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Early Hunting

What do these photos tell you about how Indians hunted before they were introduced to horses?

Stalking Buffalo In Wolf Skins

This painting shows two Indians dressed in wolf skins crawling toward a herd of buffaloes. They are trying to get close enough to kill a buffalo with their bows and arrows. The painting was made in the mid-1800s by an American artist named George Catlin.

Stalking Buffalo In Wolf Skins

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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Before they had horses, Indians hunted buffalo on foot. Getting close enough to kill a buffalo with a bow and arrow was not easy. As buffalo were afraid of people, they ran away when they saw hunters coming. One way to get close was to sneak up on a herd by dressing in animal skins. The buffalo in this painting are standing their ground, prepared to defend the herd from these "wolves."

Indian Man With Bow And Arrows

This man is holding a bow and arrows. Plains Indians did not use long bows like people today use to shoot at targets. They used short bows about 4 feet in length. These were easier to use on horseback when hunting buffalo. The man in this photo holds extra arrows in the hand gripping the bow.

Bow And Arrow

Photo: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

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For many years, the Indians of Colorado relied on bows and arrows as their main weapon. The bow was about 4 feet long. By holding a supply of arrows in his left hand, an Indian hunter or warrior could reload and shoot again quickly. A skilled warrior could shoot arrows almost as fast as a soldier could fire bullets with a revolver.

Their Own Words

"Bows could be made of several kinds of wood, depending on how big they were to be and the kind of arrow they were to shoot, but the Osage orangewood was the kind most commonly used because it was tough and would bend without breaking."

Source: Althea Bass, The Arapaho Way: A Memoir of an Indian Boyhood [by Carl Sweezy] (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1966), p. 31.

Driving Buffalo

The Indians on horseback are driving a herd of buffalo into a trap. They will drive them into the circle formed by people in the upper right corner. There they will kill the animals with bows and arrows.

Driving Buffalo

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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The trap in this drawing is called a "surround." Driving the animals into a circle formed by humans confused the buffalo. They ran in circles until they were exhausted and could be killed with bows and arrows. Indians used this method even before they had horses.

Hunting On Snowshoes

The Indians in this drawing are hunting buffalo during the winter. The Indians shown here are using snow shoes to walk on top of the snow. Notice that the other tools they are using are a spear and a bow and arrows.

Hunting On Snowshoes

Photo: Colorado Historical Society

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The Indians had ways to kill buffalo without using horses. During the winter, they drove the animals into deep snowdrifts. There the buffalo sank into the snow and could not escape. Indians also could kill large numbers of buffalo at one time by driving them over steep cliffs.

Their Own Words

"For arrows we preferred only one kind of wood. This was a dogwood…the Arapaho called it Pawnee wood. The grain is so fine and the wood so hard that it will not split or break off in shooting. Even a crooked piece of Pawnee wood could be made straight when it was peeled and worked and dried."

Source: Althea Bass, The Arapaho Way: A Memoir of an Indian Boyhood [by Carl Sweezy] (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1966), p. 31.