What part of the bison was used?

What did the Indians use from the buffalo?

Natives & Whites

The Indians used almost every piece of the buffalo in one way or another.

“It gave its life so Indians could live. The buffalo’s generosity provided Indians with food and shelter. Indian people modeled the buffalo’s generosity, and it became fundamental to the economy of the American Indian.”
Richard B. Williams ~Oglala Lakota

BONES – Knives-Awls-Quirts-Tableware-Tools-Shovel – Scrapers-Pipes-Saddle Tree- Fleshing Tool- Paint Brush-Splints- Arrowheads- War Clubs- Game Dice- Toys- Tools- Shields- Fertilizer-Sleds-Saddle Tree-Scrapers-Jewelry

Tha’kahint’na, saw – fiddle men under Kiowa Apache ) . Thak -a -i-nin ‘: – Hayden, Ethnog, and Philol. Mo. Val . , 326 , 1862 ( people who play on bone instruments,’ that is, a pair of buffalo ribs, one notched, over which the other is rubbed: Arapaho name).

RAWHIDE – Containers-Shields-Buckets-Moccasins-Drums-Splints-Mortar-Cinch-Ropes-Sheath-Saddle Tree-Stirrups-Bull Boats-Masks-Par Fleche-Ornaments-Straps(Sewing)-Caps-Quirt-Snowshoes-Water Trough

Then they take a buffalo green hide, covered with its winter curls, and having properly shaped it to the frame, they sew it with large thongs of the same skin, as tight and secure as need be; when it is thoroughly dried, it appears to have all the properties of a cuirass saddle.

HORNS – Arrow Points-Cups-Fire Carrier-Powder Horn-Spoons-Ladle-Headdress-Signal-Toys-Medication-Scoop-Comb [According to Arlene Fradkin’s Cherokee Folk Zoology (N.Y.: Garland, 1990), the horns were made into surgical instruments for curing swellings from boils and toothaches as well as for war trumpets. ]

Buffalo head mask
Buffalo Dance

HIDE/BUCKSKIN – Winter Robe- Tipi Liners- Tipi Cover –Tapestries- Sweat Lodge Cover- Shirts –Backrest-Quivers -Moccasin Top –Leggings- Dresses- Cradles- Bridles- Belts –Bedding- Bags- Trade/Money- Leggings- Dresses-Backrest- tapestries-Dolls-Mittens

Bull neck hides were for bullet and arrow proof shields.

Buffalo calf hides used as blankets for young children.

HAIR/WOOL- Pillows- Medicine Ball-Doll Stuffing-Ropes-Hair Piece-Ornaments-Moccasin Lining-Pad Filler-Halters-Bracelets-Headdress-Necklaces/Jewelry. (spun)
The Indian women spin buffalo wool on a spindle and from the yarn make bags to carry the smoked or dried meat. “They sometimes dry their meat in the sun. Frequently they keep meat three or four months; for although they have no salt, they cure the flesh so well that it does not spoil at all.” Louis Hennepin

James Adair – Southern Tribes 1740-1760 Indian females continually wear a beaded string round their legs, made of buffalo-hair, which is a species of coarse wool; and they reckon it a great ornament, as well as a preservative against miscarriages, hard labour, and other evils. 

The women bore small holes in the lobe of their ears for their rings, but the young heroes cut a hole round almost the extremity of both their ears, which till healed, they stretch out with a large tuft of buffalo’s wool mixt with bear’s oil: then they twist as much small wire round as will keep them extended in that hideous form.

Indians burned buffalo hair upwind to stampede cattle. (gain adavntage in warfare)


Pretty Eagle -Crow Example of Buffalo Grease Hair
An example of hair grease use. Crow Chief

FAT –Tallow-Hair Grease-Cosmetic Aids-Soaps-Pemmican Wasa-Lubricant-Candle Tallow-Back Fat (Special)
The buffalo were always very fat and this fat was used by the hunters for all cooking purposes. It was whiter than beef tallow, and when cold was not nearly so hard. It had a mild pleasant taste and in cold weather, we drank it hot like broth or soup

1893-The Kickapoo Indian Salve is made by the Kickapoo Indians from the best buffalo tallow. It is specific for skin diseases, soothing, and excellent for erysipelas, eczema, boils, piles, burns, etc. It also sells for 25 cents per box


White Buffalo: in the days when the bison abounded in the United States a pure white specimen was on rare occasions captured by an Indian hunter, and its skin, priceless to the captor, was devoted to religious uses. (not all Natives)

“The Buffalo was part of us, his flesh and blood being absorbed by us until it became our own flesh and blood. Our clothing, our tipis, everything we needed for life came from the buffalo’s body. It was hard to say where the animals ended and the human began.”
John (Fire) Lame Deer, Oglala- Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, with Richard Erdoes, 1972


CHIPS -Fuel-Smoke Signals-Early Tanning-Ceremonial Incense-Stacked for Barrier/ppl-Marking Sites-Powdered-Absorbent- Site Markers

TEETH – Ornaments-JewelryWhat part of the bison was used? Sioux Encamped on the Upper Missouri dressing buffalo meat and robes by George Catlin

TAIL– Medicine Switch-Decorations-Whips-Fly Brush-Game Wheel

HOOVES & DEW CLAWS – Glue-Rattles-Spoons-Wind Chimes-Ceremonies Buffalo hoofs were sometimes worn on warriors’ feet during war expeditions so as to deceive the enemy. Stepping high to avoid beating down the grass.

“The Indians keep their hoofs, dry them, and attach them to switches, which they shake and rattle to accompany the changing postures and steps of the singers and dancers. This contrivance somewhat resembles a Basque tambourine. ” Louis Hennepin

MUSCLE – Glue-Bows-Thread-Arrow Ties-Cinches-Webbing Snowshoes-Jerky

SCROTUM – Containers-Rattles




The Daily Republican, June 19, 1885

(extract) Read More

At nearly every station on the railroad, last year could be seen piled up for shipment the chaotic anatomy of thousands of buffaloes. Cattlemen were paid $2 and $3 a wagon load for them Cowboys with little else to do, and even lazy Indians with an eye to the almighty dollar went into the scavenger business and collected buffalo bones for lucre. For months car load after car load, to the number of thousands, passed eastward to Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois, where they were turned to account as fertilizers. Even the skulls and bones that surveyors have stood up as sighting points have been picked up and carted off, such is the demand for them. Delivered at the factories the farmers are worth $25 a ton, the freight charges ranging from $8 to $10 per ton. Horns alone bring $40 a ton and are extensively used by makers of umbrellas and fans. From a portion of the head, glue is obtained, and the neck bones and shoulder blades are worked up into the popular buffalo horn buttons. A great many of our buffalo bones, horns, and hoofs are annually shipped to England, and, after being turned over once or twice by the cutlery factories of Sheffield, come back to us in the shape of fine knife handles and other articles of finished cutlery. England also imports great quantities of beef shanks for the manufacturing of fertilizers.

What part of the bison was used? 1855 Sarony, Major & Knapp Lith., lithographer LOC
1855 Sarony, Major & Knapp Lith., lithographer LOC


TENDONS – Sewing-Bowstrings- Musical Instrument Strings. (resembled a banjo, but larger 5′ long and  1′ wide at the head, and had eight strings) Hooves and Tendons boiled made glue.

BEARD – Ornaments-Dolls-Mittens

SKULL– Sun Dance-Medicine Prayers-Rituals, Markers (Signal Stations)

TONGUE – Prime Meat-Comb (rough side)- Special Treat

GALL – Yellow Paints-Bile – Condiment (mustard)

PAUNCH (Rumen) -Wrappings (Meat)- Buckets-Collapsible Cups-Basins-Canteens

BLOOD – Soups-Puddings-Paints  – In 1901 The American Naturalist published a section on plants used by American Natives.  Blackfeet – Berries: esteemed a delicacy when boiled in buffalo blood. (pudding?)


Photo:  Cheyenne  Arapaho  camp with buffalo meat drying Kansas, 1870What part of the bison was used?

Early Years on the Southern Arapaho Reservation

There were approximately 1,650 Southern Arapaho in 1871, when they settled on the reservation with the Cheyenne. For the first few years in present-day Oklahoma, the tribe was able to hunt some bison that still ranged near the reservation, and the Quaker agency on the reservation did not force farming or ranching on the tribe but taught by example. (source)



Raw morsels of the meat would have been snacked on while the butchering was taking place. Raw liver, kidney, eyes, belly fat, testicles, parts of the stomach, marrow from leg bones, gristle from snouts, hoofs of unborn calves, and tissue from the sack they had been in.

LIVER – Tanning-Eating

STOMACH – Eaten Raw-Boiled-Roasted-Parts Dried

KIDNEYS – Fat Source-Medicine

STOMACH CONTENTS – Medicines-Paints
     BUFFALO CIDER.A liquid found in the stomach of the buffalo, which has sometimes served the hunter in good stead, when far removed from water.

STOMACH LINER – Water Container- Cooking Vessel

INTESTINES – String-Jewelry-Eating Fresh-Storage Cont.- Sausage Skins


For the Indians, this animal was sacred and they honored the buffalo through, dance and prayer ceremonies. Giving back to what they had been given. their whole way of survival and life.The buffalo means everything to the Indians. He was their house, their food, their clothing, their implements of war—-hide, flesh and bone, he belonged to them. Their horses were picketed with buffalo thongs and buffalo hair halters; their saddles were of buffalo skin pads, while the stirrups were of the same material. The Indian used his stomach as a cooking utensil. Making a hole in the ground, this organ was set in and filled with hot stones. No other animal of the plains served the Indian so well. He entered so vitally Info their daily routine that a buffalo dance was devised to perpetuate his memory and show what the Indians have gone through in the chase. Instead of bragging with their tongues, as does the white man, they use pantomimes; In the dance, they imitate the sneaking process of stalking game and dragging it home. Today on every reserve in the west, buffalo skulls and bones adorn the tepees and lodes of the red men.

What part of the bison was used? Group portrait of St. Regis Mohawk men and women in costume outside log building, some on horseback sep 1894 LOC
Group portrait of St. Regis Mohawk men and women in costume outside log building, some on horseback Sep 1894 LOC


HEAD HAIR – The hide hunters as a rule do not remove the skin from the buffalo’s head, which was covered with long coarse hair that never shed; This hair was gathered up by the bone pickers and was sold for $.75 a pound. It was used principally for stuffing cushions and mattresses.

HEART – Sack (for dried meat)- Special Treat

CALF – Fetal Calf (stew type dish)
“When buffalo cows have been killed by the Indians, the little calves follow the hunters, licking their hands and fingers. The Indians sometimes take them to their children and after the children have played with them, the calves are killed with a club and eaten.” Louis Hennepin

BLADDER – Medicine Bags-Pouches

HIND LEG SKIN – Pre-shaped Moccasins

BRAIN – Hide Tanning-Food

MEAT – Immediate Use-Sausage-Cached Meat-Jerky-Pemmican-Wasna-Trade/Money




Chicago Tribune, Illinois Nov. 30, 1877
How the Is Condensed Made and Eaten.
Food How Pemmican Tastes Flavors of Tallow Candles and Sola Cushions.
The Liquor Trade Among the Indians – An Indian’s Method of Treating His Friends.

Correspondence New York Evening Post-Winnipeg, Manitoba, Nov. 1. The autumn trade along the line of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s posts in the Saskatchewan or Plain districts is reported to be more than usually light. This is partly owing to the failure of the autumn buffalo hunts, the entire proceeds of which have heretofore, with little exception, found their way into the forts of the Fur Company; and in part to the establishment of fur-trading stations throughout the Indian country. With the exception of dealings in buffalo-robes and provisions, but little valuable trade reaches the Saskatchewan district. Indeed, the entire line of southern forts would probably have been abandoned long since, had the Company considered merely the question of profits upon the trade of the district; which, I am given to understand, has not paid expenses for several years. Unfortunately, the Plain districts furnish a species of provision unattainable in any other portion of the territory, and to secure this the Company are forced to maintain many expensive establishments and a large force of men. This provision is manufactured from the flesh of buffalo and is almost the sole article of food issued by the Company to its thousands of voyageurs, hunters, and traders. A scarcity of this staple threatens the vast transport service of the corporation with direct consequences. Take from the regular army ration flour and pork, and you would produce about the same effect as that produced by the subtraction of pemmican from the daily supplies of the vast force of the Company’s servants, a force equal to more than half your standing army. It is the national dish, so to speak, of a population composed of many nationalities; and, like everything else in this peculiar country, is a wonderful mixture. It is a difficult matter to tell at all times exactly where the half-breed ends and the white man or Indian begins; correspondingly difficult is it to tell where the buffalo terminates and the pemmican begins.


It is only of late years that pemmican has come into public notice as a condensed food value to the commissariat upon long expeditions. Hitherto it has been a provision peculiar to British America, and particularly to the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Notwithstanding the vast annual slaughter of buffaloes south of the forty-ninth parallel, no pemmican is made there; the meat being used in the fresh or green state, or in the form of jerked beef. The pemmican of the English Arctic expeditious differs from the real article in being made of beef mixed with raisins and spices and preserved from decay by being hermetically sealed. Buffalo pemmican may be said to keep itself, requiring no spices or seasoning for its preservation, and may be kept in any vessel and under any conditions, except that of dampness, for an unlimited time. It is one of the most perfect forms of condensed food known and is excelled by no other provision in its satisfying quality. The amount of it-used throughout the territory is almost incredible, as, besides the enormous quantity consumed in the Company’s service, it appears, when attainable, upon the table of every half-breed in the country. So essential is it to the wants of the voyageurs, as the staple article of food upon the long voyages made in the transportation service of the Fur Company, that its manufacture is stimulated in every way by the agents of that corporation, and every available pound is bought up for its use.


Pemmican forms the principal product of the summer buffalo bunt, when, to preserve from decay the large quantities taken, some artificial process is necessary. A considerable amount is also made in the earlier part of the autumn hunt, though the major part of the product of this chase is preserved by frost in a fresh condition. To manufacture pemmican the flesh of the buffalo is first cut up into large lumps, and then again into flakes or thin slices, and hung up in the sun or over the fire to dry. When it is thoroughly desiccated it is taken down, placed upon raw-hides spread out upon the prairie, and pounded or beaten sometimes by wooden flails, again between two stones, until the meat is reduced to a thick flakey substance or pulp. Bags made of buffalo hide, with the hair on the outside, about the size of an ordinary pillow or flour sack, say two feet long, one and a half feet wide, and eight inches thick, are standing ready, and each one is half-filled with the powdered meat. The tallow or fat of the buffalo having been boiled by itself in a huge caldron is now poured hot into the oblong bag in which the pulverized meat has previously been placed. The contents are then stirred together until they have been thoroughly mixed: the dry pulp being soldered down into a hard solid mass by the melted fat poured over it. When full the bags are sewed up as tightly as possible, and the pemmican allowed to cool. Each bag weighs 100 pounds, the quantity of fat being nearly half the total weight, the whole composition forming the most solid description of food that man can make. It is the traveling provision used throughout the North, where, in addition to its already specified qualifications, its great facility of transportation renders it extremely valuable. There is no risk of spoiling it, as, if ordinary care be taken to keep the bags free from mold, there is no assignable limit to the time pemmican will keep. It is estimated that on average the carcasses of two buffaloes are required to make one bag of pemmican – one filling the bag itself, the other supplying the wants of the wild savage engaged in hunting it down.


The best form of pemmican, made for table use, generally has added to it ten pounds of sugar and saskootoom or serviceberries, the latter acting much as currant jelly does with venison, correcting the greasiness of the fat by a slightly acid sweetness. Sometimes wild cherries are used instead of the saskootoom. This berry-; berry-pemmican is considered the best of its kind and is very palatable.As to the appearance of the commoner form of pemmican, take the scrapings from the dryest outside corner of a very stale piece of cold roast, add to it, lumps of tallowy, rancid fat, then garnish all with long human hairs, on which string pieces, like beads upon a necklace, and short hairs of dogs or oxen, or both, and you have a fair imitation of common pemmican. Indeed, the presence of hairs in the food has suggested the inquiry whether the hair on the buffaloes from which the pemmican is made does not grow on the inside of the skin. The abundance of small stones or pebbles in pemmican also indicates the discovery of a new buffalo diet heretofore unknown to naturalists. In fact, I have seen men who were only prevented from taking a sieve and fine-tooth comb to the table when pemmican formed the principal dish by a certain delicate respect for their host’s feelings. But these men did not like pemmican. Carefully made pemmican. flavored with berries and sugar, is nearly as good; but of most persons new to the diet it may be said that, in two senses, a little of it goes a long way. Nothing can exceed its sufficing quality: it is equal or superior to the famous Prussian sausage, judging of it as we must. Two pounds’ weight, with bread and tea, is enough for the dinner of eight hungry men. A bag weighing 100 pounds, then, would supply three good meals for 130 men. A sled-dog that will eat from four to six pounds of flesh per day, when at work, will only consume two pounds of pemmican if fed upon that food alone. I have often seen hungry men laugh incredulously at the small handful of pemmican placed before them as sufficient for a meal; yet they went away satisfied, leaving half of it. On the other hand, I have seen half-breeds and Indians eat four pounds of it in a single day: appetites like that, however, do not count in ordinary food estimates.


The flavor of pemmican depends much on the fancy of the person eating it. There is no other article of food that bears the slightest resemblance to it, and as a consequence, it is difficult to define its peculiar flavor by comparison. l have heard it likened to sawdust, oak chips, and tallow candles, again to tallow candles, elm chips, and the stuffing of sofa cushions,- the candle flavor being the only point common to all descriptions of its taste. Pemmican may be prepared for the table in many different ways, the consumer being at full liberty to decide which is the least objectionable. The method largely in vogue among the voyageurs is that known as “pemmican straight.” that is, uncooked, But there are several ways of cooking it which improve its flavor to the civilized palate. There is rubeiboo, which is a composition of potatoes, onions, or other esculents, and pemmican boiled up together, and, when properly seasoned, very palatable. In the form of richot, however, pemmican is best liked by persons who use it, and by the voyageurs. Mixed with a little flour and fried in a pan, pemmican in this form can be eaten, provided the appetite be sharp, and there is nothing else to be had. This last consideration is, however, of importance.


Another form of provision, also the product of the summer hunts and extensively used, is dried meat. In its manufacture the flesh of the buffalo undergoes the same treatment as in the preparatory stages of pemmican making, when it has been cut into thin slices it is hung over a fire, smoked, and cured. It resembles sole leather very much in appearance. After being thoroughly dried, it is packed into bales weighing about sixty pounds each, and shipped all over the territory. The fresh or green meat supplied by the late autumn hunt is generally consumed in the settlements and is not much used as a traveling provision. The serious decrease in the number of buffaloes, which has been observed year by year, threatens to produce a very disastrous effect upon the provision trade of the country; and the time cannot be far distant when some new provision must be found to take the place of the old. I recollect very well when pemmican, which now can be procured with difficulty for one shilling and three pence a pound, could be had at two pence, and dried meat formerly costing two pence now costs ten pence. This is a fact which threatens to revolutionize in a manner the whole business of the territory, but more particularly the transport service of the Company. 


So requisite to the successful prosecution of the fur trade is pemmican considered to be by the Company that, until a comparatively late year, it was the only article embraced in the trade-lists for which liquor was bartered. Spirits never at any time form a medium of exchange for furs in the Company’s service, and their importance into the northern districts for any purpose whatever is strictly prohibited. In the Plain districts, however, the trade-in liquor was first suggested as a stimulant to the manufacture of provisions; the amount given being limited to a small quantity to each Indian at the termination of a trade. Even then no drinking was permitted within a mile of the forts, a course doubtless suggested by the fact that an intoxicated Indian is about the most irrepressible being a quiet man can possibly have about him. Unfortunately for the moderate use of this incentive to pemmican-making, on the part of the red man, his acute intellect instantly conceived the idea of utilizing this particular provision as a perpetual legal-tender for liquor. So he withheld his pemmican until the food supply ran short among the forts of the corporation, and forced compliance with his own terms. For all the other wants of his savage life, he had furs and robes to trade. The scenes that occurred in the Indian rooms of the forts during the progress of a liquor and pemmican trade were not circulated to impress one favorably with the moral status of either his white or red brother. The spirit used was generally rum, which, although freely diluted with water, soon reduced the assemblage to a state of wild hilarity, quickly followed by stupidity and sleep. The strength of the firewater dealt out was varied according to the capacity or hardheadedness of the different tribes. The liquor for the Cress, as living in the neighborhood of the forts and supposed to be capable of standing more, was composed of three parts of water to one of spirit; that of the Blackfeet, a distant tribe, who had access to liquor infrequently, seven of water to one of spirit. So great, however, is the power which alcohol in any form exercises over the red man that the Blackfeet, even upon their well-diluted liquor, were wont to become hopelessly intoxicated.


A liquor trade generally began with a present of fire-water all round. Then business went on apace. After an Indian had taken his first drink it was a matter of little difficulty to obtain all he had in exchange for spirits. Horses, robes, tents, provisions, all would be proffered for one more dram of the beloved poison. As the trade advanced it degenerated into a complete orgie. Nothing could exceed the excitement inside the room, except it was the excitement outside, for only a limited number of the thirsty crowd could obtain entrance at a time. There the anxious braves could only learn by hearsay what was going on within. Now and then a brave, with an amount of self-abnegation worthy of a better cause, would issue from the fort, with his cheeks distended and his mouth full of rum, and going along the ranks of his friends he would squirt a little of the liquor into the open mouths of his less fortunate brethren. There were times, however, when matters did not go on so peaceably. Knives were wont to flash and shots to be fired, and the walls of the Indian rooms at many of the forts show many traces of bullet marks and knife hacking, done in the wild fury of the intoxicated savage. Some seventeen years ago this baneful distribution was stopped by the Company in the Plain districts, but the fur-traders still continue to employ liquor as a means of acquiring the furs belonging to the Indians. Great as was the quantity of pemmican obtained from the Indians during these trades – more than 30,000 bags being stored in the Company’s forts at one time, it is still small as compared with the amount produced in a favorable year by the semi-annual buffalo hunts of the nomadic hall-breeds. H. M. K.


The Weekly Republican
Cherryvale, Kansas Jul 22, 1887The Buffalo Dance

Among the Indians of the northern plains is a custom called “dancing the buffalo.” It is resorted to when the hunters have great difficulty in finding the buffalo — a difficulty which has been growing more pronounced every year, until of late the poor Indian finds his “buffalo medicine dance” fails universally and he has all but lost faith in it. And yet it has but rarely failed before, for the peculiar strength of the “medicine” lies in the fact that when the medicine dance is one started it is Up religiously night and day until the outsiders discover buffalo, and as the Indians reasons, the dance brought them. The Crows had a dance recently. They believe that the Great Spirit has secluded the buffalo temporarily, but that as soon as he recovers from his sulk he will send them back again. The Crow dance did bring a half-dozen old bulls to the Crow hunters; not much meat, to be sure, but a sure sign of the strength of the medicine. Ten or a dozen men dance at a time, and as they grow weary and leave their places, others take them, and so keep up the ceremony. They wear the head or mask of a buffalo, which each warrior is supposed to keep in his outfit; the tails are often attached to these by a long piece of hide. Drums are beaten, rattles shaken, and the usual Indian yelling is kept up. The hunters all have their arms ready, and the outlying hills are patrolled. These dances have been kept up in certain villages for two or three weeks on a stretch without stopping an instant. When a man becomes fatigued he signifies it by bending quite low, when another draws a bow and hits him with a blunt arrow. He falls to the ground, and is dragged off by the spectators, who proceed to butcher him in play, much after the fashion of children; for the Indian in his sportive moods is for all the world like an overgrown boy. In all the different dances the Indians have a special step. It reaches the zenith of muscular exertion and extravagance in the war dance, and is very quiet in certain medicine dances, the bodies seemingly scarcely to move. In the buffalo dance, they follow around in a circle, lifting their feet and undulating their bodies. Alas for the buffalo, and alas for the poor Indian, too, the buffalo dance will no more bring the countless thousands of bison to the site of the hunter, and the only meat he will ever eat ranges between Government steers and sage hens.


‘Buffalo Dance‘ Buffalo Dance is an 1894 American 16-second black and white silent film shot in Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio.
It was produced by William K. L. Dickson with William Heise a cinematographer and features three Sioux warriors  named Hair Coat, Parts His Hair and Last Horse  dancing in a circle while two other Native Americans accompany them with drums.Buffalo Dance