The First Buffalo Stone
A Blackfoot Legend
One time long, long ago, before we had horses, the buffalo suddenly disappeared. All the hunters killed elk, deer, and smaller game animals along the river bottoms then. When all of them were either killed or driven away, the people began to starve. They were camped in a circle near a buffalo drive.
Among them was a very, very poor old woman, the second wife of her husband. Her buffalo robe was old and full of holes; her moccasins were old and were torn to shreds by the rocks she walked over.
While gathering wood for the fire one day, she thought she heard someone singing a song. The song seemed quite close, but when she looked around, she saw no one. Following the sound and looking closely, she found a small rock that was singing, "Take me! I am of great power. Take me! I am of great power."
When the woman picked up the rock, it told her what to do and taught her a special song. She told her husband her experience and then said, "Call all the men together and ask them to sing this song that will call the buffalo back."
"Are you sure?" asked her husband.
"Yes, I am sure. First get me a small piece of the back of a buffalo from the Bear-Medicine man."
Then she told her husband how to arrange the inside of the lodge in a kind of square box with some sagebrush and buffalo chips. "Now tell the men to come and ask them for the four rattles they use."
It is a custom for the first wife to sit close to her husband in their lodge. But this time, the husband told the second wife to put on the first wife's dress and sit beside him.
After all the men were seated in the lodge, the buffalo stone began to sing, "The buffalo will all drift back. The buffalo will all drift back."
Then the woman said to one of the younger men, "Go beyond the drive and put up a lot of buffalo chips in line. Then all of you are to wave at the chips with a buffalo robe, four times, while you shout like you were singing. The fourth time that you shout, all the chips will turn into buffalo and will go over the cliff."
The men followed her directions, and the woman led the singing in the lodge. She knew just what the young man was doing all the time, and she knew that a cow-buffalo would take the lead. While the woman was singing a song about the leader that would take her followers over the cliff, all the buffalo went over the drive and were killed.
Then the woman sang a different song; "I have made more than a hundred buffalo fall over the cliff, and the man above hears me."
Ever since then, the people took good care of a buffalo stone and prayed to it, for they knew that it had much power.
The sacred buffalo stone, or Iniskim, is a major medicine object of the Blackfeet. It is usually a fossilized shell that was found on the prarie. Some of the stones look a lot like animals. In the old days, these stones were used in a ritual for calling buffalo. The stones were said to have called attention to themselves by making a faint chirp much like a bird would make.
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