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Published: August 17th 2012
5th August ’12 Calgary to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump and Fort McCloud, Alberta
We left Calgary on a Sunday so fortunately the streets were really quiet, obviously a good day to drive in the city. As we left we passed through an interesting area which was hosting the Fringe Festival and looked much more inviting than Downtown where we had stayed. Then we were out on the Deerfoot Trail (the main highway south) and after 2 ½ hours we reached the turn off to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump – a place we read about and were intrigued by right back in the trip planning stages.
It is actually the location of one of the original Blackfoot Indian Buffalo Jumps. This dates back thousands of years to the time before Indians had either guns or horses for hunting. Instead buffalo herds were tracked on foot and then an ingenious system was used to force the buffalo herd along a route to the edge of the cliffs. Cairns of stones with branches sticking out were used to mark the route (run) out, which buffalo would think were barriers they couldn’t cross. Indian braves dressed in wolf skins would stop
the buffalo from turning back and another dressed as a buffalo calf would lead the herd towards the cliff edge.
Once the buffalo were close to the edge other members of the tribe dressed in buffalo hides would jump up and begin whooping and waving their arms around to cause a stampede. The ‘calf’ would then leap out of the way and the buffalo would run off the cliff edge. Most were killed by the fall, any who survived were quickly dispatched. All parts of the animal were used and the meat was processed quickly before it could spoil. The ground dried meat was mixed with water and berries to provide the staple food to see the tribe through the winter.
There was an excellent visitors centre here with lots of exhibits and arifacts and a film re-creating an original buffalo jump.
This Buffalo Jump got its name as a result of a young brave who wanted to stand under the cliff to watch the buffalo falling, while he was doing this the bodies piled up around him and when found his skull was crushed. So the moral of this story is don’t stand under the cliff
while the buffalo are stampeding over it!
Once the white man arrived with horses and guns the traditional hunting methods changed dramatically. It also marked the virtual extinction of the buffalo herds, with white men shooting them just for sport. There are still some buffalo today which have been bred on reservations and in preserves but there are no more vast herds. It also meant the end of the traditional way of life for the Blackfoot people. (Grrrrrr!)
We walked along the cliff top to see the Buffalo Jumps and along the cliff bottom where the killing fields and camps would have been.
Then we carried on to Fort McCloud for the night. By now it was scorching hot and thankfully our motel room had a/c. We drove around the tiny town, with its’ historic main street but as it was Sunday everything was shut. It is also a Canadian bank holiday weekend so all the eating places are also closed and there was no-one around – how strange and how unlike the UK.
We did see the Fort from the outside which appears to be a tourist attraction, but it was shut by the time
we got there, oh well.
The next morning before we set off we went back to see the Fort and arrived just in time to join the other tourists peering through the gate to see the show. The Mounted Police, in their red coats were lined up and then paraded around a bit, so that was a nice little bonus.
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