Buffalo Jumps

The Pishkun
October was the best time for hunting. And the most ancient method for capturing bison was the pishkun. Hunters would line up large piles of rocks and tree stumps in a V-shaped pathway. The broad end of the lines began at a natural grazing area, while the narrow end led into a small draw and up to a low hill about 25 feet in diamter. The hill would have a smooth slope on the approach side and a sharp drop on the far, hidden side.

Around the far side the Indians, built a corral of horizontal logs and vertical posts. Sharpened stakes were angled across the bottom log with their points projecting in to prevent a trapped herd from jamming against the fence and pushing it over.

A "caller" would then imitate a buffalo calf wearing a buffalo robe over his head, in an attempt to lure the herd to entrance of the trap. When the buffalo started moving, Indian drivers upwind and behind them made noises, frightening the herd into a run over the hill and into the corral. The trapped herd would then be closed in for hunters to kill the animals with clubs, arrows, and lances.

Off A Sheer Cliff
A variation of the pishkun was the "buffalo jump." The V-shaped pathway was also used in this method, but it ended at a sheer cliff some twenty or more feet in height. The best jumps were at the edge of a good pasture which sloped gently into a shallow draw and toward the rim. Hunters ran the herd in the direction of the cliff.

Shortly thereafter, the thundering herd would plummet off the cliff, ending in a mass of dead and crippled beasts at the foot of the cliff. There, the hunters finished them off, and the women set immediately to skinning them, since any meat not cut, sliced, and placed on drying racks by morning would spoil.

Buffalo Jumps Near Bighorn Canyon
Several of the buffalo jumps used by the Crow have been located in Montana. Nearby jumps include Dryhead, about 15 miles south of Fort Smith, Montana; Grapevine, which is located a few miles west of Fort Smith, and Rosebud, located east of Crow Agency.

A Successful Hunt
A successful pishkun or buffalo jump hunt was an exhausting effort for the Indians, but it could supply each family with fresh meat for several days, with a reserve supply of dried meat, bones, and several hides to tan.

Scraping hides was a very tedious job, requiring time and devotion. A woman may have taken up to seven months to scrape a hide. Buffalo-hide moccasins sometimes were left rough, without scraping. In winter, ice would accumulate on the bottom, becoming the thick, protective layer for the soles of their footwear.

From the hide, they would also produce moccasin tops, cradles, winter robes, bedding, breechcloths, shirts, leggings, lance covers, belts, dresses, pipe bags, pouches, paint bags, dolls, tipi covers, and guncases. Each tipi took 14 hides.

The many, varied uses of the buffalo whether for food, clothing, or day to day items shows why the buffalo and buffalo jumps was a central feature of Crow life in the Bighorn Canyon area and the Northern Plains.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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