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This unit study includes lessons and activities based on the book Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker.

Over the blazing campfires, where the wind moaned eerily through the thickets of juniper and fir, they spoke of it in the Indian tongue—the strange lake to the southward whose waters never rest. And Nawa, the medicine man, who had lived such countless moons that not even the oldest member of his people could remember a time when Nawa was not old, declared that, if only you arrived at the right time, on the right night, you would see the buffaloes rise out of the middle of the lake and come crowding to the shore; for there, he said, was the sacred spot where the buffaloes began.

Thanks to Lisa Dickinson and Celia Hartmann for preparing this Where the Buffaloes Begin Unit Study.

Where the Buffaloes Begin Unit Study Lessons

Here is a sample of the lessons found in this Where the Buffaloes Begin unit study:

Plains Indians

HOUSING – TEPEES: Plains Indians lived in tepees (also correctly spelled as tipis). The tepee was set up by the women in less than an hour. The tepee always faced East and tilted toward the East. Average size was 16 feet in diameter. Three pine tree poles provided the basic frame set in the ground. Other poles were added to form the circle, and rawhide was used to connect them together at the top. Buckskin was sewn together to form the outer covering of the tepee. It took between 8 and 20 hides to create the covering for the tepee. They left a hole at the top for a smoke hole (chimney). Poles were attached to these flaps of the smoke hole to control the opening and closing of the flaps for weather and smoke. Plains Indians painted two wide bands on the outside of the tepee, one at the top and one at the bottom. The top band was painted in a bright colored dot – space pattern and represented the planets and stars in the sky. The bottom band was painted the same way with dots and spaces but it represented the plants and animals of the earth. Their goal was to keep life balanced between these two worlds. It was common to see buffalo tails pinned to outside of tepee.

FOOD: The Plains Indians’ main staple was bison. (Bison is the correct terminology for what most of us think of as “buffalo.”) They hunted and used the bison for not only for food but for many other everyday items as well. All parts of the bison were crucial to the Indians. The bison provided everything the Indians need. The Indians often would chase the bison off a cliff. Sometimes they wore a bison hide over their back and head and pretend to be a crying baby bison. The “baby bison” would then lure the herd to the nearby Indians with spears. Later, the Indians learned to hunt bison from horseback. The Plains Indians used many different parts of the buffalo.

The Blackfoot ate a variety of fresh berries including Choke Cherries. Pampas Root were collected and dried to provide starch and sweetener. They also frequently ate pemmican (dried bison meat mixed with berries and fat/oil). They did not eat snakes, dogs, worms, insects, frogs, toads, or lizards. 

CLOTHES: Men wore tunics and leggings or breechcloths. A tunic is a long shirt. A breechcloth is a large rectangular piece of fabric and a belt. The fabric was between the legs and the front and back of the fabric went up over the belt and draped down in the front and back. They had beaded aprons they attached to their breechcloths to dress them up for special occasions. Women wore below-the-knee dresses and both women and men wore buffalo robes.

Men wore hair in two braids. Women did not spend time on hairdos or wear head coverings. An interesting fact is that they did beautiful bead work on the bottom of their moccasins so those sitting across from them could enjoy it! 

TRANSPORTATION: Before horses were introduced, the Blackfeet mainly walked carried what they could with dogs carrying other things. The dogs would drag a travois to pull along loads of food, clothing, and more from place to place. A travois (trav-wah) used two very long tepee poles, crossed into an “A” and attached to the back of the dog. Later, in the 1700s when the Spanish introduced horses to them, they quickly became excellent horsemen and they used the horses to pull a travois. The Blackfeet would sometimes use boats and birch bark canoes, though there is no record of Blackfeet ever having made boats.

You can grab a copy of the entire Where the Buffaloes Begin unit study in an easy-to-print file at the end of this post.

How to Get Started with the Where the Buffaloes Begin Unit Study

Follow these simple instructions to get started with the Where the Buffaloes Begin unit study:

  1. Buy a copy of the book, Where the Buffaloes Begin, or grab one from your local library.
  2. Print the Where the Buffaloes Begin unit study.
  3. Choose the lessons you want to use with your student (a highlighter works great for this).
  4. Enjoy a week of book-based learning with your student.

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Where the Buffaloes Begin Unit Study