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Native American Society

American Indian & The Buffalo


Buffalo

The buffalo played an important role in the life of Native Americans.

Before the arrival of Europeans, buffalo were hunted on foot and every part of the animal was used: food (meat), shelter (buffalo skin tipi covers), clothing (hide robes), fuel (dried buffalo dung), tools (horn spoons and bone hide scrapers), weapons (buffalo hide shields and bow strings) and equipment (rawhide envelope for storing food). They also used hooves to make glue, turned bones into ornaments and buffalo tails became a fly swish.

In the second-half of the 19th century European buffalo hunters, armed with powerful, long-range rifles, began killing the animals in large numbers. Individual hunters could kill 250 buffalo a day. By the 1880s over 5,000 hunters and skinners were involved in this trade. It is claimed that the killing of buffalo was supported by the U.S. military in order to undermine the survival of the Plains Indians.

In 1800 there were around 60 million buffalo in North America. By 1890 this number had fallen to 750. The Plains Indians (Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Sioux, Arikara, Mandan, Osage and Pawnee) had now no means of independent sustenance and had to accept the government policy of living on Indian Reservations.

In the 20th century the buffalo became a protected species and now number about 80,000.

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