Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta, Canada

Day 674

     I never heard of a buffalo jump until I visited the Buffalo Jump in Montana (see day 667). Now, I come upon one here in Alberta, Canada. In Montana, the starting point was the plains leading up to the jump, which we hiked, then hiked to the top of the jump, a 3 mile jaunt.

     Here, the interpretive center is at the base of the jump, were the Indians dressed the fallen buffalo. From there you take an elevator 6 stories up to the top of the jump. The intervening 5 floors tell you the history of the area, and a detailed description of how the jump was set up. 

     Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is situated at the very southern end of the Porcupine Hills. They are a separate geological feature, not part of the Rocky Mountains. West of the Jump, is a natural U-shaped basin where the buffalo, grazing, were rounded up for the kill.

     Long lines of small rock piles, called cairns, were built in the Gathering Basin. The cairns, spaced 5 to 10 meters apart, stretched many kilometers west into the gathering basin and formed the drive lanes. (Since we are in Canada, I have to use their measurements.)  Like a funnel, the lanes converged to a narrow exit at the cliff. Several young men, the buffalo runners, located a herd and slowly directed them into the lanes. Buffalo saw the cairns as solid walls and moved deeper into the funnel towards the cliff. At the last moment the buffalo were startled into a stampede. Unable to stop, they fell from the cliff.

     A successful hunt probably killed several hundred buffalo. When the killing was over, buffalo carcasses were dragged downslope to the level prairie for butchering. 

     If you were the Indian that was tasked with urging the herd on, this was your view:


     The interpretive center had really cool carpeting. 


         In Blackfoot, the name for this site is Estipah-skikikini-kots. From what I can gather from this buffalo hide drawing, this is how the cliff got this name: 

     In 1812, a young brave wanted to witness the plunge of buffalo as his people drove them to their deaths over the cliffs. Standing under the shelter of a ledge, he watched the great beasts fall past him. The hunt was unusually good that day. As the bodies mounted, he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed under the weight of the buffalo carcasses. Thus, they named the place “Head-Smashed-In”. And now, you know the rest of the story.

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