Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump



Looking out over the admittedly bleak landscape is rather awe-inspiring if you can withstand the icy blasts of wind that shoot across the plains. Looking now at the vast expanse of snowy farmland, it’s hard to believe that once endless herds of bison met a grisly death as they paraded off the ledge featured above in an incredibly elaborate and developed Blackfoot tradition. They called it a Pik’Sun, which translates directly according to the museum that my cousin and I visited, “Deep Kettle of Blood.” Quite.

In the intervening decades, the tribes occasionally would return to the jump, when the conditions were appropriate to prepare for the ritual that would ensure food and clothing for the difficult month ahead. As I contemplate a move perhaps professionally and certainly personally within in the next couple of months, I come back to this chilling image of bygone bones resting eternally in the valley below. It’s a powerful reminder that sometimes the ugliest of displays of gore result in a fresh and creative beginning for all those that are willing to work at it.

Because at the end of the hunt, the carcasses were carefully plundered, bones carefully fashioned into tools, meat prepared for storage, and hides tanned for clothing. What could be a tenuous existence in a harsh and sometimes barren land was sustained by what must have been unpleasant work in that killing field. In a very real sense, their lives were made out of that buffalo jump.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that that is the best that can often be taken away from a difficult experience. I have in my time run a great many of my own personal bison off a cliff, and I I think the best that you can do is to use what’s left to create something new. The process is never pretty, and what you’re left with is something completely different than you started with — the tools and the food for growth.