Local Buffalo Jumps

The first of CHAPS history books “Big Hill Country” contains an article about one of the local Buffalo Jumps.

A couple of notes:

  • the original article was written in 1977 and has been slightly edited to appear here.
  • local Jumps are on private property to which the public does not have access.
  • Alberta has a World Heritage Site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump which is a wonderful day trip.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

THE HUTCHINSON BUFFALO JUMP – by Sunni S. Turner 

The Hutchinson Buffalo Jump, located in the vicinity of Big Hill Springs, was discovered in 1968 by an amateur archaeologist, Ken Browne, of Calgary. 

It was excavated in the spring and summer of 1972 by students from the University of Calgary, Archaeological Division, under the direction of Larry Lahren,  Miss Marie Murray and Foster Kirby, with the kind permission of the landowner,  Jonathan Hutchinson. Numerous artifacts and relics were analyzed and identified. It was designated as “The Hutchinson Buffalo Jump Eh Po7.” 

In the early days, the First Nations people killed buffalo and slaughtered them in great numbers in order to provide sustenance. The buffalo roamed the prairies in great herds and First Nations people devised several ways of killing them, such as the buffalo jump, the pounds and the surrounds. 

A buffalo jump is a kill site where a herd of buffalo was forced over a steep cliff or embankment. The buffalo that were not killed in the initial fall would be sufficiently wounded or crippled to be more easily dispatched by the hunters. Such jumps were usually found below cliffs or steep slopes, sometimes along creeks or coulees. One or more layers of buffalo bones may be found, the layers varying from several feet to over a hundred feet in depth. 

Another method of hunting buffalo was the pound or corral. A structure of logs, stones, and brush plus the use of the natural contours of the land would all be utilized. The herd would be slowly started in the desired direction. Perhaps several hunters would masquerade as wolves and slowly chase the herd. Men, women and children well hidden amid the rocks, hills and natural cover, would be stationed in lines in a big V, sometimes for a distance of several miles. As the buffalo went by, the hunters would shout and make a great commotion, thus alarming the herd and stampeding them into the pound, where the avid hunters lay in wait. 

With the acquisition of horses and rifles by First Nations people, it was not so necessary to maim the buffalo by running them over cliffs (i.e. buffalo jumps) or to trap them in corrals or pounds. Now the mounted hunters could ride up to the herd of buffalo and circle around them, causing the animals to mill about in confusion. The hunters, shouting, waving and shooting at the herd as they rode in an ever changing circle, afforded the buffalo little chance of escaping such a surround. 

Sometimes the hunters would set fire to the prairie around the buffalo herd to drive them in a certain direction. There is evidence of a line drive in the Hutchinson buffalo jump. Here, lines of rock and the natural contours of the land formed a funnel shape. The buffalo herd was gathered on the western flats from up to a distance of five miles, and then driven in a southeasterly direction into the cup-shaped vale and ultimately over the cliffs forming the buffalo jump, into Bill Hill Creek valley. 

In the spring and summer of 1972, people were encouraged to visit the dig on specific days. The Chinook Chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta, the Nose Creek Historical Society, and their guests, numbering close to two hundred, stopped for an informative lecture and visit with Larry Lahren, who gave a commentary on the buffalo jump. Guests were able to view the dig in progress. 

The Hutchinson Buffalo Jump was found to have been used many times and archaeological evidence indicates that it dates from about 300 A.D. to 1500 A.D. The site contains remnants of Ethridge pottery, which possibly suggests a pre-Blackfoot type of nomads and hunters. Some of the projectile points (arrowheads) were made of quartz and minerals which had originally come from the Dakotas. Beads found were made of clam shells that would have been traded from early peoples of the British Columbia coast. The projectile points found throughout the site ranged from Avonlea and Triangular to Late Plains side-notched. There were pictographs on the cliff above the jump. Ochres of yellow, white, orange and red were found in abundance. Ochre was highly prized as a body paint after it was powdered and mixed with grease. In its natural state, it could be used for colouring teepee walls and personal weapons. 

Archaeological evidence gathered to date indicates that the Hutchinson Buffalo Jump was primarily a jump site and a butchering station that was used mainly in the autumn. There are teepee rings in four or five nearby locations that may be related to this specific site. At least four other bison jumps are known of along the Big Hill Creek valley, and who knows what other evidence may yet be found about our prehistoric past; only time will tell. 

Wearmouth Buffalo Jump

A second buffalo jump known as the Wearmouth Buffalo Jump was investigated. Read more about it here.

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