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No. 71: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Thousands of years ago, natives on the western plains developed an "industrial," or "factory," approach to killing large numbers of buffalo at one time.

Over a period of several days, the young warriors would herd buffalo from many miles out and stampede them over steep cliffs known as buffalo jumps.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, one of the most famous ones is Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, in southern Alberta.

According to PeiganBlackfoot legend, a young man wanted to witness the plunge to death of countless buffalo driven over sandstone cliffs.

Well, there was a young man, who was standing under the shelter of a ledge; they piled-up and piled-up and piled-up. As the bodies mounted, he became trapped between the animals and the cliff. He was later found by his people, with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo. Thus, they named the place in the Blackfoot language, "where he got his head smashed-in."

Explorer Peter Fidler, of the Hudson's Bay Company, wrote in his journal about one stampede and slaughter he observed in the winter of 1792.

According to Peter Fidler, the young men, as he described them, would sleep out all night, and then in the day they would be running and herding these things towards their eventual destiny.

When it got closer to the jump, they would sort of funnel them. And this funnel would be created by setting-up things called dead men. And these "dead men" - in the case of being on the plains - would be piles of buffalo dung that the old men and boys of the group could sit behind, or lie behind, and as the bison came up to them, they would jump up and scare them, and keep them going towards the cliff.

Today, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is preserved as a United Nations World Heritage Site.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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