First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
(Formerly Ulm Pishkun State Park)
Native peoples used Ulm Pishkun for at least two thousand years prior to Lewis and Clark's expedition through Montana. The kill site consists of a mile long sandstone cliff; there are remnants of drive lines on top of the cliff and the remains of millions of 'processed' bison below.
Ulm Pishkun is perhaps the largest buffalo jump in the world.
Bison dominated the landscape and shaped the lives of the people who lived in their presence. To the nomadic Plains Indians bison meant survival and they hunted bison by driving them over the cliffs. Bison provided meat to eat and hides for clothing and lodge coverings.
The bones were used in making a variety of implements and utensils. The sinews were used for bowstrings and in sewing. This was a spectacular - some say highly sophisticated - practice, one that captures the mind and imagination of historian and tourist alike.
Archaeologists describe five features of a pishkun. The first part is the grazing area where the Indians would find the buffalo, usually upwind from the camp and buffalo jump. The second feature was the "drive lane." It consisted of two rock lines, five to ten yards apart and from 100 yards to a mile in length. Only a foot or so in height, these lines established the boundaries of the path the buffalo would follow to the precipice. Hunters hid behind the rock piles and shouted or waved robes to frighten the buffalo on toward the jump. The third feature, the cliff itself, could be one to two hundred feet above the fourth feature, a rocky slope where the Indians killed the bison that survived the fall. Long bows, lances, and stone clubs were used to make the final kill. This is also where the Indians would dress the bison and dry their meat and hides. The process often took several days. The last feature was the camp where the people lived while they harvested the buffalo.
Recently, archaeologists from Montana State University researched and excavated the Ulm Pishkun site. They discovered:
Human activity at the site dates back to at least 500 AD.
Buffalo apparently were killed and processed throughout the year, not just fall or winter.
The park has an interpretive trail, picnic tables and in an effort to pay homage to the buffalo and the people who honor this mighty animal, Ulm Pishkun State Park has a new on-site education center. Of more than 300 bison kill sites in Montana, Ulm Pishkun is the first of its kind. The 6,000 square foot center offers visitors buffalo culture exhibits, a storytelling circle, classroom, gallery and bookstore.
Ulm Pishkun is located southeast of Browning. On Interstate 15 just 10 miles south of Great Falls take the Ulm exit then proceed 4 miles northwest on the county road. Ulm Pishkun, PO Box 109, Ulm, Montana 59485, 406-866-2217.
For more information about Ulm Pishkun State Park, read Where the Buffalo Fell, 2003 Montana Outdoors and visit Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks at First Peoples Buffalo Jump.