Ruth & I saw a herd of American Bison in Badlands National Park. This is a very popular destination, especially for families. What alarmed us was the number of adults who were approaching this herd of potentially dangerous animals as if they were a herd of sheep. This national park’s visitors’ guide clearly states their threat. “Bison are extremely agile,” it warns, “and do not like fast-moving things, such as people running….”. We left before something bad could happen. The next day we accidentally discovered a new attraction to the west of this Park in Wyoming, the Vore Buffalo Jump. It proved to be a noteworthy stop.
The Vore Buffalo Jump was not discovered until I-90, which is adjacent to it, was built. Until then, it was thought to be just another sinkhole to be filled in. It was not. Archaeologists have turned it into a very active study site near the town of Sundance. Researchers report that before Native Americans had guns and horses, this natural bison trap was used by as many as 5 tribes to accumulate food and warm clothing between 1550 and 1800. The remnants of bison, as many as 10,000 of them, and many arrow points have been found in its bottom. Visitors began coming to see it in 2004, and the numbers increase every summer. The nearby Wyoming Welcome Center is opened year-round, but The Vore is not.
Katy, our excellent guide, gave Ruth & me a great introduction to it. One of the more interesting things she told us was that this is just one of the buffalo jumps in The West and that some of them, like the Hawken site, are not opened to the public. That made The Vore even more interesting to us.
There was some additional information about American Bison in the Wyoming Welcome Center. The display that most entertained me talked about why these impressively large animals take what appear to be dirt baths. They drop and wallow to rub off molting fur, relieve insect bites, mark the ground with their scent, and display dominance during mating season.
Tribes used this jump as winter approached. Plains Indians, according to one sign, got tools, fuel, even toys, by causing a herd on the plains to stampede and leap into the abyss. The young native chosen to attract the bison and drive them over the cliff was in extreme danger, like some of today’s tourists, if things didn’t occur as planned. For example, he might not make it to a hiding place quickly enough. This luring of bison to their deaths was often a communal activity involving more than one tribe. The need for jumps declined about the time Europeans came to their area.