Enormous herds of bison once roamed the Great Plains. These magnificent creatures were essential to native people’s way of life. They provided food, shelter, and clothing for the Crow, Shoshone, Bannock, Salish, and Blackfeet nations. Madison Buffalo Jump State Park provided the perfect geological setting along the bison’s seasonal route for indigenous hunters to take advantage of this precious animal resource.
Many tribal nations would converge here in the late summer and fall to utilize the sheer limestone cliffs for hunting. “Runners” were trained to run the bison down drive lanes toward the steep cliffs. Massive bison would topple from the cliff, falling thunderously into large brown heaps at the bottom. Injured and panicked bison would be killed with spears by careful but skilled hunters. Weapons were essential in this latter portion of the hunt, and artifacts can still be found (but not removed!) around the park. Women would begin the gruesome, vital work of breaking down the animal with minimal waste.
The park has few trails but leaves a powerful historical presence. An interpretive plaza provides ample background for the site and points you to places most commonly used during the time of the jumps. Find multiple teepee rings at the top of the cliffs, a physical reminder of the many generations of native peoples who came and camped here for the jump.