History Trunks – Uses of the Buffalo

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This week we explored Kansas history using another history trunk available from the Kansas State Historical Society called “Uses of the Buffalo.” This trunk focused on how native people in Kansas used the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter and tools.

We started the class with the kids viewing and gently handling the items from the trunk. They were told to consider what each item might be, what part of the buffalo it might be from, how it might have been used or what made it valuable, and to consider what modern-day items we use instead. They were also told to pay attention to the textures of the items – some of the leather items were finished differently than others, and that made a difference as to how it was used.

After they had time to look through the items, we began an item identification game. The kids were divided into four teams, each with their own buzzer. We held up each item, and had the kids name the item, name what it was made of (leather, bone, sinew, organ). Bonus points were given for naming modern-day replacements. It was noisy, but lots of fun, and did a good job of engaging the kids and getting them to think about each item. Congratulations to Team D for winning the game by getting the most answers right!

After the game, the kids sampled some foods eaten by native peoples in our area, including sunflower seeds, cornmeal cakes, pumpkin seeds, wildflower honey, and buffalo pemmican. While the kids enjoyed the foods, we talked about how the native peoples stored buffalo jerky, dried corn, pemmican, seeds and so on in large parfleches to supply their families throughout the winter. We also reviewed the different ways that buffalo would be consumed – raw during the hunt, roasted or boiled after the hunt, dried into strips and stored in parfleches, pounded into pemmican, and sometimes stored underground.

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We viewed some examples from books of designs that were put onto pouches and parfleches. We talked about how men’s items usually were decorated with scenes from hunting, battles or life goals, while women’s items had designs and patterns that were meaningful inside of their family group or tribe. We talked about how smaller pouches were used to store important items like medicinal herbs and small tools.

Once the kids had finished their food samples, we completed a craft to make our own pouches using cardstock, leather strips, yarn and pony beads, plus markers for creating designs. The kids went home from class with a variety of printouts, as well as coloring pages for the younger ones.

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All in all, this trunk was an excellent resource for helping our kids learn more deeply and engage more thoroughly with the history of native peoples and their relationship to the buffalo. The kids asked many thoughtful questions, and had some very creative answers too! A big thank you to the Kansas State Historical Society for making these trunks available. We really enjoyed this trunk!

Here is a reading list that I used to prepare, and also brought to class for the kids and parents to view:

Kid-friendly reference and non-fiction books:
American Bison by Berman – older learners
American Bison by Bowman – younger learners
American Bison by Hansen – beautiful photographs, great for younger learners
American Bison by Yasuda – middle years learners
Bison by Gish – lovely photos and text for middle years learners
The Great Plains Indians by Englar
The North American Bison by Becker

Tales of the buffalo:
The Buffalo Are Back by George
Buffalo Bird Girl by Nelson
Buffalo Woman by Goble
The Legend of How Kansas Got Chipped by White
The Legend of the White Buffalo Woman by Goble
The Return of the Buffaloes by Goble

The Iktomi stories, all by Goble:
Iktomi and the Berries
Iktomi and the Boulder
Iktomi and the Buffalo Skull
Iktomi and the Buzzard
Iktomi and the Coyote
Iktomi Loses His Eyes

Books showcasing art of native peoples
Art of the Osage by Bailey & Swan
Buckskin & Buffalo by Taylor – has beautiful examples of pouches and parfleches
The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky by Torrence – this is the book from the exhibition that was at Nelson-Atkins; lovely photos of amazing quality pieces

General reference:
Buffalo Hunt by Freedman
The Buffalo and the Indians by Patent
Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days by Fitzgerald
Heads, Hides & Horns by Barsness
The Kansa Indians by Unrau
The Osage in Missouri
Saving the Buffalo by Marrun

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