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Buffalo Bones


Uses for Buffalo Bones

The buffalo was the department store of the Plains Indian. The flesh was food, the blood drink, skins furnished wigwams, robes made blankets and beds, dressed hides supplied moccasins and clothing, hair was twisted into ropes, rawhide bound tools to handles, green hides made pots for cooking over buffalo-chip fires, hides from bull's necks made shields that would turn arrows, ribs were runners for dog-drawn sleds, small bones were awls and needles, from hooves came glue for feathering arrows, from sinews came thread and bow- strings, from horns came bows, cups and spoons, and even from gall stones a "medicine" paint was made. When the millions of buffalo that roamed the prairies were exter- minated the Plains Tribes were starved into submission. A few herds saved the buffalo from extinction and there are now more than 22,000 in North American game preserves. A herd may be seen just south of Garden City.



While the elements have disposed of the vast majority of bone artifacts, we do know that Buffalo Bones were used for:

  • Glue

  • Handles (for knives, axes)

  • Utensils

  • Awls

  • Digging tools

  • Pipes

  • Carved knives, fish hooks, arrow heads, harpoons, ornaments and scarpers

  • Notching tools for making arrowheads, spears, etc.

  • Billets made from the heel bone

  • Bow tips for strapping (strengthening the wood) and bow backing. Note: There has been debate on this subject and it is likely that this was only used for medicine bows.

  • Buffalo Rib Dance Sticks

  • Buffalo Shoulder Blades Carvings/paintings

Bones were processed and used for producing bone black (bone charcoal used to remove color and impurities in sugar refining) and bone meal fertilizer, which is very high in phosphorus. The bones were also used for making buttons and knife handles.


Apparently the better tools were made from bones from the males as they had stronger bones than females due to the loss of calcium produced by the female species in milk production.


  • Finally, "One traditional use of those Buffalo leg bones was to hold up the buffalo, so they wouldn't have to slither like big hairy slugs. Aeh?" - Tom Roberson




Buffalo bones being loaded onto a CPR freight train in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, c.1885.


Additional Resources



The Time of The Buffalo by Tom McHugh, Univ of Nebr. Press 1972 ISBN 0-8032-8105-6 

Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains by George Frison, Academic Press 1978 ISBN 0-12-268560-1


This Page Was Last Updated October 06, 2013

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