Bison Hunting

Indigenous people in northern America used horses in their daily lives in many activities which greatly influenced the hunting practices of the bison. The use of these horses continued until it was spread to all the people who changed the way of life and improved their economic situation. Prosperity came up as a result of the use of the horses. This topic is specially important because it leads Americans to understanding about their history especially on the native Indian tribes.

The American bison is in other words referred to as the American buffalo was a real economic activity that the Indians who inhabited the area in the northern grasslands of the united states of America practiced. However, this activity stopped in the 19th century when the bison were in extinction; hence hunting could no longer go on. The increased agricultural activities in western North America killed the bison hunting because the farmers took up the spaces and places that the animals should have been occupying. This means that the animals lost their habitat and therefore had nowhere to go except to die by being overhunted and others being eaten up by wild animals. The people who were practicing the ranching and farming were the non-indigenous farmers.

Buffalo hunting on the northern plains in Canada was such a dangerous activity that it was being relied upon for food and prosperity. The west had rocky mountains while the river Mississippi provided a excellent shield in the east and these two places formed the hunting ground for the hunters. In the culture of the plain people, the horse, buffalo, and the tipi are three animals that cannot be ignored. In these great plains, around 30 million buffaloes were roaming the plains of Canada by the year 1800. The buffalo was specifically hunted for its gainful tools, spiritual guidance and the meat that served as food. As a result, all these people ventured seriously into hunting and made it their main economic activity because of the plenty and availability of milk. Therefore, the hunting of buffalo was not being done as something that involved sport or exercises but was done as a necessity to obtain food.

There were different methods that the people used in hunting buffaloes. The first one is the buffalo jump which was a way used by getting to lure the buffaloes over high places along river valleys. The buffaloes used to be lured into jumping into the water by these people. However, the method of using horses in hunting was the ultimate thing that the hunters used. (Barsh, 2003)

The demand for bison hunting increased due to the expanded pressure from the buyers of the buffalo products by non-indigenous individuals. The native Indian people were worst affected by conflicts because their livelihoods were being cut off due to political and civil pressures.

At first, the native hunters were only a small population, and the number of bison in terms of their population was high. This indicates that the buffalo population could not be overwhelmed by the indigenous(nativeIndians) people (Flores, 1991). Therefore, the balance of nature was at its optimum. Also, the hunting was initially being done by those who were ambushing the herds and using their traditional tools and methods. However, life started changing with the introduction of the horses by the non-indigenous communities. The hunting of animals graduated to a professional level because they could catch as many animals as possible (Henday, 1987). The horse is faster than a buffalo, and thus it became faster for a person to run after a buffalo and hunt it down using a spear or even a sword.

, but due to occasional fires, the grassland kept on increasing to accommodate the herds of buffaloes. Also, the population of humans was also kept under check by diseases and sicknesses that made sure that there was a balance between animals and humans. Therefore, an ecological balance was attained. In some of the hunting techniques, the hunters cut off a bison from the heard and chased it until it got tired or it fell off its feet. In other methods, the native Americans employed the use of fire to get to drive animals to the end of a cliff whereby they fell. This method used fire, and it was not economical and also it was not striking an ecological balance since the fire could burn large areas of land. Moreover, the method could catch a lot of animals by killing and maiming many of them, more than the people could eat, therefore bringing about wastage.

The use of horses brought about a new revolution in hunting. The horses came from the Spanish people and were kept in a nomadic way of life. This came about in the early 1700s. This forced the indigenous people who lived in the east to move to the west so that they could hunt the larger populations that existed there. Trade was established whereby meat and robes were exchanged for meat (Krech, 1999). It only required a skillful horseman to feed his family through shooting enough bison. These bison were known for their cord that was used in the making of bows and meat together with leather. The process of hunting bison became comfortable with a fast horse. The horse was mounted when near a bison. However, because the hunters were many, they used uniquely marked arrows so that controversies could be eliminated in the sharing of spoils.

The effects of bison hunting on the indigenous people were serious and many. The first effect is the loss of land due to disputes over the areas where the people hunted. The Brule Lakota were hostile to the other communities and displaced all the tribes of the south from their best-hunting grounds. This happened in the Nebraska Sandhills. The Lakota warriors were set on standby to guard the game land that they had newly conquered.

The second effect on the indigenous tribes is the loss of their source of food. Some of the tribes that were driven away from their rich game lands tried in vain to get the right places to obtain food. They went to the edges of the buffalo lands, and it was too risky for them. They faced starvation because sources of livelihood were not readily available. For example, the Arikara, who were pushed away from their hunting grounds had to buy meat and hides from the Sioux who had displaced them (Binnema, 2001).

There was also the loss of independence by some of the tribes due to the conflicts that arose between the bison hunting groups. The effects of the loss of autonomy were the massacres and constant raids due to lack of trust among the tribes. Various camps lost their leaders and therefore became more exposed. The usually organized bison hunt camps were interfered with by the mistrust among the tribes. As a result, many village Indians had to run and flee for their lives, leaving their homes. The Nuptadi Mandans had their village torched by the Sioux Indians (Verbicky-Todd, 1984).

Additionally, spiritual effects were witnessed whereby the known religious leaders were attacked and killed amid their duty. Spiritual and cultural ceremonies were significantly disturbed as a big deal of medicine got stolen. People always lived in fear because even the freedom of worship was under threat since they could not do so freely.

The herds of bison reduced significantly, and the economic situation of the region went from good to worse because the indigenous people started killing the wild animals for food (Milloy, 1988). This was entirely necessary because they could not live without eating. However, before the introduction of the herds, the ineffective methods that were being used in hunting were crude. Nonetheless, these methods helped the people preserve the game, and the population of bison was not declining (Laubin, and Gladys, 1980). Although sometimes the hunting used to be devastating, the population of bison was stable. For instance, burning a portion of the grass so that the animals are driven to a cliff where they would fall off. Many would fall such that they exceeded the consumption capacity of the hunter, thus wasting their valuable resources that they should be utilized well. However, the use of horses broughtin commercial interests and bison hunting came to a stop by the 19th century.


Barsh, Lawrence Russel, and Chantelle Marlor, “Driving Bison and Blackfoot Science,” Human Ecology. New York: Dec. 2003, Vol. 31, Iss. 4., 571-593.

Binnema, Theodore. The Common and Contested Ground: A Human and Environmental History of the Northwestern Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.

Flores, Dan, “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850,” Journal of American History, September 1991: 465-485.

Henday, Anthony. “York Factory to the Blackfeet Country: The Journal of Anthony Hendry, 1754-1755.” Lawrence J. Burpee, ed. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, series 3, vol. 1 (1907), section 2: 307-61.

Krech, Shepard. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999, chapter five, pp. 123-149 (available at the UW Library, four-hour reserve).

Laubin, Reginald and Gladys. American Indian Archery. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

Milloy, John S. The Plains Cree: Trade, Diplomacy, and War, 1790 to 1870. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1988.

Verbicky-Todd, Eleanor. Communal Buffalo Hunting among the Plains Indians: An Ethnographic and Historical Review. Occasional Paper No. 24. Edmonton: Archaeological Survey of Alberta, 1984.


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