About the walls of the piskun, now full of buffalo, were distributed the women and children of the camp, who, leaning over the enclosure, waving their arms and calling out, did all they could to frighten the penned-in animals, and to keep them from pushing against the walls, or trying to jump or climb over them. As a rule, the buffalo raced round within the enclosure; and the men shot them down as they passed, until all were killed. After this the people all entered the piskun, and cut up the dead, transporting the meat to camp. The skulls, bones, and less perishable offal were removed from the enclosure; and the wolves, coyotes, foxes, and badgers devoured what was left.
It occasionally happened that something occurred to turn the buffalo, so that they passed through the guiding arms and escaped. Usually they went on straight to the angle, and jumped over the cliff into the enclosure below. In winter, when snow was on the ground, their straight course was made additionally certain by placing on or just above the snow, a line of buffalo chips leading from the angle of the V, midway between its arms out on to the prairie. These dark objects, only twenty or thirty feet apart, were easily seen against the white snow; and the buffalo always followed them, no doubt thinking this a trail where another herd had passed.
By the Siksikau tribe of the Blackfoot nation and the Plains Crees, the piskun was built in a somewhat different way, but the methods employed were similar. With these people, who inhabited a flat country, the enclosure was built of logs and near a timbered stream. Its walls were complete; that is, there was no opening or gateway in them, but at one point this wall, elsewhere eight feet high, was cut away so that its height was only about four feet. From this point a bridge or causeway of logs, covered with dirt, sloped by a gradual descent down to the level of the prairie. This bridge was fenced on either side with logs, and the arms of the V came together at the point where the bridge reached the ground. The buffalo were driven down the chute as before, ran up on this bridge, and were forced to leap into the pen. As soon as all had entered, Indians who had been concealed near by ran up and put poles across the opening through which, the buffalo had passed; and over these poles hung robes, so as entirely to conceal the outer world. Then the butchering of the animals took place.
Farther to the south, out on the prairie, where timber and rocks and brush were not obtainable for making traps like these, simpler but less effective methods were adopted. The people would go out on the prairie, and conceal themselves in a great circle open on one side. Then some man would approach the buffalo, and decoy them into the circle. Men would now show themselves at different points, and start the buffalo running in a circle, yelling and waving robes to keep them from approaching, or trying to break through, the ring of men. This had to be done with great judgment, however; for often if the herd got started in one direction it was impossible to turn it, and it would rush through the ring, and none would be secured. Sometimes if a herd was found in a favorable position, and there was no wind, a large camp of people would set up their lodges all about the buffalo, in which case the chances of success in the surround were greatly increased.
The tribes which used the piskun also practised driving the buffalo over high, rough cliffs, where the fall crippled or killed most of the animals which went over. In such situations, no enclosure was built at the foot of the precipice.
In the later days of the piskun in the north, the man who brought the buffalo often went to them on horseback, riding a white horse. He would ride backward and forward before them, zig-zagging this way and that; and after a little they would follow him. He never attempted to drive, but always led them. The driving began only after the herd had passed the outer rock piles, and the people had begun to rise up and frighten them.
This method of securing meat has been practised in Montana within thirty years, and even more recently among the Plains Crees of the north. I have seen the remains of oldpiskuns, and the guiding wings of the chute, and have talked with many men who have taken part in such killings.
All this had to do, of course, with the primitive methods of buffalo killing. As soon as horses became abundant, and sheet-iron arrow-heads, and later, guns, were secured by the Indians, these old practices began to give way to the more exciting pursuit of running buffalo and of surrounding them on horseback. Of this modern method, as practised twenty years ago, and exclusively with the bow and arrow, I have already written at some length in another place.
To the white travellers on the plains in early days the buffalo furnished support and sustenance. Their abundance made fresh meat readily obtainable; and the early travellers usually carried with them bundles of dried meat, or sacks of pemmican, food made from the flesh of the buffalo, that contained a great deal of nutriment in very small bulk. Robes were used for bedding; and in winter buffalo moccasins were worn for warmth, the hair side within. Coats of buffalo skin are the warmest covering known, the only garment which will present an effective barrier to the bitter blasts that sweep over the plains of the Northwest.
Perhaps as useful to early travellers as any product of the buffalo was the "buffalo chip," or dried dung. This, being composed of comminuted woody fibre of the grass, made an excellent fuel, and in many parts of the treeless plains was the only substance which could be used to cook with.
The dismal story of the extermination of the buffalo for its hides has been so often told, that I may be spared the sickening details of the butchery which was carried on from the Mexican to the British boundary line in the struggle to obtain a few dollars by a most ignoble means. As soon as railroads penetrated the buffalo country, a market was opened for their hides. Men too lazy to work were not too lazy to hunt; and a good hunter could kill in the early days from thirty to seventy-five buiffalo a day, the hides of which were worth from $1.50 to $4 each. This seemed an easy way to make money, and the market for hides was unlimited. Up to this time the trade in robes had been mainly confined to those dressed by the Indians, and these were for the most part taken from cows. The coming of the railroad made hides of all sorts marketable, and even those taken from naked old bulls found a sale at some price. The butchery of buffalo was now something stupendous. Thousands of hunters followed millions of buffalo, and destroyed them wherever found and at all seasons of the year. They pursued them during the day, and at night camped at the watering places, and built lines of fires along the streams, to drive the buffalo back so that they could not drink. It took less than six years to destroy all the buffalo in Kansas, Nebraska, Indian Territory, and northern Texas. The few that were left of the southern herd retreated to the waterless plains of Texas, and there for a while had a brief respite. Even here the hunters followed them; but as the animals were few, and the territory in which they ranged vast, they held out here for some years. It was in this country, and against the very last survivors of this southern herd, that "Buffalo Jones" made his very successful trips to capture calves.