What Types of Things Did Native Americans Use Buffalo For?

Natives Americans used buffalo meat, hide and other parts for food, shelter, clothing, tools, weapons and other household needs. When Native Americans hunted and killed buffalo, every part was used, and nothing was wasted.

When a buffalo was killed, Native Americans cooked and ate the best meat fresh, including the rump, ribs, tongue and other organs. They immediately ate special parts, such as the heart and liver, raw. Muscle meat was dried to make pemmican, or jerky, which lasted throughout the winter when hunting was difficult.

Buffalo hide formed the outside of their dwellings, called tipis. It was used to make items like belts, bags and pouches, and it was the primary material of clothes, moccasins, dolls and bedding. Buffalo bones were carved into clubs, knives and arrowheads, and horns were carved into spoons, ladles and cups. Skulls were used as ceremonial objects. Brains were used for tanning hides. Sinews became bowstrings, thread and glue. The bladders and stomach were used to make bags, pouches, buckets and other containers. The tail became a whip or fly brush. Native Americans dried buffalo dung and used it as fuel for their fires.

In 1800, the population of buffalo on the American plains was about 60 million. By 1890, due to the incursion of European and American hunters, only about 750 remained.