Back to the Hide

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What can you learn about the relationship between the Plains Indians and the buffalo from this picture?


Use evidence from other sources to help you piece together the story.

How are some of the Indians in the hide painting using this object? (By the way, part of this object is made from buffalo hide.)

A bow and arrow used by the Indians

Department of Library Services, American Museum of Natural History

In the use of the bow we had to become very skillful, for in my days of boyhood it was the means of getting all our food, mainly the buffalo. It not only took a skillful man, but a brave one, to face a herd of buffalo with nothing but a trusty bow and a quiver full of arrows.

Luther Standing Bear (Lakota Sioux), 1931

Now the proper skinning of the buffalo was necessary if we were to get the most out of the hide, and of course, hides were valuable and so useful that this job was done with care and skill, leaving as little meat on the hide as possible. When the skinning was done, the butchering began. There was a very exact method in this which I learned from my father, but there are few of the young Indians today who know how to butcher in the old way. . . . We cut the animal so that the large muscles would not be cut across the grain. It was the work of the women to slice the meat in thin slices or sheets and dry it. . . . The thin slices of meat were hung over a pole for drying and if the large muscles had not been cut as they should be, the meat would fall to pieces.

Luther Standing Bear (Lakota Sioux), 1931

Can you find three objects that Indians made from the hide of the buffalo?

A drawing by Bear's Heart of a buffalo hunt Drawing by Bear's Heart (Cheyenne)
National Museum of American History

What are these women doing?

Women dry the meat. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Notes from a Smithsonian Historian

The Indians in the upper left and right corners of the painting are hunting the buffalo with spears or with bows and arrows. Did you notice that some of the Indians are hunting on foot? They represent the way Indians hunted the buffalo for thousands of years. After Spanish settlers in what is now the American Southwest brought horses to North America in the 1500s, Indians adapted to hunting on horseback.

There are 46 buffalo in this section of the painting (23 on each side). Did you notice that the Indians have killed only two buffalo? Traditionally, the Indians killed only as many buffalo as they needed to support themselves. The buffalo that have been killed are bleeding from the stomach, where the Indians would begin skinning the animal before butchering it. Following a hunt, the Indians boiled some of the fresh meat and ate it immediately; the rest was cut into strips and dried to preserve it. A single animal could feed a hundred people. The Indians used nearly every part of the buffalo, not just its meat. They used its hide, for example, for tepees, clothing, moccasins, shields, saddles, and bow quivers to name a few. They used its skull and bones, hooves, horns, internal organs, and fur. Learn more in What can you make from a buffalo?