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Article: The Tribal Hunt

As described by First Boy - James Larpentuer Long, Fort Peck Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpentuer Long), edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma Press, 1961, p 100-106 (originally published as Land of the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)

The northern Assiniboine bands were noted for their successful buffalo traps. By using these traps, sufficient buffalo meat could be obtained at one time for ample distribution even to a large band. The whole tribe took part in trapping.

Areas to be used as traps were selected with great care. If the band was camped near a timbered creek, a ravine with steep sides and one that gradually leveled off into the prairie country was selected. If the encampment was on the prairie, an eroded creek was chosen

The most common location was a timbered site. The mouth of a ravine was enclosed with a circular stockade. Trees and brush were cleared, with only those trees that were in line to form a circle left to serve as uprights. A tree was also left in the center for the Medicine Pole.

Loose brush was piled around the enclosure. From the en-trance, two lines led away along the steep sides and gradually widened out for about a mile. Willows, tied together in large bundles and set upright at intervals, formed the lines. In winter, piles of snow were used.

A good-sized lodge was pitched near the enclosure. The master of the ceremonial hunt and his helpers took their places in it and spent four days and nights :i meditation, fasting, and the singing of buffalo songs.

Those men invited to the lodge by the master were medicine men who had power from the Sacred Buffalo, men who, through visions, had been promised help from the Buffalo for sacrifices that they had made to him in times past. The people always relied on the medicine men and their helpers to call the buf-faloes in.

In the back of the lodge was placed a buffalo head, with dried sweetgrass smoldering in front of it throughout the entire cere-mony. ~1any offerings were brought to the lodge by the people to be offered to the spirits of the buffaloes by the master, in exchange for their flesh.

After the fast, well-known hunters were invited to the lodge and told to locate the herd. As soon as these scouts located a herd or part of a herd numbering about two hundred buffaloes, the hunters went out to drive it in. In the meantime the people con-cealed themselves behind the long rows of willows and awaited the coming of the herd.

Riders who drove the buffaloes to the man assigned to lead them to the trap stayed far behind after the herd was on its way. Their part in the hunt was over.

When the herd was headed in the direction of the trap, a lone rider stationed a distance from the ends of the herd said something like, "Yip! Yip! Yip!" At the call, the buffaloes stopped, raised their heads, and looked in his direction. Then the rider turned toward the trap, and the herd followed him.

He watched the movement of the herd and gauged his pace accordingly. Usually the herd followed slowly, but sometimes would trot so that the rider had to urge his mount along to keep the same distance ahead. If a rider rode ahead at a pace faster than that of the buffaloes, they finally stopped following. Or if the rider was too slow, the buffaloes caught up and shied away from him in another direction. The rider had to keep the right distance between himself and the buffalo.

At some traps the medicine man who was in charge of the ceremonial hunt went out on foot to meet the buffaloes, and, instead of calling to them, he sang a buffalo song. When they started in his direction, he walked toward the trap between the wings and into the enclosure, sometimes with the whole herd following him. He then went out of the pen through a small open-ing made for that purpose. Being a medicine man, he had the right to invite the buffaloes to the trap in that manner.

When the last of the herd had passed the ends of the wings, one of the persons concealed behind the willows exposed himself just enough to be noticed by the buffaloes in the rear, so that they then moved into the main herd and, in turn, hurried the others along. As they moved towards the trap, the concealed persons, one after another, followed the example of the first man as the rear of the herd passed their stations. A slight movement was enough to be noticed by the buffaloes. To be seen too much would result in a stampeded herd.

The leader turned aside at the entrance, allowing the buffaloes in the lead to jump into the enclosure. These were followed by the herd.

When the last of them had gone in, several persons, concealed nearby, rose up and rushed to the entrance. These men stood within the gap and waved untanned hides at the buffaloes to keep them in, while other men closed up the entrance with logs, branches, and brush.

As the buffaloes milled around in the trap, they were killed with arrows. When all had been slain, the head medicine man took a portion of the offerings of braided and dried sweet grass and touched each one of the dead buffaloes with it. In later years, red flannel or some other cloth was used.

There were times when the herd broke through the wings during the approach or got out of the trap at a weak spot in the stockade. When that happened, a group of riders, stationed nearby for the purpose, had to kill the animals in a chase.

The riders were the first to be called in and told to select their buffaloes. They always chose the fat ones and marked their own-ership with staffs laid on the dead animals.

The people then butchered, and the meat was distributed among them according to their needs. Sometimes an entire buf-falo was allotted to a family. All tongues and hearts were piled inside the ceremonial lodge. These were later given out to the ones who came and asked for them. Choice parts of the buffalo were laid aside and given to the master and his helpers.

There was always a scramble of men for the arrows, each one keeping those he could get.

After the meat was taken care of, the inside of the enclosure w-as cleaned. Leftovers were piled on the hides and dragged out and away from the trap. The whole place was then sprinkled with new dirt, or if in winter, snow was thrown on.

That kind of hunt usually started in the fall, and if a trap was in a suitable place and the drives were successful, it was used many times over throughout the winter.

The old man, Last, told this story about a hunt when the buffaloes got away:

“Our band, the Dog Band of the Prairie, had a trap near Woody Mountain, now in Canada. Once when the buffaloes were nearly all in the enclosure, a young man, the son of Flint Hand, was at his position on one side of the main entrance.

Before the last of the herd had gone in, he rushed forward too quickly with his dry hide and frightened the herd. The rear ones broke back, with the result that the whole herd got away.

Then someone shot an arrow into the young man, and several more persons followed suit. The man was killed. I don't believe he meant to scare the herd, but he did and the penalty had to be hard. Perhaps he had never taken part in a drive before and was too anxious.

Flint Hand came forward and killed the man who had been the first to shoot his son. Then he, too, was immediately killed. From then on, relatives took sides and several women were killed.

A niece of Flint Hand, with a baby on her back, ran toward the fighters, beseeching them to stop. By that time much blood had been shed, and as she advanced, one of the men shot her. The arrow, which entered her head through one eye, killed her.

There was much confusion, and the whole camp broke up and formed into many groups, scattering to new camping places to forget the affair.”

A story is told of another way of trapping a herd. Using this method, the band known as the People of the North killed a large herd of buffaloes, although there were only seven horses in the entire camp, owned by a few prominent families.

On the advice of the Soldiers, an organization that kept order in a band, all the lodges were pitched close together in a circle. The facings below the entrances were left unfastened, and the corners spread apart each way and tied to the flaps of adjoining lodges to form an enclosure. An opening was left at one side,
from which extended two wings walled with lodge coverings and fastened to poles.

Riders on the seven horses rode out and drove a large herd of buffaloes toward the camp. One of their number acted as a leader for the herd.

The dogs were tied up out of sight, and all the people re-mained in their lodges while they waited for the arrival of the herd. At last, the rider at the head of the herd came and rode between the wings into the camp circle with the buffaloes fol-lowing him. When the herd was all within the circle, the riders stood guard at the entrance while it was being walled over with parts of the wings. Then the seven riders rode into the herd, and as the buffaloes ran around within the camp circle, they were killed with bows and arrows.

Never before had a trap of that kind been seen, for no medi-cine man had taken part in the affair. Because the Soldiers had charge of it, there was no religious ceremony. Many were the songs of praise and thanksgiving sung by the old people for the Soldiers who had managed the affair so successfully.

An example of the confidence which the people placed in the ceremonial hunt is indicated in another story.

When the Sioux were at peace with the Assiniboines, a band of Sioux were camped near where the Canadian boundary is today. Buffaloes were scarce and the wandering band was large. There was starvation in the camp. And so the Sioux, who did not hunt by the trap method, sent a runner to the nearest Assini-boine band with an offer to a medicine man named Tapo, which meant "Moose-Nose."

The message said that if Tapo would conduct a trap for them and proved successful, they would present him with two of their women.

A half-circle-shaped cut bank was selected by Tapo to serve as the trap. But instead of the bundles of willows at intervals, which usually formed the wings, lodges were spread out and connected by poles. Thus, two continuous walls were made. This type of trap was called the "lodge trap."

As the herd came between the walls into the trap, the en-trance was closed behind them by drawing the lodge walls to-gether. The buffaloes were then shot from the rim of the cut bank by the Sioux hunters.

Tapo had conducted a successful buffalo trap, and the Sioux kept their promise. They presented two women to him to be his wives.

In wintertime when hunters went out in deep snow, they used snowshoes and dressed in white wolfskins, which made them almost invisible. In that way, they could approach very close to the herd and kill many buffaloes.

When the snow was very deep and the coulees were all blown full and the ridges were almost bare, the buffaloes were driven along the ridges into the coulees, where the hunters, on snow-shoes, killed many that floundered in the drifts. The fresh meat kept the people well and happy during long winter months.