Thursday, February 21, 2013

Buffalo Jumps and Cooled Lava

I am told by the locals that no one calls them buffalo; they are bison. This is understandable since the first settlers dubbed them buffalo based upon the known water buffalos and African buffalos, even though it is a completely different animal. The bison that wander the western plains and ranges of the United States are the same animal that the Native Americans hunted. These massive animals are migratory and they trekked up and down the mountains and valleys of the west. Their migratory paths went as far north as the Great Bear Lake in Canada to Durango.

The use of bison in both cultural events and for survival by the American Natives is well documented in both photos and in petroglyphs that depict hunts and other art relating to the bison. The bison was honored as a source of food, warmth and heat. When a bison hunt began, the hunting party would use the natural landscape of the area to aid them in the hunt.

The purpose of what is now known as a buffalo jump was to drive a herd of bison off the cliff to their ultimate demise. The members of the hunting party not given the task of driving the buffalo over the edge were in charge of finishing the kill and keeping order on the ground. Skilled runners ran the bison over by appearing in animal skins and running at the herd in order to create a panic.

These hunts were extremely important in creating a reserve of food and clothing in order to survive the cold western winters. The bison kept the people fed and the bison were honored for their contribution to the survival of the people.

I took off and went to visit a local buffalo jump that is fighting for funding from the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission. They did get a bit of outside funding to help them to stay open for a bit longer, but it is a lone spot in the Madison River Valley that requires a lot of driving to get to. The jump is far from the opposite of the gulch that the people set up their teepee rings. I did not hike to the top because it was late in the day, and I had already been hiking in another part of the area, so it was time to pack up.

This image is compliments of the state park website that shows the top of the jump from the information shelter. I only hiked to the shelter and my photos were not very good, so I am using the state’s link. This particular jump was used by many different tribes of Native Americans including the Shoshones. The jump was abandoned after the introduction of horses, which made hunting so much easier.

The cabin that I am renting is located at the bottom of a buffalo jump, which makes this a very interesting little spot in the world. As you can see, the hill behind the cabin is steep and the other side of it is a huge field that goes back towards the Spanish Peaks mountain range. It is more than 15 miles to the mountains, but the land is relatively flat, which would give the hunters a great place to pick up speed. The hill is rather short in length; it goes behind the cabin and over into the next property for several acres, but it is steep the entire length of the ridge.


When this cabin was built, the owner excavated untold number of arrowheads and buffalo teeth. The teeth are still visible as I have found them under the front porch when I was gathering up hanging pots for my summer flowers. The owner has a collection of these arrowheads; all of which consist of obsidian rock, giving the cabin the name Obsidian Point.

Obsidian is a result of cooled lava, which is extremely understandable since I am currently residing in an area that is a result of Yellowstone’s crazy geological activity. Obsidian breaks easily, creating sharp points that are utilized in tools and arrows. It is glass and not a rock. Way cool, huh?

It does not take much to entertain me and these historic events simply cause me to have a lot of wow moments. I can stand in the front yard and imagine the hunters driving the bison over the cliff and the rest of the people involved celebrating the hunt. When I first found the tooth, it really brought the history alive for me and made it much more than a story.

I cannot wait to see what spring brings; maybe I will find an obsidian point!

Julie and Blu