The Origins of the Buffalo
Native American Lore
When the buffalo first
came to be upon the land, they were not friendly to the people. When the
hunters tried to coax them over the cliffs for the good of the villages,
they were reluctant to offer themselves up. They did not relish being turned
into blankets and dried flesh for winter
rations. They did not
want their hooves and horn to become tools and utinsels nor did they welcome
their sinew being used for sewing. "No, no," they said. We won't fall into
your traps. And we will not fall for your tricks." So when the hunters
guided them towards the abyss, they would always turn aside at the very
last moment. With this lack of cooperation, it seemed the villagers would
be hungry and cold and ragged all winter long.
Now one of the hunters' had a daughter who was very proud of her father's
skill with the bow. During the fullness of summer, he always brought her
the best of hides to dress, and she in turn would work the deerskins into
the softest, whitest of garments for him to wear. Her own
dresses were like the
down of a snow goose, and the moccasins she made for the children and the
grandmothers in the village were the most welcome of gifts.
But now with the hint of snow on the wind, and deer becoming more scarce
in the willow breaks, she could see this reluctance on the part of the
buffalo families could become a real problem.
Hunter's Daughter decided she would do something about it.
She went to the base of the cliff and looked up. She began to sing in a
low, soft voice, "Oh, buffalo family, come down and visit me. If you come
down and feed my relatives in a wedding feast, I will join your family
as the bride of your strongest warrior."
She stopped and listened. She thought she heard the slight rumbling sound
of thunder in the distance.
Again she sang, "Oh, buffalo family, come down and visit me. Feed my family
in a wedding feast so that I may be a bride."
The thunder was much louder now. Suddenly the buffalo family began falling
from the sky at her feet.
One very large bull landed on top of the others, and walked across the
backs of his relatives to stand before Hunter's Daughter.
"I am here to claim you as my bride," said Large Buffalo.
"Oh, but now I am afraid to go with you," said Hunter's Daughter.
"Ah, but you must," said Large Buffalo, "For my people have come to provide
your people with a wedding feast. As you can see, they
have offered themselves
"Yes, but I must run and tell my relatives the good news," said Hunter's
Daughter. "No," said Large Buffalo. No word need be sent. You are not getting
away so easily."
And with that said, Large Buffalo lifted her between his horns and carried
her off to his village in the rolling grass hills.
The next morning the whole village was out looking for Hunter's Daughter.
When they found the mound of buffalo below the cliff, the father, who was
in fact a fine tracker as well as a skilled hunter, looked at his daughter's
footprints in the dust.
"She's gone off with a buffalo, he said. I shall follow them and bring
So Hunter walked out upon the plains, with only his bow and arrows as companions.
He walked and walked a great distance until he was so tired that he had
to sit down to rest beside a buffalo wallow.
Along came Magpie and sat down beside him.
Hunter spoke to Magpie in a respectful tone, "O knowledgeable bird, has
my daughter been stolen from me by a buffalo? Have you seen them? Can you
tell me where they have gone?"
Magpie replied with understanding, "Yes, I have seen them pass this way.
They are resting just over this hill."
"Well," said Hunter, would you kindly take my daughter a message for me?
Will you tell her I am here just over the hill?"
So Magpie flew to where Large Buffalo lay asleep amidst his relatives in
the dry prairie grass. He hopped over to where Hunter's
Daughter was quilling
moccasins, as she sat dutifully beside her sleeping husband. "Your father
is waiting for you on the other side of the hill," whispered Magpie to
"Oh, this is very dangerous," she told him. These buffalo are not friendly
to us and they might try to hurt my father if he should come
this way. Please tell
him to wait for me and I will try to slip away to see him."
Just then her husband, Large Buffalo, awoke and took off his horn. "Go
bring me a drink from the wallow just over this hill," said her husband.
So she took the horn in her hand and walked very casually over the hill.
Her father motioned silently for her to come with him, as he bent into
a low crouch in the grass. "No," she whispered. The buffalo are angry with
our people who have killed their people. They will run after us and trample
us into the dirt. I will go back and see what I can do to soothe their
And so Hunter's daughter took the horn of water back to her husband who
gave a loud snort when he took a drink. The snort turned into a bellow
and all of the buffalo got up in alarm. They all put their tails in the
air and danced a buffalo dance over the hill, trampling the poor man to
pieces who was still waiting for his daughter near the buffalo wallow.
His daughter sat down on the edge of the wallow and broke into tears.
"Why are you crying?" said her buffalo husband.
"You have killed my father and I am a prisoner, besides," she sobbed.
"Well, what of my people?" her husband replied. We have given our children,
our parents and some of our wives up to your relatives
in exchange for your
presence among us. A deal is a deal."
But after some consideration of her feelings, Large Buffalo knelt down
beside her and said to her, "If you can bring your father back to life
again, we will let him take you back home to your people."
So Hunter's Daughter started to sing a little song. "Magpie, Magpie help
me find some piece of my father which I can mend back whole again."
Magpie appeared and sat down in front of her with his head cocked to the
"Magpie, Magpie, please see what you can find," she sang softly to the
wind which bent the grasses slightly apart. Magpie cocked his head to the
side and looked carefully within the layered folds of the grasses as the
wind sighed again. Quickly he picked out a piece of her
father that had been hidden there, a little bit of bone.
"That will be enough to do the trick," said Hunter's Daughter, as she put
the bone on the ground and covered it with her blanket.
And then she started to sing a reviving song that had the power to bring
injured people back to the land of the living. Quietly she sang the song
that her grandmother had taught her. After a few melodious passages, there
was a lump under the blanket. She and Magpie looked under the blanket and
could see a man, but the man was not breathing. He lay cold as stone. So
Hunter's Daughter continued to sing, a little softer, and a little softer,
so as not to startle her father as he began to move. When he stood up,
alive and strong, the buffalo people were amazed. They said to Hunter's
Daughter, "Will you sing this song for us after every hunt? We will teach
your people the buffalo dance, so that whenever you dance before the hunt,
you will be assured a good result. Then you will sing this song for us,
and we will all come back to live again."
Traditional Blackfoot story of How the Buffalo Dance was given to the people.