At the base of the cliff, you can see 18 feet of compact buffalo remains, but it can be difficult to make out distinct items like skulls or other bones after so many years. The original name of the park “Ulm Pishkin” comes from the Blackfeet word "Pis'kun," meaning "deep kettle of blood”. The mile-long cliff ranges from 30 to 50 feet in height, any higher and meat may have been damaged and unusable. Of the over 300 buffalo kill sites in Montana, First Peoples Buffalo Jump is one of only three that are protected.
Native tribes would stampede herds of bison off the cliff and collect the remains below. Bison meat served as a main staple in the early Native American diets of the region. While this form of hunting was very popular and safe compared to the alternatives it was not the most common.
Ambush killing, where the hunters would sneak up to the animal before attacking, was the most frequent way for them to provide food, tools, and clothing to their families. It was very dangerous due to the size and strength of the animal. Because of this many of these sites are considered sacred. Ambush hunting became less and less utilized as the horse came onto the scene, allowing hunters to keep pace with the bison and guide them more effectively to sites like this and eventually as they began breeding horses even the buffalo jump became obsolete. Giving way to mounted hunters who could chase, kill, and carry back the precious remains.
The most accepted theory as to the use of “Buffalo Jumps” has the hunters slowly encircling the herds and pushing them towards the area. It could take hours if not days and was very dangerous.
As the herds would draw closer and closer to the cliffs they would be guided to a specific spot by others using low fences made of twisted vines and large rocks. These “Drive Lines” can still be found today. They sometimes extended over a quarter of a mile away.
Once the Buffalo had reached their holding spot the hunters would approach, sometimes wearing wolf pelts and sneaking on all fours, and when the time was right they would jump up shouting and making loud noises creating a stampede.
The fastest and bravest of the hunters, called “Buffalo-Runners” would dance in front of the herds leading them over the cliff. Often jumping to a safe spot just below the ledge.
After the herd had gone over or dispersed the women, children, and elders would move through the aftermath killing any that may have survived and then processing and harvesting as much of the animal as possible.
Plan to spend at least two hours at First Peoples Buffalo Jump to make time for the many activities!
*Notice!: Due to recent world-wide events Visitors Centers, Regional Offices, Ranger Stations, Campgrounds, and other facilities including many restrooms are now closed to the public. MT FWP is monitoring the situation and making changes to their policy on a rolling two week basis.
Years after the area was settled it became a cattle ranch and eventually mining area. Eventually, in the 1950s the bone itself began to be mined before a local rancher named Earl Monroe leased the land to protect it from further destruction.
Earl kept the land off-limits to the public while under his care. The land went through many hands and many legal battles over the years before finally coming under the protection of the state in the late ‘90s and becoming a full-fledged state park in the year 2000.