center of Excellence for Bison Studies

Pierre, SD / DRG News
Jody Heemstra
Jul 2, 2021

Turner Enterprises, Inc. and Turner Ranches announced today the launch of the Turner Institute of Ecoagriculture, Inc. (“Institute”). The Institute is a 501(c)(3) public charity and agricultural research organization formed by Ted Turner, whose history of sustainable ranching and animal production, natural resource conservation, and imperiled species restoration spans over three decades.

Turner currently owns 14 ranches in the U.S. (and a herd of approximately 45,000 American plains bison) that practice ranching in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting the conservation of native species and habitats.

The Institute’s mission is to research, develop, practice, and disseminate sustainable strategies and techniques for conserving ecosystems, agriculture, and rural communities.

The Institute’s mission is to research, develop, practice, and disseminate sustainable strategies and techniques for conserving ecosystems, agriculture, and rural communities.

“Our company’s passion for the environment, conservation and sustainable practices continues to drive our mission of innovatively managing our lands to unite economic viability with ecological sustainability,” said Ted Turner.

Five Turner ranches are in the Sandhills region of western Nebraska, encompassing approximately 445,000 acres of North American Great Plains mixed grass prairie. Turner is contributing the McGinley Ranch, located in the northern Sandhills region, and all its operations to the Institute. McGinley Ranch straddles the border between Nebraska and South Dakota and is comprised of 79,292 contiguous acres of native rangeland. It is contemplated that the remaining four ranches in the Sandhills area (collectively, the “Sandhills Ranches”) may be transferred to the Institute in the future.

The Turner Institute of Ecoagriculture, an agricultural research organization, is a Nebraska nonprofit corporation operated exclusively for charitable, scientific, and educational purposes, within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Turner Ranches continues to be involved in diverse areas of research concerning animal and environmental sciences. Bison production, finishing, welfare, physiology, and ecology have been areas of research interest. Our research has also focused on issues in restoration ecology and imperiled species conservation. Wildlife and bison diseases have been investigated, as has climate change, ecosystem services, and landscape ecology. With the creation of the Turner Institute of Ecoagriculture, the tradition of research in these areas will continue and thrive with the Institute’s focus on complex ecoagriculture issues.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 1. Buffalo Hunts of the Red River Métis

Part 1. Buffalo Hunts of the Red River Métis

Red River Carts emerged from every nook and corner of Fort Garry bound for Pembina and the western plains. It was 1840 and the Métis of course had horses and guns for their buffalo hunts. Their roots went back to Indian mothers, and fur trading fathers or grandfathers from France, England or Scotland.

“Carts were seen to emerge from every nook and corner of the settlement bound for the plains … From Fort Garry, the cavalcade and camp-followers went crowding on to the public road, and thence, stretching from point to point, till the third day in the evening, when they reached Pembina, the great rendezvous on such occasions.

“Here the roll was called and general muster taken, when they numbered on this occasion, 1,630 souls; and here the rules and regulations for the journey were finally settled. The officials for the trip were named and installed into office—and all without the aid of writing materials.

“The camp occupied as much ground as a modern city and was formed in a circle. The carts were placed side by side, the trains or cart tongues facing out-ward.

“These are trifles, yet they are important to our subject. Within this line of circumvallation, the tents were placed in double, treble rows, at one end; the animals at the other in front of the tents.

“This is in order in all dangerous places. But where no danger is apprehended, the animals are kept on the outside. Thus the carts formed a strong barrier, not only for securing the people and their animals within, but as a place of shelter against an attack of the enemy without.”

As described by Alexander Ross, a Scotch fur trader, the Métis from along the Red River of the North were gathering in Pembina, North Dakota, for their annual summer buffalo hunt.

It was June 15, 1840, as their cart caravan prepared to take off west for the open Plains.

These carts were not just ordinary wagons. They were known as Red River Carts. Built in the style of French peasant carts with two over-size wooden wheels, large enough to smooth out the ride over rough terrain and bound with leather straps.

 The wooden wheels were not greased because the prairie dust would stick to the oil and clog up the wheels.

On the buffalo hunt each family took several carts pulled by an ox or horse to fill with hides and meat. The loud screeching noise of the ungreased wheels could be heard for miles. Women and small children rode on top of the load.

From the beginning Red River Métis had horses and guns for their buffalo hunts. Their roots went back to Indian mothers—mostly Cree, Ojibwe, Chippewa and Assiniboin. Mothers held long traditions in buffalo hunting and care of the meat.

The fathers or grandfathers were French, Scotch or English. Explorers and fur traders who paddled their canoes up the western rivers in the 1700s and early 1800s and settled with their families along the Red River on both sides of the Canadian-US border.

 In French style they farmed small plots of land fronting on the river, which flows north into Hudson Bay—long a fur trader’s route to European points.

The Red River Métis built log cabins along the Red River, which flows north to Ft. Gerry and thence into Hudson Bay. On these fertile lands they grew Indian corn, wheat, barley, potatoes and vegetables. Twice yearly they went west on the open plains for Buffalo Hunts as well as engaging in hunting and trapping at home.

The fathers provided horses and guns. Mothers contributed traditional buffalo hunting culture. They ran buffalo in traditional Native American ways, according to historic accounts.

The Métis—pronounced Mah tee’ or Mah tees’ developed a strong market for jerky and pemmican with the fur trade and made a wholesale commercial business of hunting buffalo.

They launched two big buffalo hunts a year, a two-month summer hunt in mid-June after planting crops, and a fall hunt when buffalo were fat and their hides prime for curing with the hair on.

During these hunts they swept westward into Alberta and Saskatchewan and southwest into the Great Plains of Montana and the Dakotas

Red River Carts were parked at night on one side of the circle with wagon tongues facing out to offer protection from attack. In areas of risk, animals were kept inside the circle overnight. Credit Whitney’s Gallerty, St. Paul.

As early as 1823 William H. Keating described a colorful group of Métis buffalo hunters who came from Fort Garry to rendezvous at Pembina, south of the border, waiting for others to arrive.

That year 300 people came together to hunt in the Dakota plains and prairies, with at least 200 horses and 115 Red River carts. A fun-loving people, they filled their evenings with dancing and fiddle playing.

The Métis hunts were known by their long caravans of Red River carts crossing the prairies bound for the buffalo ranges and then, loaded with hides and pemmican, travelling to markets in Ft. Garry and St. Paul, Minn.

Their religion was Catholic and their language a patois of French, Chippewa, Cree and other Indian tongues. The Métis brought their priests along on the hunts, held Sunday services and did not hunt or travel on that day.

Women packed extensive provisions for buffalo hunts, cooked, cared for babies and drove oxcarts. Often they left younger children to be cared for by others at home.

Women wore calico dresses with long, full skirts. Skilled at beadwork, they decorated moccasins for men, women and children and other leatherwork in distinctive bright French floral designs.

For winter buffalo hunts, Métis men wore woolen pants, calico shirts and a Hudson Bay coat with hood attached, tied at the waist with a colorful sash. Moccasins and leather leggings were fastened around the leg by garters ornamented with beads and they slung their powder horn and shot bag over one shoulder.

The fur traders were French at first. They married or co-habited with Native women.

Their offspring at Red River became known as Métis—French for people of mixed blood.

Women played an important role in every buffalo hunt. From the first, European fur traders needed Native women to cook for them, to prepare food supplies for winter, make and repair clothing, moccasins and snowshoes, and heal them when sick or wounded.

In 1763 the British took over Canada. Then came English and Scottish fur traders.

Conflict with Sioux Hunting Parties 

When hunting, the Red River Métis travelled in large groups for protection against plains tribes—especially the Sioux, who claimed hunting rights to the same territory and resented their wholesale slaughter of thousands of buffalo.

During the 1840s and 1850s the Métis followed the buffalo herds further into the Dakota Territory bringing them into conflict with the Sioux (Dakota). They might travel 200 miles or more west to find buffalo.

They set up their carts at night to form a solid defensive circle with forks facing out. Within the circle the tents were set up in rows on one side and, facing the tents, the animals on the other side. When deemed safe, the animals were kept outside the circle where they could graze.

Cuthbert Grant, an early captain of the buffalo hunt, negotiated a treaty with the Sioux in 1844, but it did not last.

In the 1848 summer hunt the hunting group, made up of 800 Métis led by Jean Baptiste Wilkie and 200 Chippewa led by Chief Old Red Bear and over 1,000 carts, met the Sioux in the Battle of O’Brien’s Coulée near Olga, North Dakota

Between July 13 and 14, 1851 a large band of Sioux attacked the St. François Xavier hunting camp in North Dakota on the Grand Coteau du Missouri resulting in the last major battle, the Battle of Grand Coteau, fought between the two groups.

The Métis were victorious. The Red River group from St. Boniface accompanied by Father Albert Lacombe, made rendezvous with the Pembina group (June 16) then travelled west to meet the St. François Xavier group (June 19).

There were 1,300 people, 1,100 carts and 318 hunters in the combined groups. The groups hunted separately but planned to unite against any threat from the Sioux. They divided into 3 groups about 20 to 30 miles from each other moving in the same direction.

The St. François Xavier from the White Horse Plains led by Jean Baptiste Falcon, son of Pierre Falcon, and accompanied by its missionary, Father Louis-François Richer Laflèche, numbered 200 carts and 67 hunters plus women and children.

Jean Baptiste Wilkie, the leader of the 1840, 1848 and the 1853 summer hunts, helped negotiate a peace treaty in 1859 and another in 1861 between the Métis, Chippewa and Sioux to set hunting boundary lines.

However, conflict continued between the Métis and various Sioux groups even after the Dakota War of 1862.

In North Dakota on the Grand Coteau of the Missouri in July, the scouts of St. François Xavier spotted a large band of Sioux. The five scouts riding back to warn the camp met with a party of 20 Sioux who surrounded them.

Two made a run for it under fire but 3 were kept as captives. Two escaped the next day and one killed. On Sunday July 13 the camp was attacked by the Sioux. Lafleche dressed only in a black cassock, white surplice and stole, directed with the camp commander Jean Baptiste Falcon a miraculous defense against the 2,000 Sioux combatants while holding up a crucifix during the battle.

After a siege of two days the Sioux withdrew, convinced that the Great Spirit had protected the Métis.

Red River Métis Buffalo Hunting

Buffalo hunting. “A superior sport, manly, exhilarating and well spiced with danger. Even the horses shared the excitement and eagerness of their riders. It . . . demanded a good horse, a bold rider, a firm seat and perfect familiarity with weapons. The excitement of it was intense, the dangers not to be despised and, above all, the buffalo had a fair show for his life, or partially so, at least.” Painting of Métis hunt, credit Paul Kane, 1846.

When hunting, the Red River Métis organized into camps and followed rules that were strictly enforced so no one would scare the buffalo away before everyone was ready. When the signal was given, hundreds of men raced towards the buffalo.

Each marked the buffalo he shot. At the end of the day, exhausted hunters ate, rested and related details of the hunt. Women and children set to work caring for meat and stretching and pegging down hides.

The Red River Métis were excellent riders and marksmen. They raised horses for the buffalo hunt and oxen for farm work and hauling the Red River carts loaded with buffalo pelts for St Paul.

The Red River Métis buffalo hunts described by observers were of the traditional Native American buffalo running style.

Leaders of the hunts laid careful plans. Throughout, the people integrated devout religious fervor, ceremony and ancient tradition in their preparations and in the activities of the hunt. They thanked the buffalo, their relatives, for providing them with meat and many more gifts before, during and after the hunt.

Even William Hornaday, in his sober assessment, called running buffalo “A superior sport.” He wrote that it was “manly, exhilarating and well spiced with danger. Even the horses shared the excitement and eagerness of their riders.

“It …demanded a good horse, a bold rider, a firm seat and perfect familiarity with weapons. The excitement of it was intense, the dangers not to be despised and, above all, the buffalo had a fair show for his life, or partially so, at least.”

Scouts—usually young men—were selected. They rode out for several days and if they located a sizeable herd of buffalo, signaled their discovery from ten miles off, later on riding into camp and giving a careful report according to traditional ways.

The mounted hunters stealthily approached the herd from both sides.

Then, following strict orders to start at the same moment—on threat of severe punishment—at the leader’s signal the hunters swept down on their game. They loaded and fired from horseback, leaving the dead animals to be identified after the run was over.

Indian horses seemed to take special pleasure in running buffalo. Their excitement in running buffalo is described this way by an observer:

“But for the willingness and even genuine eagerness with which the buffalo horses entered into the chase, hunting on horseback would have been attended with almost insurmountable difficulties.”

The Hon. H. H. Sibley told of the dedication of one horse that had lost its rider on a Red River Métis hunt.

“One of the hunters fell from his saddle and was unable to overtake his horse, which continued the chase as if he of himself could accomplish great things, so much do these animals become imbued with a passion for this sport!”

Another hunter left his favorite buffalo horse in camp for a day’s rest, asking his wife to tie the horse. But the horse pulled loose and galloped off to join the hunt.

“He continued to keep pace with the hunters in their pursuit of the buffalo, seeming to await with impatience the fall of some of them to earth. The chase ended. He came neighing to his master, whom he soon singled out, although the men were dispersed here and there for a distance of miles,” wrote Sibley.

Métis familes stop for lunch, perhaps awaiting outcome of the latest hunt.

Red River Métis Buffalo Hunts—1840, 1849 and 1853

The first of the summer hunting expedition left Fort Garry on June 15, 1840.

In three days they reached their rendezvous at Pembina, ND, 60 miles to the south, and set up a tent city. At Pembina a general council was held and leaders chosen.

There were 620 hunters, 650 women and 360 boys and girls–1,630 people all together. They brought with them 1,210 Red River carts, 403 buffalo runners (horses), 655 cart horses, 586 work oxen and 542 dogs.

Ten captains were selected, Jean Baptiste Wilkie was chosen as the war chief and the president of the camp. Each captain had ten soldiers under him. Ten guides were also chosen. A smaller council of the leaders was also held to lay down the rules or laws of the hunt.

Rules for the Métis Hunt
The following rules were made by the Red River Metis for the 1840 hunt.

  1. No buffalo to be run on the Sabbath Day.
  2. No party to fork off, lag behind, or go before, without permission.
  3. No person or party to run buffalo before the general order.
  4. Every captain with his men, in turn, to patrol the camp, and keep guard.
  5. For the first trespass against these laws, the offender to have his saddle and bridle cut up.
  6. For the second offence, the coat to be taken off the offender’s back, and be cut up.
  7. For the third offence, the offender to be flogged.
  8. Any person convicted of theft, even to the value of a sinew, to be brought to the middle of the camp, and the crier to call out his or her name three times, adding the word “Thief,” at each time.

Leaving Pembina on June 21 the group travelled 150 miles southwest, reaching the Sheyenne River nine days later.

On July 3, sighting buffalo 100 miles further, 400 mounted hunters killed about 1,000.

The women then arrived in carts to cut up the meat and haul it back to camp. It took them several days to dry and store the dried meat.

The camp then moved on to another site. That year the hunting group returned to Fort Garry with about 900 pounds of buffalo meat per cart or 1,089,000 pounds in all—or the dried meat of between 10,000 to 10,500 buffalo.

In 1849 there were two summer hunts from the Red River. The St. Francois Xavier—White Horse Plain group—alone numbered 700 Métis, 200 Indians, 603 carts, 600 horses, 200 oxen and 400 dogs.

Isaac Stevens of the US Pacific Railroad Surveys, who camped near the Red River hunters near Devil’s Lake, ND, on July 16, 1853 provided this description of the 1853 summer hunt:

“The hunt was led by Jean Baptiste Wilkie and had 1,300 people, 1,200 animals and 824 carts. The camp consisted of 104 tepees, most shared by two families, arranged within a circle of carts which, covered in skins, provided additional sleeping quarters.

“The animals are driven into the circle at night and 36 men stand guard on the sleeping camp.

“They are generally accompanied by their priests, and attend strictly to their devotions, having exercises every Sabbath, on which day they neither march nor hunt.

“Their municipal government is of a parochial character, being divided into five parishes, each one being presided over by an officer called the captain of the parish. These captains of the parish retain their authority while in the settlement.

“On departing for the hunt they select a man from the whole number, who is styled governor of the hunt, who takes charge of the party, regulates its movement, acts as referee in all cases where any differences arise between the members in regard to game or other matters, and takes command in case of difficulty with the Indians,” according to Stevens.

Six days later Stevens encountered another Métis hunting group led by Urbain Delorme of St. Francois Xavier. Delorme’s group averaged 500 carts for 25 consecutive years, it was said.

Accidents and Endurance

Running buffalo at close range was extremely dangerous. Often the hunter found himself hemmed in by the stampeding herd, in clouds of dust, so that neither he nor his horse could see the terrain beneath them. Fatal accidents to both men and horses were numerous.

Alexander Ross described a hunt by 400 Métis hunters from the Red River settlement. “The surface was rocky and full of badger holes. Twenty-three horses and riders were at one moment all sprawling on the ground.

“One horse, gored by a bull, was killed on the spot. Two more were disabled by the fall. One rider broke his shoulder blade. Another burst his gun and lost three fingers. And a third was struck on the knee by an exhausted ball.”

But the rewards were perhaps worth it, he wrote. “These accidents will not be thought over-numerous, considering the result. For in the evening no less than 1,375 tongues were brought into camp.”

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

After the kill, women arrived in carts to cut up the meat and haul it back to camp. They laid claim to their man’s buffalo from his mark or item of clothing left with it. It took several days to dry and prepare the dried meat.

After every buffalo kill, the women cut up the meat brought in and began the process of drying meat to make jerky and pemmican—the chief food product used in the far flung fur trade. 

Pemmican—Staple Food for Fur Traders

They made pemmican by pounding the dried meat into pieces, placing it into an oblong bag of buffalo hide, and then pouring in an equal amount of hot buffalo fat. They mixed the contents thoroughly and sewed the bags shut. When available, crushed chokecherries or other berries were added.

Each bag weighed 90 to 100 pounds and held on average the carcass of one buffalo.

One cart could be loaded with ten of these bags or about 900 to 1,000 pounds of buffalo meat—the product of eight or ten cows. One pound of pemmican was considered equal in nutrition to four pounds of ordinary meat.

Thin sheets of buffalo meat were deftly sliced by unrolling chunks of meat as the women worked. Then the sheets were hung like rags to dry in the sun on a rack made of willow branches. Sometimes poles from dog or horse travois were propped up at the ends of the rack to stabilize it.

All the pemmican the Métis could spare was eagerly purchased by the Hudson Bay Company to send out to trading posts where food was scarce, especially after that company absorbed the North West Company.

Long lines of Red River Ox Carts loaded with buffalo hides and pemmican, products of the buffalo hunts, crossed the prairies of the Dakotas and Minnesota and arrived in St. Paul for sale. In exchange the families took home loads of blankets, cloth, sugar, coffee, tea and ammunition. Credit Whitney’s Gallery.

The Red River families also hauled pemmican and hides to the American Fur Company at Fort Snelling and St. Paul in long squeaking caravans of Red River carts in exchange for cloth, blankets, sugar, coffee, tea and ammunition.

The summer hunts increased in size—from 540 Red River carts in 1820, to 820 carts in 1830 and 1,210 carts in 1840—as the demand for pemmican kept growing. Hudson Bay and other fur companies depended on the products of their buffalo hunts well into the 1870s.

In 1823 Pembina was declared to be just south of the US border. In 1844 Norman Kittson opened a successful trading post at Pembina in competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company at Red River.

By 1849 the Hudson’s Bay Company had lost its fur trade monopoly (the result of the Sayer Trial) and the Métis could now freely sell their furs. As the price of buffalo robes increased so did the number of carts heading south from Pembina to St. Paul, Minnesota each year.

——

NEXT: Part 2. Métis Buffalo Hunting in the Far West
——

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Throlson American Bison Foundation Scholarship Now Accepting 2021 Applications

Westminster, CO (July 1, 2021) -The National Bison Association (NBA) has announced the 2021 Throlson American Bison Foundation Scholarship amid continued growth in consumer demand for healthy, natural bison meat.

The Throlson American Bison Foundation is named after its founder, Dr. Ken Throlson, DVM, a pioneer of the modern bison business and awards outstanding college students with an interest in the burgeoning bison industry.

“The Throlson American Bison Foundation Scholarship program has been established to recognize, encourage and promote leadership among future bison industry professionals,” said Jim Matheson, assistant director of the NBA.

In November 2021, the Throlson American Bison Foundation will award scholarships totaling, but not limited to, $10,000 to outstanding college junior, senior or graduate students studying fields related to the bison industry.

A minimum of $2,000 of the $10,000 amount will be awarded in the memory of Richard Zahringer to a student pursuing a degree in agriculture economics, agribusiness, or accounting. Ideally this student will have future interest in livestock and specifically bison.

The online scholarship application is available online here and must be submitted by October 1, 2021, which also requires this form to be completed by the student’s department head, as well as a letter of recommendation from faculty. Award announcements will be made no later than November 5th. For more information, contact the NBA office at (303) 292-2833, or jim@bisoncentral.com.

The NBA also has a Youth membership for individuals ages 21 and younger that are interested in learning more about the bison business. NBA Youth Members can access educational resources on the website, receive discounted conference rates, consign animals to the Gold Trophy Show & Sale held in Denver in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show, and receive a e-subscription to Bison World and the NBA newsletter, the Weekly Update, among other benefits. The Youth Membership is $75 annually.

For more information: Jim Matheson, Assistant Director, National Bison Association.
jim@bisoncentral.com Tel 303-292-2833

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Hunting Before Horses, Part2: The Surround

Hunting Before Horses, Part2: The Surround

The surround may have been the earliest method for communal hunts before prehistoric people had horses or guns. The defensive buffalo gradually began to mill into a circle. As buffalo on the outside were killed, they piled up and trapped others within the circle until all were killed. Later on, with horses as in this painting, the herd was more easily kept together in a tight circle. “Buffalo Hunt, Surround” by George Catlin, courtesy Amon Carter Museum.

The first successful method of group hunting from the days before horses was likely the surround, in which a line of people on foot gradually approached a herd of about as many buffalo as they felt they could handle, moving into the wind, according to David A. Dary, in The Buffalo Book: Full Saga of the American Animal.

This may have required less preparation than later drives, but considerable good luck and certainly an understanding of buffalo behavior.

In the surround, a band of prehistoric people, both men and women, cautiously encircled a band of buffalo of manageable size.

“Then running in circles around the terrified animals, yelling loudly, they would slowly close the circle, making it smaller and smaller. . . At the appropriate time they would let go with their lances and arrows,” writes Dary.

If all went according to plan, the confused buffalo began to mill in a defensive circle, instead of running away. Typically, the bulls would tend to circle protectively around the outside, with cows and calves in the middle.

The hunters fired their lances, darts and arrows, killing the bulls in front of them.

As they fell, they piled up a barrier of bodies around the circle, trapping the live buffalo within the circle until all were killed.

George Bird Grinnell, author of The Cheyenne Indians, described a surround that used a decoy from early interviews he did with tribal elders.

“The people would go out on the prairie and conceal themselves in a great circle, open on one side. Then some man would approach the buffalo and decoy them into the circle.

“Men would now show themselves at different points and start the buffalo running in a circle, yelling and waving robes to keep them from approaching or trying to break through the ring of men.

“Of necessity this required great judgment and care, for once the herd started through in one direction it was impossible to turn. It would rush through the ring and be gone.”

 

Scouts are sent out ahead to find buffalo herds and consider how best to approach them. They follow time-honored protocol in going out and reporting back to the main hunting party. Credit CMRussell painting, Montana Historical Society.

Weasel Tail, an aged Blood Indian raised by his grandparents, described a surround by his ancestors from the days before horses.

“After swift-running men located a herd of buffalo, the chief told all the women to get their dog travois. Men and women went out together, approaching the herd from downwind so the animals wouldn’t get their scent and run off.

“The women were told to place their travois upright in the earth, small end up. The travois were so spaced that they could be tied together to form a semicircular fence. Women and dogs hid behind them.

“Two fast-running men circled the buffalo herd, approached the animals from upwind, and drove them toward the travois fence. Other men took positions along the sides of the route and closed in as the buffalo neared the travois.

“Barking dogs and shouting women kept the buffalo back. The men rushed in and killed the buffalo with arrows and lances.

“After the buffalo were killed the chief went into the center of the enclosure, counted the dead animals and divided the meat equally among the participating families.

“He also distributed hides to the families for making lodge covers. The women hauled the meat and hides to camp on their dog travois. This was called a surround of the buffalo.”

The Surround took advantage of the landscape when possible, such as driving the buffalo into natural traps, and bogs in blind canyons.

Logs, trees or large rocks may have been incorporated to form a barrier or fence on one side.

The risk was that sometimes the frantic buffalo would break through a weak spot—with all the others following close behind. Once they began to escape, hunters on foot could not stop or turn the fleet and agile buffalo.

Likely the earliest of these prehistoric hunters used the Spearthrower or atlatl—a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart of javelin-throwing. It’s a long-range weapon that can reach speeds of 93 mph. Stone age spear-throwers—could send a dart 100 meters or yards, but it was most accurate at 20 meters or less.

Impounding—Building Corrals

Impounding is viewed as more difficult than the surround, since it required building a buffalo-proof enclosure and finding a buffalo herd nearby.

However, once set up, it was likely more successful.

“Cree Indians impounding buffaloes.” An Impound often included drive lines leading down a hill into some kind of corral or enclosure. There the herd could be trapped and slaughtered. Prof HY Hind’s Red River, Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Expedit. Credit Wm Hornaday.

In rocky or wooded country, the hunters built strong enclosures of rocks and trees. These were used over and over in areas frequented by buffalo, successfully when the animals cooperated.

Old Weasel Tail described the impound method, thus: 

“Near the edge of timber and toward the bottom of a downhill slope the Indians built a corral of wooden posts set upright in the ground to a height of about seven feet. They connected the posts by cross-poles tied in place with rawhide ropes.”

The downward slope was important—as were drive lines and wings bringing the Buffalo to the entrance.

“Around three sides of the corral they laid stakes over the lowest cross-poles. Their butt ends were firmly braced in the ground outside the corral. These stakes projected about three feet inside the corral at an angle, so their sharpened ends were about the height of a buffalo’s body.

“If the buffalo tried to break through the corral they would be impaled on these stakes.”

The hunters fired their weapons until all the buffalo in the corral were slaughtered, while women and children guarded any weak sections with waving robes and shouting.

The scene was bloody.

As one observer said, “The scene was more repulsive than pleasant or exciting. A great number were already killed and the live ones were tumbling about furiously over the dead bodies of their companions, and I hardly think the space would have held them all alive without some being on top of others, and in addition the bottom of the pound was strewn with fragments of carcasses left from former slaughters in the same place.”

 And another: “People running frantically around the mound of animals trying to kill the wounded and yet avoid being killed. . . After firing their arrows they generally succeeded in extracting them again by a noose on the end of a pole, and some had even the pluck to jump into the area and pull them out with their hands—but if an old bull or a cow happened to observe them they had to be very active in getting out again.”

“Even mere boys and young girls”—were stationed on the walls of the corral—”all busy plying bows and arrows, guns and spears and even knives, to compass the destruction of the buffalo.

“Bison stumbling, rolling, dragging themselves from the pyramid.

“Animals of every age were huddled together in all the forced attitudes of violent death. Some lay on their backs with eyes starting from their heads and tongue thrust out through clotted gore. . . One little calf hung suspended on the horns of a bull which had impaled it in the wild race round and round the pound.”

Jack Brink in his book Imagining Head-Smashed-In recorded that every animal in the pound had to be killed, to enable the people to get to the meat. Also he said there was a spiritual belief that the buffalo now knew too much and if some escaped, would alert others and ensure the failure of future attempts.

Drive Lines Critical in Moving Buffalo

With the development of the Impounding method of trapping buffalo, drive lines comparable to the often-complex drive lines of Buffalo Jumps began to take shape.

Old Weasel Tail explained how Drive Lines worked above the impoundment corral.

“From the open side of the corral the fence of poles extended into two wings outward and up the hill. These lines were further extended by piles of cut willows in the shape of conical lodges about half the height of a man, tied together at their tops. . . spaced at intervals of several feet.

“On the hill just above the corral opening a number of poles were placed on the ground crosswise of the slope and parallel to each other. The buffalo had to cross these poles to enter the corral. The poles were covered with manure and water, which froze and became slippery so that once the buffalo were in the corral they couldn’t escape by climbing back up the hill.

“Before the drive began, a beaver bundle owner removed the sacred buffalo stones from his bundle and prayed.

“He sang a song, ‘Give me one buffalo or more. Help me to fall the buffalo.’”

The hunters had numerous special rites, adds Brink, “Ceremonies and taboos associated with buffalo and the hunting of this animal. It is absolutely correct to state that everything about a buffalo hunt, from beginning to end, was steeped in spiritual beliefs and appropriate ceremony.”

Buffalo have an excellent sense of smell and hearing. The wind brings both, and the ancient hunters clearly understood that.

Brink quotes one observer, who travelling through vast herds of buffalo one day in 1820, wrote:

“The scent of our party was borne directly across the Platte, and we could distinctly note every step of its progress through a distance of 8 or 10 miles, by the consternation and terror it excited among the buffaloes. The moment the tainted gale infected their atmosphere, they ran with as much violence as if pursued by a party of mounted hunters.”

Brink explains his version of the meaning conveyed by the moving drive lines of waving “fences” along the heights.

He wrote that the waving branches and grasses struck fear into the buffalo, because this kind of fence—waving along the high points was unknown to them. They feared what they did not know.

“Indians are stationed by the side of some of these stakes, to keep them in motion, so that the buffaloes suppose them ALL to be human beings,” notes Brink. This kept the buffalo down low as they moved on toward the trap.

Then Jack Brink imagined two more tricks of the wily hunters—the “array of ingenious ruses that allowed them to direct the path of bison movement.”

One was placing a trail of buffalo chips in the valley between the drive lines leading to the trap, so the buffalo thought they were following an existing trail.

“A herd of bison, frightened by hunters circling around them, could see and smell a safe path of escape in the form of a beaten trail marked with a line of chips,” says Brink.

He said he had never seen this recorded anywhere before. And obviously, any evidence would have been long gone over the centuries. But it makes perfect sense.

Grinnell wrote of using the manure patties in winter, “The line of buffalo chips. . . was conspicuous against white snow, and when the buffalo were running down the chute, they always followed it, never turning to the right nor to the left.”

 The second, maybe even stronger lure, came as a couple of ‘buffalo calves’ came into position between the herd and the drive lanes, moving just as young buffalo would, draped in calf skins and emitting perfect lost-calf bleats.

 “Since the herd consists mainly of cows and calves—the preferred target group for nearly all Plains hunters—the trick has the desired effect,” wrote Brink.

“Cows raise their heads and check for their calves. Even if she knows her own calf is nearby, maternal instinct dictates that every cow will investigate the source of the plaintive bleating. A calf in danger cannot be ignored. The cows respond and start after the ‘lost calves.’

“The buffalo runners continue their hoax, wandering slowly away from the herd, into the mouth of the funnel, toward a mighty hunting party laying in wait . . . the herd continues to follow, walking into the jaws of the trap.”

Jack Brink talks about the stampede in his book as the buffalo entered the drive lanes. “It might sound as if a full-blown stampede of bison was in progress. Far from it.

“The great majority of movement leading up to and through the drive lanes was almost certainly of a much more gentle, though deliberate, nature. . . The drive probably consisted of short bursts of movement where the herd scampered ahead, followed by a lull where the hunters purposefully allowed them to rest and remain calm.

 “Patiently, the hunters waited for the herd to regroup, perhaps resume grazing and then looked for an opportunity to nudge them ahead another short distance.”

Even today in corralling their buffalo, herd manager Robbie Magnon, of Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Reservation in northeastern Montana, tells me the best way to avoid stressing the buffalo is by spending a couple of days bringing them in.

 He says between their large pasture and the working corral are two or three successively smaller pastures. The first day, driving several pickup trucks, the Fort Peck crew might not bring the buffalo through the first gate, but by exerting gradual pressure from a distance, patiently haze them closer.

That night the herd might walk through the open gate on its own. The handlers drive through, close the gate and proceed in the same way toward the next one.

 Near the end of the trap, writes Brink, “The tapering of the funnel permitted greater numbers of people to congregate along the narrowest parts of the lane, where the need for control, and the danger, was greatest.”

The Box Canyon or Arroyo Trap

Box Canyons and natural traps have claimed less attention than buffalo jumps—which left great heaps of bones and arrow points beneath the jumps. But Marcel Kornfeld, George C. Frision and Mary Lou Larson in their book  Prehistoric Hunters-Gatherers of the High Plains and Rockies, say that likely more buffalo died in various kinds of traps than were ever killed in buffalo jumps.

 A classic example of what archaeologists call a ‘box canyon’ or ‘arroyo trap’ is the Hawkin site just south of Sundance, Wyoming. Bones and artifacts show that as many as 80 animals were driven from the bottom up to the headcut where they were trapped and killed. Dating analysis shows the Hawkin site was used as early as 6,600 years ago.

The Agate Basin arroyo site has been researched in northeastern Wyoming, as well as to some extent in the surrounding area in Montana and the Dakotas. Others are along the Cheyenne River south of the Black Hills, where arroyo traps have been identified.

Wyoming archeologists twice excavated the Wardell Buffalo Trap northeast of Big Piney. Used 800 to 1,600 years ago, hunters drove their herds as far as a mile, with sagebrush and grease-wood wings extending about a half mile toward the river to help funnel buffalo into that trap.

A turn in this washout above the South Grand to the left of where a Forest Service Ranger is standing—hides the steep headcut around the corner that could have acted as a trap or box canyon. Credit Francie M Berg.

A gulch that could have been used as an arroyo or dry gulch trap can be seen on our own community Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes tour (Site 5) on the South Grand River. To investigate the terrain at this point, hikers follow the fence southeast.

At the fence corner they take the steep sandy trail down toward the water. About halfway down the trail, off to the right, is a dry gulch with steep sides and a headcut that could have acted as a trap or box canyon.

Like other Plains rivers, the South Grand repeatedly cuts into the buttes lining its banks, washing away the face of steep cliffs and breaking out new gulches and draws. Some gulches lead to an abrupt headcut where floodwaters have dropped in waterfalls—forming a steep wall at the upper end of the gulch.

Let’s imagine a family group of 5 to 8 prehistoric hunters looking down on a band of buffalo here in the low grassy area along the South Grand River among the cottonwood trees.

From the plateau above, the hunters would have planned their approach. Scanning the area for drive lines used in previous hunts would have perhaps revealed two or three possibilities. They’d want the breeze in their faces coming from the buffalo to avoid sending early warnings.

They decide to bring the buffalo into the gulch at an opening along the near side of the river on the narrow strip of land that runs below the bank.

For this they will need to drive the buffalo up along the north side of the river, past the point where it turns abruptly against the bank. The hunt leaders recognize the weak links in this plan and determine where to station persons to step out of hiding at just the right moment.

If all goes well, three or four hunters haze the entire herd from a careful distance along the trail under the bank.

As the buffalo reach an opening in the bank, imagine that a woman and dog step out ahead. Seeing her, they turn smoothly into the gulch, relieved to find an escape route. Twists and turns in the brushy gulch disguise what lies ahead—a deep box canyon with high straight sides.

The hunters rush forward to slaughter as many buffalo as possible, piling up large bodies across the narrow entrance. Up above wait women with children and dogs, ready to jump out of hiding when needed, to guard any weak points and keep the panicked animals down in the gulch.

Off to the left of the sandy trail is another long draw with sides too gradual for trapping buffalo. An ideal route for hikers to return to the flat above—it’s a nice draw for climbing, following one of the many deer trails going up both sides through shady cottonwoods.

Although this dry gulch trap has not been excavated, others in this general have been, several nearby in northeastern Wyoming.

In this sketch early hunters take advantage of a small, tight canyon with steep sides where buffalo could be prevented from climbing out by hunters stationed at the weak points. Jack Brink points out that buffalo running downhill are at a disadvantage because of the weight of their large heads and forequarters. Courtesy “Imagining Head-Smashed-In,” JBrink.

How buffalo were trapped in a dry gulch or box canyon is a method that archaeologists are paying closer attention to today, thanks to the diligence of Wyoming researchers.

The difficulty in researching arroyo traps and box canyons are the reason they’ve been neglected, the Wyoming experts tell us.

The evidence of traps tends to wash far downstream and scatter in many directions, in contrast to buffalo jumps—where big piles of bones, arrowheads and butchering tools are preserved at the site, usually protected by layers of earth.

With traps, the bones and artifacts lie in the bottom of draws and canyons washed by every flood. Heavy runoff through the centuries carries most of the remains farther on downstream.

However, some collect with mud and trash to form a barrier—even changing the course of streams. The solid barrier may be waiting for the next bone-hunting anthropologist to expose it at a later time with more runoff.

Note: Just a few miles downstream from Site 5, the Shadehill Buffalo Jump (Site 6) rises from the lake, dammed during the 1950’s. The same prehistoric hunters who might have hunted box canyons higher up the river likely used that jump for large communal hunts.

Trapped in Deep Snow or Sand

“Buffalo Hunt on Snow shoes,” George Catlin lithograph from his American Indian Portfolio. Credit Wm Hornaday.

In winters of deep snow Cheyenne hunters led trained dogs on the hunt, according to Grinnell. They chased the buffalo into the deepest drifts in draws, set free dogs to worry them and then ran up and killed them with lances.

Buffalo floundering in pockets of deep snow, fighting off dogs, were easy prey even for hunters on foot. After killing and cleaning buffalo, the ancient owners fed the dogs, then loaded packs on the dogs or harnessed them into dog travois to carry the meat back to camp.

After the packs were taken off, the dogs circled back to the kill to eat their fill. Females with young pups returned to camp to disgorge food for their young—and then raced back for more.

Another hunt in deep snow is described by Paul Kane, the Canadian artist:

“Upon ascending the bank, we found ourselves in the close vicinity of an enormous band of buffaloes, probably numbering nearly 10,000. The snow was so deep that the buffaloes were either unable or unwilling to run far and at last came to a dead stand.

“We therefore secured our horses and advanced towards them on foot to within 40 or 50 yards when we commenced firing, which we continued to do until we were tired of a sport so little exciting. For, strange to say, they never tried either to escape or to attack us.”

Some tribes fashioned snow shoes for deep-snow winters. Buffalo could also be trapped on ice in wintertime.

Similarly, at times a buffalo herd could be trapped in deep sand.

Disguises—Making a Calf or Snake

Sometimes hunters disguised themselves with animal skins to get close to their prey without startling them.

The skins of wolves were often used, as wolves commonly hung out with buffalo herds. They were not much of a risk to healthy buffalo in a herd, but often picked off any isolated weak or old animals.

This famous George Catlin painting provided two versions of Native hunters disguised in wolf skins. In this version the hunters carry weapons. Perhaps hunting alone, they may intend to kill a fat-looking buffalo that comes close. The second version, without weapons, may have been about enticing a curious herd to follow prancing ‘wolves’ into a trap during a communal hunt. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum, Ft Worth, Texas.

Another trick was performed by two men, one covering himself with a wolf pelt, the other with a buffalo robe, said Kane, hunting in Canada.

“We fell in with a small band of buffaloes and Francois initiated me into the mysteries of ‘making a calf,’” explained Kane.

“They crawl on all fours within sight of the buffaloes and as soon as they have engaged their attention, the pretend wolf jumps on the pretend calf, which bellows in imitation of a real one. The buffaloes seem to be easily deceived in this way.

“As the bellowing is generally perfect, the herd rush to the protection of their supposed young with such impetuosity that they do not perceive the cheat until they are quite close enough to be shot.

“Indeed, Francois’ bellowing was so perfect that we were nearly run down. As soon, however, as we jumped up, they turned and fled.

“We shortly afterwards fell in with a solitary bull and cow and again ‘made a calf.’

“The cow attempted to spring toward us, but the bull seeming to understand the trick, tried to stop her by running between us. The cow dodged and got round him and ran within ten or fifteen yards of us, with the bull close at her heels, when we both fired and brought her down.

“The bull instantly stopped short and, bending over her, tried to raise her up with his nose, evincing the most persevering affection for her. Nor could we get rid of him so as to cut up the cow without shooting him also, although bull flesh is not desirable at this season of the year.”

In using disguises, Native people took on not just the appearance of the animal they had become, but they moved as it did.

“Having thousands of years to observe the behavior of all the game of the Plains, these fellow residents of the land would have an intimate knowledge of how each species walks, runs, sways, pauses, sniffs the air, lowers its head and paws the earth . . . They transformed themselves,” wrote Jack Brink.

Another ruse of the two Canadians was ‘Making a snake.’

“Which we often practiced with great success at Edmonton. It consisted in crawling on our bellies and dragging ourselves along by our hands, being first fully certain that we were to the leeward of the herd, however light the wind, lest they should scent us.

“Should there be twenty hunters engaged in the sport, each man follows exactly in the track of his leader, keeping his head close to the heels of his predecessor.

“The buffaloes seem not to take the slightest notice of the moving line, which the Indians account for by saying that the buffalo supposes it to be a big snake winding through the snow or grass.”

Other Ways of Slaughter

When food was scarce good hunters went out often, alone or with a few friends.

In oral histories gathered by A.B. Welch is a story told of an outstanding hunter named John Grass from the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa tribes in northern Dakota.

One extremely cold day Grass took a small hunting party out from camp on foot.

“John Grass was carrying his bow. He carried his arrow carrier in front that time. His left hand froze tight about the bow. They could not open his fingers.”

Then they found a buffalo, which they killed.

“They cut it open along the belly and shoved his arm and bow inside. His hand was melted then. That was a very bad thing that time.”

Single hunters could pick off old bulls separated from the herd and wounded by wolves, provided they could hold off the pack of wolves.

It was said that Flathead hunters were skilled at killing buffalo by rock throwing, choking or knifing them.

A South Dakota report tells of Native hunters digging hiding places or caves in soft banks near trails leading down to water. Then they hid in the cave and killed buffalo as they came to drink.

Then came the horse. Soon after, trade guns. And the exciting horse culture of running buffalo on the Plains prevailed for 150 years!

References:

Brink, Jack W. “Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains, 2008. Athabasca University Press, Edmonton, Canada.

Dary, David A. “The Buffalo Book: Full Saga,” Chicago: Swallow Press, 1974. Davis, Leslie B. and John W. Fisher Jr., Editors. “Pisskan: Interpreting First Peoples Bison Kills at Heritage Parks,” 2016. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Densmore, Frances. “Teton Sioux Music: Song to Secure Buffalo in time of Famine.” https://www.questia.com;read/77737640/teton-sioux-music.

Ewers, John C. “The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains.” Norman: U of Oklahoma Press, 1958., p11-13. ACLib)

Garcia, Louis. Personal Communication and “The History and Culture of the Spirit Lake Dakota,” Tokio, ND.

Gilfillan, Archer. SD Highway Magazine, 1939. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. Grinnell, George Bird. “The Cheyenne Indians,” Vol 1 and Vol 2, 1928, Bison Books.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Personal visit, June 15-23, 2016. Hornaday, William T. “The Extermination of the American Bison,” Report of the National Museum, 1887. Reprinted in book form by Gov. Printing Office, 1889.

Johnsgard, Paul A. “Prairie Dog Empire: Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie.” Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Kornfeld, Marcel, George C. Frison and Mary Lou Larson. “Prehistoric Hunters-Gatherers of the High Plains and Rockies,” 3rd Edition, 2010. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA.

Lame Deer, John (Fire) and Richard Erdoes. “Lame Deer Seeker of Visions.” NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Magnon, Robert. Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Reservation, Visit and Personal Communication.

Merriman, Don. ShadeHill, Personal Communication, 2015.

Ulm Pishkun State Park, Personal visit, June 15-23, 2016.

Vore Buffalo Jump, Personal Visit and Interviews 2016, Vore Buffalo Jump

Waggoner, Josephine. “Witness: A Hunkpapha Historian’s Strong-Heart Song of the Lakotas.” Edit Emily Levine. U of Nebr Press, Lincoln, 2013.

Welch, A.B. Colonel. Source: Online www.Welchdakotapapers.com. “Oral history of the Dakota Tribes 1800s-1945: As Told to Colonel A.B. Welch.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This