Lesson Two: American Indians and the Buffalo

Focus Questions:

Why were buffalo so important to the American Indians on the Great Plains? (supplied all their needs)

How did people hunt buffalo before they had horses? (herded them into enclosed areas or forced them off a cliff or disguised themselves to get close enough to shoot)

How did hunting change after they got horses? (it took fewer hunters to find and kill buffalo; they killed fewer animals)

Imbedded Information in the Student Lesson:

Buffalo jump/Shadehill Reservoir; wolf disguise; buffalo horse; woman making wasna; parfleche; chart of buffalo uses


Get Acrobat

Buffalo Word Scramble

Classroom Activities:

     Jerky is relatively easy to make using a good dehydrator or ordinary oven. As a class project, have the students help in preparing either buffalo (which is available in some stores) or beef. Make some with modern seasonings or marinades, some using wood-smoke flavoring, and some without seasoning to approximate the original jerky. Here is a simple recipe to experiment with. Have students compare flavors and discuss why jerky was so important to the Indians and what was available to help in seasoning foods.

     The buffalo occupied an important place in Dakota, Lakota, Nakota religion and culture. Ask a traditional American Indian person to talk to the class about the importance of the buffalo. Or, have groups of students study different legends and present those as skits. A number of these stories can be found in Valerius Geist, Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison (Stillwater, Minn.: Voyageur Press, 1996), pp. 25-28, 34. Afterwards, ask the students to discuss the meaning of the stories.

     Have student groups make tools from natural materials like wood, bone, or stone. Have each group explain its tool and how they came up with the idea. What are they going to use it for? Have them evaluate how hard the tool was to make and use.

     Although it is for a younger age group (2-3 grades), the South Dakota State Historical Society offers a "hands-on" kit entitled "The Buffalo and the Plains Indians" that allows students to see and feel the tanned hides, sinew, bone, rawhide, and other natural products that the American Indians worked with. The kit also includes information about wildlife preservation, cultural awareness, and various resource lists. For more information, email Ronette.Rumpca@state.sd.us.