Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Buffalo and Cattle....The Food Staples of the Wild West

When planning the activities for the next few days I was aware of the interconnection between our two activities.  Buffalo and cattle - food staples of the Wild West.    Our two contrasting visits represent a different time in history of this land and a difference of culture and heritage but sharing the commitment to the land and survival using the tools and knowledge available to utilize the animals that provide sustenance.

We started by visiting friends, Carol Jo and her husband Roy who are ranchers in Livingston, Montana a small town in central Montana.  We went on a tour of the ranch and we were totally amazed by the challenges they face ranching in a beautiful but unforgiving landscape.

Bee Balm gone wild

I had never seen ranching done on mountain tops.  Four wheel drive is a must.  Even the cattle are all terrain. Up and Up we go. 
When I think of ranching land, I think of the wide open range land, with rolling hills as far as the eye can see.   When you come to ranching via a family business, you learn to ranch the land you grew up on.  

You know the ins and outs of each part of land and find family history and connection in out of the way places.

  Each piece of land, each structure has a story, and a connection to your family history.

There are several thousand acres for the cows to hide.... we found a few, some where they didn't belong.  The horses stayed lost....

Hailey was determined to pet a calf, while they remained determined that she would not pet them. 

The cows prevailed.

The landscapes contain human remnants of the past dotting the views like a painting, waiting to be discovered.

There are some pastures that where hay is produced for winter, and a lot of free range area that they move the cattle from area to area.  Mind you, the county does not  maintain these roads.   Mostly the trucks keep the path worn down revealing the way to the pasture lands.

We stopped for a photo op at Carols  Jo's
       favorite tree.....

    Can you imagine how many pictures have been taken at this very spot over the years?  Scarred and broken but still standing.

We are honored to have our picture taken here.

We are here during the middle of summer.....Can you imagine this place through each of the seasons and all the weather conditions,  in the more than 100 years Roy's family's have raised cattle on this land.

Carol Jo made a wonderful dinner of hamburgers, made from the beef they raised, wrapped with bacon before frying and smothered with caramelized onions.  Oh, my, goodness.  I shall forever be spoiled to eating a hamburger by this dinner.  All other hamburgers will be measured against this hamburger.

Our next stop takes us back in time to the time that Native Americans lived in this land before they had horses.  When millions of buffalo roamed the plains in gigantic herds.  The process of gathering the products used by the Native Americans has been documented by oral histories and authenticated by archeologists.

Before horses were brought to the plains and utilized by the Native Americans to hunt buffalo, the ingenious hunters gathered near the huge cliffs to kill the buffalo that they needed to sustain their people through the long winters.

Young runners ran along the sides of the cliffs stampeding the buffalo over the cliffs where they plunged to their deaths.  Other runners hazed the buffalo by jumping up waving skins of animals and yelling as they ran along the cliffs keeping them on the path to the cliff edge. Hunters waiting for the buffalo to fall over the cliff swiftly killed the buffalo. The runners jumped to a safe ledge until the stampede was over.  Women, older tribal members and children helped to prepare the products that they used from the buffalo.

Every part of the buffalo was utilized for food,tools, weapons, clothing, and utensils.
In addition to meat being cut into strips to be dried over poles, a mixture of ground bits of meat and dried berries and made into a paste that was then dried and made into strips that were like an energy bar and it was called, pemmican. These bars became a staple through the long winters. 

At the base of the cliffs at Madison Buffalo Jump is twelve feet of dirt and artifacts which include bones and arrows from the spears that were used.  The artifacts indicate this buffalo jump was used for 2,000 years until the practice was abandoned in the 1700's when horses and rifles made the practice unnecessary.

The village would be set back from the cliff but would be assembled before the buffalo arrival to prepare for the events.   An artists rendition based on artifacts and firerings gives an indication of and location of the village where vasts amount of work was done after the hunt.

We visited another Buffalo Jump north of Helena called The First Peoples Buffalo Jump.  On some of the maps it is indicated as the Ulm Buffalo Jump.

There is a visitor center and it also had a road that drove up to the top of the buffalo jump.  In rattlesnake country that is a good thing so I wanted to check it out.

The trip up to the top was a wonderful addition to the picture I had painted in my mind of the events as they happened at a buffalo jump.  Buffalo have poor vision so it is easy to see how a buffalo might not see the cliffs as they stampede near the edge of the cliffs.

See how the edge of the embankment blends into the grasses in the across the landscape

Look for a hiding place that a runner might find safety as the gigantic buffalo tumbled off the cliff

It is clear that the job of runner was very  and I dangerous and one can only imagine that many lives were sacrificed to provide for the needs of the village.

Clearly, providing for food for the many requires sacrifices and hard work.... then and today.  Most of us are entirely removed from the process of obtaining food in our modern world and are clueless about what it takes to produce our food.

Buffalo were not the only wildlife who lived in the area....

With a storm brewing, we headed to a quiet spot called Canyon Ferry Lake to wait it out..... We were treated to a spectacular sunset.

And Then the Rain Began....


  1. Boy that really is a beautiful landscape your friends are in. Nice to see a picture of you both out on the road again. The buffalo jumps always make me wonder how they could possibly have used the meet from so many animals that would stampede over the cliff. Boy spectacular sunsets is right. One of those needs to be your computer’s desktop picture. Fantastic!

  2. What a beautiful place. You did a great job on this story of history past. The sunset is just breath taking.