Do Native Americans really use all parts of the buffalo?

There seems to be a general understanding that Native Americans were much less wasteful than everyone else, and they used every single part of the animal.

We all read growing up that when they killed a buffalo, they used the eyes, the tendons, the bones, the skin etc.

It seems odd that of all the different tribes of Native Americans, all would follow this belief, has human nature changed that much over the last few hundred years that there were no tribes that were wasteful and just ran a bunch of buffalo off a cliff and ate a few?


It could have been born out of necessity, rather than belief.

I’m sure that’s true for some, and I don’t want to tarnish the great historical tradition that is
America’s Indigenous people, but it really seems odd that what could have been 55 million people, they were all so frugal.

My understanding of it is that it depends on the circumstance. If the buffalo were near where you lived, then it was probably more true. If you had to trek out a two week walk to get to the buffalo, then you either had to spend several weeks processing all that meat, fat, bone and sinew before you could get back home, OR waste many calories dragging home less calorically useful meat. If you spend more calories carrying the buffalo home than you get eating it, it makes more sense to cut off, say, the heavy bony head, and just drag home what you can use.

From what I’ve seen artifact wise, there certainly is/was a use for everything that comes off a buffalo, but probably not every single buffalo gall bladder and horn was used.

And, finally, we still do the same thing, so I don’t think we’ve changed. You’re right about the common moral lesson to schoolkids about how great the N.A.s were in using every bit of the buffalo, but it’s not that different from what we do today, we just don’t make it all that public. What we don’t eat off a cow as steak or organ meats becomes ground beef or beef by-product, or beef stock. Bones with bits of meat sticking to them are ground up and the resultant mush forced through sieves with water jets to get every edible bit of meat out, and the bone meal used as fertilizer. The hides get used in industrial applications if they’re too ugly for leather wear. Hooves and connective tissue are still boiled up for gelatin or glue. The only thing we might (and I’m not sure about this) throw out these days are the brain and nervous tissue, because of prion disease worries - although as we now know, even that was used in cattle feed until recently. And it might still be used for some industrial applications.

After a bit I came across this article, makes slightly more sense, but it wasn’t until after European influence did the Sioux abandon their previous ways…

That’s a rather silly article. “Perfect ancient Amerindians were vegetaians, so let’s all get back to our pure roots and leave behind those awful white man’s ways!”


I hate the Noble Savage racism: “Oh, those Great Indians were so perfect because they lacked the civilization of Europeans!” Denying them the ability to be evil is denying them the full range of human thought.

Those morons never heard of a buffalo jump:

In fact, I happen to live very near a town with a buffalo jump in it, the Wahkpa Chu’gn Archaeological Site in Havre.

It’s not just Native Americans who try to use all parts of the animal and get the maximum amount of meat out of it. All cultures across the world, traditionally, before the advent of mass-farming and pre-packaged foods, tried to do this. I mean, what’s haggis? It’s an attempt to make a tasty dish out of “undesirable” parts of the animal. A German peasant family in 1700 would have slaughtered their pig in the winter, made sausages, blood pudding, made boots out of the hide - used every single part of that pig, because they’d spent so much time fattening it up and it would be idiotic to not try to use every part of it.

Native Americans don’t have a monopoly on this kind of stuff. White people used to have an earthy, in-touch-with-the-land culture of their own (and some still do.)

Waste is a luxury. The rich could afford to waste food; the poor could not. Hunter/gatherers were rich during certain seasons when the bounty was more than they could physically handle, and poor the rest of the year when they had to work hard just to keep from going hungry. This has been true in every society since the dawn of time. Absolutely nothing special about the Native Americans. They were just like everybody else.

And the best expression of it in industrialized times is from the Armour meat-packing founders.

Am I the only one thinking of that Far Side cartoon?

I know that this parable is supposed to set up the contrast between the noble, frugal Indian and the wasteful white man, but what I find ironic (besides the dehumanizing notion of the “noble savage”) is that modern slaughterhouses DO use every part of the cow or pig. What doesn’t go on the shelves as varying grades of meat gets rendered into bone meal, animal feed, chemical products, etc. There aren’t huge piles of rotting carcases wasting away outside of your average slaughterhouse.

Ah manys the time I’ve watched herds of Haggis roaming free in the glen ever alert for predatory Bagpipes!

I love the Highlands.

I’m with Exapno. Poor families in the US often used every part of a hog which they had raised. This is not peculiar to Native Americans: every indigenous tribe did/does the same thing.

…and rampaging blood crazed sporrans, you forgot the sporrans

As flurb pointed out, using every part of an animal is par for the course. I imagine that this had been attributed to the native americans because during the 1800s white settlers had a tendency to wantonly slaughter the bison wherever they went. I’ve noticed that many historical accounts gloss over why the settlers did this. They were more or less at war with the natives of the territory they wished to settle, and the bison were a primary food source of the natives. The settlers killed the bison en masse to force the natives to emigrate to regions that still had intact herds. I’m sure that the settlers were loathe to waste such an abundant source of meat and hides, but felt that it was necessary for their survival.

I will say, that I believe the sport of modern Hunting as it is practiced today in America is probably more wasteful of the game animal than it was in years past. Whereas, there is a trend to just consume the more choice cuts of the game animal (Loin (backstrap) in quadripeds, Breast in Ducks and Geese) and to discard, give away, or process the rest.

Invariably, in the sport of modern hunting, the organs from game animals are dressed out and thrown away, whereas in earlier times they were probably the first parts of the animal to be consumed fresh. The skins might or might not be used for practical means (often only for purely decorative or trophy reasons). I personally know of no modern hunters that use the feathers or down from duck and geese. Sinew and bones are almost never used by the actual hunter, however they might sometimes have worth to commercial processors, but are more likely discarded.

Yes, I would say that the psychology of hunting has changed in modern times in America.

This is just anecdotal, and in general, and by no means indicative of all hunters as a blanket statement.

The psychology of sport hunting, sure. It’s sport, not food procurement - it’s even there in the name. Any food you get, thanks to the luxury modern sport hunters enjoy, is a welcome bonus or treat.

But the carcass processing industry which provides most of us with our food is frighteningly efficient, causing many people to be “grossed” out at the use of unsavory sounding body parts. How many people have you heard say “ew…lips and assholes!” when talking about hot dogs? (Note: there are no lips and assholes in American USDA approved hot dogs, actually. The lips and assholes are mostly in pet feed, but they’re still used.)

Well to me, the whole idea of putting sport in front of hunting is weird. Hunting is for survival in my book.

It’s almost as weird as “sport” farming or gardening. While I’m sure some garden for the fun and relaxation of it, my primary reason is the produce. I don’t believe there really are any “sport” farmers either.

I’m not a farmer, but a “sport” gardener. I think every little old lady with a flowerbox and a wall of roses is a “sport” gardener, isn’t she? I grew a fine batch of tomatoes for the squirrels this year. :rolleyes:

There are sport farmers, only we call them “gentlemen farmers”. My dad is one - he keeps up just enough tiny acreage on his otherwise not-a-farm to amuse himself, and I think there’s some tax benefit as well. Half the time he doesn’t even bring in a harvest, just leaves it growing for the wild turkeys and deer.

How oblivious do you have to be to miss the hunting call of a pack of bagpipes?