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'Going To buffalo' On Cayuse Horses
by Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Cultural Resources Protection Program

In the Treaty of 1855, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) reserved the right to hunt, fish and gather in its usual and accustom places. During the treaty negotiations, Governor Stevens assured all those at the treaty council that they would continue to have access to and the right to hunt buffalo. Less than six months later, Stevens negotiated and signed the Blackfeet Fort Benton Treaty of 1855 in which an intertribal hunting area was defined, which is part of the CTUIR’s usual and accustom buffalo hunting area. Generally speaking, the territory of the Blackfeet, Shoshone, and Crow were the areas that were commonly used for buffalo hunting by the CTUIR. These are the areas and tribes with which the CTUIR has the greatest amount of evidence for past partnerships and disputes within their travels to hunt buffalo.

Researchers agree that the CTUIR hunted buffalo before acquiring the horse and expanded their buffalo hunting after acquiring the horse. The CTUIR were part of the buffalo task groups that could number over 1000 people when going east to hunt buffalo.

The oral tradition of the CTUIR still contains stories and knowledge of traveling to and hunting buffalo. “Going to buffalo” has long been a common phrase heard in the traditional oral stories told by tribal elders on the Umatilla Reservation. The phrase, in itself, can stand alone and resonate with specific meaning and understanding. When placed in a historical context, the phrase also figures into larger stories of travel, trade, hunting, warfare and treaty making.

In addition, the historic record provided by early explorers, trappers, military, missionaries and settlers provide accounts of the CTUIR traveling to the Rocky Mountains and into the Plains to hunt buffalo.

The close cultural relationship that the CTUIR share with the Nez Perce tribe historically aligned the Nez Perce and the Cayuse in times of peace, war and in particular, in traveling east to hunt buffalo. The CTUIR are a cultural group that has been historically understudied by researchers and is often left out or misinterprete as Nez Perce in cultural and historical explanation.

There is physical evidence in the archaeological record of buffalo in the region documented in archaeological reports, such as in Gerald Schroedl’s, “The Archaeological Occurrence of Bison in the Southern Plateau.” As Schroedl demonstrated, not only is a continuity of buffalo hunting from prehistoric to historic times depicted in studies such as his, but evidence that buffalo remains from the Plains were found here on the Plateau is also true. Conversely, archaeological archaeological materials from the Plateau have been found at archaeological sites in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Rock image sites in the CTUIR’s homeland
depict warriors on horseback hunting buffalo.

Buffalo hunting by the CTUIR has been a long tradition that is still an active part of the tribal communities’ memory and oral tradition. These oral histories and accounts of buffalo hunting keep the tradition of “going to buffalo” alive.

Several excerpts from the CTUIR Cultural Resources Protection Program’s oral history archive come in the form of a mention of buffalo hunting within the larger context of an interview while others relate cultural information and entire stories of buffalo hunting.

One traditional story passed down through the generations among particular families on the Umatilla Reservation speaks to the relationship the Cayuse people had with the Crow people as hunting partners. The story goes on to inform that the Crow valued and highly sought after the Cayuse horse. This special breed of horse, as the story implies, allowed the Cayuse people to become exceptionally skilled buffalo hunters:

There was one man named Tehéysam’qin’. He was from Nixyáawii. He was a real Cayuse Indian. He won a horse gambling in the stick game. It was a real Cayuse horse. And he decided to go on to the buffalo country to hunt buffalo. And there was only a few of them, hunters and their families. And they traveled to the Crow people. And there they camped. And the camp crier from the Crow started making the announcement. He said, “Everyone get ready! We will hunt the buffalo early in the morning.” So they all got ready, just the few Cayuses that there were. And when the morning came, they arrived there, to where they were coming together. And their leader, or hunt boss, said to line up the horses in a line. And so the Cayuse hunters started coming over. And the Crow hunters saw them with their horses and they laughed at them. Because they thought they were just pitiful. And the Crow leader said, “Get ready now! We’re going to charge!” And so he gave the signal and they all started going or running. And all the Crow hunters took off first and the Cayuse were following behind. And they were running for some time, for
some distance, and the Crow horses started to give out. And the Cayuse that were behind now passed them by. They were in front. And there were only just a few - a handful of Cayuse - and they were leading them. And these Cayuse, they got the best, or first choice, in the kill. And so they were the first to finish their hunt. And the others, the Crow, were hunting all day. And so the Cayuse, they returned back to their camp and prepared their kill, or their meat. And so a number of days passed and they were finishing up there. And then one hunter of the Crows started coming to their camp. And they would bring things to trade for their horses. And Tehéysam’qin’ said, “No.” And many more started coming to the camp in the same way asking to trade. And the Crow, they, the chief, one of the chiefs piled up all these things. A big pile, war bonnets and other things like that asking to trade and again he said “No.” And so, Tehéysam’qin’ informed them: “We will not trade our horses. Because they are precious, or valuable, to us. They feed our families. And they help us to live, or survive. So this is why I say no. Because we’ll never give up our horses.” And so, this is how Tehéysam’qin’ hunted with the Crow. And in the same way too, the Cayuse horse came out on top of all of those. And so, that i
s the story.
That is all [OHP247].

Information provided by the Cultural Resourses Protection Program of the Department of Natural Resources for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

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