Once, not long ago, the buffalo were everywhere. Wherever the people
were, there were the buffalo. They loved the people and the people
loved the buffalo. When the people killed a buffalo, they did it
with reverence. They gave thanks to the buffalo’s spirit. They used
every part of the buffalo they killed. The meat was their food.
The skins were used for clothing and to cover their tipi’s.
The hair stuffed their pillows and saddlebags. The sinews became their
bowstrings. From the hooves, they made glue. They carried water
in the bladders and stomachs. To give the buffalo honor, they painted
the skull and placed it facing the rising sun.
Then the whites came. They were new people, as beautiful and as
deadly as the black spider. The whites took the lands of the people.
They built the railroad to cut the lands of the people in half.
It made life hard for the people and so the buffalo fought the railroad.
The buffalo tore up the railroad tracks. They chased away the cattle
of the whites.
The buffalo loved the people and tried to protect
their way of life. So the army was sent to kill the buffalo. But,
even the soldiers could not hold the buffalo back. Then the army
hired hunters. The hunters came and killed and killed. Soon the
bones of the buffalo covered the land to the height of a tall man.
The buffalo saw they could fight no longer.
One morning, a Kiowa woman whose family was running from the Army
rose early from their camp deep in the hills. She went down to the
spring near the mountainside to get water. She went quietly, alert
for enemies. The morning mist was thick, but as she bent to fill
her bucket, she saw something. It was something moving in the mist.
As she watched, the mist parted and out of it came an old buffalo
cow. It was one of the old buffalo women, who always led the herds.
Behind her came the last few young buffalo warriors, their horns
scarred from fighting, some of them wounded. Among them were a few
calves and young cows.
Straight toward the side of the mountain, the old buffalo cow led
that last herd. As the Kiowa woman watched, the mountain opened
up in front of them and the buffalo walked into the mountain. Within
the mountain, the Earth was green and new. The sun shone and the
meadowlarks were singing. It was as it had been before the whites
came. Then the mountain closed behind them.
The buffalo were gone.