What is the Importance of the Buffalo?

A question we get asked a lot in the Gallery is what the importance the buffalo was to the Lakota people.

In general, everything came from the Buffalo Nation. Buffalo hides provided clothing and shelter (they used the hides to cover their lodges).

The hair could be used for a variety of things from a "mattress" for them to sleep on and stuffing for various items. The hair of the buffalo also provided warmth, so they would often wear robes with the hair to the inside during winter.

The meat, of course, was food.

The bones were used for tools, weapons, and toys for children. The organs were also used. The bladder for instance was a natural water vessel and could be used to haul water. Other organs were often used for medicinal purposes.

The skull is probably the most recognizable symbol of the Buffalo Nation. This large skull [referring to the large buffalo skull sitting beside her] is what we call a grandfather bull. This would have been a 4 or 5 year old herd bull (an older bull with a much larger skull). You'll notice around the eye sockets it has some gnarly bone growth. His horn covers are much thicker and larger. The fissure that runs down the middle of the forehead has started to knit together to make a more solid bone mass, which would have been necessary for him as a herd bull fighting for breeding rights (his skull would need to be fortified for him to survive countless battles with other bulls in order to secure those rights within the herd).

Because the buffalo bulls had to grow to such large sizes (approximately 2000 pounds) it was that quality about them, their strength, their steadfastness and bravery that people recognized and admired about this animal; therefore the skulls were often used in ceremony as well.