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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Buffalo Jump

Location: Chouteau County, about 1-1/4 miles downstream from the mouth of Arrow Creek on the opposite, or north, bank of the Missouri River and approximately 9 miles by river upstream, or west, from the mouth of the Judith River.

At this site, in the beautiful White Cliffs section of the Missouri Breaks, discussed elsewhere in this volume, the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were probably the first U.S. citizens to see and record a buffalo jump site where the dead animals were still in place.

Before the advent of the steel-tipped arrow and lance and the rifle-musket, it was difficult for Indians to kill buffalo. A particularly fruitful method in the high Plains country was mass killing by the use of "jumps." These were located where buttes, eroded cliffs, and river gorges provided sufficient drop to kill or maim the beasts. The Indians enticed a herd within a short distance of the jump, and then started a stampede that carried the animals to the brink. There, the pressure of those behind forced those in front over the edge.

On May 29, 1805, on the westbound journey, the Lewis and Clark Expedition came upon such a jump. It was on the north side of the Missouri along the base of a 120-foot-high cliff that came almost to the water's edge. The men observed and smelled the carcasses of more than 100 dead and rotting buffalo, which wolves were devouring. Likely, some Blackfeet Indians, whose 2-week-old campsite had been discovered near the mouth of the Judith earlier that day, had conducted the jump. The explorers later appropriately named modern Arrow Creek, a little more than a mile to the west and flowing in from the south, as "Slaughter Creek."

The site was identified in 1963 as 24CH240 by a team from the Missouri Basin Inter-Agency Archeological Salvage Program, which surveyed sites in this part of the river. Even at the time Lewis and Clark passed by, the waters were eroding away the dead buffalo at the stream's edge. In the intervening 170 years or so, floods and erosional action have removed nearly all archeological evidence of the jump. The salvage team found only two pieces of bone fragments, some others of which the private owner had also observed.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004