The Buffalo Hunt

Bill Clearlake

January, 1998

It was a sound like thunder. The grasslands trembled with the sound. It was as if the Great Sea had turned black and rolled across the land stretching from horizon to horizon. Wave upon black wave swept the vastness of the prairie. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of hooves beat an ancient rhythm. The buffalo were running.

On horseback they rode alongside the charging beasts. Their skin was burnt brown with the hot sun and their hair was braided and decorated with beads, feathers and strips of buffalo hide. They deftly cut one of the buffalo from the herd, rode hard after him firing arrow after arrow into him. They chased the wounded beast for miles until he fell, exhaused and bleeding and finally dying on the grassy plain.

The men of the plain prayed over their fallen brother, thanking him for parting from his body so that his flesh could feed and clothe The People. Their prayers finished, their knives separated skin from flesh, flesh from bone. Cartillage and sinew were gathered into sacks of hide. Even the bones were taken. Every part of the buffalo would be used. He would become food, clothing, shelter, tools and twine.

The sun was setting behind the Great Mountain and the young men of The People would be following the wake of the buffalo herd. They would be gathering dry buffalo dung into huge piles for the tribal fires. The hunters had ridden all of the previous day to meet the herd, hunted all the next day, and would take a two days and two nights to return to their village. Yet they would not eat of the buffalo until they were back home. The hunt was not to feed the bodies of the hunters, but to feed their spirits. They would fast and mourn the life they had taken. They would rejoice in their bounty and remember their need. They sang and chanted, clapping their hands and stomping their feet to keep the rhythm.

The morning sun was hot and blue clouds drifted lazily across the pale red sky. The men of The People gathered their stores upon their horses and headed home. Their ride back was uneventful, and they arrived in their village in the mid-morning hours of typical day.

The women of the The People were making breakfast of bread cakes and a mush of corn sweetened with honey. Some women tended the children. Men busied themselves building and repairing huts, plowing fields, and making tools and weapons. The elder men and women of the village sat discussing village business: matters of trade with other villages, disputes between tribal members, weddings and funerals. Everyone who was able helped tend the gardens and they grew corn, squash, and peppers in abundance.

That night there was a great feast to honor the hunters. The warriors danced the story of the hunt to chants and drums. Some of the buffalo meat was roasted over open pits and served in steaming strips. The rest would be carefully dried and stored to feed the tribe until the next hunt a Long Year away.

The ceremony continued all night with dancing and feasting, drumming and chanting. The tribe slept most of the next day.

At night they sat around small fires in their family groups and retold the tales of old. The children of Far Arrow wanted to hear First Story. It was the season for First Story, the middle of the Warm Season. Red World shone down among the stars. It was a time for reflection, for sorrow, and for giving thanks. Far Arrow threw a large dry disk of buffalo dung on the fire. The flames rose up bright and hot, sending red sparks up to meet the dark starry sky.

Far Arrow crossed his legs and straightened his back. He took a deep breath and prepared himself for the long, sad tale.

"Long ago", he said softly, "There was a place called, 'Earth'." The children huddled against each other getting settled in for a long night of storytelling.

"We, The People of Mars, once called it home..."





(c) 1998 by Bill Clearlake