Stumbling upon greatness: Vore Buffalo Jump

Teepee at Vore Buffalo Jump

one of the most important archeological sites of the Late-Prehistoric Plains Indians

Brochure for Vore Buffalo Jump

One of the reasons we travel is to discover new places, new ideas, and new paths to understanding nature’s creatures. So, when we saw a sign in Wyoming showing us an exit to Vore Buffalo Jump, we simultaneously asked each other this question: “Know what a buffalo jump is?” Of course, the answer was negative, so Bert jerked the steering wheel to quickly take Exit 199 off I-90 near Beulah, Wyoming. “What have we got to lose?” he asked. And we were off.

A huge teepee, surrounded by wide open spaces and broad swaths of grasses, stood tall in the distance. Inside, information was laid out, but pictures weren’t allowed.

A buffalo jump, we learned, was a natural sinkhole used by various Indian tribes (from about 1550 to 1800) to trap bison. The buffalo would be herded by the Indians to points near the rim in order to force them into the sinkhole. Indians killed the trapped buffalo and later processed the meat and other bison products to sustain their tribes through the winter.

Vore Buffalo Jump information

In the 1880s, the Vore family homesteaded in the area, farming part of the land and grazing livestock on the remainder. When the Wyoming Department of Transportation surveyed the lower part of Vore land to construct Interstate 90, they found this sinkhole on the property. Additional drilling uncovered a vast amount of buffalo bones, and the decision was made to move the intended route of I-90 further south to preserve the buffalo jump.

Rim of Vore Buffalo Jump, WY

An excavation of the site also revealed layers of sediment, called “varves,” which (much like tree rings do in dating trees) have helped scientists estimate the dates and magnitude of buffalo jumps with amazing accuracy. It’s been estimated that the remnants of over 10,000 buffalo are contained within Vore Buffalo Jump as well as numerous pieces of knives, tools, and arrow points. So, studies conducted at Vore Buffalo Jump have been important ecologically and historically.

Cutaway of Vore Site sinkhole
Source of drawing: “Vore Buffalo: Geology” by Alvis L. Lisenbee

On the Vore site, visitors can look down into the sinkhole (now covered in grasses) and see a covered facility built for the work of archaeologists on the initial location. But unless you are fortunate to arrive at tour time, you may only see the roof of the building, as we did!

Vore Buffalo Jump, WY sams
A tour guide points to the excavation site below at Vore Buffalo Jump

Even without a tour of the excavation site, you can see some of the tools, bones, and artifacts on display at the visitor center. And further research on the website for Vore Buffalo Jump will provide resources and information, like articles by Gene Cade of the Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation.

Can we recommend a detour off I-90 to see Vore Buffalo Jump? You bet we can! It’s a chance to ponder what life was like in the 1500s when Native Americans prepared for harsh winters and to see a site that’s well preserved, continuing to offer a glimpse into another time.

Yes, travel can be educational. But fascinating as well.

Travel to learn,

Rusha & Bert

12 thoughts on “Stumbling upon greatness: Vore Buffalo Jump

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thanks! We love to plan but we’re also fairly serendipitous when it comes to seeing what we can see. But some if the most interesting things are found off the beaten path. Thanks for commenting. Stay safe.

  1. gallivance.net

    Rusha, as one of our commenters said: “This post really floats my boat!” I’ve been working on a post on petroglyphs of the SW US so I’m up to speed on the indigenous tribes of the American West. As you said, it’s sad, but it’s obviously an effective technique. But I’m sure I would have a different attitude if all the supermarkets were closed in November and I was wondering what I was going to eat all winter.

    In general though, Native Americans were good stewards of the earth, and their nomadic way of life ensured that local resources weren’t depleted to the point of non-recovery. I’ve enjoyed this your series on the West, and look forward to more. ~James

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I’m definitely not faulting the hunter gatherers who lured the bison into the pits. It’s just what happened, and it happened out of necessity. I’m still saddened by the loss of animals with several species becoming extinct maybe because but certainly as a result of the events in the buffalo jumps. Interesting archaeological find, for sure. Thanks for taking a look. Our country is fascinating, and the West is even more so for us who have lived in the South all our lives!

  2. Sharon Frankenberg

    Thank you for sharing your fascinating experiences. You have visited so many interesting places I never knew existed. I love you both!

      1. Oh, the Places We See

        I guess we’re never too old to learn something new, and this was a practice I had never heard of. Kinda sad, actually. But probably necessary to sustain life through the winter. (And we thought a toilet paper shortage during the pandemic was devastating!)

  3. WanderingCanadians

    This is such a great approach to take when travelling to just go with the flow and build in some room in the itinerary to be impulsive. I had no idea what a buffalo jump was either. Thanks for the history lesson and for taking us along on the journey back to the 1500s.

  4. kzmcb

    Once an educator, always an educator!
    My husband and I have an agreement, that if we see a sign to a lookout we have to take it, because 9 times out of 10 we get a totally unexpected perspective.
    You provided great information, yet somehow it saddens me when I learn of how perfectly sustainable practices were interrupted in the name of progress. Let’s hope we can always find a progressive AND sustainable path. Safe travels.

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