Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump - it's a place!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
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Trip End Dec 31, 2018


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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Monday, October 3, 2011

OK we'll get to "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo" soon and all will be explained. What a name!!!

First, though ,we headed off to Waterton Lakes Park another stunning Alberta National Park down on the border with USA. Here we had an exciting chance encounter with a big black bear. Avan spotted the bear on the adjacent hill side as we turned a corner and, from the safety of our van, we watched him forage for food. It was exciting!

In Waterton we saw a Buffalo herd (also called Bison) which was a precursor for our next stop,
Yes - Head-Smashed-In Buffalo! 

The Blackfoot Indians practiced an ingenious and resourceful method of catching Buffalo en-masse by driving them over a precipice. The art of the Buffalo jump is over 6,000 years old.

When the buffalo massed on the nearby prairie, drive lanes, (sort of like a type of huge funnel) were made with rocks and tree branches by many braves to head the buffalo towards the cliff or "Buffalo Jump". A specially selected brave would dress as a calf and when the time was exactly right would act as a distressed calf out front of the herd. Meanwhile, another brave would dress as a wolf and prowl behind the herd pushing them gradually forward. On a signal, all the Indians hiding behind the bushes of the drive lines would yell and wave the bushes which, coupled with the actions of the wolf and calf actors, would commence a massive stampede. The unfortunate Buffalo would stampede right over the cliff to their death and the waiting braves below, who would immediately begin the butchering process. 

The buffalo was not just killed for meat, as virtually the whole buffalo had a use including bones for implements and tools and hides for tepees, clothes and moccasins.

This Buffalo Jump is very well preserved and has provided many artifacts and fossils. An amazing interpretative centre has been developed on the site giving a detailed insight into the Plains Buffalo culture. The centre was officially opened by Prince Andrew and Fergie in 1987.

The reason this buffalo jump was called "Head-Smashed-In", (apart from the fact that all the buffalo's heads got smashed in!)  relates to a legend. A young brave wanted to watch the buffalo tumbling past. Standing under the shelter of the ledge he watched the great beasts fall. The hunt was unusually good that day and as the bodies piled up, he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo carcases. Thus they named this place "Head-Smashed-In" 

So we have finally discovered what "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo" is all about! 

Footnote: Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (Glacier Park is in USA and not visited), and Head Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump are both UNESCO World Heritage Listed site's. 
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