Resources Details

Native Uses for Buffalo

This is a multi-part activity on optimizing natural resources that encourages students to think about best utilizing your own environment. Students learn and discuss the many uses by Native Americans of buffalo byproducts. Student-created buffalo posters and rawhide-bag replicas reinforce through visual arts the importance of thoughtful resource usage. A Blackfeet story about hunting buffalo prompts students to discuss how humans can optimize resources found in their local ecosystems.

Key Concepts

Life Sciences, Environments, Optimizing Resources


Multicultural Classroom Activities  View All »





National Teachers Enhancement Network

Visit this Resource Now!



Life Science

Resource Type

Extended Lesson Plan





You'll find additional information specific to this extended lesson plan below.

More Info Below

More Info for this Extended Lesson Plan


The American buffalo -- which actually is a bison species -- traveled in huge herds across immense distances of what are now the upper Midwest and Great Plains regions of the United States and the prairie provinces of Canada. By following the migration routes of buffalo, many Native Americans who lived on the prairies of North America were nomads who moved camp at least several times each year. Men and women of the nomadic tribes utilized as much of the buffalo as possible. The shaggy animals were the main source of food for many tribes, but they also provided the basic materials to make clothing, lodging, tools, and weapons. Native Americans had several methods of killing the large beasts, which changed over time as tribes acquired horses and different weapons. Before and after horses reached the northern prairies, hunters stampeded buffalo herds over cliffs called buffalo jumps. Whatever the method used to get near the animals, arrows and spears, and later guns, were the typical weapons.

At the beginning of the 19th century, more than 60 million of these American bison lived in grass-covered environments of North America. Buffalo herds and native peoples co-existed in an ecosystem of arid prairies, both moving frequently to optimize food and water supplies. Human-caused changes in these environments radically reduced the numbers of buffalo and the hunting grounds of Native American tribes. Hunted for sport by whites moving west, the buffalo was extinct east of the Mississippi River by the mid-19th century. By 1900, there were only two wild herds left, one in Yellowstone Park and one in Canada. Protective laws have since increased buffalo populations from a few hundred to more than 20,000. Domestic herds also are maintained on ranches throughout the American West, in part to supply bison meat to consumers.

The story of the buffalo and the Plains tribes incorporates numerous aspects of natural environments and ecosystems, as well as examples of human adaptation and human alteration of those environments/ecosystems. Living in often-harsh environments, the tribes learned to fully utilize the resources they did have, and when resources became scarce they migrated elsewhere. Such interactions -- between the native peoples and the living and nonliving objects surrounding them -- formed the ecosystems of the prairie regions. These ecosystems eventually were disrupted by agriculture, mining and drought, among other natural and human-caused phenomena.


The purpose of this lesson is to give students an introductory understanding of adapting to one's own environment and the careful utilization of natural resources. Students discuss the myriad uses that Native Americans found for buffalo and construct their own posters illustrating some of these uses. They also sew cloth or suede bags like those made by tribes from buffalo hide. Students hear and discuss a Native American legend about hunting buffalo.


Victoria Hawk
Cultural Consultant

I was born in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I currently reside in Tucson; I relocated to Arizona in 1972. At this time I am a fifth grade classroom teacher at Lawrence Intermediate School, T.U.S.D.. The majority of our students are Yoeme (Yaqui). I am also an instructor with the Native American Studies Dept. T.U.S.D.. I was an instructor at Dine' College 1992-1995. I am the mother of five children and a Nana.


Learner Outcomes

  • Discuss human uses of natural resources found in specific environments.
  • Understand that Native Americans of the Great Plains found many uses for the buffalo, as they did for other natural resources like wild plants and other game animals.
  • List different items/products provided by buffalo, which benefited the humans who hunted the large animals.
  • Create their own replicas of buffalo-hide bags commonly made by Plains tribes.

Content Standards

  • Blah


  • Pictures of buffalo (American bison)
  • Pictures of Native American items made from buffalo (e.g., pouches, moccasins, clothing, tipi covers, drums, powder horns)
  • Charts of buffalo-derived products (Ideas book, pp. 69-70, Montana Office of Public Instruction
  • Meter/yardstick
  • Suede cloth or leather scraps (3- by 7-inch squares; one/student)
  • Lacing materials – leather, yarn, etc. (1½ feet/student)
  • Yarn needles (one/student)
  • White poster board, 3- by 4-feet (one/group of 3-4 students)
  • Construction paper, all colors
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils, Scissors, Glue

Lesson Procedures

  • Day 1
    1. As a class, discuss what the buffalo of the Great Plains look like and where they lived years ago, where they live today. Show pictures of buffalo. Use a meter/yard stick to show the approximate size of an adult buffalo (a male can be more than five feet tall (about 1½ meters), nine feet long (nearly 3 meters), and about 2500 pounds (1,130 kg).
    2. Have students suggest various ways in which Native Americans once hunted buffalo.
  • Day 1 con.

    Read the Blackfeet story about the buffalo rock and discuss with the class:

    Preface--The buffalo rock, as called by the Blackfeet 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 (from

    There was once a very poor woman, the second wife of a Blackfeet. 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.

  • Day 1 con.
    1. Write down students' ideas of how the Native Americans could utilize all parts of a buffalo.
    2. Show pictures of Native American leather bags and discuss how those bags are made.
    3. Distribute squares of fabric or leather, lacing, and yarn needles (one/student). NOTE: If leather is used, teacher needs to pre-punch lacing holes.
    4. Have students fold the material in half to form a bag with an open top and folded bottom.
    5. Thread needles with lacing strips and have students lace each side of their bag (students will use a running stitch). Remind students to not lace shut the top of the bag. Tie knots in the lacings at both ends when students are finished sewing.
    6. Ask students to turn their bags inside-out so the lacing does not show.
    7. Tell students to tie shut the top of the bag with a short length of leftover lacing.
  • Day 2
    1. Have each student show the class his/her bag made the previous day and explain what was easy or hard about making the bag.
    2. Discuss how long it might take to make other objects from buffalo-derived materials. Ask students what objects they think the Native Americans would spend time making.
    3. Divide class into groups of 3 or 4 students and distribute poster board (one/group). Have each group draw a buffalo on poster board.
    4. Ask groups to draw several lines, each from a part of the buffalo to a blank area of their poster board.
    5. Have students draw objects on construction paper and cut out the objects, each representing something that could be made from a specific part of the buffalo.
    6. Instruct students to glue their objects by the appropriate line, matching each part of the buffalo to the items made from that part.
    7. Hang the posters around the room and let students tour the room to see the various buffalo.


  • Native Americans had many uses for the various parts of the buffalo they hunted.
  • Humans learn to utilize natural resources found in their own local environments.


  • Participation in class discussion
  • Participation in group buffalo-byproducts activity
  • Individual bag-making activity


  • Think of examples of natural resources that have multiple uses (e.g., trees, water, food animals).
  • Make lists of natural resources/materials used in your own home.
  • Use the library or Internet to research which natural resources were used extensively by the various Native American tribes, other than buffalo.
  • Ask your parents or teachers about any natural-resource-based industries in your own town or area (e.g., logging, mining, agriculture).