Do Native Americans really use all parts of the buffalo?

Well, there ya go, Trik
These might be some insightful anecdotes on the major differences of what the Indians faced as semi-nomadic hunter gatherers. I think it was survival rather than sport for them, and every part of the buffalo was useful, as there were no string factories, nor freezers, nor plastic polymers. The buffalo was the living breathing factory of the plain that suppled the food and textiles of life for hundreds of uses that have been supplanted in modern industrial society by organization, invention, science, and industrialization.

True. But neither do you find huge piles of rotting carcases wasting away at those buffalo jumps these days.
That was then, and this is now. People did kill huge numbers of buffalo and other animals for fun and leave them lie back in the day. Some still do.

So to be clear, it appears the only really cited response to the OP indicates the answer to the OP’s question is “No,” correct?


Correct. In my opinion.
But defining “waste” and “use” presents some difficulty.
Wealthy people don’t use any but the choicest parts of a slaughtered animal. This has been pretty much universal theoughout history. Are they (we) as a group wasting the rest of the animal, or we absolved of blame because lesser people use the less choice parts. The meat producers sell all that’s leftover (of course) for profit. Nothing noble about that, is there?
And how about the work of scavengers? Were the Indians truly wasting all that buffalo meat, etc, at the jumps when eventually it all got “used”?
The europeans justified stealing this land from the people who already here partly by claiming that the Indians were wasting it.

I think there is also a confusion here of hunting method. Running Buffalo off a cliff was but one way of obtaining buffalo. It was very efficient and didn’t require as much exertion on the part of the Hunters but I believe it is also safe to assume that on these types of hunts the whole tribe or groups of tribes would be involved and often set up camp nearby for several days and set up a processing camp for the buffalo. What we might know from the forensic evidence of these sites is that some were wasted, but we have no real idea nor can cull any information about how many were actually harvested. Which may in fact be numbers that are more efficient and less wasteful as compared to the number left behind. These sites were often used over and over again on each hunt, as well. So the information we have is biased and the “waste” to “use” ratio remains an unknown.

Forget about Native Americans entirely. Let’s stick to generic, primitive hunter/gatherer humans of any race.

Evidence suggests that primitive man was a sloppy hunter and a picky eater who left a LOT of edible stuff behind after a hunt. That’s why dogs eventually became man’s ally. Packs of wild dogs would follow humans around, knowing that after a kill, there’d undoubtedly be a lot of food still on the carcass(es) to be munched on.

One of early man’s favorite hunting techniques was chasing a herd off a cliff. Doing that often led to the deaths of far more buffalo (or whatever) than the human tribe could eat or save. Humans did NOT use every part of the animals they killed. They didn’t even use PART of all the animals they killed.

There is a general understanding that Columbus proved the Earth was roudn too. General understanding are usually wrong.

  1. Even if they used every part of the animal Indians weren’t less wasteful than everyone else. A modern abbatoir really does use every part of the animal, including horns, bones and sinews. Indians didn;t and couldn’t have done that.

  2. As others have pointed out, Indians didn’t use every part of the animal. Some Indians may have use dmost parts, especially if they were starving. Many othe rIndians groups were exceedingly wasteful of bufflao and killed thousands that they left to rot wihtout ever touching.

  3. Many Indians commonly used fish poisons. That means they put poison into rivers and collected the fish when they floated to the surface. Any fish too small to be useful along with all the invertebrates, frogs and so forth were killed and simply left to rot. Hardly a process witohout waste and hardly congruent with the “child of nature” nonsense so often broadcast.

A few things that haven’t been touched upon.

  1. AFAIK, few hunter/gatherer/primitive farmer societies ate a lot of meat. Meat was hard to come by and hard to preserve, unlike vegetables. So the whole idea of pre-contact Native Americans eating a primarily non-meat diet out of intentional vegetarianism is AFAIK pure horseshit. I do not know of any tribe that was intentionally vegetarian. They ate meat when they could get it; it’s just that they couldn’t get it very often or very easily (until the advent of the horse), and it didn’t keep well.

  2. The OP seems to be under the impression that there is/was some monolithic tribal whole called “Native Americans” and they were all living in teepees and eating buffalo. While that has become the generic idea of “American Indian” and is what most people (both American and non-American) think of when they picture an “American Indian,” it’s obviously not correct. The Seminole in Florida, the Seneca in New York, the Makah in Washington – these tribes never so much as saw a buffalo. Like other pre-contact prehistoric civilizations, Native Americans worked with what they had, and their diet reflected the area in which they lived. Coastal Indians became fishermen, and woodland Indians incorporated farming into their way of life. Plains Indians remained more dependent on a meat-based (buffalo-based) diet because (a) crop cultivation is harder in the arid Great Plains and (b) the migratory nature of buffalo meant the tribes had to choose to either follow the buffalo or to settle and try to farm.

  3. The advent of white settlers on the East coast of the U.S. over time produced a broad shift westward of the Native American tribes. So most of the tribes that people think were living in the Great Plains since time immemorial in fact hadn’t been there all that long. For example, the Ojibwa pushed down into Minnestoa from Michigan in the early 18th century, assisted by the guns and supplies they received from early French and British trappers. They pushed the Sioux out of Minnesota west to the Dakotas. So despite their deep connection with the Dakotas, the Sioux have actually “only” lived there for about 250 years. The other largest plains tribe, the Blackfeet, also retain indicators that they too originally came from the eastern forests, though the time of their shift westward is harder to pinpoint.

But not all Native Americans were buffalo hunters, and even those tribes that did develop a buffalo-based culture did not practice that culture from time immemorial. They (the Sioux and the Blackfeet) successfully developed dominant cultures able to control large territories and subdue or remove their (native tribal) enemies only after acquisition of both horses and guns. At that point, they could more easily kill buffalo, and the seemingly endless supply probably did engender some waste. Before that, when getting frest meat was difficult, they used or ate every bit of the buffalo because that was what made sense to do. And they did use virtually every part: anything edible was eaten; hides were used for clothing and shelter; stomachs were used for water carrying or for storage; tendons and sinews were used for sewing and for stringing bows; horns were used for decoration. But this wasn’t a “belief,” it was common sense, to maximally exploit a very useful resource.

And I have never heard of any tribe that fished by poisoning the waters and then collecting the dead fish. It would seem to me that any thing toxic enough to kill the fish would probably make it questionable for eating. But then, my very limited expertise does not include fishing tribes. The Blackfeet would no more east a fish then we would eat a rat – IOW, if starving only.

Posting again to clarify that I’m speaking of historical Blackfeet culture when I talk of them not eating fish. Modern Blackfeet eat as much or more fish as the rest of modern America, and they have husbanded and maintained excellent fishing resources in Montana and Alberta since the early 20th century.

And I also wanted to add that, having pointed out that dependence on the buffalo was neither universal to Native American tribes or of long history (i.e., thousands of years) for most tribes, it nevertheless would be hard to overstate the complete dependence on the buffalo of those tribes like the Blackfeet that did embrace a migratory buffalo-based culture. The Blackfeet still remember the Starving Time in 1883-85 when between one quarter and one half of all the Blackfeet starved to death, because the buffalo had disappeared.

Hey, the coyotes and the buzzards gotta eat, too. So, it’s not totally wasted.

Jodi, that was a terrific post. Most folks don’t realize that the plains culture that they often associate with Native Americans was a rather late development in North American history. That image does a great disserve to the diverse and sophisticated cultures that existed before smallpox.

As you point out, it varies a lot fom place to place, but the figures I’ve seen are that on average HGs obtained about 50% of their calories from animal products. Of that about 20% was from large game animals such as deer, kangaroos or zebra. The rest was in the form of eggs, rodents, invertebrates, fish and so forth. So depending n how you define meat HGs ate either a hell of a lot of meat, or about the same amount as a modern westerner. Either way claiming that “typical” HGs didn’t eat alot of meat isn’t really accurate and claiming they were vegetarian is pure fanatsy.

The perception that we have that HGs didn’t eat a lot of meat stems form the fact that early 20th century anthropoligists were retsricted to studying HG societies that had been forced onto land that didn’t suport game animals. All the land that did support game anamals had been tuned into farm land and the HGs removed. In those sorts of culturally impoverished societies on resource poor land eating meat probably was rare, but it also wasn’t typical.

  1. The only HGs groups in the entire world that I have heard of storing food in any significant amount are the Indians of the northwest extending into Alaska, and they primarily stored meat. So to say that strorage was an issue in consuming meat is a red herring. HGs simply didn’t store food except in very atypical and extreme situations. The people of the extreme north had access to year-round ice and the people of the more temperate northwest were the only HG group to form permanent towns and chiefdoms. Hardly typical HGs.

2)Meat is no harder to store than most vegetables. Meat can be readily preserved by sun drying, while most vegetables can not be preserved at all without a pickling, cooking, burying and so forth.

Nah, something as simple as soap will stun and kill fish and is perfectly harmless to humans. Indeed the most common fish poisons used were botanical saponins, essentially soaps. Plants that produced toxic glycosides, cyanide and rotenones were also used by various North American people to poison fish, and all are essentially harmless to humans in the doses used. At least one group in California would deliberately stir up the mud at the bottom of streams and lakes in summer so the water woudl become anoxic, and then collect the suffocated fish as they floated to the surface. All these practices were extemely wasteful and would never be allowed by any western people.

Quite common among many South American cultures, especially on the Amazon River. If I recall correctly, the poison affects the fish’s gills, causing death by asphyxiation, but the flesh is still edible.

My dad was a “gentleman farmer”. Our vinyard and orchard never had any hope of being profitable. But he grew up in a family of farmers and ranchers, and he owned ten acres of land, and he just could not bear to let it stand idle.

Back to the OP: I seem to recall someone saying something to the effect of “They used every part of the buffalo. But they did not use every part of every buffalo.”

Blake, the point about subsisting on kangaroo and zebra indicates you’d like to expand the discussion to worldwide hunting/gathering practices, which I neither the expertise nor the inclination to do. For this reason I will limit myself to the parameters of the discussion of this particular thread.

I didn’t limit my post to hunter/gatherers, I specifically said “hunter/gatherer/primitive farmer societies” so unless you’d like to argue that Native American farmers like the Cherokee, Cree, and Pueblo Indians did not store food, you are rebutting a point that is different from the one I made. In fact, many Native American so-called farming cultures practiced a combination of hunting/gathering and true farming (for example, they generally did not keep domesticated animals) that including hunting for game (when available) and subsisting on beans, corn, squash, and tubers, all of which were intentionally cultivated, and all of which were stored. And none of which, by the way, required “pickling, cooking, burying” or “so forth.”

First of all, I never said a thing about storage. But you yourself make an exception for the hunter/gatherers “of the northwest,” which, assuming you would extend that into the north central plains (Alberta, Montana, the Dakotas), is exactly what I’m talking about. If you would not extend that into the central plains then I’m afraid you are incorrect to say that nomadic Native Americans did not store meat. They dried meat at every available opportunity (though that required a stationary camp and sufficient heat and light for drying) and also dried berries and tobacco, both of which they proto-farmed (meaning, they encouraged native growth in known locations and weeded and pruned but did not tend year-round). They converted a sizeable portion of the dried meat and berries into pemmican for winter subsistence. Especially in the Dog Days (pre-horse), the vast majority of a camp’s buffalo supply would be slaughtered at one time at the buffalo jump, and they would feast to the point of engorgement but then take away as much of the remaining meat as they needed or could carry, to dry and store. These buffalo hunts took place in the fall and were intended to obtain enough meat to get the band or tribe through the winter. Again, my information is limited to the Blackfeet but by anyone’s definition they were hunter/gatherers who stored meat. None of this is at odds with what I’ve already said, which is that even for subsistence meat-dependent hunters, fresh meat was obtained infrequently, with difficulty, and didn’t keep well.

Natural detergents and anoxic shock don’t fall under the category of “poisoning fish” to me, though I’ll take your word for the rest of it. But do you have a cite for the assertion that such “extremely wasteful” practices would not be allowed by any western people? ISTM that the ancient western fishing practice of trawling with large nets contradicts this assertion that wasteful fishing practices were “never allowed by any western people.”

Once again though, all the information I have seen concerning HGs from North America is that they are no different to the rest of the world, ie about 50% of calories from animal products.

Nor did I claim that you did. You included HGs under the umbrella statement you made, and it isn’t in any way true of typical HGs. Only very exceptional HG groups stored food and as such storage simply wasn’t an issue.

As did every agricultural society on Earth until just two hundred years ago. North Americans weren’t in any way unusual in this respect.

Hmm, how does a HG store tubers or beans without burying them? For that matter which Indian groups stored beans without using storage pits, ie burying?

“Meat was hard to come by and hard to preserve”.

What did you mean by preservation if not a means of storage? Are you proposing that people wanted to preserve food that they intended to eat immeditaely? I really don’t follow this.

No, I certainly wouldn’t. I have seen no evidence that HGs of the North Central Plains were sedentary townspeople. I would love to see your evidence for this.

Where did I ever say that nomadic Native Americans did not store meat? I never even said anything remotely like that.


Conventional wisdom has it that by the time they were storing meat they were nomadic agriculturalists dependant entirely on a domestic animal: the horse. Prior to the introduction of the horse the people of the region were either agriculturalists or else true HGs who stored no food. If you can find any evidence of meat storage amongst the Blackfeet or their progenitors prior to them adopting horse agriculture then by all means show it.

“Up until the middle of the 17th century, few people dwelt year-round on the open grasslands of the Plains… until the arrival of the Spanish-introduced horse (in the middle of the 17th century), hunting bison anywhere on the Plains, except along its margins, was difficult for people who were on foot &possessed only their dogs to help carry meat, hides, tools, & shelter. Instead, it was the lush river bottoms of the major rivers that crossed the Plains that were occupied… Before acquiring the horse (which came to the Southwest with the Spanish, first appearing on the southern Plains around 350 years ago) Nations such as the Blackfoot… were foot nomads living in loosely organized bands who seasonally moved out onto the plains to hunt buffalo.”

I would be very interested in seeing evidence of the pre-agriculural Blackfoot carting and storing massive amounts of meat from a single kill, as opposed to the conventional idea that they were typical HGs who stored no food and simply broke up into smaller bands as food ran short.

And once again, it doesn’t gel with reality. For most HGs, even if you want to restrict it to North am, meat was on the diet year round and was obtained daily.

So the utilisation of a chemical substance to elicit a debitating and ultimately fatal physiological reposns doesn’t fall under the category of poisoning to you? Care tp show us what definiton of poisoning you are using that could possibly excude this?

Only the fact that there is no Western nation that has environmental legislation that would allow such a thing. If you can name a single western nation where this would be allowed then by all means pony up.

And where exactly did I say that wasteful fishing practices were never allowed by any western people? I would appreciate if you didn’t misquote me in this manner. Aside from being a blatant strawman it is dishonest and annoying.

They didn’t eat the dong.

Well, of course not! Then what would they use to make their canes and walking sticks, silly?

*Note: the bull penis canes and walking sticks are not gennyouwine Native American Indian First People’s artifacts. They are, however, bull penises.


“The Native Americans who used the buffalo jump technique at Bonfire Shelter sometimes met with success on a far greater scale than they intended or needed. In Bone Bed 3 in particular, there is abundant evidence that far more animals were killed than could be used. In fact, the original analyst argued that Bone Bed 3 could represent a single event in which as many as 800 animals died. Others think it more likely that it represents several events, but even so these were massive kills. Partially or entirely articulated (fitted together) skeletons where found in the lower portions of Bone Bed 3. In other cases archeologists recognized that only the most desirable parts of the animals—especially the hindquarters—showed signs of butchering. In other words, a great deal of the bison meat and hides in the larger jump episodes went to waste.”

“Moreover like other Native AMerican groups that relied on hunting of large mammals… the nomadic bison hunters sometimes wasted large amounts of their kills.”

“at Bonfire Shelter, waste is apparent in the number of skeletal parts that were not dismembered, and in the paucity of butchering tools recovered. It seems that the hunters were too successful, and that the overkill exceeded the labor force available to fully process all the carcasses.”
And so forth. Again, nothing even remotely controversial here. Many Indian groups were in no way conservative and were repsonisble for the deaths of thousand sof animals that they never set a knife to, simply left to rot.

Except that the hunter-gatherers under discussion did store food, so they must have been “very exceptional", because for them it was an issue.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this. Surely you recognize a quantitative and qualitative difference between describing a society like the pre-contact Blackfeet as “practice[ing] a combination of hunting/gathering and true farming” – my use – and applying the same words to “every agricultural society on Earth until just two hundred years ago” – your use – including, presumably, the 19th century English yeoman farmer who occasionally strolled out to pot a quail. I due you the courtesy of respecting your intelligence enough to assume you didn’t really misunderstand me to that degree. So is this mere quibbling? If not, I don’t take your point.

Well, off the top of my head, the Cherokee did. They stored winter food stuffs in communal storage huts and/or personal baskets or bags. Do you personally find it necessary to bury your potatoes and beans in order to keep them through the winter?

What? :confused: I never said the Blackfeet were sedentary townspeople. I don’t know what you’re talking about here.

Yes, actually, you did. You said, “The only HGs groups in the entire world that I have heard of storing food in any significant amount are the Indians of the northwest extending into Alaska, and they primarily stored meat.” I asked if you would extend this exception to the tribes of the north central plains, and you have now said, NO, you don’t extend that exception to them. Thus “the only HG groups in the entire world that you have heard of storing food in any significant amount” is a group that IYO excludes the nomadic Native Americans under discussion. That is where you said nomadic Native Americans did not store meat. Not nothing “remotely like that;” exactly that. If you’d like to clarify, fine.

Sure. Well, first of all, for the premise they were hunter-gatherers, see your own cite. Other than that, see Jackson, The Piikani Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege, Linderman, Blackfeet Indians, and Bullchild, The Sun Came Down: A History Of The World As My Blackfeet Elders Told It.

Cite for “conventional wisdom”?

See above. See also any of the links to the buffalo jumps, which you can Google as easily as I can C&P the links, including Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, Madison Buffalo Jump and First Peoples Buffalo Jump. Archeological evidence indicates they were used starting anywhere from 600 years ago to perhaps 8000 years – clearly pre-horse. So unless you think the People were going to the trouble to corral and stampede entire herds of buffalo but then making no attempt to store food for winter, your argument to “conventional wisdom” is untenable. This is also reinforced by the timings of the buffalo jumps – late fall, cite) – and the obvious fact that pemmican – a staple of the Blackfeet diet (cite– is itself a form of stored food.

Now, let’s look at your cite, complete with interesting ellipses. I will take the liberty of restoring a crucial bit of text you excised:

So hunting buffalo pre-horse was “difficult for people on foot.” There’s a news flash! How does that argue against, as opposed to for, storage of meat for winter when they could get their hands on it? And it is clear that the occupation of “lush river bottoms of the major rivers that cross the Plains” does not refer to the Blackfeet, of Dog Days or of the Horse, pre- or post-contact; it refers to settlements of 2000 years ago, which then migrated East, as is shown by the reference to “significant reliance upon cultivated foods”, as opposed to the Blackfeet who were never “sedentary nor horticultural.” Odd that you would leave out the part that makes it crystal clear this author is NOT talking about the Blackfeet. I notice how quick you are to trot out accusations of dishonesty and strawmen; I will attempt to think of other reasons for your curious editing of the text.

Well, what sort of evidence would you like, other than the evidence of the piskuns (the Jumps), correlated with their seasonal migration (to the jumps for fall camp and the buffalo kills, thence to winter camp to hunker down), coupled with the evidence of what they ate all winter long? (Dried buffalo, and berries, and pemmican, which is dried buffalo and berries.) Are you looking perhaps for a photograph? Let’s see YOUR evidence that the Blackfeet were wantonly killing “massive amounts of meat” but then stupidly only taking what they could eat at the moment. The Blackfeet did break up into smaller bands for winter; how does that indicate they stored no food?

Cite? The very reason the Blackfeet made such an effort to lay in stores for winter was the difficulty in getting out through the snows to hunt, and the lack of a guarantee that you would find anything if you did. So let’s see YOUR evidence that the Blackfeet were able to obtain meat “daily” throughout long Montana and Alberta winters. This wasn’t true of fur traders or even early western settlers, so it’s hard to see how it could have been magically true for the Blackfeet. Your beloved “HGs” of the zebra and the kangaroo weren’t slogging out through the snow to find them.

Sure. "Poison: a substance with an inherent property that tends to destroy life and impair health.” (Emphasis added.) Maybe to you that includes simple detergents, I don’t know, but mine does not.

Wait a second. You said “All these practices were extremely wasteful and would never be allowed by any western people.” The use of “were” (past tense) indicated to me we were discussing historic but contemporary (meaning, contemporary with each other) “western” and “non-western” practices. That at least would be fair, but are you now comparing indigenous fishing techniques used by pre-contact peoples with modern legislated fishing practices? Moving the moral goal posts quite a bit there, aren’t you? And as for naming a “single western nation” where wasteful fishing practices would be allowed in the modern day, try any nation that allows whaling or, if that does not suffice for a fishing cite, try any country that allows drift net fishing without length restrictions (and that includes the EU until 2008, which I hope suffices as a cite for a “single western nation.”).

Right here where you said “All these practices were extemely wasteful and would never be allowed by any western people.” Now I gather that you were not talking about “extremely wasteful” fishing practices generally but only specifically these extremely wasteful fishing practices. (Never attribute to dishonesty what can be explained by miscommunication, though I gather you’re pretty well annoyed by anyone who dares challenge your broad overgeneralizations.) In either event, I asked you for a cite for that statement, and I’d appreciate seeing one.

I trust I didn’t miss anything?

You and he are not talking about the same thing. He is talking about using every part of a buffalo (horns, hide, sinews, tendons, teeth, organs, meat), and you are talking about using every part of every buffalo. mbh has already addressed this: “I seem to recall someone saying something to the effect of ‘They used every part of the buffalo. But they did not use every part of every buffalo.’” And it is not clear which of these the OP’er meant when he said “every part.”