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Buffalo Calling Stone

Before horses: The people regarded the buffalo and often used elaborate rituals and ceremonies to promote their needs in hunting.  The Blackfeet used the Buffalo-Calling Stone, to “call” the buffalo in where they needed them. For them it was very powerful.

The Piegans collected iron oxide pigments near drifts of fossil shells in the Deer River and Bow River valleys, the same area where the Blackfeet tradition said the first Iniskin baculite or buffalo-calling stone was discovered.


This next article is not about the Blackfeet, but reading it, sounded just like the Natives calling stone. Interesting….

The Greenville Journal
Greenville, Ohio
06 Aug 1886

Sound of a Powerful Horn Issuing From a  Rock in Mexico.

The Calling Stone is situated on a glade of the vale of Mexical, behind the mountain of La Lagunilla. The stone appears to be hewn, and it is spherical almost in shape; is about a vara in diameter and it must weigh something like seventy kilogrammes. In the center of the upper part it has a hole, which runs into the heart of the stone, forming a spiral, On fitting to fore-this hole a mouth-piece and blowing, the sound of a horn is produced, somewhat melancholy in tone, and so loud that it can be heard a great distance. The ranchman of that locality employ this as a means of calling their flocks to the salting, and the animals come hurrying to the summons, to which they are quite accustomed.

There is a tradition about this stone resembling one which Alfredo Chavero tells in his Historia Antiqua de Mexico” concerning the rock of Aculco. It relates that the owners of the hacienda of Santa Clara destroyed the boundary marks and carried the stone away, hiding it on the ranch of Cautepec, where it was fastened by chains in a cellar. But the stone disappeared from where they had placed it, and made its way back to its former position. To this tenacity of purpose of remaining in its wonted situation the dwellers in the neighborhood attribute its resistance to the powerful wash of the mountain torrent which rush down to the glen without stirring it; even waterspout, which burst and wrought great havoc there, had no effect upon the “Calling Stone.” A proposition is made to test it power of resistance to the appliances of modern engineering in accomplishing its removal to Cuernavaca, the capital Morelos, where it would serve as the nucleus of a museum. Mexico Cronista.-

Buffalo Stones-

Among the Blackfoot people of North America, ammonites were called insikim or buffalo stones, because they look like sleeping bison. They were used in special ceremonies to corral bison herds.Buffalo Stones London

Paul says, ‘It was believed that buffalo stones could procreate, a mother stone hatching baby stones. This may be because of the tendency of ammonites to fragment along the septa that separate the chambers of the shell.’

Some buffalo stones, which are fragments of ammonite fossils sacred to the Blackfoot people of North America

Practical applications for ammonite fossils

Ammonites were considered to have applications for hunting and agriculture in many places around the world, not just in North America. Many thanks to the Natural History Museum in LondonCredit: Paul Taylor



Buffalo Calling StoneBlackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People
By George Bird Grinnell – 1920

Buffalo Calling Stone

A SMALL stone, which is usually a fossil shell of some kind, is known by the Blackfeet as I-nis”-kim, the buffalo stone. This object is strong medicine, and, as indicated in some of these stories, gives its possessor great power with buffalo. The stone is found on the prairie, and the person who succeeds in obtaining one is regarded as very fortunate. Sometimes a man, who is riding along on the prairie, will hear a peculiar faint chirp, such as a little bird might utter. The sound he knows is made by a buffalo rock. He stops and searches on the ground for the rock, and if he cannot find it, marks the place and very likely returns next day, either alone or with others from the camp, to look for it again. If it is found, there is great rejoicing. How the first buffalo rock was obtained, and its power made known, is told in the following story.

Long ago, in the winter time, the buffalo suddenly disappeared. The snow was so deep that the people could not move in search of them, for in those days they had no horses. So the hunters killed deer, elk, and other small game along the river bottoms, and when these were all killed off or driven away, the people began to starve. One day, a young married man killed a jack-rabbit. He was so hungry that he ran home as fast as he could, and told one of his wives to hurry and get some water to cook it. While the young woman was going along the path to the river, she heard a beautiful song. It sounded close by, but she looked all around and could see no one.Buffalo Stone

The song seemed to come from a cotton-wood tree near the path. Looking closely at this tree she saw a queer rock jammed in a fork, where the tree was split, and with it a few hairs from a buffalo, which had rubbed there. The woman was frightened and dared not pass the tree. Pretty soon the singing stopped, and the I-nis”-kim [buffalo rock] spoke to the woman and said: “Take me to your lodge, and when it is dark, call in the people and teach them the song you have just heard. Pray, too, that you may not starve, and that the buffalo may come back. Do this, and when day comes, your hearts will be glad.”

The woman went on and got some water, and when she came back, took the rock and gave it to her husband, telling him about the song and what the rock had said. As soon as it was dark, the man called the chiefs and old men to his lodge, and his wife taught them this song. They prayed, too, as the rock had said should be done. Before long, they heard a noise far off. It was the tramp of a great herd of buffalo coming. Then they knew that the rock was very powerful, and, ever since that, the people have taken care of it and prayed to it.

[NOTE.-I-nis”-kims are usually small Ammonites, or sections of Baculites, or sometimes merely oddly shaped nodules of flint. It is said of them that if an I-nis”-kim is wrapped up and left undisturbed for a long time, it will have young ones; two small stones similar in shape to the original one will be found in the package with it.]



The Washington Post
Washington D.C. Jan. 31, 1901

The Blackfoot Indians had several unique methods of hunting the bison. The most popular of these was the piskum or trap. This piskum was an inclosure, one side being formed by the vertical wall of a cut bank. The other sides were built of rocks, logs, poles, and brush, about 6 feet high. While not absolutely necessary that these walls should be built with much strength, they had to be constructed tight in order that the bison could not see over them. From a point on the cut-bank above the inclosure, in two diverging lines stretching far out into the plains, piles of rock were heaped up at short intervals or bushes were stuck in the ground forming the wings of a V – shaped chute which would guide any animal running down the chute to its angle above the piskum .When a herd was grazing near at hand the Indians would prepare for the slaughter, in which the entire camp took part.

How Indians Trapped

It was commonly stated that the herd was driven down the chute by mounted Indians, but this is a mistake. They were led into the piskum by an appeal to their curiosity. The man who thus brought them in was usually the possessor of a buffalo rock a talisman that was supposed to give him greater power in calling the animals than was had by the other Indians. The previous night to the hunt was spent in hours of prayer for the success of the hunt. The help of the sun and all the other gods was asked for Sweetgrass and other things were burned as a sacrifice to the gods and no food or drink was touched by the honored Indian from the previous day until after the hunt was over.

Early in the morning, the Indian intrusted with the duty of luring the bison leaves camp and goes far out on the plains. Before leaving he warns his wives that they must speak to no one nor even look from the tent before the hunt is over. They must also continue to burn sweetgrass until his return. All the others of the tribe follow him and distribute themselves along the wings of the chute hiding behind the rocks and brush. The caller continues on until he gets very close to the feeding animals. Usually, he wears a peculiar headdress often made from the head and shoulders of a buffalo.

Arriving within a short distance of the bison the caller begins to suddenly wheel from left to right and back again with a swinging motion. He appears and disappears by sinking to the ground and again raising in a standing position Soon one or two of the animals begin to rise and stare at his particular antics and presently the nearest one of them will walk forward to discover what this strange creature is up to. The others of the herd follower their leader and as they approach the Indian begins to retreat toward the entrance to the chute. As the bison begin to trot after him he increases his speed and soon has them all following him down the wings of the chute. As soon as they pass the first pile of rocks the Indians hiding behind it, rise and begin to yell and wave their robes. The buffaloes frightened by this new turn of affairs, run wildly down the chute. As they pass the other piles of rock, more Indians rise and to their fright with wild yells. In a very short time, the entire herd is in one wild stampede, guided by the wings of the chute to the angle of the piskum. About the walls of the piskum, which are now full of bison, are distributed the women and children, who leaning over the inclosure, yell and dance and wave their robes in attempts to confuse the animals in order to keep from pushing against the walls or trying to climb or jump over them. As a rule, the bison race round and round the inclosure, and the men above shoot them down as they pass until all are killed. This method of slaughtering the animals has been practiced in Montana during the last 30 years.

White Buffalo

White buffaloes have been frequently seen and killed on the Western plains. The Indian tribes regard them as big medicine and Catlin the painter while with the Mandans in 1832 saw a white buffalo robe on a pole in their village as a sacrifice to the great spirit. It had been purchased from the Blackfeet who had killed it. The Mandans gave the Blackfeet eight horses and a quantity of goods for it.


Heads Hides & Horns (book)

Blackfeet Women selling horns

Anceient killing grounds

The Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsitapi (meaning “original people” is the collective name of three First Nations bands in Alberta, Canada and one Native American tribe in Montana, United States.

Historically, the member peoples of the Confederacy were nomadic bison hunters and trout fishermen, who ranged across large areas of the northern Great Plains of Western North America, specifically the semi-arid short-grass prairie ecological region. In the first half of the 18th century, they adopted horses and firearms acquired from European-descended traders and their Cree and Assiniboine go-betweens. The Blackfoot used these resources to expand their territory at the expense of neighboring peoples. Through the use of horses, Blackfoot and other Plains peoples could expand their range for hunting bison.

But, it was the systematic commercial bison hunting by European-American hunters that nearly ended the bison herds and permanently changed the Native American societies of the Great Plains, as their main food was no longer abundant. Periods of starvation and deprivation for the Blackfoot followed. They were forced to end their nomadism and adopt ranching and farming, settling in reservations made up of small pieces of their former lands. During the 1870s, the Blackfoot signed treaties with the United States and Canada, ceding their lands in exchange for annuities of food and medical aid, and help with farming. Since that time, the Blackfoot have worked to maintain their traditional language and culture in the face of assimilationist policies of the North American nation states.

The Confederacy had a territory that stretched from the North Saskatchewan River (called Ponoká’sisaahta) along what is now Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, to the Yellowstone River (called Otahkoiitahtayi) of Montana in the United States, and from the Rocky Mountains (called Miistakistsi) and along the South Saskatchewan River to the present Alberta-Saskatchewan border (called Kaayihkimikoyi) east past the Cypress Hills. They called their tribal territory Nitawahsin-nanni- “Our Land.” To the east, the Innu and Naskapi called their territory Nitassinan – “Our Land.” They had adopted the use of the horse from other Plains tribes, probably by the early eighteenth century, which gave them expanded range and mobility, as well as advantages in hunting.

The basic social unit of the Niitsitapi above the family was the band, varying from about 10 to 30 lodges, about 80 to 241 people. (European Canadians and Americans mistakenly referred to all the Niitsitapi nations as “Blackfoot”, but only one nation was called Siksika or Blackfoot.) This size group was large enough to defend against attack and to undertake communal hunts, but was also small enough for flexibility. Each band consisted of a respected leader, possibly his brothers and parents, and others who were not related. Since the band was defined by place of residence, rather than by kinship, a person was free to leave one band and join another, which tended to ameliorate leadership disputes. As well, should a band fall upon hard times, its members could split up and join other bands. In practice, bands were constantly forming and breaking up. The system maximized flexibility and was an ideal organization for a hunting people on the northwestern Great Plains.

Chief Aatsista-Mahkan, c.1905.
During the summer, the people assembled for nation gatherings.
In these large assemblies, warrior societies played an important
role for the men. Membership into these societies was based on
brave acts and deeds.

For almost half the year in the long northern winter, the Niitsitapi Chief Aatsista-Mahkan, c.1905
lived in their winter camps along a wooded river valley. They were
located perhaps a day’s march apart, not moving camp unless food for the people and horses, or firewood became depleted. Where there
was adequate wood and game resources, some bands would camp together. During this part of the year, buffalo wintered in wooded areas
where they were partially sheltered from storms and snow. They were easier prey as their movements were hampered. In spring the buffalo
moved out onto the grasslands to forage on new spring growth. The Blackfoot did not follow immediately, for fear of late blizzards. As dried
food or game became depleted, the bands would split up and begin to
hunt the buffalo.

In midsummer, when the chokecherries ripened, the people regrouped for their major ceremony, the Okan (Sun Dance). This was the only time of year when the four nations would assemble. The gathering reinforced the bonds among the various groups and linked individuals with the nations. Communal buffalo hunts provided food for the people, as well as offerings of the bulls’ tongues (a delicacy) for the ceremonies. These ceremonies are sacred to the people. After the Okan, the people again separated to follow the buffalo. They used the buffalo hides to make their dwellings and temporary tipis.

In the fall, the people would gradually shift to their wintering areas. The men would prepare the buffalo jumps and pounds for capturing or driving the bison for hunting. Several groups of people might join together at particularly good sites, such as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. As the buffalo were naturally driven into the area by the gradual late summer drying off of the open grasslands, the Blackfoot would carry out great communal buffalo kills.

Waiting and Mad, Charles Marion Russell, 1899. Painting of a Blackfoot woman.
The women processed the buffalo, preparing dried meat, and combining it for nutrition and flavor with dried fruits into pemmican, to last them through winter and other times when hunting was poor. At the end of the fall, the Blackfoot would move to their winter camps. The women worked the buffalo and other game skins for clothing, as well as to reinforce their dwellings; other elements were used to make warm fur robes, leggings, cords and other needed items. Animal sinews were used to tie arrow points and lances to throwing sticks, or for bridles for horses.

The Niitsitapi maintained this traditional way of life based on hunting bison, until the near extirpation of the bison by 1881 forced them to adapt their ways of life in response to the effects of the European settlers and their descendants. In the United States, they were restricted to land assigned in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and were later given a distinct reservation in the Sweetgrass Hills Treaty of 1887. In 1877, the Canadian Niitsitapi signed Treaty 7 and settled on reserves in southern Alberta.

This began a period of great struggle and economic hardship; the Niitsitapi had to try to adapt to a completely new way of life. They suffered a high rate of fatalities when exposed to Eurasian diseases, for which they had no natural immunity.

Eventually, they established a viable economy based on farming, ranching, and light industry. Their population has increased to about 16,000 in Canada and 15,000 in the U.S. today. With their new economic stability, the Niitsitapi have been free to adapt their culture and traditions to their new circumstances, renewing their connection to their ancient roots.

Blackfoot teepees, Glacier National Park, 1933
The Niitsitapi, also known as the Blackfoot Indians, reside in the Great Plains of Montana and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Only one of the Niitsitapi tribes are called Blackfoot or Siksika. The name is said to have come from the color of the peoples’ moccasins, made of leather. They had typically dyed or painted the soles of their moccasins black. One legendary story claimed that the Siksika walked through ashes of prairie fires, which in turn colored the bottoms of their moccasins black.

Importance and uses of buffalo

Bison Hunters

Bison hunters with wolf skin disguises.
Depiction of Bison being driven over a “buffalo jump”.
While the Niitsitapi were in the Great Plains, they came to depend as their main source of food on the American bison (buffalo), which is the largest mammal in North America,
standing about 6 1⁄2 feet tall and weighing up to 2,000 pounds.
Before the introduction of horses, the Niitsitapi had to devise ways to get close to buffalo unnoticed so they could get in range for a good shot. The first and most common way for them to hunt the buffalo was using the buffalo jump. The hunters would round up the buffalo into V-shaped pens and drive them over a cliff (they hunted pronghorn antelopes in the same way). After the buffalo went over the cliff, the Indians would go to the bottom and take as much meat as they needed and could carry back to camp. They also used camouflage for hunting. The hunters would take buffalo skins from previous hunting trips and drape them over their bodies to blend in and mask their scent. By subtle moves, the hunters could get close to the herd. When close enough, the hunters would attack with arrows, or use lances and spears to finish off wounded animals.


Blackfoot jump by Alfred_Jacob_Miller_-_Hunting_Buffalo

The people used virtually all parts of the body and skin. The women prepared the meat for food: by boiling, roasting and drying for jerky. This processed it to last a long time without spoiling, and they depended on bison meat to get through the winters. The winters were long, harsh, and cold due to the lack of trees in the Plains, so the people stockpiled the meat when they had the chance. The hunters often ate the bison heart minutes after the kill, as part of their hunting ritual. The women tanned and prepared the skins to cover the tepees. These were made of log poles, with the skins draped over it. The tepee remained warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and was a great shield against the wind.

With further preparation by tanning and softening, the women made special clothing from the skins: robes and moccasins. They rendered bison fat to make soap. Both men and women made utensils, sewing needles and tools from the bones, using tendon for fastening and binding. The stomach and bladder were cleaned and prepared for use as containers for storing liquids. Dried bison dung was fuel for the fires. The Niitsitapi considered the animal sacred, integral to their lives.


After Signing Treaty 7
With the signing of Treaty No. Seven in 1877 and the demise of the buffalo shortly thereafter, the Blackfoot settled on reserves in southern Alberta. This period was marked by a heroic struggle to adapt to a new way of life. Despite declines due to disease and the economic hardships populations increased since World War 11 to about 12,000 people. Hand in hand with an increased economic diversity based on farming, ranching, and light industry came a revitalization of Plains Indian culture and traditions.


The Saturday News

Watertown South Dakota May 21, 1914

Criminal Massacre of American Buffalo


One of the most interesting legends of the Blackfeet tribe of Indians centers on the passing of the buffalo. When they had gone, there was nothing but starvation for the red men of the plains, and they retired to Two Medicine Valley under the shadow of Chief Mountain, where the Great Spirit directed them to send men of the tribe to the top of the mountain to intercede with the Wind God on behalf of their hunger. Spreading out his wing over the plains, he told them to return and they would find the buffalo. They did, and the plains were covered with bison, and the famine was broken.


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