The Tribal Hunt
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
leader turned aside at the entrance, allowing the buffaloes
in the lead to jump into the enclosure. These were followed
by the herd.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
was always a scramble of men for the arrows, each one
keeping those he could get.
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.
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.
old man, Last, told this story about a hunt when the buffaloes
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
was much confusion, and the whole camp broke up and formed
into many groups, scattering to new camping places to
forget the affair.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
example of the confidence which the people placed in the
ceremonial hunt is indicated in another story.
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."
message said that if Tapo would conduct a trap for them
and proved successful, they would present him with two
of their women.
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
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.
had conducted a successful buffalo trap, and the Sioux
kept their promise. They presented two women to him to
be his wives.
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.
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