The Passing of the Buffalo
as told by the Kiowa
|Once, not long
ago, the buffalo were everywhere. Wherever the people were, there
were the buffalo. They loved the people and the people loved the
buffalo. When the people killed the buffalo, they did it with
reverence. They gave thanks to the buffalo's spirit. They
used every part of the buffalo that they killed. The meat was
their food. The skins were used for clothing and to cover their
tipis. The hair stuffed their pillows and saddlebags. The
sinews became their bowstrings. From hooves, they made glue.
They carried water in the bladders and stomachs. To give the
buffalo honor, they painted the skull and placed it facing the rising
Then the whites came. They were new people, as beautiful and as deadly as the black spider. The whites took the lands of the people. They built the railroad to cut the lands of the people in half. It made life hard for the people and so the buffalo fought the railroad. The buffalo tore up the railroad tracks. They chased away the cattle of the whites. The buffalo loved the people and tried to protect their way of life. So, the army was sent to kill the buffalo. But even the soldiers could not hold the buffalo back. Then the army hired hunters.
came and killed and killed. So, the bones of the buffalo covered
the land to the height of a tall man. The buffalo saw that they
could fight no longer.
One morning, a Kiowa woman whose family was running from the army, rose early from their camp deep in the hills. She went down to the spring, near the mountainside to get water. She went quietly. alert for enemies. The morning mist was thick, but as she bent down to fill her bucket, she saw something. It was moving in the mist. As she watched, the mist parted and out of it came an old buffalo cow. It was one of the old buffalo women who always led the herds. From behind, came the last few young buffalo warriors. Their horns were scarred from fighting and some of them were wounded. Among them were a few calves and young cows.
Straight toward the side of the mountain, the old buffalo cow led the last herd. As the Kiowa woman watched, the mountain opened up in front of them and the buffalo walked into the mountain. Within the mountain, the earth was green and new. The sun shone and the meadowlarks were singing. It was as it has been before the whites came. Then the mountain closed behind the last buffalo. The buffalo were gone.