Students delve into the past at bison kill site
Water begins to boil about three minutes after several glowing-hot rocks are dropped into it, hissing and steaming. When it boils, students crowd around the bucket, pushing bite-size morsels of buffalo meat into the water on wooden skewers. The meat is done in less than a minute. American Indians used the same basic technique on this spot 2,000 years ago.
The cooking demonstration is one of the highlights of a one-hour tour being given to more than 10 classes of Havre and Hi-Line students this week and next week at the Wahkpa Chu'gn Bison Kill Site, located behind the Holiday Village Shopping Center.
All six third-grade classes from Lincoln-McKinley Primary School took the tour this week.
"I think it's a great opportunity for our school population to get to see a local archeological site," said third-grade teacher Marilyn Granell, whose class of 19 students visited the site Thursday afternoon. "What better way to teach than here, hands-on?"
Granell said that as part of Native American Week, her class also made fry bread earlier this week and has been reading legends and tales about the Plains Indians, and listening to Indian songs and drumming.
The Havre Elementary Parent Teacher Organization paid about $500 to send the six classes to the site, PTO president Brenda Evans said. She said the group usually gives each school $500 each year for an assembly. Last year two of the schools used the money to bring Miss Montana to
their schools to speak.
In September the third-grade teachers requested funding for the trip to Wahkpa Chu'gn, and the PTO voted to approve it, Evans said.
The Wahkpa Chu'gn site is located on a hillside above the Milk River. Buffalo were driven over the hill - where they were often injured - and into corrals, where they were killed. They were processed and cooked on the site. Over 2,000 of years of erosion, layers of bone were covered up by soil washed down the hill. Today the exhibit houses reveal more than 20 feet of stacked bones beneath the surface of the ground.
Evans said the field trip provides the students with some local history and some cultural information as part of Native American Week.
Students from Glasgow Middle School also visited the buffalo jump earlier this week, and students from Havre Middle School, KG schools, and one group of home-schooled children will be visiting in the next two weeks, said Anna Brumley, who guides tours of the site.
Brumley said the stone boiling is a special demonstration that will only be going on this week for Native American Week.
"We try to make it as interesting as we can for them," she said.
Brumley said third-graders seem to have a hard time conceptualizing what the site looked like 2,000 years ago - they often think the exhibit houses and the asphalt path were here when the Indians used the site.
Another tour guide, Toni Hagener, said that at that age, students are often more enthusiastic than older students.
"Sometimes they're impressed with the amount of bone, the size of the bone - it just depends on what hits their fancy," she said.
On Thursday the students had no problem being fascinated by the old bones they could see and, in some cases, handle.
"It's a tooth!" said third-grader Sarah Armstrong, holding up her 2-inch-long find after rifling through a box of bones inside one of the exhibit houses. The box held the group enthralled until two large spiders above the door were spied, and the bones returned to the dead again.
After visiting the bones, the students moved on to the cooking exhibit, where fist-sized rocks had been heating in a fire barrel.
Most of the students moved on and lined up for a turn with the atlatl, a device used by the Indians to throw a spear.
"It's all in the wrist," said third-grader Drew King, before classmate Morgan Pitsch sent the atlatl glancing off a styrofoam buffalo's back and into the grass behind it.