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Native American Legends

The Buffalo Rock

A Blackfoot Legend

The buffalo rock, as called by the Blackfoot Indians, was usually a fossil shell of some kind, picked up on the prairie. Whoever found one was considered fortunate, for it was thought to give a person great power over buffalo.

The owner put the stone in his lodge, near the fire, and prayed over it. This story reveals not only the use of such a rock, but also a common method of hunting buffalo before the Indians had horses.

There was once a very poor woman, the second wife of a Blackfoot. Her buffalo robe was old and full of holes; her buffalo moccasins were worn and ripped. She and her people were camped not far from a cliff that would be a good place for a buffalo drive. They were very much in need of buffalo, for they were not only ragged but starving.

One day while this poor woman was gathering wood, she heard a voice singing. Looking around, she found that the song was coming from a buffalo rock. It sang, "Take me. Take me. I have great power."

So the woman took the buffalo rock. When she returned to her lodge, she said to her husband, "Call all the men and have them sing to bring the buffalo."

"Are you in earnest?" her husband asked.

"Yes, I am," the woman replied. "Call the men, and also get a small piece of the back of a buffalo from the Bear Medicine man. Ask some of the men to bring the four rattles they use."

The husband did as his wife directed. Then she showed him how to arrange the inside of the lodge in a kind of square box with some sagebrush and buffalo chips. Though it was the custom for the first wife to sit next to her husband, the man directed his second wife to put on the dress of the other woman and to sit beside him. When everything was ready, the men who had been summoned sat down in the lodge beside the woman and her husband. Then the buffalo rock began to sing, "The buffalo will all drift back. The buffalo will all drift back."

Hearing this song, the woman asked one of the young men to go outside and put a great many buffalo chips in line. "After you have them in place, wave at them with a buffalo robe four times, and shout at them in a singsong. At the fourth time, all the buffalo chips will turn into buffaloes and go over the cliff."

The young man followed her directions, and the chips became buffaloes. At the same time, the woman led the people in the lodge in the singing of songs. One song was about the buffalo that would lead the others in the drive. While the people were chanting it, a cow took the lead and all the herd followed her. They plunged over the cliff and were killed.

Then the woman sang,

More than a hundred buffalo
Have fallen over the cliff.
I have made them fall.
And the man above the Earth hears me singing.
More than a hundred buffalo
Have fallen over the cliff.

And so the people learned that the rock was very powerful. Ever since that time, they have taken care of the buffalo rock and have prayed to it.

The Buffalo Rock - version 2

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. 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.

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