During our recent visit to the Fort Whyte Nature Centre where we took The Bison and It’s People tour we learned just how difficult it must have been to kill a bison before 1500 when the Plains Indians were introduced to bows and arrows and horses. Before that bison were killed with spears. Here’s my husband Dave trying out his spear throwing technique.
The bison were herded into a corral made of fallen trees after being driven down a kind of funnel path created by branch markers. They were chased onto this path by hunters draped in buffalo skins. The bison hunt was very dangerous and many hunters were killed. Using the corral method minimized the number of deaths.
Here our guide Lisa shows our Hong Kong friend Sandy how to attach the smaller launch spear to her long spear.
I’m ready to launch my spear. It did go forward a short distance but those Plains Indians hunters must have been very skilled and very strong to throw their spears over a hundred yards and have them penetrate the bison’s thick skin.
Our friend John is giving Dave some tips as he positions his atlatl. The atlatl was a launcher that gave the spear leverage to achieve greater velocity.
Unfortunately bison were hunted almost to extinction once guns and horses were introduced. They were killed for sport and hunted as food for the workers building railroad lines. They were also targeted because they were seen as a menace to cattle farmers and because the government wanted to eliminate the Plains Indians’ source of food thus making it easier to send them to reservations. The infamous Buffalo Bill is said to have killed over 4,000 bison in one 17 month period.
Although bison no longer roam completely free they are making a comeback. There are some 300,000 bison in herds in national parks and on bison farms.
I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been a bison hunter but now that I’ve visited Fort Whyte and learned more about bison hunting I have new admiration and respect for the courageous Plains Indian hunters and the daring, strength and skill they must have needed in order to kill a bison. Killing a bison is hard!
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