Great Falls, Montana - home to the Missouri River or 'Mighty Mo', sights of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, numerous cascading waterfalls known as the 'Great Falls' and other natural wonders, it is also the ancestral home to numerous Native American tribes. First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park offers a glimpse into the history of local Native American tribes and their use of a historic buffalo jump that is located just outside of Great Falls, Montana. It is believed this is one of the largest buffalo jumps ever used in North America and was in use for more than 1,000 years before Lewis and Clark first passed thru this area. Although smokey skies filled our views while visiting this historic sight - it was amazing to visit such place and imagine what it was once like for the local Native Americans hunting along the high plains of Montana.
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Our first stop when visiting First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park was to check out the Visitor Center. Filled with informational exhibits and archaeological finds from the buffalo jump site, the 6,000 square foot visitor center does a great job explaining what a buffalo jump is and about the Native Americans who inhabited the area. Just outside of the visitor center were a couple of traditional tepees that were interesting to explore and for those wanting a short hike - you could follow the 3.5 mile trail out to the actual buffalo jump sight. For us, we were a bit short on time, so we chose to skip the hike and drove up the road to the top of the ridge. From there it was a short walk to the edge of the buffalo jump where on a clear (non-smokey) day you'd have expansive views out over the plains and Missouri River valley.
Arriving to the top of the ridge, follow a short trail that leads out to the edge of the cliffs of the buffalo jump. The jump site runs for about a mile along a sandstone cliff edge and ranges from 30 to 50 feet in height. It was here that local Native American tribes would stampede the bison towards these cliffs and then collect the remains of the buffalo that were a staple in the Native American's diet and way of life. Interestingly, as you read the history of such buffalo jumps - this was not a quick and easy process but rather took days as hunters would encircle and push the buffalo herds towards the cliffs. Once close enough to the cliffs the hunters would spook the herds sometimes by dressing as wolves and creating loud noises to send the herd stampeding towards the cliffs, plunging the buffalo to their deaths. Standing at the edge of these cliffs, it was amazing to look out and imagine such a scene of carnage and bloodshed - yet at the same time, respect for the ingenuity of the local Native American's for developing such productive methods of hunting. At one time, it is estimated that over 13 million bison roamed Montana and prior to the arrival of horses, these buffalo jumps or 'pishkuns' were a traditional way of hunting for the Plains Indians. In fact, over 300 buffalo jumps can be found throughout Montana, although only a handful of them are accessible to the public. With this sight being considered the largest in North America and the wonderful Visitor Center nearby - this is a must visit for anyone passing through the Great Falls area!