The Buffalo

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					                                                          The Bison
                                                         Grades 6 - 12

The student will:
   • Understand the dependency of the Plains Indian on the bison to sustain life
   • Investigate how the arrival of Europeans across North America impacted the availability of bison to the Plains
      Indian

From Land of the Spotted Eagle by Luther Standing Bear:
                 But little of the buffalo was not usable. Horns were made into spoons, hoofs boiled for glue, ribs
       turned into sleds, toys, games, the skull used for ceremonial purposes, the thick hide on the head dried and
       shaped into bowls and tallow and the hides used for innumerable purposes. Fresh, untainted meat was the
       enjoyment of the Lakota as were pure water and air. Whatever was not consumed while fresh was dried,
       and meat preserved in this way kept wholesome for an indefinite period.

Background:
          In prehistory, the Plains Indians may have simply followed the buffalo and found themselves on the Great Plains,
since it was one of their main food sources. Large herds of buffalo roamed the Great Plains back then with many thousands
of animals in the group. Buffalo migrated, or moved along routes in a large land area, because the herd ate large amounts of
grass. As they ate up all the grass in one area, they would simply move on. The early Native Americans would move with
them so that they would always have enough to eat.
          Though crops became very important part of the prehistoric Indians’ diet, hunting was critical to their survival.
They certainly hunted many of the animals of the plains like ducks, geese, deer, beaver, mink, raccoon, fox, all sorts of fish,
and even turtles (the meat from which they roasted after cutting away the shell). But far and away their most important
animal for food was the buffalo, or bison. At this time in history, around a thousand years ago, the buffalo migrated
throughout the Great Plains in huge herds with thousands and even tens of thousands of animals in a group.
          An example of a culture that depended on the buffalo is the ancestors of the Mandan who lived on the banks of the
Firesteel River over 1,000 years ago in what is now known as the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village (PIV). There were over
thousand residents of the PIV and because of the need to store as much food as possible over time, the hunters from the
village needed to kill many animals for food. And the animals were not always available since the herds migrated, probably
coming close to the village only once each year.
           While modern people tend to eat about the same amount of food or calories per day, because food is pretty much
always available, ancient peoples had no such luxury. When food was plentiful, they ate as much as they could possibly
hold, literally storing it in their own bodies. When the lean times came, this stored fat on their bodies could make up for a
lack of food. One especially rich source of calories was marrow, the substance found within bones that can be consumed by
slicing or crushing the bones that hold it.
          As some members of the village removed and dried hides and harvested the meat from the buffalo, others began the
process of preserving as much meat as possible for later consumption. Flesh not eaten right away or preserved in some way
would very quickly become spoiled and inedible. One way to preserve the meat was by making pemmican, a mixture of
meat, berries and added fat boiled off from crushed bison bone. Another major way to preserve the meat from the kill was by
‘drying’ it. The Indians would cut the meat into long, thin strips and hang it over wooden posts, a bit like a clothesline. The
result was something like ‘jerky,’ meat preserved for later consumption.
          But the huge butchering job was not done even when all the meat had been harvested. The Indians of the PIV, like
Indians in historical times, used all of the parts of the buffalo, unless so many animals had been killed that they could not be
butchered in time. From the sinew for bowstrings to hooves for hatchets and rattles to the stomach for pouches, the Indians
put every part of the buffalo to some use in their daily lives. (For a complete list of the uses of the buffalo, see “Specific Uses
of Portions of the Bison.”)
                              The buffalo played an important role in Plains Indian ceremonies

Activities:
Lesson #1:
     • Use the Internet resources to research the role of the buffalo in the life of the Native Americans of the Plains
     • Develop a presentation about the uses of the buffalo and its spiritual, ceremonial, and practical importance in the
       life of the Plains Indian

Lesson #2
    • Using print and electronic resources, investigate how the arrival of Europeans across North America impacted the
     availability of bison to the Plains Indian
    • Create a graphic illustrating the fate of the buffalo and the Plains Indians during the last half of the 19th century
    • Determine the present-day fate of the buffalo

Resources:

American Buffalo: The Spirit of a Nation: PBS special on the role of the buffalo
The Decimation of the Plains Buffalo During the Late 1800s
General Information and Pictures
Renewing the Great Plains: The Past and the Future
                     Buffalo – Front View                                            Buffalo – Side View




                         Buffalo Horn                                       Buffalo Shoulder Blade and Rib Cage


Note to Teachers:

Grades 6 - 12

Teaching time:
Lesson One: 2 – 45 minute sessions w/ independent work assigned outside class; depending on class size, 1 – 2 30 minute
sessions for presentations
Lesson Two: 2 – 45 minute sessions w/independent work assigned outside of class

Web resources are provided at the end of each lesson. The list is by no means all-inclusive. It is suggested that you
incorporate material from your textbooks, media center and other electronic media. Use of a computer lab during class time
would be recommended for at least one session.

Lesson Extensions:
 • If your school is located in proximity to the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell, South Dakota, schedule a
     visit to gain a fuller understanding of how the buffalo and other indigenous animals and plants sustained prehistoric
     life, as well as life in more contemporary times
 • Investigate the animals that played a key role in sustaining Indian tribes in other regions of the United States
 • Research other factors that impacted the Native American population as a result of the settlement of the Western
     Hemisphere by Europeans
 • Research the influence Indian culture has had on non-American Indian culture
General Resource Links:

       More lesson ideas and reference materials:
       Marco Polo
       http://www.marcopolo-education.org/
       PBS Teacher Resource Page
       http://www.pbs.org/teachersource/
       Classroom Connect
       http://www.classroom.com/login/home.jhtml
       National Geographic
       http://www.nationalgeographic.com/education/
       Smithsonian Institution
       http://www.si.edu/
       Kathy Schrock Guide to Educators
       http://school.discovery.com/schrockguide/
       Science Links – Inventors and Inventions
       http://www.sciencenetlinks.com/lessons.cfm?Grade=6-8&BenchmarkID=1&DocID=0

       Links to make your own worksheets, puzzles, flash cards, crosswords and more….
       Discover School PuzzleMaker
       http://puzzlemaker.school.discovery.com/
       Quia
       http://www.quia.com/web

				
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posted:4/7/2010
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