Just a half an hour south from Great Falls is one of the largest prehistoric Native American Buffalo Jumps in the world. Before you even arrive on site, you can start to imagine this very area hundreds of years ago with drive lines where Native Americans enticed Buffalo to gather, as then the strongest and bravest members of the tribe would use a combination of courage, ingenuity, speed and luck to drive the herd over the 30 foot cliffs to their deaths. For hundreds of years, this unique and successful hunting method was a way for the tribes to obtain food, clothing, bedding, tools, and cooking vessels all from the remains of the bison.
Only once you have arrived at the Visitor Center and have the opportunity to stand side by side next to a taxidermied Buffalo do you begin to truly understand the sheer size and brute strength of the Bison and the importance they played in the day to day life of our Native Tribes. It’s difficult in today’s modern age to understand the bravery, speed, and sophisticated strategy required for a successful buffalo hunt. Fewer still understand how many indispensable uses for every part of these creatures Native Americans found.
The world of today starts to slowly fade as you make your way out to the three mile trail hike onto the grassland plateau, greeted by the yipping of black tailed prairie dogs, native birds, and the panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains and Little Belt and Big Belt Mountains as the encompass the view around you. Be sure to bring along a hiking stick, sturdy hiking boots, and a set of binoculars and camera to truly enjoy the vast expanse of open spaces here.
Standing out on the prairie, take a moment to breathe and realize that the earth below your feet has an archeological history dating back to 900 AD and continued usage through 1500AD. Oral histories tell us that tribes traveled across the Continental Divide to take advantage of the plentiful bison herds. The Salish, Pend d’ Oreille and Kootenai from now Northwestern Montana; Shoshone, Bannock, and Nez Perce from today’s Wyoming and Idaho and the Blackfoot Confederacy, Crow, Gros Ventre, and Assiniboine, nations who lived on the northern plains of Montana all made use of the Buffalo Jump.
April through September mark the peak season for the park and are also the best times to appreciate all this National Historic Landmark, designated in 2015, has to offer. However, the park is open all year. Those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and crowds will find the months of October and March to be pristine. Those wishing to know more about the site before visiting it in person are encouraged to follow the Parks Facebook page and to read “Six Hundred Generations” by Carl M. Davis which features an entire chapter on the archeological exploration done at First Peoples.
From the Missouri River Federal Courthouse at 125 Central Avenue West, travel west on Central Avenue West 1.4 miles and turn left onto I-15 South towards Helena. Travel south for 10 miles and take Exit 270. At the end of the Exit 270 ramp, turn right onto Ulm Vaughn Road, pass the Ulm School and continue for 3.8 miles, then turn left into the First Peoples Buffalo Jump Visitor Center entry.
Blog Content By: First People’s National Buffalo Jump Park Staff
This article was written as a team effort by the staff at First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park in partnership with the Upper Missouri River Heritage Area Planning Corporation [UMRHAPC]. To learn more about UMRHAPC’s efforts to create the FIRST National Heritage Area in Great Falls, check out their website at www.uppermissouririverheritage.org