A Buffalo Jump

Havre, MT

Havre (pop 9,300) is another one of a string of towns along US Rte. 2 built by the Great Northern Railroad.  We stopped here for two nights to look around the town and to visit a well-known buffalo jump.  The Wahkpa Chu’gn Buffalo Jump, or bison kill, is one of the largest and best preserved buffalo jumps anywhere.  In prehistoric times, Native Americans would drive bison over the edge of the cliff, killing or severely injuring the animals.  Afterwards, the Native Americans skinned the animals and preserved the meat. The buffalo jump is now an archaeological site and a small tourist attraction.

The site is located in a somewhat strange place, directly behind the Holiday Village Shopping Center.  The parking lot for the shopping center is in need of paving and the shops are a bit run down, so we first though we might be in the wrong place.

The site is right behind this strip mall

A tepee and small sign under the shopping center sign mark the jump site location

But we drove around the back of the mall and, sure enough, there was the buffalo jump.

 

The cliff was much higher when it was lasts used over 600 years ago but erosion has lessened the drop-off.

Looking down from the top of the cliff

After our tour we drove around to the other side of the Milk River to get a different view of the jump.  The red building in the middle of the picture covers the main dig site.

We were fortunate that a tour was just beginning as we arrived.  So we quickly joined the tour guide and headed down the stairs.

Heading down the the bottom of the jump area

Looking up from the bottom of the jump

The red building above is one of the three covers for archaeological digs that have uncovered bones of the buffalo killed there.

The layers of bone show that the site was used then abandoned for long periods of time.

The red area in the middle of the picture above, and shown in a close up below, is a blood stain.  It indicates that large number of buffalo were butchered on this spot, known as a kill area.

We were fortunate to observe and participate in a demonstration of how the Native Americans quickly cooked the meat of the slaughtered animals.  The women would dig a hole in the ground, line it with buffalo skin, and fill it with water.  They would then heat up rocks in a nearby fire and drop them into the water, very quickly bringing it to a boil.  The man doing the demonstration used a bucket instead of a hole in the ground.

Each of us was given a piece of raw buffalo meat in a long stick.

Once the water came to a boil we put the meat into the water for about a minute.  It tasted delicious.

The buffalo jump was in use at a time before there were horses in North America and before the bow and arrow.  Native Americans used a throwing stick, or Atlatl, to throw their spear with greater velocity.  Our tour guide demonstrated its use for us.

After that each member of the tour was given an opportunity to hit a buffalo passing in front of us.

A bit short on that one, buddy!

That’s better!

Now we can stock the motorhome with food for the winter

Fortunately, no one was hurt during this attempt!

The youngest member of our group gives it a try

The tour of the buffalo jump was the highlight of our visit to Havre.  Next up, Glacier National Park!

More on that later . . .

 

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17 Responses to A Buffalo Jump

  1. Barb and I were going to drive up to Ulm, MT just south of Great Falls after we left Glacier and see the Ulm Pishkun State Monument, which was another Buffalo Jump, but, didn’t make it. Thanks for giving us the tour of yours and the history…. you are a good tour guide..

    Maynard

  2. Thanks for this great post about a buffalo jump. We went to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site in Alberta last year on our way to Alaska. There is a very interesting museum on the site where we watched an excellent film which reenacts a hunt and saw many informative exhibits, We didn’t see any archaeological digs so thanks for the photos of that. Love that you got to try to hit a buffalo with a spear!

  3. pmbweaver says:

    I love interactive tours. What a neat way to demonstrate how they cooked buffalo meat. I bet the kids got a big kick out of cooking their own meat.

    I have never seen an Indian throw an arrow like you are doing. How interesting. I would think it would take a lot of practice to be accurate with that thing. You both have such good form. I am surprised they didn’t want to put war paint on your face, feathers in your hair and hire y’all to do the demonstrations.

  4. Gay says:

    What an interesting tour and stop…thanks Pam and John!

  5. Never heard of a buffalo jump, thanks for taking me there! With so many layers the natives must have been doing this for centuries. Fascinating!

  6. I have never heard of a buffalo jump either…very interesting!

  7. Pam says:

    Cool experience!

  8. Jodee Gravel says:

    The location may be the saddest thing I’ve seen, and yet still wonderful for the education they are sharing from that one spot. Certainly a LOT of stuff I didn’t know!! The spear thrower looks like the tennis ball thrower you can buy for dogs…..it makes so much sense! Good to know you won’t go hungry this winter :-).

  9. LuAnn says:

    What an interesting post! I have heard of buffalo jumps before but have never been to one. It’s a good thing that you got that residential fridge with all that bison meat that you are going to have. 🙂 You not only have some strong legs Pam, but some good arms as well!

    Enjoy your time in Glacier!

  10. Sue says:

    Your Buffalo Jump experience was much more complete than ours was. No tasting, no tour, no throwing…..(John, Dave says you throw like a girl) tee hee. At any rate, thanks for showing us this one. I’m fascinated by them and by thinking what life must have been like in those times.

  11. Sherry says:

    I just love this post. A great find that I am putting on my list FOR SURE. What a neat tour. Glad you’ll be able to bring home the bacon now. Sure hope they have the whole tour when we get there.

  12. Wow! what a great, interesting find! thanks!

  13. Holly Ritger says:

    I love this post, starting with the header photo of the sunflowers! Beautiful!! The buffalo jump sounds really interesting… I will add it to my list for next time we are in Montana. Glacier will be beautiful this time of year… Have a wonderful visit.

  14. rommel says:

    I only see those killing tools behind glass. How cool that you get to give it a throw. Bison/buffalo meat are so good, although expensive. 🙂 Being it behind a mall is hilarious!!!

  15. Laurel says:

    What a fascinating place! Good to know that you have the skills to bring home dinner if need be. 🙂 So the buffalo meat really tasted good just boiled in water? No herbs, spices, or condiments?

  16. libertatemamo says:

    With throwing skills like that I expect freshly caught meat from you next time we meet-up. Who needs a grocery store? Interesting little visit.

    Nina

  17. Anne says:

    Interesting. We visited Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump In Alberta when we were there – such an interesting and little-known part of the history of both our countries. I am not sure if you follow the following blog. These folks are in Jasper National Park and their description and photos are excellent http://www.islandgirlwalkabout.com/2014/08/21/jasper-national-park/

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